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The Coalition's climate policy is an international embarrassment

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Scott Morrison's Government has not budged on its support for coal and its reluctance to take climate action (image via YouTube).

Scott Morrison's Government is missing a prime opportunity to invest in renewables and change our energy mix, writes Dr Graeme McLeay.

AT A RECENT Press Club lunch, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dug deep to defend the Coalition’s response to the national and global climate emergency by defending a policy which is essentially that of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s in 2013.

Like poor, hapless Jim Hacker when Sir Humphrey Appleby explains things to him in the 1980s British series, Yes Minister and its sequel Yes Prime Minister, the PM has no real understanding of the climate crisis, which 81 Australian Research Council laureates described in last week’s compelling open letter in the press.  

Nor is he moved to consider the extraordinary call to action by a long list of health organisations which have called the climate crisis a health emergency. In Australia alone, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP), the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM) the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) and others have echoed the World Medical Association’s resolution on the climate emergency.

You have to give it to our PM, though, he can talk, spinning out the answers and running down the clock. He has picked up some of the climate jargon too, speaking knowingly of mitigation, adaptation, Kyoto, carbon credits and so on. He even gave us a little homily about carbon emissions “having no accent”. Well indeed, but if they did it would be Australian, since we are one of the world’s largest exporters of both coal and gas.

Perhaps the most frightening thing Morrison said was that “we need to get the gas out from under our feet”, sending a clear signal to the oil and gas industry which will no doubt reward his Party before the next election.

Gas is a fossil fuel and when fugitive emissions and those from exploration, liquefaction, and transport are counted, gas is little better than coal. Our exports of gas, expanding rapidly and in WA, are predicted to lead to emissions five times those of Adani’s coal, undoubtedly attracting the world’s attention, if not Australia’s.

He praised the besieged Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, the man who went to Madrid to undermine climate negotiations and to try to sell Australia’s use of Kyoto credits, a dodgy fiddling of the books which would enable Australia to continue business as usual.

We are, he said again, going to meet and beat our targets, as though that represents any sort of achievement when the targets are so low and you’re going to cheat anyway. The fact that we have managed to tread water without going under is largely due to state-based policies and the huge uptake of home solar.

With funding to Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) about to run dry, with nothing to replace the Renewable Energy Target (RET), which expires this year, and with rumours of the CEFC about to be subverted to support gas, what hope is there of meeting even the weak 26% target the Government has set?

Meanwhile, many are warning that investment in renewable energy and storage is about to fall off of the cliff.

What is tragic for Australia is the missed opportunity. There was nothing in his speech about Australian Energy Market Operator's (AEMO) Integrated System Plan. Hydrogen got a nod but it was no more than lip service. Nothing substantive on agriculture and land management, nothing on transport, cities and population.

Economist Ross Garnaut, in his recent book, Superpoweroutlined a vision for the future where Australia can be an energy giant, exporting clean energy to Asia while at the same time bringing domestic emissions steeply down and adding value to our steel and aluminium industries here in Australia. Yet, not a word from Mr Morrison about the enormous potential of renewables to help jump-start our flagging economy.

At the end of this year, Australia will be required to explain its progress or lack thereof at the Conference of the Parties of the IPCC in Glasgow. This will be an important moment in history when nations must reveal what progress they have made in limiting emissions to avoid warming greater than two degrees of preindustrial levels. It could be embarrassing for Australia, particularly in Scotland, where real policies are in place and climate change is taken seriously.

Then, not even a Sir Humphrey Appleby will be able to save the PM from himself.

Dr Graeme McLeay is a retired anaesthetist and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

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