Forget the climate


The new chancellor of the Australian National University, Julie Bishop is proud of the fact the world leading academic institution has 300 climate scientists. The former foreign minister is also proud that during her time as our lead climate negotiator at United Nations conferences, Australia played a leading role.

capital hill writer Paul Bongiorno
Political analyst Paul Bongiorno

She told Radio National on the eve of her formally taking on her new role this week, that at the Paris Climate Talks in 2016, Australia was one of the few nations to actually put out its firm targets. Those targets are to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030 and then to review our efforts to achieve the ultimate goal of net zero emissions globally by 2050. You may remember that Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister at the time and, though he may have wanted to be more ambitious, he wasn’t game enough to do more than his predecessor Tony Abbott had set out the year before.

Analysis by leading scientists like the ANU’s Professor Mark Howden long ago concluded that Australia’s commitments along with those of the other 195 nations who signed up in various ways would not reach the 2050 goal with dire consequences for the planet. So if we are world leading, something Scott Morrison boasted at the UN General Assembly last year, then we are all in big trouble.

But someone forgot to tell that to a rebel group in the National Party who have threatened to blow up the government if the Prime Minister and their own leader Michael McCormack dares to be more ambitious on emission reductions. Barnaby Joyce and Senator Matt Canavan, who quit as resources minister to back Joyce in the leadership spill, are demanding more coal-fired power stations and taxpayers to foot the bill if private investors aren’t foolish enough to do so. The market sees such ventures as a huge stranded asset risk.

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On the weekend Joyce welcomed the Morrison Government’s commitment of 6 million taxpayer dollars for a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station in North Queensland. He said if we don’t do it, we should tell India and China they are “all stupid” for planning more fossil-fuelled power stations and let them buy their coal elsewhere.

One of the world’s most brilliant minds in the last one hundred years, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking who died in 2018, sees “runaway climate change” as a more immediate threat to our existence as a species, than nuclear war or an asteroid collision. In his last book, he said “a rise in ocean temperature would melt the ice caps and cause the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide. Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus, but with a temperature of 250 degrees Celsius”. Human life would be unsustainable.

Hawking said we must go beyond agreed international protocols “and cut carbon emissions now”. We have the technology – renewables and battery storage. He said “we just need the political will”.