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After the seven hottest years on record, Labor lessens its climate ambition

In 2015, the Climate Change Authority recommended emissions reduction targets for the government to take to the Paris climate conference:

  • a 2025 target of 30 per cent below 2000 levels
  • further reductions by 2030 of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels

In response, Labor proposed an emissions reduction target of 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, zero net emissions by 2050, and ongoing 5-yearly reviews to assess progress and to adjust commitments over time.

The move to 2005 as a base year, made by Abbott and adopted by Labor, made a significant difference to how big the promises sound. To illustrate how much, Australia’s annual emissions for the year to June 2021 were estimated to be 10.4% below emissions in the year to June 2000 but a whopping 20.4% below emissions in the year to June 2005. Hey presto, an extra 10% reduction towards our target already achieved just by changing years.

The seven years since 2015 have been the hottest on record and they have all been more than 1℃ above pre-industrial levels. With back-to-back La Niña events resulting in the sixth hottest year on record, some are suggesting that 2021 may well be the coldest year we’ll ever experience again. Australia has already experienced warming of 1.4C.

In October 2020, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements tabled their report in parliament. It makes for scary reading about the increased risk Australia is facing from the effects of global warming.

“We can also expect more concurrent and consecutive hazard events. For example, in the last 12 months there was drought, heatwaves and bushfires, followed by severe storms, flooding and a pandemic.”

Last year, a report from the Climate Council warned that Australian governments, businesses, industries and communities can and must cut emissions deeply, aiming to reduce emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2035.

“Australia, as an advanced economy and major emitter, and one with unrivalled potential for renewable energy and other climate solutions, should be a leader not a laggard, and reduce its emissions even faster than the required global average. Every tonne of emissions avoided matters, and every delay has an escalating cost. We urge you all to take this report seriously and respond accordingly.” — Professor Christopher Field and Dr Kevin Trenberth

In this context, Labor made the unique decision to weaken their emissions reduction target.

They looked at the policies they were willing to take to an election, added up what reductions they would bring about, and made that their target – 43% below 2005 levels. It seems a pedantic change, perhaps typical of new shadow minister for such things, Chris Bowen.

A better approach would be to set the target the scientists tell us we must achieve, devise or ramp up the policies to get there, and adequately communicate with the public and business to bring them along.

Labor’s plan for the electricity sector shows penetration of renewables over 80% by 2030 with better transmission networks, community batteries and ‘shared solar banks’ for apartments. These are great ideas.

But in projected transport emissions, there is minuscule reduction. They are too scared to have combustion engine phaseout targets and they recently dropped a fuel emissions standard.

Labor will keep the Coalition’s (not so) Safeguard Mechanism but are claiming large reductions from putting downward pressure on the currently too-high “baselines”.

Allowing polluters to earn ‘credits’ based on emissions intensity rather than absolute emissions lets them increase emissions with impunity, in fact, rewards them for doing so, provided the emissions per unit produced have decreased.

If businesses pollute too much, they can purchase carbon offsets thus avoiding real, substantial short term emissions reductions.

As Ketan Joshi writes in Renew Economy:

“The details shed so much light on why big business and industry are openly supportive of the plan. Being free to scribble out emissions using ultra-cheap offsets instead of real-world reductions is extremely popular among high polluters, at the moment. Corporate net zero plans are currently incredibly hollow shells that provide no downward force on emissions today, but serve as a tool for easing public pressure for companies to act on climate. Labor is leaning into this extremely troubled, loophole ridden system and doesn’t seem to be proposing any substantial reform.”

Labor doing anything radical to cut emissions in agriculture is most unlikely with the Coalition always ready to stoke the city-country divide.

Whilst Labor’s policies are preferable to the Coalition’s, they fall far short of what must be done. We cannot afford the timidity shown by the two major parties who bow to pressure from vested interests and are paralysed by fear of reprisal from their colleagues as much as from the electorate. Nor can we afford the denial from Barnaby’s mob and the Pauline and Clive cults.

