Submission to the Western Australia EPA on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Assessment Guidance


• Preamble

• Climate Change: the global context

• Climate Change Impact

• Existential Risk Management

• Political & Corporate Attitudes

• Community Response

• Legal Implications

• Conclusions and recommendations on Greenhouse Gas Assessment Guidance

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the Western Australia (WA) Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on Greenhouse Gas Assessment Guidance.

The world is confronted by the urgent need to minimize the impact of human-induced climate change. Overwhelming scientific opinion, and evidence, has long established that this is being caused by carbon emissions from fossil fuels use, agriculture and deforestation. Warnings over three decades that carbon emissions must be rapidly reduced, if catastrophic outcomes are to be avoided, have been ignored within political and business circles, Global carbon emissions are now at record levels and fossil fuel use massively expanded. The result is that climate change is occurring far faster and more extensively than expected. The risks to the climate system from increased concentrations of carbon dioxide have also been badly underestimated by the scientific community. Human-induced climate change is already a major economic and social cost and the greatest threat to preserving sustainable environments, and hence societies, at global, national and local levels.

This is the context in which the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Assessment Guidance must be considered.The rationale for that view is as follows:

Climate Change: the global context
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impact of 1.5degC and 2degC warming above pre-industrial levels sent a stark reminder to humanity about the existential threat posed by climate change. That is a threat posing permanent large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone. One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential .

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol and which Australia has ratified, came into force on 4th November 2016. It requires the 196 countries participating to hold global average temperature to “well below 2degC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5degC” . Regional temperature variations would be far greater than these global averages, rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable even at 2degC, beyond the capacity of human physiology to function effectively. This may well be the case across many parts of WA.

The figure demonstrates the speed with which global emissions have to be reduced to limit temperature increase to 2degC (blue, yellow and purple lines, representing rates of reduction beyond anything achieved historically). The later emissions peak, the more rapid the reduction required. Achieving the lower Paris limit of 1.5degC necessitates even greater reduction rates.

The red line indicates the “business-as-usual” path the world is currently on, which would result in a temperature increase above 4degC by 2100, possibly earlier.

The voluntary Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) made by individual countries as part of the Paris Agreement, if implemented, would see emissions levelling off by 2030, in line with the orange line, but not falling. This would result in global average temperature rising above 3degC.

The implications are dire. Dangerous climate change, which the Paris Agreement and its forerunners seek to avoid, is happening at the 1.0degC increase already experienced as extreme weather events, and their economic costs, escalate. The negative impact on human health and mortality is substantial .

Our current global emission trajectory would lead to a temperature increase above 4degC, a world which would be “incompatible with an organised global community”, with global population dropping from 7 billion to below 1 billion as the impact of climate extremes takes effect . The World Bank has pointed out that “There is no certainty adaptation to a 4degC world is possible” .

Even the +3degC outcome which would eventuate if the Paris INDC commitments were implemented, would result in outright social chaos in many parts of the world. The US Military Advisory Board warns against a “failure of imagination” in ignoring these implications.

Unfortunately the IPCC tend to underestimate the risks to which we are now exposed. This is highlighted in: “What Lies Beneath: The understatement of existential climate risk” (copy attached), a report co-authored by David Spratt and myself.

This publication collates what scientists, decision-makers and other stakeholders have been saying, often behind closed doors, about the culture of failure and scientific reticence in which climate policy-making has become embedded. It is a story that must be understood if we are to have any hope of addressing the existential climate risk which humanity now faces. The report analyses why:

• Human-induced climate change is now an existential risk to human civilisation unless dramatic action is taken. The bulk of climate research tends to underplay these risks, exhibiting a preference for conservative projections and scholarly reticence.

• Reports of the IPCC, including the 1.5degC report referenced above, around which international negotiations have been based, also tend toward reticence and caution, erring on the side of “least drama”, and downplaying the more extreme and more damaging outcomes. This is dangerously misleading with the acceleration of climate impacts globally.

