“These crises present us with the need to take radical decisions that are not always easy. At the same time, moments of difficulty like these also present opportunities that we must not waste.”Pope Francis
COP26 has come and gone and it has not been the best of times for Australians. Our international reputation has been dragged through the mud and we have been labelled environmental laggards as we languish at the bottom of every climate change action list that counts. To say it has been embarrassing is an understatement. Just reading the headlines from Glasgow led to groans of frustration. Not at other world leaders, or at leading climate scientists and activists, but at our own Australian Federal Government who has a striking inability to read the room. They have been dragged kicking and screaming to the climate change table and their sudden backflip suggests they are more concerned about saving their own political hides than actually coming up with a real plan – you know, with actual details, and targets, and strategies. And it just makes all of us look bad. The rest of the world probably thinks we are a bunch of fossil fuel burning philistines who show scant regard for our vulnerable neighbours and are prepared to sit back and let every one else do the hard work.
The thing is, it’s just not true. Australians do care about climate change, and in the absence of any real national leadership, we have got on with doing the job ourselves. Our Federal Government’s refusal to move on the 2030 emission targets of 26-28% is just bizarre, considering that we are already on track to meet up to 35%. But it won’t be because of anything our national government has done. It has been our individual state governments leading the way instead. It has been the state governments who have set the targets while federal politicians jeered from the sidelines. What is even stranger still, is that the Federal Government has rejected the advice of the Climate Change Authority (CCA), an authority they set up, who way back in 2014 recommended a target of 45-65%. Just imagine where we could be today if they had actually taken the advice seriously. Now the CCA recommends a target of 75% and fears that even being carbon neutral by 2050 could be too late. Terrific.
Meanwhile Australians have been busy installing solar panels on their rooftops. Already 2.7 million Australian households have solar panels and just in 2020 alone, 31,000 people also installed batteries. Currently 30% of our power comes from renewables and it is predicted that by 2025 there will be times when we reach 100%. That’s just four years away. One of our states, South Australia, has already achieved a world first by reaching 100% in October last year and they have built Australia’s first big battery. Other states are following in their footsteps. And what is our Federal Government doing? Well, nothing. What we really need is an upgrade to our national electricity grid so that it can cope with the influx of renewable energy being produced by ordinary Australians. So far, there is no plan to do so. We’re trying really hard to do our bit and we are being let down, obstructed and frustrated by our own Federal Government.
Even businesses are starting to get in on the act, and surprise, surprise, that even includes mining companies! As one of the leading exporters of coal we have a responsibility to lead in the phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels. I cannot even believe my eyes when I read that our federal energy minister believes we will still be exporting coal for decades. To whom?? Meanwhile, mining companies are developing plans to get to carbon neutral and produce green hydrogen, which is showing potential for the transport industry. If the mining companies could read the writing on the wall, why does our Federal Government insist on burying its head in the sand? Why does it refuse to set vehicle emissions standards despite the Federal Chamber of Automative Industries calling for it? While it’s true there is some anxiety about battery range, especially in regional and remote areas where there are huge distances between towns – Australia is a big country after all – Australians would invest in electric vehicles. If there were enough charging stations. And if there were subsidies to assist with the higher cost. Inevitably the costs will come down as the technology improves and the market expands, but some incentives would really help.
I can only assume that our Federal Government has been spending much of the last decade living under a rock as the impact of climate change is already being felt by ordinary Australians. Over the last few years we’ve seen some pretty wild weather events. Who could ever forget the apocalyptic bushfires of early 2020. And there have been heatwaves and floods in other parts of the world. Even if we do reach the magic goal of 1.5ºC, we will still see changing climatic conditions. It is predicted Sydney and Melbourne could see temperatures of up to 50ºC and one of the hardest hit industries will be agriculture which makes it so bizarre that our Federal Government has used agriculture as a reason for limiting targets and resisting strong action. You would have thought that as a major agricultural producer the Australian Government should be leading the charge for climate change action. As usual though, it has been left to farmers and agricultural organisations to do all the heavy lifting.
The National Farmers Federation (NFF) have long recognised the “economic and environmental imperative of Net Zero” and say that the agricultural industry as a whole have been working really hard to reduce emissions since 2005.
“Our farmers and our agricultural lands hold the key to delivering Australia’s 2050 goal. The NFF has been a leading advocate for a fair and planned transition to economy wide Net Zero.”
In stark contrast to our Federal Government, the Meat and Livestock Association are aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. Country people and farmers are often painted as being climate change deniers and resistant to change, yet it is the farmers who are collaborating with solar farms in mutually beneficial relationships. Australian farmers are already being impacted by climate change. They know that their future viability is dependent upon reaching carbon neutral. With 70% of their products going to overseas markets, they are not waiting for the Federal Government to get with the program.
Australians care about climate change. Australians want strong climate change action. This was clearly seen in a survey commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation to canvas Australian attitudes towards climate change. The report is fascinating reading and you can access it here.
- 73% voters believe the Federal Government should set targets to reach net zero by or before 2050
- 61% support action to cut emissions by at least half by 2030
- At least 2/3 voters say climate change is either important or the most important issue for the next election – this was shown across every state
One of the most interesting discoveries was the challenge to the traditional belief that rural and regional areas are more anti-climate change than urban areas. A majority of voters in every electorate across Australia want the federal government to do more. There was not one electorate that had a majority of support for gas or coal-fired power. Even in supposedly “coal country” electorates, the support for new coal or gas projects was less than half. Most voters in regional areas believe the government should be doing more. So it begs the question, who does the Federal Government actually represent? Who is PM Morrison actually speaking for? According to the Conservation Foundation, not the majority of Australians.
So dear international friends, please pay no attention to the views and statements of our prime minister or his government. They do not speak for the majority of Australians.
Fortunately, there is an upcoming national election where climate change will be one of the top issues. After Glasgow, there are many who would like the election to be NOW so we can make it really clear – we are on board. You can count on us to do our part.
For Further Reading