Labor’s electoral victory has been heralded as a win for the climate, and plans to reduce Australia’s emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050 are soon to be enshrined in law. This undoubtedly marks progress when compared to the former coalition’s weak climate policies.
However, what is missing is the plan to tackle our biggest contribution to climate change: our coal, gas and oil exports. While Australia’s domestic emissions account for just over one per cent of global emissions, this rises dramatically to 3-4 per cent when including exports. With plans to continue exporting vast quantities of dirty fossil fuels abroad, Australia risks falling “into the “Norway trap”: clean at home, dirty abroad”, writes Jeremy Moss, Professor of Political Philosophy at The University of New South Wales. “For a net-zero plan not to include a strategy to phase out this enormous contribution to climate change is an abrogation of responsibility.”
Without comprehensive policies to reduce Australia’s entire emissions impact, the government is failing to protect citizens from the worst consequences of climate breakdown. “What we need is to tackle Australia’s total contribution to climate change. That includes our role as one of the world’s top exporters of government-subsidised fossil fuels’, writes Moss. “It’s now entirely possible we could see a government committed to domestic climate action, speeding up the exit of coal and gas from our grid and electrifying transport – while still exporting vast quantities of fossil fuels for other countries to burn.”
Exporting fossil fuels abroad does not reduce emissions
Australia is already on the frontline of dangerous climate change. The country is vulnerable to floods, cyclones, wildfires and extreme heat. The resulting damage of these disasters is making many homes and businesses uninsurable.
However, the new Resources Minister, Madeline King, is touting the myth that exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) reduces overall emissions. Gas projects have an “important role in the transition to a decarbonised world”, Ms King told The West Australian, just hours after being sworn into Cabinet. “These countries want that gas so they can reduce their reliance on other fossil fuels that are higher carbon emitters and I think we’d be foolish not to help them get there. We want to be part of the decarbonisation story”, she said. But, this is fossil fuel industry misinformation that has been debunked in independent reports by both Climate Analytics and CSIRO. In fact, increasing the Australian gas supply abroad risks prolonging coal, displacing renewables and increasing global emissions unless there is a worldwide price on carbon.
Australians are paying for the nation’s fossil fuel dependence
Furthermore, the Australian Institute found that skyrocketing energy prices across Eastern Australia are almost entirely a result of the country’s dependence on fossil fuel exports. This is due to policy linking domestic energy prices with coal and gas exports, which exposes Australia to the volatility of global prices. As a result, producers are now making windfall profits from both Australians and consumers worldwide.
“Australians are paying the price for a decade of chaotic energy policy, an obsession with keeping coal power stations running and doubling down on gas”, said Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director at The Australia Institute. “Allowing global coal and gas companies to export vast quantities of our resources… has locked us into exposure to volatile global prices, making Australia vulnerable to price shocks from global circumstances beyond our control”, he said. “As long as Australia remains dependent on gas and coal, Australian consumers will be over the barrel of global fuel prices” and at the mercy of external global events.
Australia’s emissions target falls short of the Paris Agreement
It is also important to note that even Labor’s 43 per cent domestic emissions reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels falls short of meeting the Paris Agreement. Analysts have calculated that their policies are compatible with a 2°C warming outcome. This could result in severe and irreversible consequences. When compared to 1.5°C, warming of 2°C “significantly increases the likelihood of many impacts in Australia related to extreme events: heatwaves, power blackouts, bushfires, floods, water restrictions and reduced crop yields”. Furthermore, Australia’s famous coastlines, beaches and infrastructure would also be at greater risk from rising seas.
This level of sustained warming would also be catastrophic for many Pacific Islands, which are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise. In fact, some could disappear entirely this century. It will likely also destroy the Great Barrier Reef and all other tropical reefs in Australia and elsewhere. This would have cascading impacts, not just for species and ecosystems, but also on Australia’s tourism industry and economy.
Labor’s insufficient reductions policies, coupled with their staunch support for the fossil fuel industry, suggests that the country’s “climate wars” are far from over. Without drastic and comprehensive cuts in fossil fuels in both domestic and export markets, people will continue to suffer from increasingly severe impacts of climate change.“Our fossil fuel lobby has had too many wins over the last two decades. We cannot afford to have our government beholden to an industry incompatible with a liveable climate”, writes Moss.