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Australia isn’t doing its part for the global climate. Sooner or later we’ll have to pay our share

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate, John Quiggin, comments in The Guardian (27.5.19) on the federal government’s reluctance to take more meaningful action on climate policy, arguing that the cost of responding to climate change is trivial compared with the benefits.

‘As the Australian election approached, the UK parliament declared a national climate emergency. Perhaps, with a different electoral outcome, Australia would have followed suit. Instead, at least for the next three years, we will ignore the emergency while chasing the mirage of coalmines promising to create thousands of jobs.

‘That mirage began to fade almost immediately with the announcement that the China Stone project, right next to Adani’s Carmichael mine project in the Galilee Basin, had suspended its bid for mining leases. Other projects in the basin have been on hold for years.

‘The prospects for the Carmichael mine are not much better, at least in the absence of a large injection of public money (which may now be on the cards). Adani announced in November that it would provide $2bn of its own money to fund the project. Gautam Adani could afford to spend this much if he chose to do so, but has so far shown no sign of willingness to pour such a large proportion of his personal wealth into an obvious dud. Such announcements have been made before and nothing has happened.

‘The coal boom of the last decade will fade away, whatever Australian governments do. By contrast, the climate emergency is not going away and will force itself on our attention sooner or later. When it does, we will face the need to reduce our emissions rapidly and to levels well below the very soft target the current government has set itself.’

How to answer the argument that Australia’s emissions are too small to make a difference

Matt McDonald writes in The Conversation (18.6.19) that, counter to suggestions that Australia’s greenhouse emissions are only a small part of the global total, the reality is we’re a rich, emissions-intensive country that could and should be setting a much better example to the world.

‘After a recent foray into the debate over Australia’s so-called “climate election”, I received plenty of critical replies to my argument that Australians should take climate action more seriously. The most common rebuttal was that Australians were right to focus on other issues at the ballot box because Australia’s contribution to global climate change is small anyway.

‘This is precisely the argument Alan Jones advanced in a now notorious Sky News segment in which he used a bowl of rice to explain away Australia’s climate obligations.

‘Australia, Jones noted, contributes only 1.3% of global carbon dioxide emissions from human activity, which in turn represents just 3% of the overall amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere, which in turn makes up little more than 0.04% of the whole atmosphere. So why, he asked while triumphantly brandishing a single rice grain, are we so obsessed with Australia’s climate policy when the planet is so big and the consequences of our actions are so tiny?

‘This is a powerful critique and, on the face of it, a simple and compelling line of argument, which is precisely why it’s so often used. Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference? But there are at least three obvious responses to it.’

The TJRyan Foundation does not guarantee the accuracy, currency or completeness of any information or material available on this website. The TJRyan Foundation reserves the right to change information or material on this website at any time without notice. Links from this site to external, non-TJRyan Foundation websites should not be construed as implying any relationship with and/or endorsement of the external site or its content by the TJR Foundation, nor any commercial relationship with the owners of any external site. Should any TJRyan research project be funded by an individual or organisation the source of funding will be stated beside the research report. In all other cases contributions are provided on a pro bono basis.
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