When Labor form government, the necessity for action will only be greater and the voices demanding it even louder.

I hope they are ready.

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  1. Pete Petrass

    With the LNP and MSM against them Labor seem to be very, very careful now about what they release before an election. Just look at the last election as a perfect example. Labor released details of some very good policies yet were absolutely smashed by them and lost.
    I think this time around perhaps they are looking to publicly release moderate policies which can then be tweaked after they win.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Pete, if my local member Helen Haines keeps her seat she’ll be hammering the government to do more in regards to climate change mitigation. Her pleas fall on deaf ears with the Morrison government, but I am confident that an Albanese government will give her a voice.

  3. Kaye Lee

    I hope a few of the teal independents get up to unseat some Liberals and join Helen and Zali. I am especially hoping Zoe Daniels ousts Tim Wilson.

  4. John Hanna

    Should the ALP achieve an absolute majority I would hope they have the courage to implement the policies that are required not necessarily the same ones taken to the election. Remember core and non core promises and the concept of mandates all bullshit courtesy of JWH. When you have the numbers you can do what needs to be done.

  5. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks, Kaye.

    As you say: ‘A better approach would be to set the target the scientists tell us we must achieve, devise or ramp up the policies to get there, and adequately communicate with the public and business to bring them along.’

    Labor are no doubt feeling a bit cowardly in view of events in recent years, including their loss at the last election and the outrageous behaviour dished out to the Gillard government, led by the Murdoch press and ably assisted by the LNP.

    My fear is that if they don’t get up on their hind-legs and address the climate issue honestly, they will lose a lot of voters, and those voters might cost them the election. If that happens… There is no Planet B!

  6. margcal

    I agree with Pete P rather than Kate A. I’m hoping I’m not deluded in thinking that Labor is keeping as small a target as possible, given what happened last time, thus wise not cowardly.
    Frustrating though the small target is, for my liking there are still way too many stupid and or deluded voters out there who would totally freak out and vote Palmer if the target were 100% realistic.

    I don’t think Labor’s target is that bad …. because I can’t see them saying “Enough!” and stopping working on the problems when that target is reached.
    Unlike the LNP that fudges the figures to pretend they ever reached any minimalist target at all.

  7. corvusboreus

    I would suggest that if the ALP want to keep their powder dry on climate policy, they should be applying hard skirmish probing on other less vulnerable fronts.

    Anger over process corruption springs to mind, because this is an issue of basic moral compass that does not require scientific literacy.

    Labor have recently upped their game by changing their policy wording from ‘integrity’ to ‘anti-corruption’ commission, but more concerted pressure is needed.

    Serious soul searching on how to best crimp corruption would be an exercise of benefit to both ALP and wider Australia.

    As a bonus, restrictions on parliamentary brownbagging could help reduce petrochemical contamination of climate policy discussion.

  8. Kaye Lee

    A push to disallow $50 million in grants for new gas projects in the Betaloo Basin in the Northern Territory failed after Labor sided with the government in the Senate.

    They gave $21 million in fracking grants to Empire Energy which is chaired by Paul Espie, who has been described in parliament as a doyen of the Liberal party. Espie is the current chair of the Liberal-aligned Menzies Research Centre.

    The really sad part is that this sort of thing doesn’t seem to even cause a ripple of concern anymore.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, that is disgusting on so many levels: Money for mates; supported by Labor; not an eyebrow raised.

    I’m off to bang my head against the wall.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Angus Taylor’s pecuniary interest register shows Empire paid for a “return charter flight and hospitality” for the minister in October 2020. Also on the flight was the chair of the Hume Forum, a Liberal party entity designed to help raise funds for the party.

    The night before the charter flight, the Country Liberal party held a fundraising dinner in Darwin, which Empire representatives attended.

    As for Labor’s support, Empire no doubt contributes to both parties…they all seem to.