• Potential climatic “tipping points” are a particular concern; the passing of critical thresholds which result in step changes in the climate system. Under-reporting on these issues is contributing to a “failure of imagination” in our response to climate change.

In the foreword, Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and to Pope Francis, calls the report a “critical overview by well-informed intellectuals who sit outside the climate-science community”, highlighting crucial insights which may lurk at the fringes of conventional policy analysis but which have a new resonance when “the issue is the very survival of our civilisation, where conventional means of analysis may become useless”. He says: “climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences”.

The purpose of the report is to highlight that the crucial moment is now, to understand why that is so, and to encourage a fundamental emergency reframing of our approach to climate action.

To summarise the rationale for emergency action:

• Dangerous climate change is occurring at the 1degC temperature increase already experienced. 2degC now represents the boundary of extremely dangerous climate change.

• To stay below the upper 2degC temperature increase limit of the Paris Climate Agreement, global emissions would have to peak no later than 2020 and be reduced by around 7% annually thereafter. To meet the lower 1.5degC target requires even more rapid reduction. By contrast, emissions continue to rise in line with worst case scenarios.

• Probabilities used to define the carbon budget to stay below the Paris objectives are unrealistic. The IPCC uses 50 to 66% chance as the norm. Not good odds for the future of humanity. Carbon budgets, and emissions reductions, should be based upon a realistic chance, at least 90%, of reaching the goals. On that basis, there is practically no carbon budget left today to stay below 2degC, let alone 1.5degC.

• Climate inertia means that allowing any form of continued fossil fuel investment today, with its associated emission increases, risks locking-in irreversible, existential climatic outcomes. By the time the climatic impact of these investments becomes clear, it will be too late to take action and avoid extensive stranded assets. Hence the risk is immediate in that those decisions must be stopped now.

• Atmospheric aerosols produced by burning coal and oil are cooling the planet by around 0.3 to 0.5degC. As these concentrations reduce with the phase-out of fossil fuels, a commensurate one-off increase in temperature is likely, further compounding the problem of staying below warming limits.

• IPCC scenarios still rely heavily on carbon removal from the atmosphere as a prerequisite for meeting the Paris targets. The degree of dependence on such negative emissions technologies, none of which exist at scale today, is extremely dangerous, creating a false sense of security that there are easy solutions when none exist.

• The recent IPCC summary report understates key risks in moving from 1.5degC to 2degC warming. For example, a likely rise in climate-driven refugees, the danger of exceeding tipping points that could push the world on to an irreversible path to a “Hothouse Earth” , cyrosphere risks such as Antarctic ice sheet instability and loss of the Greenland ice sheet being triggered, leading over time to multi-metre sea level increase. Exceeding 1.5degC poses huge risks both for humans and natural systems.

The most recent indications confirm the underestimation of these climatic and related risks. For example:

• Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), May 2019. “The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

• Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report August 2019 downgrades the overall outlook for the reef to “very poor” in the absence of rapid action to address its most significant threat, which is climate change.

• New IPCC climate models point to underestimation of climate sensitivity.

• IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cyrosphere may confirm accelerating ice melt and sea level rise.

In summary, climate change now represents an immediate existential risk to human civilization. It is impossible to now limit temperature increases to the lower 1.5degC limit of the Paris climate agreement, and probably to the 2degC upper limit unless state and non-state actors across the globe accelerate action on climate change to an emergency footing, akin to wartime.
Climate Change Impact
As indicated above, scientists have long been concerned about the extreme “tipping point” risks of the climate system; non-linear positive feedbacks which trigger rapid, irreversible and catastrophic change. There is mounting evidence that these tipping points are being crossed.

