Labor’s attempt to find the middle ground in its climate policy pays lip service to the warnings that credible scientists are making on the need for drastic cuts to fossil fuel emissions by 2030. The party’s position, outlined by the federal member for Isaacs, Mark Dreyfus, in a letter to his constituents , misses the opportunity to make a case for a 1.5 degree target as a reasonable and urgent policy goal.
Dear Mr Dreyfus,
Thank you for your letter on ‘Protecting our environment’. It’s clear from reading it that you and I share a love of our natural environment. As far as suburban electorates go, there are few places better than Isaacs in which to be active outdoors: it has bike paths, RAMSAR-listed wetlands, farmland and playing fields in abundance. But its best feature, I’m sure you would agree, are the beaches that stretch from Mentone to Carrum. Being a low-lying electorate, Isaacs is particularly sensitive to sea-level rise.
I have written to you on previous occasions about Labor’s policy on climate change, but unfortunately you and I have not had the chance to discuss the issue in more detail. I am taking the opportunity to respond to your letter here in the hope that you and I can pick up our dialogue once more.
You rightly point-out the manifold failings of the current federal government in its behaviour towards the environment: its hostility to marine parks and atmospheric research at CSIRO reflects a view that the earth is there to be exploited regardless of future costs, much like its support for coal-fired power. You also mention the government’s opposition to Labor’s policy to end the live export of sheep. On the face of it this seems to have little to do with the environment, but I guess one could argue that sheep graze on grass, and grass grows in nature and, well, maybe I shouldn’t think about that one too much. Perhaps the point that I’m supposed to discern here is that live export excites the Greens and the animal rights people as much as it does the Nats and I should therefore be reassured that Labor has found a middle way on that policy too.
You write, in bold type, that ‘Labor has a strong commitment to protecting our environment’. And the centre piece of that policy? To reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and ensure that a minimum of 50 per cent of electricity is generated by renewables. The results of that policy, you go on to tell me, will be to increase the number of rooftop solar panels (we love them in Victoria), create more wind farms (we love them too, but only if they don’t impede the view) and, of course, to create more jobs and investment and to lower energy prices.
And so it goes. The letter lists a grab bag of retail policies, presented like bargains to be picked-up in a major supermarket. It conveys no compelling reasons for why such action is necessary, besides saying that a ‘transition to a clean energy future’ is good for the environment and the economy.
Sadly your letter misses the opportunity to explain this to voters in Isaacs: that the world has warmed, on average, just under one degree since the Industrial Revolution. As we have experienced in Australia, that has been enough to bleach large sections of the Great Barrier Reef, to see longer and hotter heatwaves each summer and to endure large bushfires near our major cities. Climate scientists warned us in a special report last year that we can now make a choice between the kind of world we wish to live in 2030: a world at 1.5 degrees or one at 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Let me tell you why Labor should act with the goal of 1.5 degrees as the limit to global warming in 2030. Working towards that target is the greatest opportunity Australia has to protect the things we value, to ensure our future prosperity and to restore the principle of universal equality to government in Australia.
Aiming for anything less than 100 per cent renewable power and a complete shift away from fossil fuels is accepting the risk of the world warming to 2 degrees. At that level, we can no longer accurately predict the stability of our climate. When insurers can no longer predict that risk, they stop insuring people, which will leave the cost of larger disasters to the state. Ultimately, that means that you and I will pick-up the tab for damages through our taxes.
Let no one tell you that we need to keep burning fossil fuels for our economy to function properly. We may have those resources in abundance, such as the coalfields in Queensland, but the evidence is in: we need to keep gas, coal and oil in the ground. Remind those advocating for fossil fuels that the stone age didn’t end for a lack of stones. Labor has the track record of leading the nation during its most difficult times. It can do so again. In the process, it can unlock the nation’s talents that are going wasted at present and uplift the horizons of those being left behind.
1.5 degrees should be our total aim at this election. Make it the sensible centre for an alternative government to use as a yardstick for shaping policies on employment, investment, transport, education, cities, regions and, yes, the environment. Anything less accepts the likelihood of living in an extreme world, one in which we will look back on our present as a paradise lost.
Dr Damien Williams, Convenor, Isaacs Climate Action Network.