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Australian Government axes Climate Commission

David SuzukiSuzuki slams Tony Abbott

As soon as it took office, the newly-elected ultraconservative Abbott Coalition Australian Government took an axe to climate change action and the meager steps of its Labor predecessor, in particular axing the expert Australian Climate Commission that has been informing Australians about the latest climate change science. Success in “tackling climate change” is surely measured in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution reduction but Australia’s Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution is huge and ever-increasing.

The Australian Liberal Party-National Party Coalition Government (elected on 7 September 2013) and the Labor Opposition have exactly the same overall GHG pollution policies of a derisory “5% off 2000 greenhouse gas  pollution by 2020” coupled with unlimited GHG pollution through unlimited coal, gas and iron ore exports.

The newly-elected ultraconservative Coalition Federal Australian Government under PM Tony Abbott has an effective,  de facto climate change denialist position on man-made climate change. About half the Government are outright climate change deniers and the remainder are de facto deniers in the sense of not supporting effective climate change action. Thus, for example, the earnest Coalition Government Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, is clearly among those Coalition MPs who do regard  climate change as a problem to be tackled.

However several days before the Federal Election, the Coalition revealed an extraordinary climate change denialist position in releasing its resources and energy policy (see “The Coalition’s Policy for Resources and Energy”)  that (a) made zero (0) mention of man-made climate change from fossil fuel burning and (b) made zero (0) mention of renewable energy except to propose a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) investigation into the climate change denialist furphy of alleged deleterious effects  of wind farms, this ignoring the reality that the NHMRC has already  found that there is “no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects” (see the NHMRC Report “Wind farms and human health). In contrast,  an estimated 10,000 Australians die each year due to pollutants from carbon burning (Google “Australian carbon burning-related deaths” ).

Further, the  first acts of the newly elected Abbott Coalition Australian Government were to sack the expert Australian Climate Commission and adumbrate closure of other climate change-related  government bodies, namely the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation . Australian Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne has stated: “Today is a black day in the struggle against global warming.  Tony Abbott has axed the Climate Change Commission and sacked its highly respected Commissioners. He has also moved to destroy essential infrastructure like the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. In one swoop, he has demonstrated his contempt for climate science and for the health and wellbeing of future generations”  (see Christine Milne, “Abbott’s crimes against  the climate”, 19 December 2013).

Famed Canadian environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki has reportedly accused  PM Tony Abbott of “criminal negligence” and thence commented further that  “I don’t think I went too far – what we are seeing is a crime against future generations. There ought to be a legal position on intergenerational crime. If you stand out for a role of leadership and ignore the science on climate change, I think that’s willful blindness” (Oliver Milman, “David Suzuki accuses Tony Abbott of “willful blindness” to climate change”, The Guardian, 24 September 2013 ).

However ultraconservative Australian PM Tony Abbott has not stopped there. His Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, has announced a policy of fast-tracking of environmental approvals for mining in Australia and those impacting the endangered, World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef in particular. Further, he Coalition Government is making moves to ban citizen action against climate criminal corporations. Thus the progressive, pro-environment, pro-human rights public advocacy and petitioning group Get-Up (the Australian equivalent of Avaaz) has written the following message to its  members: “The Abbott Government is making aggressive moves to silence our voices and go after the places we cherish. Headline news in The Australian [owned by the Murdoch media empire] clearly spells out the fight ahead of us: (1) First, the Coalition announces it will "fast-track" plans for future development of major coal, iron ore and gas regions surrounding the Great Barrier Reef, cutting what they term "green tape". (2) And then, yesterday's shocking story that the government is already pre-empting our future campaigning. They are considering legislation to remove our right to speak up against companies with poor environmental records.”

Indeed new Australian PM Tony Abbott’s 4 key policies to (1) “stop the boats”,  (2) “scrap the carbon tax”,  (3) “build the roads” and (4) “get the budget back into the black” had already failed before the Coalition Government began. Thus (1) Australia’s giant neighbour Indonesia strongly objects to potential  violation of its sovereignty by the Coalition’s “stop the boats” policies; (2) via its Direct Action plan of subsidizing polluters not to pollute the Coalition effectively proposes  an implicit  Carbon Tax that is maximally 5 times bigger than Labor’s in terms of dollars per tonne CO2-equivalent;  (3) in the context of a worsening climate crisis, investing public money into energy inefficient highways rather than into energy efficient railways is dangerous and expensive incompetence at best; and (4)  fossil fuel burning carries an enormous debt for future generations and coal exports over the next 3 years  under the Coalition will entrench a carbon debt of  $300 billion to $450 billion in today’s Australian dollars for future generations, an appalling example of Coalition ignorance, incompetence, corruption, intergenerational inequity and intergenerational injustice (for details see Gideon Polya, “New Abbott  Coalition Australian Government. 4 policy failures already”, MWC News ) .