For example, Arctic weather conditions are becoming increasingly unstable as jetstream fluctuations warm the region 20-30degC or more above normal levels; sea ice is at an all-time low with increasing evidence of methane emissions from melting permafrost . Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at worst-case rates , with the potential for several metre sea level rise this century . The Antarctic Larsen ice sheet and Pine Island glacier are showing signs of major breakup as a result of warming Southern Ocean waters, a process which is probably now irreversible . Coral reefs around the world, particularly the Australian Great Barrier Reef, are dying off as a result of record high sea temperatures . Global temperature increases are accelerating, with 2015-2018 being the hottest years on record . Major terrestrial carbon sinks, such as the Amazon, are showing signs of becoming carbon emitters . And much more.

The social disruption and economic consequences are already devastating, leading to extensive forced migration and economic collapse in some countries. The refugee crisis engulfing Europe, emanating from Syria and North Africa, is fundamentally climate change driven and a precursor of greater conflict ahead. The viability of the Middle East in toto is questionable in the circumstances now developing . Major centres of economic activity, such as the Pearl River Delta, responsible for 40% of China’s exports, the Mekong River Delta and other parts of SE Asia are now under threat from climate-induced sea level rise prior to 2050 .
The recent unprecedented hurricane seasons in the Atlantic, devastating bushfires in California, extreme heat in many parts of South Asia and extreme cold in parts of Europe and North America are only the most recent portents of what is to come as human-induced climate change intensifies natural extreme weather events .

The global climate-related damage bill for 2017 exceeded $340 billion, with insured losses at an all-time high of US$138 billion. Clearly, climate change has moved out of the twilight period of much talk and limited impact. It is now turning nasty, with the risk in some regions, often the poorest, translating into major disasters.

Australia, along with the adjacent Asia-Pacific region, particularly WA and Northern Australia, is considered to be “Disaster Alley”, where the most extreme impacts of climate change are already being experienced, as documented in our recent report . Events such as Cyclone Debbie, the collapse of much of the Great Barrier Reef, the 2019 Townsville floods, declining rainfall in Southern Australia, extensive drought and declining river flows, as in the Murray-Darling Basin, are clearly climate change-related.

On current trends, a 1.5degC temperature increase will be reached by 2030, and quite possibly 3degC by 2050. The latter scenario is explored in our latest report: “The Third Degree: Evidence and implications for Australia of existential climate-related security risk”. The hard-nosed practical impacts globally by 2050 might encompass:

• Ecosystem collapse
• Coral reefs
• Amazon rainforest
• Arctic
• Deadly heat > 100 days p.a.& extreme flooding in many regions
• Rising sea levels > 0.5 m
• Many nations & regions become uninhabitable
• 1 billion people displaced
• Significant drop in crop yields and food production
• Lower reaches of Mekong, Ganges & Nile rivers inundated
• Significant sectors of major cities abandoned – Chennai, Mumbai, Jakarta, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Manila, Bangkok, Lagos.
• “Hothouse Earth” triggered

Existential Risk Management
Climate risk is unlike anything previously encountered by humanity, and cannot be handled by conventional, reactive, learn-from-failure, risk management techniques. This is the context in which the EPA should be considering the assessment of greenhouse gases from proposed projects

Sensible risk management addresses risk in time to prevent it happening – with climate change, that is long overdue. When the risk is existential, there is even greater justification for action, and the use of the precautionary principle, rather than waiting for perfect information.

This requires existential climate risk to become the primary consideration in designing policy across the board, but particularly the climate change and energy interface. That policy should be built around existential risk management along the following lines:

Normative Goal Setting. Incremental change from “business-as-usual” is not tenable. This must be replaced with a normative view of temperature and other limits which must be adhered to if catastrophic consequences are to be avoided, based on the latest science. Action is then determined by the imperative to stay within the limits, not by incremental, “politically-feasible” options.

Change Mindsets, to now regard the climate change challenge as a genuine global emergency, to be addressed with an emergency global response.

Genuine Global Leadership. Current responses reflect the dominance of managerialism – an emphasis on optimising the conventional political and corporate paradigms by incremental change, rather than adopting the fundamentally different normative leadership needed to contend with the potential for catastrophic failure.

