How many times have you heard Joe Hockey, in his characteristically boisterous way, warning us all about the pending ‘intergenerational theft’ that the previous government’s policies will bring about unless as a nation we begin to ‘live within our means’?
Painting a grim picture of our children and grandchildren labouring to repay the debt we are incurring now as we continue ‘to spend more than we earn’, he warns of their deteriorating standard of living as they struggle to pay off the nation’s debts. It’s all part of the disquieting rhetoric the government’s spin doctors have woven to coerce us to timidly endorse the punitive budgetary measures Hockey introduced in the 2014 federal Budget, and accept as credible his Intergenerational Report 2015.
This piece is not to argue the whys and wherefores of Hockey’s use of the term ‘intergenerational theft’. It is to highlight a much more serious form of intergenerational theft that his IGR 2015 perpetrates: taking away from our children and theirs the right to live on a sustainable planet that is able to accommodate the ever-growing global population by ensuring ample arable land, food and water, housing, vital biodiversity, and congenial, peaceful living conditions.
It is about intergenerational theft Hockey style, occasioned by the Abbott government’s scandalous disregard of the threat of global warming in its Intergenerational Report.
Tony Abbott, along with Joe Hockey and Environment Minister Greg Hunt and many other ministers have never seriously acknowledged the importance of global warming; they have scarcely accepted its reality. Intellectually, Abbott still seems stuck with his infamous Beaufort utterance: “the science behind climate change is crap”. This attitude shows in IGR 2015.
Kevin Rudd once called climate change “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”. He pointed specifically to its economic cost and the moral imperative of Australia doing its part to confront this dangerous long-term global problem. Sadly he went to water when it came to ensuring appropriate remedial action.
This piece examines IGR 2015, looking for evidence of any serious attempt to address this grave threat to the planet and all that lives on it.
That reference to climate change was scant in IGR 2105 should not surprise us. We know only too well Abbott’s stance: his advocacy for coal mining and the exploitation of fossil fuels, and his resistance to renewables and his cavalier attitude to the RET. We remember too his and Hockey’s unsuccessful fight to keep climate change off the agenda of the G20 meeting in Brisbane last November, based on the spurious grounds that the G20 was an economic forum, and therefore unsuitable for discussing climate change!
Find me if you can one evenhanded economist, find me one environmentalist who does not believe that climate change will bring about profound changes in the global economy, perhaps more profound than any other to date.
Since our five-yearly Intergenerational Reports are specifically designed to project global growth, to predict changes, to forecast the evolution of national, regional and world economies, why on earth would the instigators and authors of IGR 2105 make such paltry reference to arguably the most important factor underlying all of these: climate change, and more specifically, global warming?
So what did IGR 2015 say about climate change?
In the 25-page Executive Summary of over six thousand words, (which is all that will be read by those who bother to read it at all), there were just 121 words that addressed this subject. The words: ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’, ‘carbon dioxide’, and ‘greenhouse gases’ were not used. For your information here it is:
“The environmental changes that unfold over the next 40 years will affect Australians’ quality of life across a range of dimensions.
“It is difficult for individual governments to control or affect the collective and cumulative impact of human activity globally, but there is a role for the Australian Government to continue in its efforts in leading and coordinating domestic environmental policies to drive better environmental management and economic growth for the generations to come.
“Economic growth and strong environmental outcomes are complementary objectives. Policies that create strong economic growth and a sustainable budget will mean that governments are better placed to invest in environmental protection. Additionally, protecting the environment can also contribute to economic growth, particularly in sectors such as tourism.”
Note the usual Abbott cop out: “It is difficult for individual governments to control or affect the collective and cumulative impact of human activity globally…”. Note too the juxtaposition of ‘economic growth’ and ‘environmental outcomes’. The Abbott government puts economic growth ahead of environmental protection; indeed it argues that the former is necessary to achieve the latter.
In the full IGR Report, ‘climate change’ was mentioned twelve times in various contexts, but ‘global warming’ was mentioned just once, in this sentence: “The international community has agreed to aim to keep global warming to a less than 2 degrees C increase above pre-industrial climate levels.” Acceptance of this necessity by the Abbott government was not acknowledged. ’Carbon dioxide’ was not mentioned once. ‘Carbon’ was used twice: in reference to ‘soil carbon’ and ‘low carbon technology’. ‘Greenhouse gas’ was mentioned three times in the context of reducing their emissions. The terms: ‘coal’, ‘fossil fuels’ and ‘oil’ were nowhere to be found. Look for the terms ‘Renewable Energy Target’ or ‘RET’ or even ‘renewables’ and you won’t find them, a stark reflection of Abbott’s destructive anti-renewables mind-set.
How can IGR 2015 be taken seriously on its preparedness to address genuinely the danger to life from global warming, when it makes such paltry reference to the key factors that are creating it: burning fossil fuels and this nation’s negligible attempts to mitigate the carbon dioxide that results?
