By Maggie Wood, Acting Executive Director of the Conservation Council of WA
Yesterday, the Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, delivered his first Annual Climate Change Statement to Parliament.
After a long period in which climate concerns have taken a back seat in Canberra, there was much to admire in the sentiment of the minister’s speech – not least the acknowledgement that climate change can no longer be thought of in the safe confines of a phenomenon located in our far distant future. As many of our most intelligent and learned scientists have been saying for many years now, climate change, and its effects, are here now and we are living with them.
He is correct to say that ‘no Australian is spared from the impact of climate change’ and that, while Australia has always been assailed by dramatic and devastating natural disasters, fires, floods and droughts are now more devastating, more frequent and ‘increasingly unnatural.’
I have no doubt that when the minister says that the still-new federal government wants to be ‘accountable, transparent and open’ about its work in this area, that he means it. I have no doubt that he takes the matter incredibly seriously.
However, as is often the case in the world of politics, across the political spectrum, there is always the unnerving gap between what is said and what is done.
In that gap sits the Labor government’s indulgence of the fossil fuel lobby and endorsement of new coal and gas exploration and exploitation.
In July, little more than 60 days into his premiership, Anthony Albanese ruled out the banning of new coal and gas projects in Australia, saying that to do so would be economically “devastating”.
In August, the new Federal Resources Minister, Madeleine King, signed off on 47,000 square kilometres of Commonwealth waters for oil and gas exploration, a move which was described by the Conservation Council of WA as ‘a blank cheque’ for the oil and gas lobby.
And while there has been cause for optimism in steps to reassess several proposed fossil fuel projects on climate grounds, as overseen by the Environment Minster, Tanya Plibersek, this Labor administration has still thrown its wholehearted support behind deeply unpopular proposals, like Woodside’s Scarborough Gas project, here in WA.
Australia is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas anywhere in the world, in spite of our relatively small population. We rank third in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, for fossil fuel exports. There are over 100 new coal, gas and petroleum proposals waiting to be approved in Australia alone.
Minister Bowen was quite correct when he said, yesterday, that “business as usual can’t be the usual business anymore”. But, while it would be incorrect to suggest that this Labor government is beholden to the fossil fuel lobby in quite the same way as the preceding administration was, there are many who feel the Albanese government is still far too generous and forgiving towards our country’s biggest polluters. Certainly, those who voted Labor to power on a wave of calls for climate action, would want to see much, much more done to reign in the oil and gas lobby’s worst excesses.
The truth of the matter is quite simple. We cannot expect to get Australia’s emissions under control, if we do not first get oil and gas lobby under control. The likes of Woodside, Santos, Chevron et. al. continue to hold too much power, make far too much money and have too much influence at Canberra and in the state parliaments.
Unless there is a fundamental change in Australia’s relationship with oil and gas, there can be no net-zero, no 43 per cent, and any efforts to control the effects of climate change, either here or abroad will be undermined.
It will take a monumental effort to reach the ambition set out by Minister Bowen yesterday.
We can start by scrapping the $11.6 billion annual subsidy to the fossil fuel industry and spending that money on renewables instead.
Maggie Wood is the Acting Executive Director of the Conservation Council of WA, Western Australia’s peak conservation and environment body.
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing more than 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
For more information, visit: ccwa.org.au.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies
08 9420 7291 / 0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]