Testing the truth behind Prime Minister’s claims on climate

Image of Scott Morrison after release of IPCC Report, gratefully borrowed from ABC News site

When does a government’s effort to put its best foot forward veer into misrepresenting the truth? Having written heart-felt pleas for ambitious climate policies, people of faith have been receiving replies from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and their local Members which could flummox the average voter.

How much truth is in the ‘spin’? Have environmentalists been unduly alarmed at Australia’s poor performance on reducing greenhouse gas pollution? Catherine and David Rossiter are pro bono Christian researchers, members of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), who have done a careful analysis of one of the Prime Minister’s letters received in June, 2021.

They find no evidence of a ‘strong track record of setting, achieving and exceeding our commitments’. Indeed, they write that the sixth Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) Report released in August actually ‘ranks Australia near the bottom of the list in terms of effective action’.

Research by Professor Hugh Saddler, published around the same time, has shown that ‘most of Australia’s emissions reductions since 2005 have been due to farming activities, mainly a large fall in the amount of land-clearing.  Saddler’s report showed that if the land-clearing change was excluded from national emissions accounts, Australia’s emissions have actually increased by 7% since 2005.’ Saddler goes on to say that our rate of getting off oil, coal and gas for energy is ‘one of the worst in the OECD’.

Regarding the Prime Minister’s claim that ‘We are on the pathway to net zero’ (‘preferably by 2050’ is implied), the Rossiters conclude that Australia’s emissions reductions trajectory has us reaching that point ‘well beyond the middle of the century and probably into the next century.’

The Prime Minister writes, ‘For Australia, it is not a question of if or when we will reach net zero, but importantly how.’ On 9th August, he told reporters ‘I won't be signing a blank cheque on behalf of Australians to targets without plans,’ a sentiment echoed by Nationals leaders, Barnaby Joyce.

The Rossiters rightly point out, the ‘how’ is surely the role of government! ´Key government agencies have advised, through Senate Estimates enquiries, that they have not been asked to prepare an emissions reduction plan.’

Furthermore, it is indeed important when. It is most important. ARRCC and other environmental groups advocate for a plan to reduce Australia’s emissions by at least two-thirds by 2030, to put us on track to play our part internationally in keeping global heating even to below 2°C. We would have to go even harder to do our share of keeping warming below 1.5°C.

The current policy being taken to Glasgow is an Abbott-era target of reducing emissions by 26 – 28% from 2005 levels by 2030. This is woefully inadequate. It is an insult to today’s young people, Torres Strait and Pacific Islanders, today’s farmers and all those who will suffer because this current generation had the information but failed to act.

It is well documented that our current government has strong ties to the coal and gas industries. It is unconscionable that this - and climate denialism - have become the main driver of Coalition climate and energy policies. It is immoral that Australian negotiators have become a stumbling block to consensus at United Nations climate negotiations as a consequence. This must change.

Our various faith traditions teach us that to do what is morally right also leads to fruitfulness and happiness. As a nation, we have an alternative course to be on, one which is based on federal and state policies to incentivise the rapid up-take of renewable energy, energy efficiency measures and environmentally sound forest and land management practices. This would lead to a future that our children could look forward to, safer, cleaner, more employment-intensive, and one which better protects Australia’s water, Great Barrier Reef and much-loved wildlife.

Those whose communities stand to lose because of changes needed, should be supported to diversity their local economies away from coal, gas or forestry industries. Currently these communities are being abandoned to fate in a global context where the industries they depend on are declining, when they should be supported to embrace change.

The responsibility to be an active citizen working for a better future is as much the responsibility of people of faith as anyone else. As people who are blessed to be part of a democracy, we have a duty to call on our elected leaders to do much better. We should use our power as voters to research and consider the policies of the various parties and independents and to vote for the candidate who stands for a safer climate future. It is not true that ‘Both major parties are the same’. They are not.

For ways to work for a better future with other people of faith, see https://www.arrcc.org.au/global.

For the full analysis of the Prime Minister’s letter, see https://www.arrcc.org.au/fact_check_of_pm_s_claims_on_government_s_climate_achievements