Its avoidance of discussion of the greenhouse effect that is bringing about global warming and with it the melting of the Arctic permafrost, glaciers and Antarctic ice; sea level rise and the inundation of low lying islands and costal areas; ocean acidification, and the serious threats of global warming to biodiversity, illustrates the Abbott government’s careless approach to this grave global threat. Protection of the Great Barrier Reef is mentioned, but mainly in the context of ensuring its economic viability.
The criminal neglect of the threat of global warming in this crucial document, one that is purposed to describe the economic challenges and opportunities for this nation in the years to 2050 and beyond, is all the more reprehensible when we hear world leaders highlighting the urgent need to do something..
During his visit to Australia, Barack Obama announced the joint China-US move to combat global warming and warned of its threat to the Great Barrier Reef. More recently he has renewed his push for action with his intent to take Air Force One to the Everglades in Florida to deliver his latest speech about his fears of global warming. He will say that global warming is damaging tourism and people’s health and that climate change is a national security risk. He will point out that the Everglades is one of the most special places in the US, but it’s also one of the most fragile, one that rising sea levels are putting it at risk.”
His words could hardly be clearer: “There’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change… it can no longer be denied or ignored.”
He will push harder at his global warming goals: “We’ve committed to doubling the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China has committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions…and because the world’s two largest economies came together, there’s new hope that… the world will finally reach an agreement to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it’s too late.”
What has the Abbott government done? It’s got rid of the carbon tax that was bringing down emissions and generating much-needed revenue, and has put in its place its Direct Action Plan. It doesn’t have a climate policy beyond 2020; local analysts believe is unlikely to reach its 5 per cent reduction target by 2020.
Nonetheless, the Abbott government insists it will achieve Australia’s carbon reduction targets. Here it is, halfway through its term, only now calling for bids in the first round of funding to pay for emissions cuts from the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund. There is no sign of the 15,000 strong Green Army that is supposed to clean up Australia. That was never more than an ill considered thought bubble and will likely never eventuate.
Australia’s recalcitrance is now attracting international attention. Read these excerpts from Adam Morton and Tom Arup’s article this week in the Sydney Morning Herald: China and other big emitters challenge Australia over its climate change policies . “Only this week, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, including China and the US, have questioned the credibility of Australia's climate change targets and ‘Direct Action’ policy in a list of queries to the Abbott government.
“China accused Australia of doing less to cut emissions than it is demanding of other developed countries, asked it to explain why this was fair, and questioned whether the Abbott government's Emissions Reduction Fund, the centrepiece of its Direct Action Policy would be enough to make up for the axed carbon price and meet Australia's commitment of a minimum 5 per cent emissions cut below 2000 levels by 2020. The questions have been lodged with the United Nations for Australia to answer in the lead-up to the December climate summit in Paris, where the world is supposed to sign a global deal to combat climate change.
“The Abbott government is also facing questions in diplomatic circles about why it is not sending a minister or its chief climate change negotiator to a meeting next Sunday of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Washington DC that will bring together ministerial representatives from 17 major countries in a bid to accelerate work on a climate deal.
“Compared with most developed nations, the questions directed at Australia are notably and repeatedly forceful in challenging its emissions targets and the credibility of its domestic policy. Australia now emits more than every European country except Germany.
“In other questions posed to Australia through the UN, the US asked whether the Emissions Reduction Fund was the main replacement for carbon pricing, or whether Australia planned to introduce other policies. Brazil accused Australia of having a ‘low level of ambition’, and asked whether it would boost its target to cut emissions more quickly.
“Erwin Jackson, deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute…said the questions showed the international community saw Australia's commitments as "woefully inadequate" for it to do its fair share in meeting the agreed global target of keeping warming to within 2 degrees. This is the first salvo. If the government doesn't come forward with a credible post-2020 target this kind of criticism will continue and only increase as other countries accelerate and deepen their own action.”
To add insult to injury, the Abbott government has found $4 million in its faltering budget to enable climate contrarian Bjørn Lomborg to establish a ‘consensus centre’ at the University of Western Australia. Lomborg was looking for long-term funding after the Danish government defunded his consensus centre in 2012. While Labor’s spokesman on the environment, Mark Butler protested: “Tony Abbott has deputised one of the world’s most well-known renewable energy sceptics to continue his climate change denial and attacks on renewable energy”, the Institute of Public Affairs responded by saying, “Bjørn, it’s great to have you!” That just about says it all!
Hockey’s IGR 2015 reflects Australia’s attitude and inaction on climate change. It cares more about protecting the viability and profits of the fossil fuel industry than it does about the future of the planet and everything that lives on it. This is the intergenerational theft of which Hockey is guilty. It is more than reprehensible. It is scandalous that such culpability should go almost unnoticed, certainly unpunished. We will have to wait for the 2016 election!
What do you think?
Ad astra is a retired medical academic, appalled that our elected leaders so dangerously ignore global warming. More about Ad astra here.