    Dirty money – political donations from the fossil fuel industry

    Time for political donation and election spending reform

  11. corvusboreus

    I have found no info yet available on the number & names of ALP senators who voted in late Nov 2021 to approve sponsoring the fracking of the Betaloo groundwater basin, but examination of other senate votes on related matters has been…interesting.

    Based on previous performance, the ALP turnout to help legislatively support paying from the public purse to support methanous fracking of indigenous heritage and collective future was probably somewhere between 30 & 60%.

    Even where ALP stands for reasonable policy (eg anti-corruption commission) their overall attendance has regularly varied from below-par to utterly abysmal in comparison to the showings from other significant parties and general senate averages.

    One truthy adage is that victory in electoral politics is about who turns up in greatest numbers, and the ALP is currently carrying some serious senatorial deadwood in terms of elected members who don’t bother to show up for work.

    All the more reason for voters to rigorously check resumes and general formguide before numbering the BTL boxes on their senate ballot paper.

  12. Kaye Lee

    Senate estimates can be quite interesting to watch but I have often seen the chamber basically empty. Considering some of the crap that deadwood spews forth, it would be hard to consider sitting there time spent constructively. Anyway, they are exhausted from attending fundraisers.

    Apparently Labor decided in a caucus meeting on August 24 last year. Not all agreed.

  13. corvusboreus

    I can understand the desire to escape boring committee nitty gritty, but surely chamber sessions where motions are being voted on warrants putting in an appearance at work.
    It is, after all, supposed to be their job.

  14. wam

    A sad post, kaye. “Whilst Labor’s policies are preferable to the Coalition’s” will suffice. Albo may be able get it past the swinging voters and it will be harder for scummo to mount a campaign. Unfortunately it will be easier for the ‘with previous form’ bandit, aiming to drag a few more labor idiots’ dollars and to stir the electoral pot, by promising to vote against such a move. You finish with an ominous warning and juliar will be echoed by albolies. However, ‘When Labor form government’ is precipitous.
    The greens may not to be ready for their full ‘9 seats’ ploy but the bandit will move another, nothing to lose, AEC cash hunt that could provide the sequel, miracle 11.

  15. Florence

    If the conditions are right, Howard set the precedent with the GST.

  16. Keith

    Today the Doomsday clock is adjusted, currently it is at 100 seconds to midnight, my guess is that hand will move closer to midnight. A conflict between the US and Russia is a possibility, we can expect further pandemics, the biosphere is being severely damaged, and climate change is becoming very worrying. Every continent is being hit by climate change. Already in 2022 there are a number of reports/articles which describe dismal outcomes.

    Yesterday in Science Alert scientists are stating that ” the 6th Mass Extinction Really has Begun, ….”, published in a new study. Another study describes how sink holes are developing in Alaska in permafrost areas through thawing, causing methane to be voided. Oceans are the warmest on record, as oceans warm they have less capacity to act as a sink for CO2. Weather patterns are becoming more extreme.

    Many politicians along with executives from corporations are merely greenwashing.

    The solution is for governments to create policies which stop fossil fuel mining and clean up the environment to reduce the very worst climate change will produce. Polluters need to pay for the damage they do rather than allowing them to laugh all the way to the Bank through subsidies provided.

  17. corvusboreus

    ALP NT senator Malarndiri McArthy (of the Garrwa and Yanyuwa people) was particularly opposed to the ALP’s recent vote to gift public money to a LIB affiliated mining company in order to pave the way for fracking and befouling the lands and waters of her traditional country around the Beetaloo basin.

    Unfortunately, being bound by ALP caucus decision, when the senate motion to defund this rapine was voted down with the help of her party, she was restricted to expressing her disapproval by refraining from casting a vote.

    Senator McArthy has prior history in crossing the floor against her party’s approval of diverting the waters of the McArthur river to feed the greedy needs of new mining projects.

    Were I an NT resident, she would definitely be one of my top options for senate selections.

  18. Keith

    A vote for the LNP at the next election is a death sentence for numerous people through useless climate policy.
    Labor is somewhat better; but, they need strong hands on their shoulders provided by progressive Independents and small parties.

