When I first started doing this weekly summary about six months ago, I had a discussion with the Climate Reality Project about the style of the article. The conversation went along the lines of - we don’t want just a list of bullet points or headlines; we want context and to join the dots. I have tried to do that since then. Well, this week the context is standing back, stopping and looking at the last two weeks of climate policy news in Australia. The best way to do this is with headlines and bullet points. This style and the associated content tell two remarkable but similar stories. They tell us that this is quite possibly the darkest year in Australian climate policy history. This week, this articled is a little longer than normal, but for good reason. Laurel and Hardy? Standby.
Story number one, in simple terms, relates to the government wanting to change laws thereby removing the ability of some groups to undertake legal action in an effort to delay, change or prevent some developments in ecologically sensitive areas. It is all to do with the Carmichael development in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, proposed by the Indian mining giant, Adani. This news summary is about climate change. This development is a climate change issue and not just a general ‘environment’ issue. As I said in my news summary two weeks ago: “Greenhouse gas emissions from this one mine would be more than that of 52 nations or four times that of New Zealand, according to Take Part”. It is a climate change issue. It highlights the perilous state of climate, environment and public policy in Australia.
Here’s a taste of coverage from non News Corporation media this week:
• The Guardian: “Even for the Abbott government the inconsistencies in the latest “war on environmental vigilantes and saboteurs” are astonishing. And the slapstick nature of its attempt to use the issue as a political wedge is up there with Laurel and Hardy.”
• The Guardian: “In yet another passionate defence of coal (in an interview with the Australian newspaper), Tony Abbott has made so many inaccurate and questionable claims it’s hard to know where to start.”
• The Australia Institute: “The Abbott Government’s move against environmental law is an unjustified overreaction according to a review of legal action under the EPBC Act. 3rd party appeals to the Federal Court have only affected 0.4% of all projects referred under the legislation.“
• Renew Economy: “The six big lies in Tony Abbott’s attack on the environment”. “The following is a run-down of the six big lies at the centre of the Coalition’s latest attack on the environment…”
• Sydney Morning Herald: “Great Barrier Reef and other icons at risk from proposed law change: green groups”. “The Abbott government's proposed change to a key environmental protection law is an anti-democratic move that could put Australia's famous natural heritage sites at risk, green groups say. Eight leading non-profit environmental organisations gathered in Sydney on Wednesday to oppose the federal government's plan.”
• Sydney Morning Herald: “Adani mine a $20b project creating 10,000 jobs? The Abbott government's myths busted”. “When it comes to Australia's largest coal mine, the Abbott government has a difficult relationship with the truth. If you haven't heard, Australia is under siege from a new kind of eco-warrior, one with a manual and money for legal challenges designed to endlessly frustrate economic development.
• The Guardian: “Farm groups furious at Coalition move to restrict environmental challenges”. “Farm organisations horrified they will be swept up in changes to environmental laws that aim to stop green groups taking legal action against resource projects”.
• The Conversation: “A key feature of authoritarianism is that the government is above the law – it is not accountable to the people for its actions. In contrast, under a democratic system, the rule of law means that the government is constrained by law and can be held accountable by the people. This is particularly pertinent to the move by Attorney-General George Brandis to restrict green groups from challenging major developments under federal law.”
As I said in the introduction - when you sit back and take it all in, these headlines and dot points tell a remarkable story. It is a terrible story - summed up by the Chairman of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Geoffrey Cousins, who said in an email: “ National environmental law exists for a reason – to protect the life, land, water and wildlife.” You can listen to his full interview with Radio National’s Fran Kelly at the ABC website.
Story number two relates to the follow-up coverage on the announcement last week by the Australian Government about its largely condemned emissions reduction targets. Here’s a a taste of the coverage and commentary, again from non News Corporation sources:
• The Guardian: “Emissions target: lack of detailed policy a major concern, say business leaders. ’Trying to cost what they have on the table is really just grasping at straws. We need to start filling in the detail,’ says head of Australian Industry Group”.
• The Guardian: “'Tony Abbott’s hubris is staggering': UK's climate adviser on emissions target. Lord Deben, head of the British government’s climate change advisory body, says Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target puts it among the ‘don’t cares’”. “Australia’s friends know she could do so much better than this and all of us abroad will work with all those people who are determined to overturn this irrational decision,” Lord Debden said.
• Renew Economy: “Damned lies, Minister Hunt and climate models”. “No Minister, there is no conspiracy between Treasury, your department, the Climate Change Authority and the Labor Party. Mr Hunt’s confabulations and the Telegraph’s beat-up add to the sorry history of climate scare campaigns.”
• Renew Economy: “In a week dominated by debate over the level of inadequacy of the Abbott government’s 2030 emissions reduction target, the Prime Minister is about to be delivered a timely wake up call. Arriving in his inbox on Thursday will be a letter from the President of the Republic of Kiribati, calling on all world leaders to commit to an end to coal.”
