Opinion: Our new government is betraying us on climate.

Image: Since 2017 we have continued to follow the worst emissions scenario and will continue to do so if we do not stop opening new projects. 8degrees F = 4.5 degrees C



The climate bores

By Rachel Withers

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks at the Bush Summit, in Griffith, Friday, August 26, 2022
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks at the Bush Summit, in Griffith, Friday, August 26, 2022. © AAP Image/Ginette Guidolin

One of the worst parts of Labor’s climate betrayal is watching them parrot Coalition talking points.

There has been no shortage of anger this week over the government’s decision to open up 47,000 square kilometres of Australian waters to oil and gas exploration – a decision that goes against Labor’s purported climate goals, knowing that we cannot open new fossil-fuel projects and expect to meet our Paris commitments. The Greens and climate independents are furious at the move, which comes so soon after they supported Labor’s climate bill in spite of their reservations. “Hugely disappointing move,” tweeted Kooyong MP Monique Ryan. Warringah’s Zali Steggall commented: “Is the Albanese Govt serious about climate or gaslighting Australia?”, and noted that Labor still needs to get its target bill through the Senate. The Greens and ACT senator David Pocock say they’ll use their casting votes to oppose legislation that approves high-polluting projects, although a frustrated Adam Bandt indicated this morning that the Greens will still be supporting Labor’s emissions target bill in the Senate, while continuing to advocate for a moratorium on new coal and gas, and a climate trigger. It’s galling watching the government do this, especially when, as Bandt noted, “the ink isn’t even dry on the climate legislation”. But what’s especially galling is hearing them use almost the same arguments the Coalition used, to justify these deadly decisions.

That, after all, is what seems to be happening here, with both Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Resources Minister Madeleine King presenting facetious arguments to defend what they must know, deep down, is indefensible. King, for her part, has been pushing the line that we need continued gas exploration to “alleviat[e] future domestic gas shortfalls”, while at the same time “strive to reduce emissions”. But as many noted during the recent gas crisis, Australia has no domestic shortfall; it’s simply that the government refuses to do enough to force fossil-fuel companies to keep Australian-sourced gas in the country (as Meanjineditor Jonathan Green points out, they’ll presumably let them export any newfound fuels too). Besides, Deakin Law professor Samantha Hepburn explains in The Conversation, without export controls, increasing domestic production does little to improve Australia’s supply.

King is also leaning hard on “carbon capture and storage”, the dubious science upon which former Energy Minister Angus Taylor so heavily relied to justify new fossil-fuel projects, with the announcement of “offshore greenhouse gas storage acreage” for Woodside and INPEX. As Hepburn (and many, many others) note, CCS is far from a “proven” technology, and there are many examples of companies trying and failing to sequester carbon and emitting more than promised. Challenging ocean conditions, Hepburn adds, can make offshore storage extremely difficult.

But it’s Albanese whose defensive responses have been most disappointing, employing cheap rhetorical tactics even as he makes bold declarations about there being “no ideological opt-out clause” on climate (Albanese is today at the Bush Summit, where he is announcing a biodiversity credits scheme, much like the carbon credits scheme but paying Australians to repair habitat on their properties). Facing criticism over the new oil and gas permits yesterday, Albanese hit back with a popular conservative retort, that the journalist asking must have used a car to get to the presser, highlighting that people still need petrol (he then attempted the same line re: the lights in the room, before realising they were probably being powered by solar panels).

Such attacks often prompt comparisons to this Matt Bors comic, in which a contrarian suggests those participating in society cannot call for it to be improved. But the over-the-top line was extra irrelevant in this case, considering the oil being drilled for in these new projects won’t be ready for several years. Even if one accepts that Australia will go on needing large amounts of oil for the foreseeable future (though that seems to fly in the face of that ambitious new EV policy), critics are not saying that we “immediately … stop using fossil fuel sources today”, as Albanese falsely suggested. “A nice illustration of the Overnight Principle,” climate analyst Ketan Joshi tweeted of yesterday’s remarks, noting that people who use such lines are “trying to obscure what they’re really arguing for, which is getting rid of fossil fuels as slowly as possible”.

It’s not the first time Albanese has ventured down this Morrison-esque path, after he last month repeated the laughable line that Australian coal was “cleaner” than that mined elsewhere, while pretending that Greens demands for “no new coal and gas” meant “ending all coal exports right now”. It’s not quite the same level as Barnaby Joyce pretending that signing up to a methane pledge would mean farmers “shooting all their cattle”, or that suggestions we cut back on processed meat intake means “heading back to the cave”. But it’s just as insulting, if not more so, to have the new Labor PM, Ender of the Climate WarsTM, use “you came here by car” to push back against criticism of new fossil-fuel projects, and to pretend anyone proposing weaning our society off fossil fuels is demanding that we go cold turkey.

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