Integrated Policy. Climate change, though difficult, is only one of a number of critical, inter-related, issues now confronting the global community, which threaten the sustainability of human civilisation as we know it. Rather than viewing these issues separately in individual “silos” as at present, integrated policy is essential if realistic solutions are to be implemented. Climate and energy policy needs to fit within a systemic Australian approach to emergency action.

Honesty. There needs to be an honest articulation of the catastrophic risks and the integrated sustainability challenge we now face, with extensive community education to develop the platform for commitment to the major changes ahead.

Political and Corporate Attitudes
For the last three decades in Australia climate change policy has been a political football with neither side of politics prepared to accept the science and evidence of escalating climatic impact from humanity’s continued reliance on fossil fuel, and to seriously address the issue. This largely stems from the fact that many Federal politicians, egged on by corporate fossil fuel interests, still do not accept that human-induced climate change is even a problem let alone an existential threat, as confirmed yet again in recent commentary . For a country whose entire prosperity has been based on innovative science and its sensible application, this is an astonishing, extremely dangerous, state of affairs.

The climate and energy policies adopted by successive Australian governments over those years, State and Federal, have deliberately refused to acknowledge this existential threat to our future security. The Australian emission reduction commitments made under the Paris Agreement are wholly inadequate on any fair global assessment. Our leaders have access to the best possible scientific advice and to the overwhelming evidence, locally and globally, that we have badly underestimated both the speed and extent of climate change impact. In such circumstances, to ignore this threat is a fundamental breach of the fiduciary and security responsibilities with which political, bureaucratic, scientific and corporate leaders are entrusted by the community they are supposed to serve.

Corporate and political attitudes can best be described as a process of predatory delay, that is the blocking or slowing of essential change, in order to make money off an unsustainable and unjust high-carbon fossil fuel economy for as long as possible, irrespective of the damage being caused to the community.

Perhaps the best recent demonstration was the political and industry reaction to the original EPA Greenhouse Gas Emission guidance issued on 7th March 2019. This suggested measures that might be taken to mitigate such emissions, including offsetting for emissions from a project’s direct activity (Scope 1 & 2), but possibly going further to consider emissions from end-use of the gas (Scope 3), either domestically or overseas.

The hysterical reaction of the industry and government was wonderous to behold. Massive investment and jobs losses were forecast, majors such as Woodside, Santos, Shell and Chevron professed outrage. WA Premier McGowan insisted that gas should not be disadvantaged as it provides a solution to climate change. Predictably the WA government forced the EPA to withdraw the guidelines for this current further consultation.

Sheer hypocrisy. The EPA was doing what these players supposedly want – providing certainty in setting out a sensible regulatory framework against which projects would be assessed for the real climate impact they create. Ironically, Shell, Woodside and others supposedly screen their projects against an internal carbon price to allow for the additional costs which are inevitably coming as the damaging externalities of fossil fuel use are finally brought to account, costs such as those implied by the EPA Guidelines. But actually paying for the damage created is, it seems, a bridge too far from internal screening .

Henceforth, no new fossil fuel projects should be built globally if we are to avoid potentially catastrophic, irreversible climatic outcomes; existing operations have to be replaced with low carbon alternatives, and carbon sequestration technologies which do not currently exist have to be rapidly deployed at scale .

Notwithstanding these risks, governments, business and investors complacently encourage the continuation of such investment, for example the expansion of WA LNG, the Adani coal project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, similar coal investments in NSW, CSG expansion and now the possibility of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the NT and WA, all on the basis that the 2degC limit is some way off, with a substantial carbon budget still remaining. Neither proposition is correct.

LNG expansion is promoted by State and Federal governments as a solution to climate change, particularly replacing coal in the transition to a low-carbon world, on the basis that its emissions are substantially lower than both oil and coal per unit of energy, an assumption which is only true if methane leakage is minimized and which is yet to be confirmed generally in Australia. However LNG is a fossil fuel like any other. When there is no carbon budget left to stay below 2degC, let alone 1.5degC, particularly given the global of evidence escalating climate impact, all fossil fuel expansion must be stopped.

