Labor’s climate bill, introduced in parliament on the 27th of July, has been received as the definitive end to many things: the climate wars between parties and Australia’s chronic climate inaction among them. The right also dreads that the already struggling Australian economy will be further threatened by this bill.
Whether it is heralded as the harbinger of bipartisan peace or economic collapse, the fact of the matter is this:
Far from securing a promise to do good by the planet, the only thing this bill demands from the government is a yearly report on the government’s action (or inaction) towards the woefully inadequate 43% emissions reductions goal. That is the extent of its “enforcement” mechanism. Subsequent governments are as free as ever to follow, skirt around, or outright ignore what may be enshrined into law, so long as they report on it.
These are tough odds for the survival of our environment considering the promise from Albanese himself, during his election campaign, to only approve fossil fuel projects if they “stacked up environmentally”. This “promise” is incompatible with the future of our planet. There are currently 72 coal and 44 gas and oil projects under development in Australia—mostly approved under state Labor governments—that most certainly do not “stack up”. Climate Analytics reported that Woodside’s Scarborough emissions alone would emit 1.4 billion tonnes in GHG emissions over its lifetime, and thus throw us way off track the 1.5˚C Paris Agreement goal. A government actually serious about the climate would never allow this project to continue. It is clear we cannot trust the Labor government to meet its own commitments.
And this ignores just how inadequate Labor’s actual 43% target is. That figure does not even include emissions from exported fossil fuels, which would shoot well past the domestic reductions goal. If we are to limit global heating to 1.5˚C, Climate Targets Panel Australia reported the need for Australia to cut its domestic emissions by 74% by 2030, not 43%, and reach net zero by 2035. The latest IPCC report determined that global emissions would have to peak by at worst 2025, to then nearly halve by this decade, to meet such a target. New coal and gas projects could never hope to prevent 1.5˚C warming, according to another 2021 International Energy Agency report. Though many scientists argue that even these targets are conservative and that we should aim for an even faster decrease in emissions.
We are already seeing the effects of climate change. A Guardian analysis found that 71% of the 500 extreme weather events analysed were made likelier or intensified thanks to climate change. 12 of those, among which are the 2020 Siberian heatwave and the 2018 Northern Hemisphere and Japanese heatwaves, would be outright impossible without it. More than 1500 people were killed by the floods in Pakistan. Over 12000 people were killed by the European heatwaves. That same Guardian analysis found that about a third of summer heat deaths over the last three decades are directly linked to climate change, meaning a death toll at the millions mark. In the face of this, lining the pockets of fossil fuel barons is right about the last thing we need.
But Australian capitalism relies far too much on fossil fuels to break away from them. We are talking about a country whose coal and gas exports accounted for about a quarter of its total export value in 2017-18. The Labor government has thus asserted multiple times their commitment to protecting the booming profits of our biggest capitalists. But it is all the more shameful that the Greens—a party with a better 75% by 2030 emissions reductions target—would ever abdicate to support this useless bill, meagre amendments or not. They had a very good opportunity to push for a better target, an actual enforcement mechanism, anything worthwhile—but no. All we get is a lousy report that’ll just repeat “we’re fucked” louder and clearer with every passing year. Real action, according to the 2018 IPCC report, would require “rapid, far-reaching, unprecedented changes to all aspects of society”. Real action will require a radical break from the status quo, but that’s something entirely out of the question for the capitalist government. Therefore, real action will require streets teeming with mass, vibrant, grassroots protests to force the government to grapple with what’s best for the majority of people and the planet, not the pockets of a select few. The time to act was yesterday, but the next best time is now.