• Renew Economy: “The trillion-dollar hole in Abbott’s climate policy logic”. “A new report from global investment giant Citigroup has blown a great big hole in the Abbott government’s logic for aiming low on emissions reduction and renewable energy growth.”
• The Age: “Climate Change Authority head Bernie Fraser issues blistering rebuke to Abbott government”. “However it is viewed, the reduction in emissions embodied in the government's target is substantially weaker than that recommended by the Authority.” Mr Fraser’s full statement can be read at the agency’s website.
• Sydney Morning Herald (including a video): “Higher emissions reduction target would cost economy little”. “The Prime Minister might hope we don't notice, but Australia's plan does not stack up well against the offers of the US, Britain, Europe, Canada or New Zealand.”
You get the drift. Again, there was nothing positive. Anywhere. That ends coverage of these two significant stories in Australia. Both stories have a ‘long way to go’ in that the government is likely to be defeated in its push to change environmental law. On the targets issue, the world may pressure Australia to go further in Paris.
Reuters have a good summary on where things are at around three months before the climate summit and Paris. The news isn’t great with the news agency reporting that “Rich Nations’ Climate Plans Fall Short of Hopes for Paris”. It said: “Developed nations are on track to cut their greenhouse emissions by almost 30 percent by 2030, Reuters calculations show, falling far short of a halving suggested by a U.N. panel of scientists as a fair share to limit climate change”. “The overall ambition of the developed countries is still not sufficient," said Niklas Hoehne, founding partner of the New Climate Institute that tracks pledges, referring to a U.N. goal of limiting rising temperatures to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial times.
Hot on the heels of the Catholic Church urging action on climate change, the United Nations reports Islamic leaders have done the same: “Islamic leaders have called on the world's 1.6 billion Muslims to play an active role in combatting climate change and have urged governments to conclude an effective universal climate change agreement in Paris at the end of the year. Faith leaders, senior international development policy makers, academics and other experts made the call in an Islamic Declaration on Climate adopted at an International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul in Tuesday. The leaders called on governments meeting in Paris to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion”.
The following story requires three reads for it to sink in. From the Guardian: “Air pollution in China is killing 4,000 people every day, a new study finds”. That is not an error - it does say four-thousand-a-day. “Physicists at the University of California have found 1.6 million people in China die each year from heart, lung and stroke problems because of polluted air. Air pollution is killing about 4,000 people in China a day, accounting for one in six premature deaths in the world’s most populous country, a new study finds. Physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, calculated about 1.6 million people in China die each year from heart, lung and stroke problems because of incredibly polluted air, especially small particles of haze.”
There was some climate science news about this week with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting “Global warming to drive quadrupling of extreme weather trifecta, study finds”. The paper reported on a study in Nature. “The worst combination of extreme weather patterns in the Indian and Pacific oceans will likely rise four-fold this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory, leading researchers have said. Australia's already variable climate may be particularly susceptible to a punishing sequence of events.”
That’s the end of the news. There’s a few diary notes for those in Melbourne and Sydney:
• Naomi Klein will speak at Melbourne writers festival on 29 and 30 August and the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Sydney Opera House on 5 September. Klein's latest book, This Changes Everything, argues governments have fundamentally failed to deal with the issue of climate change.
• Sydney CityTalks 2015 - The Politics of Climate Change – towards the Paris Climate Conference 2015
I have got myself a ticket to see Namoi Klein in Sydney. To be honest, it is an excuse to go to the Opera Bar. After the two weeks we have had, I need a drink!
S T O P P R E S S
There are three significant articles in Thursday’s Sydney Morning Herald. In an editorial it argues against the proposed changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act: “The Abbott government is stretching the truth, playing cheap politics and threatening the nation's environmental safeguards by proposing to strip conservation groups of their right to challenge projects in court.” Senior writer Elizabeth Farrelly has done a comment piece arguing “Two degrees or four? It's a personal choice for survival in the near future”. Finally, the ACF’s Geoff Cousins, mentioned earlier, has been given space for an opinion piece on the importance of people, anywhere, having the right to fight for the environment.
BBC: A brief history of climate change
Celsius: Myths of the Australian climate change debate
City of Sydney: Adapting for Climate Change
Climate Institute: Why the Abbott government's carbon reduction target will hurt investment in Australia
Climate Reality Project: At a loss for words: Why Australia’s INDC is rubbish
Guardian: 2015 global temperatures are right in line with climate model predictions
Guardian: Why Tony Abbott's climate 'strategy' is several different kinds of stupid
Guardian: Naomi Klein - Tony Abbott is a climate change 'villain', says Canadian author Naomi Klein
Guardian: Scientists get tool to mark online climate science media coverage and it's not a rusty teaspoon
Huffington Post: Google Wants To Help More Homes Switch To Solar Energy
Medium: The Social Cost of Carbon
New Yorker: The weight of the world (a profile piece on Christine Figueres from the UN)
RTCC: Will the clean energy revolution be good for women?
US News: The climate change election
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This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm