Today the Federal government has announced that it will aim to cut carbon emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030. With Julie Bishop heading to the COP21 Paris climate talks at the end of 2015, we will soon know what the rest of the world makes of this. Both Bishop and her colleague, Environment Minister Greg Hunt, have pushed for higher emissions cuts within party discussions, but whether they will be heard is yet to be seen.
Professor Tim Flannery is concerned that other world leaders at the Paris climate talks won’t look favourably upon this target, saying that an emissions reduction target of 40 per cent on 2000 levels by 2030 is the bare minimum, and that this target is far below that. There is fear that Australia is lagging behind on climate policy, unaware of the fact that we now exist in a global community. Not to mention the fact that, as a relatively wealthy nation, and the highest per-capita emitter in the OECD, many of our neighboring countries might perceive that we have a responsibility to take on more of the brunt of this global effort. For instance, analogous economies, such as the United States and Canada have out-done us (albeit still not meeting the Flannery standard): the US aims to cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025, while Canada aims for 30% by 2030.
Further consideration into the government’s climate policy exposes a couple of interesting contradictions. Firstly: their preoccupation with international relations and national security. Maybe we can afford to let the sea level rise a metre or so (for now), but our neighbours certainly cannot. Within 24 hours of the announcement, the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs Minister, the Honorable Tony de Brum, responded to Australia’s targets, stating that Abbott’s attempt to ignore climate change will send a serious shudder through the Pacific and raise concern among its closest allies, including the United States and Europe. De Brum’s comment warns of a changed perception towards Australia. Our Pacific neighbours are noticing us, and we aren’t looking too good.
Aside from actual loss of land due to rising sea levels, the impact of such changes would exponentially reduce the percentage of arable land in nearby nations by increasing the salinity of soils, thus placing pressure on resource availability.
At the USAsia lecture, Climate Change and its Geopolitical Implications in Asia and the Pacific, held at UWA earlier this year, H.E. Dr Ta Ngoc Tan led a delegation of Vietnamese professors in discussion. These professors referred to climate change as a matter of national security for Vietnam, explaining that a metre of sea level rise would reduce the arable land for rice farming in Vietnam by 2.6 million hectares. Even at a rise of only 50cm, flooding will affect 70% of the Mekong River Delta, where over half of Vietnam’s rice supply has been grown since 1997. Already great floods in Vietnam have resulted in huge environmental damage to UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay. Perhaps if the government really is so preoccupied with national security, it should have a chat with Dr Ta Ngoc Tan about the climate.
Another contradiction in our government’s climate policy regards its revulsion towards “boat people”. Many refugees have already become dislocated due to the pressure climate change places on top of other cumulative factors. 28% of the total global population live in low-elevation coastal zones in China, Japan and Korea, where flooding from rising sea levels is now a high risk. A further 2 million poor people live in rural situations on the low-lying river megadeltas of South and Southeast Asia, which scientists predict will be completely inundated by the rising sea level before 2050. With Australia’s policy on asylum seekers already causing problems, not only is our government’s attitude towards climate change damaging factor our relationship with neighbouring countries, but it is also out of sync with its supposed desire to reduce the number of refugees in the Pacific.
When we look back on this decision as a nation, it will be with shame. We will be ashamed that we voted in a government who refuses to embrace new, sustainable technologies, which, as a wealthy Western nation, and one of the least-affected by the GFC, we are very capable of doing. The shame will be furthered by their stubborn decision to do as little as possible to help the countries that surround us, who buy our crops and who host our travellers.
As de Brum stated today, the emerging economies of the Asia Pacific look to Australia as a sign of the industrialised world’s commitment to take the lead in decarbonising the world economy. If we want to maintain our international reputation, something big needs to change. If the government wants to prioritise national security, foreign relations, and a reduction of the number of refugees arriving on our shores, something big needs to change. Perhaps someday soon we might even need to meet the Flannery standard.
Words by Jessica Cockerill