Political and corporate debate focuses around short term economics and ideology, completely ignoring the wider implications of the climate impact already happening around us. There is a total inability, or refusal, “to join the dots” and recognise the security implications of current dysfunctional and contradictory climate and energy policies. If Australia insists on massively increasing our carbon emissions as currently proposed, thereby contributing to escalating warming globally, the climate impact on Australia itself will only intensify, particularly in WA, inter alia more than negating any development benefit. Similarily in Asia and the Pacific, where Australia’s actions as a “climate pariah” have markedly diminished its reputation in recent years . In effect we have one foot lightly on the climate change brake whilst the other foot is hard on the accelerator.

We are continually told that Australia is such a small contributor to global emission domestically (about 1.3%), that anything we do is meaningless in attempting to solve the global challenge. Thus we can continue to expand our high-carbon economy with impunity. Such arguments completely ignore the massive carbon emissions we export with our fossil fuel commodities sold overseas which, under UNFCCC convention, are accounted for in the consuming country. If they are included, which they should be given the critical stage climate change has now reached, Australia is in the fourth largest carbon polluter globally and will shortly become the third largest if LNG expansion is ramped up as currently planned . Our denialist policies are acting as a major accelerant of climate impact worldwide, in turn increasing the damage to the Australian economy and society. Of course other countries, particularly China, the US and India, have to do more to curb their emissions, but what Australia does matters greatly.

In a broader geopolitical sense, it is totally untenable in a rapidly warming world, for Australia as one of the worst carbon polluters globally, to increase our carbon emissions at all, but particularly when we also have some of the world’s best renewable energy resources, much in WA, which we are not using to anywhere near their full potential. If allowed to continue, this will inevitably lead to conflict and further national security threats. The transition to a low-carbon economy is unprecedented. It represents the greatest investment opportunity the world has ever seen. Australia in particular has the technology, the expertise, wealth and resources to make it happen. This is where our future lies, but thus far we lack is the maturity to set aside political ideology and corporate vested interests to cooperate for the public good.

Community Response
Record numbers of Australians are recognizing the need for urgent climate action. This parallels mounting concern internationally which has led to increasing civil disobedience, as witnessed by the Extinction Rebellion movement, global schoolchildren strikes and the declaration of climate emergencies by governments, councils and other organisations globally over the last year, currently encompassing some 1000 jurisdictions covering 212 million people .

The climate concerns outlined, and their escalating impact are now blindingly obvious to the community at large. Likewise the refusal of political and corporate leaders to seriously face up to the implications of continuing fossil fuel use. When leaders refuse to lead in addressing the greatest threat confronting us, people are not going to sit as rabbits in the headlights waiting to be run over by the climate leviathan; they will act to force the incumbency to change direction. So escalating civil action is inevitable unless leaders respond; which they should do, if for no other reason than it is now in their own immediate self-interest.

Legal Implications
A further dimension of the climate debate is the increasing resort to legal action where the incumbency, political or corporate, refuses to face up to the implications of climate change.

Regulators globally have recognized that climate change now represents a systemic threat to the stability of the global financial system, far greater than the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Accordingly, corporations are being urged to voluntarily assess and disclose the climate risk they face, via the FSB Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure recommendations . This is a major step forward in forcing corporate action on climate, but it remains reactive. We have yet to see corporations taking a proactive stance in committing to contribute to achieving a below 2degC world at the speed now required.

Likewise Australian regulators, APRA, ASIC and the Reserve Bank of Australia, are reminding corporate directors that they have a duty under corporations law to understand, assess and act upon climate risk.

Litigation against fossil fuel companies for damage incurred from climate impact is mounting as climate science increasingly provides the ability to identify causation and attribution of climatic events.

In a wider context, it is clear that the denialist attitudes of business and political leaders in Australia are infringing international law, as set out for example in the Oslo Principles on Climate Obligations , and the related Principles on Climate Obligations of Enterprises . These will increasingly be brought to bear on both government and corporate entities.