    On social justice issues the Labor Party is streets ahead of the nasty libertarian ideology informing LNP policies.

  19. corvusboreus

    In view of the mega-metric-phuqtonnes of rapid-heat methane pluming out of the slumping Northern hemisphere perma-frost turned imperma-slurry in ever-accelerating negative feedback loops,
    the ALP energy shadow-minister’s bipartisan endorsement of the COALition’s plan for a ‘gas-led recovery’ is a sick unfunny joke.

    Poor bastard my country,
    Poor bitch my planet.

  20. Kaye Lee

    Australia refused to join the global pledge led by US and EU to cut methane emissions.

    Barnaby and Gina say it would mean taking a gun and shooting Gina’s expanding Wagyu beef herds. That is despite the meat and livestock peak body setting a target to be Carbon Neutral by 2030 (CN30). Specifically…

    “Carbon neutrality doesn’t need to come at the cost of livestock numbers.

    CSIRO analysis shows it’s possible to achieve CN30 without reducing herd and flock numbers below the rolling 10 year average (25 million cattle, 70 million sheep and 0.5 million goats).”

    They say they are protecting farmers but really it’s the gas industry.

    “Australia’s greenhouse gas accounting underestimates national emissions by about 10%, largely due to a failure to properly recognise the impact of methane released during gas production”

  21. Phil Pryor

    It seems that Australian politicians “follow” Australian attitudes, which they develop, in wanting some change, but, not at the expense of doing anything much to change what we know, enjoy, need, rely on. If “change” requires some sacrifice, (Who Me? ) then it can happen somewhere else to someone else. We are so reliant on mining, monoculture, carnivorous eating, excesses in waste and consumption, that Australians will have to embrace this more intelligently in facing actual change, not merely a “dream”. It will affect, on a large scale, population shifts, work alterations, lifestyle restructuring, all being fairly distasteful. If ALP policy takes a minority or vote losing position, it will lose overall and nothing will be done anyway.

  22. David Higham

    The release of CO2 and CH4 from the permafrost,which increases atmospheric heating,which releases more CO2 and CH4,etc. is a positive feedback loop. A negative feedback loop counteracts.,a positive feedback loop reinforces.

  23. corvusboreus

    David Higham,
    Distinction noted & appreciated.
    Positive feedback loops with negative repercussions.

  24. corvusboreus

    Probably the 2 biggest immediate practical lifechoice changes the average strayan could make to begin to pretend to try ro start making a difference:
    *stop burning fossil fuels to power gratuitous personal transportation
    *eschew beef as anything but the rarest of occasional treats.

    Advice on such from our betters:
    *Scomo reckons switching to electric cars would be pointless coz they aren’t grunty enough to tow pleasure boats.
    *Barnaby reckons reducing beef consumption would cruelly condemn cows to being mass-culled rather than factory slaughtered.

    I’m not sure that our government does any real leading or following, I think it more tries to misdirect whilst being dragged along.

  25. Phil Pryor

    Corvus is right, but we could all say more, reply to more, counter more as it arrives. New balances and attitudes in lifestyle are inevitable, and it may be too late for comfort, let alone complacency. I now use less, in eating, drinking, driving, wearing, consuming. But, some friends, rellies, colleagues, do not like any charge or challenge, as if to “them”, as if they were always “wrong.” That is how Brown and his convoy of greenies in Q’land last election ensured a loss for the ALP, and sense itself. we are now more than three years behind…I cannot imagine how a USA type of mentality can be altered, educated, civilised.

  26. Kaye Lee

    I would like to be more proactive in recycling. We used to do rag bags for Stewart House when I was at school. Things like that can help.

  27. corvusboreus

    Phil Pryor,
    We have come to view ‘outlandish miracles’ like joy-flights between continents as not only normal but a fundamental right (Greta disagrees), and we show collective reluctance to recognize evident change, let alone include forward projections into our planning.