In 2009 the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WBGU) determined that for a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2 degree C temperature rise, the World must pollute less than 600 Gt CO2 (600 billion tonnes CO2) between 2010 and essentially zero emissions in 2050. The Australian Climate Commission (now disbanded in one of the first acts of the incoming Coalition Government) has come to the same conclusion (see  WBGU, “Solving the climate dilemma: the budget approach” and  Australian Climate Commission, “The critical decade 2013: a summary of climate change science, risks and responses”, 2013, p7 ).

This means that the "fair share" of this  global terminal greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution budget of 600 Gt  CO2 (600 billion tonnes CO2) for Australia (population 22.9 million in 2012 as compared to a World population of 7,010 million ) is 600 billion tonnes CO2  x 22.9 million/7010 million  = 1.960 billion tonnes CO2 = 1,960 million tonnes CO2.

From Australian Treasury, Australian Bureau of Agricultural  and Resource Economics (ABARE), and US Energy Information Administration (US EIA)  data, and assuming an 11% annual growth in iron ore exports, 2.4% annual growth in coal exports and 9% annual growth in gas exports, Australia’s Domestic and Exported greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is as follows (million tonnes CO2-e or Mt CO2-e). The data are based on fossil fuel combustion and ignore fugitive emissions due leakage of gas (mainly  methane, CH4) from coal mines and in coal-seam gas (CSG) production.

  • 2000: 565 (Domestic) + 505 (coal exports) + 17 (LNG exports) + 105 (iron ore exports) = 1,192.
  • 2009: 600 (Domestic) + 784 (coal exports) + 31 (LNG exports) + 97 (iron ore exports) = 1,512.
  • 2010: 578 (Domestic) + 803 (coal exports) + 34 (LNG exports) + 293 (iron ore exports) = 1,708.
  • 2020: 621 (Domestic) + 1,039 (black coal exports) + 80 (LNG exports) + 59 (brown coal exports) + 772 (iron ore exports) = 2,571.

If Australia manages to reach its derisory target of “5% off 2000 Domestic greenhouse gas  pollution by 2020” (noting that the plans of the previous Labor Government envisaged that this could only be achieved by buying cheap “GHG credits” from overseas), then Australia’s 2020 Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution in Mt CO2-e would be:

2020: 537 (Domestic) + 1,039 (black coal exports) + 80 (LNG exports) + 59 (brown coal exports) + 772 (iron ore exports) = 2,487.

Australia's annual domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution was 578 million tonnes CO2-e (CO2-equivalent) in 2010 (this figure taking into account not just CO2 but other GHGs excluding water (H2O) that were emitted e.g. methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) derived from land use). Accordingly, relative to 2010, Australia has 1,960/578 = 3.4 years at this rate to use up its “fair share” of the world's terminal GHG pollution budget.  

However simple “cause and effect” means that we must also consider the GHG impact of Australia's huge coal, natural gas and iron ore exports to the GHG pollution of the one common atmosphere of all countries.  Thus, if Australia left it all in the ground then this material would not be used to generate GHG pollution of the atmosphere.

Australia's Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution in 2010 was 1,708 million tonnes CO2-e, this being made up (in million tonnes of CO2-e) of   578 (Domestic) + 803 (coal exports) + 34 (LNG exports) + 293 (iron ore exports) (see "2011 Climate Change Course") and hence relative to 2010 Australia had 1,960/1,708 = 1.1 years to get to zero emissions i.e. by the middle of 2011.

Australia had thus by 2011 already used up its “fair share” of the world's  terminal GHG pollution budget and is now stealing the entitlement of all of the countries in the world. For a detailed analysis see “Shocking analysis by country of years left to zero emissions”, Green Blog, 1 August 2011.

However, it gets worse. Australia has huge reserves of black coal, brown coal, natural gas (conventional gas and unconventional gas such as shale gas and coal seam gas or CSG) and iron ore (which contributes  to GHG pollution when processed industrially). The Australian bipartisan policy of unlimited coal, gas and iron ore exports means that, given Australia's huge resources, Australia is set to exceed the WBGU's and Australian Climate Commission’s terminal GHG pollution budget of 600 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent by a factor of three (3) (the World is set to exceed this budget by a factor of 5) (see Gideon Polya, “Australia’s huge coal, gas & iron ore exports threaten Planet”, Countercurrents, 15 May, 2012).

What can decent people do?

To summarize, the German WBGU and the Australian Climate Commission have estimated that no more than 600 billion tonnes of CO2 can be emitted between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050 if the world is to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise. A climate criminal Australia used up its "fair share" of the world's terminal greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution budget of 600 billion tonnes CO2-e in 2011. The Australian bipartisan policy of unlimited coal, gas and iron ore exports means that, given Australia's huge resources,  Australia is set to exceed the WBGU's and Australian Climate Commission’s terminal GHG pollution budget of 600 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent by a factor of three (3) (the World is set to exceed this budget by a factor of 5).

