Australia doesn’t need to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because it “doesn’t actually bind us to anything in particular” and won’t impede the country from building more coal-fired generating stations, Resources Minister Matt Canavan said last week.
When then-prime minister Tony Abbott signed the Paris deal in 2015, he said Australia was making a “definite commitment” to cut emissions 26% by 2030, and hinted at a possible stretch goal of 28%, The Guardian recalls. “But Canavan said on Friday the Paris commitment was a three-page document that allowed Australia flexibility to build new coal plants,” the paper reports.
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“What I want to focus on is solving the crisis we have in energy today,” he told Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones. And against volumes of evidence to the contrary, he said that means “we have to build power stations,” including new coal plants. Yet a new Australian National University study concludes the country could hit 100% renewable electricity by the early 2030s and reach its Paris Agreement target by 2025, just by maintaining its current pace of wind and solar deployment, RenewEconomy reports this morning.
Canavan also distinguished himself by criticizing a cabinet colleague, newly-appointed Foreign Minister Marise Payne, for signing on to a Pacific Islands Forum communiqué that cited climate change as the region’s biggest security threat. He publicly urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to fire Payne, insisting the Coalition government will have no chance of winning elections next year if it chooses to “persist with the global warming rubbish and the Paris Agreement”.
(Persisting on climate change is not something most observers, including the Australian business lobby, would suspect the climate-denying, coal-captured Coalition government of doing very much of.)
The Guardian says the country’s new energy minister, Angus Taylor, is working on a plan to extend the operating life of the existing fleet of coal and natural gas plants, 30% of which are expected to be obsolete in the next two decades. A report from the Australian Energy Market Operator concluded that the most cost-effective replacement for those facilities is not coal, but “a portfolio of utility-scale renewable generation, storage, distributed energy resources, flexible thermal capacity, and transmission”.
A day before Canavan distinguished himself on air, a collection of 30 leading scientists contacted by a major national news network agreed that Australia is being “irresponsible in the extreme” by refusing to recognize the scope of the climate emergency. Rupert Murdoch’s news.com, often cited as a lead influence behind the Coalition’s persistent climate denial, reported that the scientists placed the blame on “everyday Aussies”, as well as the country’s “confused, divided, and backwards” government.
“Overwhelmingly they agreed Australia wasn’t doing enough about our ‘existential threat to civilization’,” news.com wrote.
“It sounds extreme and exaggerated, but it isn’t. The facts are all there and have been for years,” noted reporter Stephanie Bedo.
“Yet Australia’s politicians have failed to develop a longstanding policy on what [then-PM] Kevin Rudd famously described in 2007 as ‘the great moral challenge of our generation’. Instead, the policy has been used as a political tool to oust at least three prime ministers.”
Australian TV presenter Tom Ballard chimed in earlier in the week, with what he signposted as “angry, sweary ranting barely disguised as comedy”. Ballard traced the political machinations that ended with Morrison replacing Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister, running video of Turnbull acknowledging the reality and urgency of the climate crisis. “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am,” he said in 2009. “Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy,” he wrote in one critique of Abbott’s administration. “We are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”
But by mid-October 2017, Turnbull’s government was running away from its commitment to a national clean energy target, what one news report was signposting as “Turnbull’s power crisis” and an “energy backflip” by last month. Turnbull’s Liberal Party dumped him as PM a few days later.
“Malcolm Turnbull was so good at backflips, especially for someone who doesn’t have a spine,” Ballard said, adding that he was severely fed up with “the hypocrisy, the weakness, and the inertia on this issue that [Turnbull’s] political career represents.” The choice for Turnbull’s replacement, he added, was “between a dude who jokes about Pacific Islanders losing their homes thanks to rising sea levels” and successful leadership contender Scott Morrison, who famously brought a lump of coal into the national legislature—neatly lacquered by a coal lobby organization—to advocate for the climate-busting fuel.
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