This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Julian Atchison
As detailed in our last post, Australia’s emission reduction efforts are not producing the necessary results. Emissions from industry, transport and from the gas extraction/processing industry are rising fast enough to offset cuts in the electricity sector. And, there is the nagging issue of emissions reductions “achieved” via Land Use, Land Use-Change & Forestry (also touched on in a post from December last year). According to the latest government figures, Australia’s emissions levels compared to 1990 are 20% lower, but there is some conjecture over that figure, and a 50% reduction by 2030 seems very distant. Net-zero by 2050? That’s even further away.
Industrial, transport and gas extraction/processing emissions are the problem. Without addressing the upwards trajectory of emissions from these sources Australia will get nowhere near the necessary targets. What is allowing these upwards trajectories? The answer is a mix of policy failures: no clear incentives for companies to begin decarbonizing their operations, continued government subsidies for new fossil fuel extraction projects, and a frustrating tendency for federal politicians to stymie new decarbonization solutions with both rhetoric and direct action. State and local politicians are by-and-large throwing their support behind new solutions and technologies that result in the decarbonization of local-level activities and commercial operations. However, unity of purpose and a broad base of support for emissions reductions is not present in Australia. Certainly, the above policy failures feed into this, but the obstacle is also one of communication. Emissions reduction in Australia is still broadly seen as a net-negative, or a cost to be paid without return on investment. Changing this mindset will be key to unlocking any hope of reaching 50% emission reduction, followed by net-zero.
Why is this obstacle so crucial to overcome?
Australia has all the necessary tools at its disposal to achieve 50% emission reductions by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Greening of Australia’s electricity sector continues apace. Green industrial processes (manufacturing goods, steel making etc.) are gaining momentum and are considered ideal roadmaps for Australia’s traditional fossil fuel heartlands. Research institutions, policy think tanks and private industry are all driving forward an innovative suite of solutions to decarbonize freight transport, passenger transport and improve the carbon intensity of urban living. And – unsurprisingly – when these new initiatives are deployed on the ground the immediate community (and/or company employees) see the benefit straight away (a recent online video series named Coal Miners Driving Teslas is a great example of this).
However, these solutions and projects are disparate, unconnected and not part of public discourse. The success of renewable energy projects is never discussed in the national media, only their apparent failures (commentators suggest the recent misinformation campaigns about the Texas winter blackouts were inspired by Australian analogues). Australians consistently show high levels of concern for climate change impacts when surveyed, but at the same time are wary of the cost of solutions. Unlocking this hesitancy will most likely see Australia accelerate its decarbonization push beyond the key targets mentioned.
Recently the federal opposition in Australia has changed their approach to climate action. The shadow Minister for Climate Change, Chris Bowen, has been unabashedly positive about decarbonization solutions and even has a new catchphrase, “the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity.” There is also a renewed focus on having the hard conversations with the right audiences: regional communities, resource towns, and industry-heavy areas whose working populations are dependent on large, usually carbon-intensive companies for survival. Strategic conversations have always been a key tactic of the climate advocacy movement in Australia, so it’s great to see the federal opposition embrace the technique.
The impetus for climate action often gets stuck in between the sense of urgency and dread brought about by visceral climate damage (e.g. temperature records, storms and fires that have dominated North America’s summer so far) and the benefits of a decarbonized world. And, because incumbent technologies and processes tend to get the benefit of the doubt, the risks of decarbonization aren’t weighed properly by the public. Positivity, the highlighting of existing, steel-in-the-ground solutions and narrative building are key to overcoming doubts about climate action. While this appears to be a widespread approach in the corporate world, it is only now starting to become standard for political parties. Promoting those voices and identities who support this approach and remaining resolute in the face of unavoidable misinformation is key.
Contact details for Australia’s shadow Climate & Energy Minister Chris Bowen.
Hon Chris Bowen MP