Australian asserts love for humanity while being disproportionately involved in war crimes and climate crimes. As adumbrated by conservative climate change economist Professor Ross Garnaut, the world will eventually force Australia to take action on climate change. An increasingly  climate change-threatened world will eventually respond to Australia 's dog-in-the–manger climate criminality through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), Green Tariffs, Sporting Boycotts, International Court of Justice (ICJ) litigations and International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutions. Decent people will respond to the worsening climate crisis by (a) informing others and (b) urging sanctions against all people, politicians, parties, corporations and countries (notably Australia, Canada and the US) involved in disproportionate deadly pollution of our one common atmosphere.

Dr. James Hansen (former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York and adjunct Professor at 98-Nobel-Laureate Columbia University) as has demanded criminal prosecution of corporation officials who are complicit in climate change-connected mass mortality through knowingly misleading the public about man-made climate change: “Fossil fuel reservoirs are finite, which is the main reason that prices are rising. We must move beyond fossil fuels eventually. Solution of the climate problem requires that we move to carbon-free energy promptly. Special interests have blocked the transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil fuel companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, just as tobacco companies discredited the link between smoking and cancer. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of the long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. But the conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet” (see James Hansen, “Guest opinion: global warming twenty years later”, Worldwatch Institute).   

One notes that while free speech is crucial for scientific and scholarly investigation and for rational risk management to maximize societal safety, willful lying associated with consequent grievous harm is punishable under law.  On a present visit to Australia, famous environmentalist Professor David Suzuki has put a similar position: “I think there is a category called willful blindness. Our problem is we have no means of holding our so-called leaders - people we elect to political office to lead us into the future - we have no way to keep them accountable, except booting them out of office. But the reverberations of what they do or do not do today are rippling far beyond the coming years. There will be generational impacts. Now, if you have people who stand up to take positions of leadership and they deliberately suppress or ignore information vital to making an informed decision, I think that's willful blindness, and willful blindness, I understand, is a legal entity that you can sue people for.… personally I think that there is a great deal of willful blindness and it ought to be pointed out in some way, yes.… I believe what is going on now is criminal, our activity, because it is a crime against future generations and there ought to be a legal position of intergenerational crime and I think there is criminal negligence.” David Suzuki was equally blunt in relation to pessimist inaction in the face of political unresponsiveness: “Well, I think that you have no choice. If you don't do anything, then you assure that you’re going to go the negative way. We have to get involved … Get off your ass and let's get something done about this” (see “An audience with David Suzuki”, ABC TV, Q&A, 23 September, 2013).

 The Synthesis Report of the March 2009 Copenhagen Scientific Climate Change Conference has similarly concluded that “Inaction is inexcusable” (Synthesis Report of the March 2009 Copenhagen Scientific Climate Change Conference). Similarly in a 2010 Open Letter signed by 255 members of the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel Laureates stated: “Delay is not an option” (2010 Open Letter by 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, “Open Letter: climate change and the integrity of science”, Guardian, 6 May 2010). Dr. James Hansen when asked if it is possible to avert the climate crisis replied “Absolutely. It is possible – if we give politicians a cold, hard slap in the face… Are we going to stand up and give global politicians a hard slap in the face, to make them face the truth? It will take a lot of us – probably in the streets. Or are we going to let them continue to kid themselves and us and cheat our children and grandchildren? Intergenerational inequity is a moral issue” (see James Hansen, “It’s possible to avert the climate crisis?” Countercurrents, 29 November 2009).

Australians, Canadians and Americans in particular must do everything they can to oppose the climate criminal  policies of their climate criminal governments and major parties, noting that Australia, Canada and the US are world leaders in annual per capita GHG pollution (Google “Climate genocide”). Thus decent Australians  should urge everyone they can to oppose the climate criminal policies of the functionally climate change denialist Abbott Coalition Australian Government and should urge Australian Labor Party members and Parliamentary Labor Caucus MPs to support the more progressive Anthony Albanese in the forthcoming ballots for the  position of Leader of the Opposition Australian Labor Party and against the right-wing candidate Bill Shorten (who was a key player in both the 2010 and 2013 Coups against successive democratically elected Labor Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, respectively). Members of the Australian Climate Commission sacked by the new Coalition Government have vowed to continue to inform Australia on a voluntary basis as an Australian Climate Council.  Top scientists advise that “Inaction is inexcusable” and “Delay is not an option” – we must do everything we can to sensibly and peacefully help save the Planet for Humanity and the Biosphere.

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