    Adaptation is essential because fundamental changes are always occuring, and greater shifts have already inevitably been locked in by our actions past and present, but this is not much factored in our behaviors or strategies

    One example is the fact that the planet’s surface will be losing quite a lot of low-lying land to the oceans in the next half century.
    Despite this being a scientifically accepted reality, proliferation of residential development on coastal and alluvial plains continues apace.

    Another example is the fact that human incursion into nature’s nooks is unleashing waves of emergent diseases into our populations, and our habit of hectic trade and traffic are spreading such pandemically.
    Yet people continue to view basic recommended bio-hygeine precautions as something to be temporarily and reluctantly adopted when directly mandated, then completely discarded at first opportunity.

    Change, even if crucial to health and survival, is very hard to sell when it involves increased discipline and reduced gratification, especially to the person in the mirror.

  28. Keith

    The Doomsday Clock remains at 100 seconds to midnight. There have been some positive developments which have been countered by negative developments. A well put together article discussing the rationale for the clock remaining at 100 seconds to midnight.

    Current Time – 2024

  29. corvusboreus

    Be sure to wake me at a minute to midnite.
    I want to be well-tite for the final 10.

  30. wam

    Wow what a great read about sea level (over 400m <2m above sea level) global warming and the methane permafrost disaster ie greenhouse effect, with not a climate in sight.
    Come on albo go for scummo’s ego!!!! ps Phil what a thought on boobby with a simple extrapolation 3 becomes 13

  31. Canguro

    Awash with knowledge amidst a dearth of wisdom, the issues that plague mankind ramify. With few exceptions, we’re governed both locally and abroad by short-sighted fools in suits to whom the existential challenges facing humankind face secondary relegation in opposition to their personal well-being.

    Unless this dire set of circumstances changes – and it seems unlikely to – it’s probably a safe bet to jump into bed with Hanrahan and chant collectively, ‘We’ll all be rooned’.

    And inexorably, logically, predictably, what we’ve sown begets what we’ll reap.

    As the clock ticks, a tsunami of weeping and gnashing awaits, as the actor Peter Postlethwaite lamented in the 2009 documentary The Age of Stupid, when he asked, “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance? It’s not as if we didn’t know.”

    [“The film is set in 2055, in a world ravaged by catastrophic climate change; London is flooded, Sydney is burning, Las Vegas has been swallowed up by desert, the Amazon rainforest has burnt up, snow has vanished from the Alps, and nuclear war has laid waste to India.” (Wiki)]

  32. corvusboreus

    My primary employment is in the field of environmental restoration.
    I usually drive a hrududu to work, where many of my colleagues smoke durries.

    Rationalisation of addiction, huh?

  33. totaram

    corvusboreus: “durries”? Pl. explain.

  34. Kaye Lee

    Cigarettes totaram – as in “light us a durry, darl”

    David Bradley, Australian Journal of Linguistics (1989) suggests that it may be derived from a widely used brand of loose tobacco used for roll-your-owns, Bull Durham, clipped and resuffixed with the most productive suffix for forming new colloquial words in Australian English. (I never knew that)

  35. corvusboreus

    ‘Durries’ is Boganese for darts, fags or smokes, Tabacum nicotiniana rolled into thin paper cylinders, aka cigarettes.

    They are mass-manufactured and marketed with obligatory advertisement of guaranteed toxicity-through-lethality to consumer, and seem to sell really well.

    Durries are also known as killers that travel in packs.

  36. corvusboreus

    When someone pulls out a pouch of White Ox, a standard response is “whad you do time for?”.

  37. totaram

    Thanks all for the explanation re: durries.
    I never would have known. White Ox and doing time? Too much for me to process. My son rolls his own cigarettes, or did until he gave up recently (let us see how long he lasts).

  38. Consume Less

    White Ox, ouch, poor fella my throat. On gun to gina’s herds. Pity us Aussies just can’t eat less meat, can’t see that happening in a hurry 🙉

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