However it is arguable that climate change denial has moved beyond this point, in that it is now a crime against humanity, particularly in the blatant and deliberate manner being adopted by our Federal government. For example, in firstly rejecting the very real concerns of communities already being affected by climate-related sea level rise in the Pacific, and secondly in deliberately seeking to profit from massively expanding fossil fuel use, as outlined above, when viable and attractive low-carbon alternatives are available.

Australia ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 2002. Article 7 states: “Crime against humanity means the following when committed as part of a widespread or systemic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: item 1k: Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

That, in essence, is what continual climate denial, obfuscation and inaction in the interests of short-term gain, is doing, particularly given the scientific knowledge on the implications of climate change readily available to our leaders.
Conclusions and recommendations on Greenhouse Gas Assessment Guidance
Climate change now represents an immediate existential threat to every city, country, company and community in WA and elsewhere, which can only be realistically addressed by emergency action.

The threat is increasingly obvious as extreme climatic events escalate, and the climate emergency call is being taken up widely. In essence emergency action means, akin to wartime, the suspension of business-as-usual, politically, corporately and socially, to do whatever it takes to resolve the climate crisis. There is no higher priority.

This does mean massive societal and cultural change, and fundamental reframing of virtually every policy arena; climate, energy, foreign affairs, defence, health, immigration, agriculture to name but a few. The upside is that Australia has far greater potential to prosper in the low-carbon future than in the high-carbon past, particularly in WA. But realizing that potential requires an all-encompassing commitment to a low-carbon emergency transition. Certainly there will be costs, but the costs of ignoring climate change and continuing our current denialist stance will be far greater.

The objective of the EPA is:
• to protect the environment
• to prevent, control and abate pollution and environmental harm

The EPA role is restricted to WA, and to environmental considerations. However, if policies at the national level in regard to Greenhouse Gas Assessment are inadequate or non-existent, as is the case, and such shortcomings potentially impact on the WA environment, as is the case with carbon emissions, then it is entirely appropriate that the EPA enact provisions in WA seeking to mitigate those emissions and consequently minimize the risk of contributing to climate change. This includes consideration of not just Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, but also Scope 3 even if this applies to exported LNG, given that climate change is a global problem, and that any increase in emissions overseas from the consumption of WA fossil fuel now impacts back on WA, as well as globally.

In that context, the EPA Guideline on Greenhouse Gas Emissions originally issued on 7th March 2019 and subsequently withdrawn, are appropriate. However, they are too conservative compared with measures which are now required to avoid potentially catastrophic damage to the WA environment. In current circumstances, more specific conditions must apply, built around the precautionary principle and the principle of intergenerational equity. In particular:

• no approval should be given to any new fossil fuel project, whether coal, oil, gas, using conventional (LNG) or unconventional (fracking) technologies, for domestic or export consumption, unless it has proven, safe and secure mechanisms in place from the outset for the long term sequestration of all carbon emissions produced by that project, encompassing Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

Accordingly I recommend that the original EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions guideline be re-instated with this additional caveat.

Ian T Dunlop

“They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent……Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have now entered upon a period of great danger….. The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In it’s place we are entering a period of consequences….. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now…..”

“Sometimes we have to do what is required”
Winston S. Churchill 

Climate Change is an Immediate Existential Threat to Humanity Requiring Emergency Action


Climate change is happening faster than previously anticipated, driven primarily by human carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and land clearing. Uncertainties relate not to the basic climate science, which has been well-understood for decades, but to the speed and extent of climate impact, both of which have been badly underestimated.

• The Paris Climate Agreement voluntary emission reduction commitments, if implemented would lead to a temperature increase of around 3.5degC by 2100 if not earlier – a world which leading national security experts describe as “outright social chaos”. At present, we are on track for around a 4.5degC increase, which would be “a world incompatible with any organised society”, resulting in a substantial reduction in global population, toward 1 billion from the current 7.5 billion.

• Dangerous climate change is occurring at the 1degC temperature increase already experienced. The 2degC Paris upper limit now represents the boundary of extremely dangerous climate change.

• To stay below 2degC, global emissions must peak now and be reduced by around 7% annually, something no country has ever achieved. The lower 1.5degC Paris target requires even more rapid reduction. Meanwhile, emissions rise in line with worst case scenarios.

• This IPCC analysis assumes only a 50-66% chance of meeting the targets. Not good odds for the future of humanity. To have a sensible 90% chance, there is no carbon budget left today to stay below 2degC, let alone 1.5degC. Thus all fossil fuel consumption should stop immediately. Obviously that is not going to happen, but new investment must stop now, and the existing industry wound down as fast as possible.

• Emissions from continued fossil fuel investment, including gas, lock-in irreversible, existential climatic outcomes today. By the time the climatic impact of these investments becomes clear, it will be too late to take avoiding action. Hence the risk is immediate.

• Atmospheric aerosols produced by burning coal and oil are cooling the planet by around 0.3 to 0.5degC. As aerosol concentrations reduce with the phase-out of fossil fuels, a commensurate one-off increase in temperature is likely, compounding the problem of staying below warming limits.

• Proposed solutions to meet the 1.5degC target rely heavily on carbon removal from the atmosphere using negative emissions technologies, none of which exist at scale today. This is extremely dangerous, creating a false sense of security.

• The recent IPCC 1.5degC report understates key risks in moving from 1.5degC to 2degC warming. For example, increasing climate-driven refugees, exceeding tipping points that could push the world on to an irreversible path to a “Hothouse Earth”, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet instability triggering multi-metre sea level increase. Exceeding 1.5degC poses huge risks both for humans and natural systems, but it is likely that will occur within a decade.

In summary, it is now impossible to limit temperature increases to 1.5degC, and probably to 2degC unless global leaders fundamentally accelerate action on climate change to an emergency footing, akin to wartime.


• Accelerate innovation to further reduce cost of low-carbon energy alternatives

• Ban investment in new fossil fuel capacity from 2020, then phase-out coal, then oil & gas as alternatives become available

• Remove subsidies to fossil fuel industries

• Introduce realistic carbon pricing

• Tighten controls on fugitive emissions from fossil fuel operations

• Accelerate electrification to eliminate fossil fuel by 2040

• Redesign agricultural practices, emphasis on soil carbon sequestration

• Strong emphasis on energy conservation and efficiency

• Encourage debate and reframing of values toward evolution of sustainable societies in support of this transition

• Provide, and plan for, a fair transition for those people and regions adversely affected.

What Does Emergency Action Mean?

Climate change now represents an immediate existential threat to every city, country, company and community, which can only be realistically addressed by emergency action.

The threat is increasingly obvious as extreme climatic events escalate, and the climate emergency call is being taken up widely. In essence it means, akin to wartime, the suspension of business-as-usual, politically, corporately and socially, to do whatever it takes to resolve the climate crisis. There is no higher priority.

This does mean massive societal and cultural change, and fundamental reframing of virtually every policy arena; climate, energy, foreign affairs, defence, health, immigration, agriculture to name but a few. The upside is that Australia has far greater potential to prosper in the low-carbon future than in the high-carbon past. But realizing that potential requires an all-encompassing commitment to a low-carbon emergency transition. Certainly there will be costs, but the costs of ignoring climate change and continuing our current denialist stance will be far greater.

A Parliament Without Trust or Legitimacy Must Go

The insults hurled by David Leyonhjelm at Sarah Hanson-Young recently put parliamentary discourse in the gutter. Leyonhjelm was roundly condemned, but not by our leaders. A limp rap across the knuckles from Turnbull and Shorten, then on to more pressing matters, hoping it will all go away.

But not so fast; in governance parlance “the fish rots from the head”. Our leaders need to acknowledge the amoral, unethical parliamentary morass they have created, and its implications.

Australian society today is not a pretty sight. Despite the hype around Australian “values”, years of neoliberal policy have seen money corrupt everything. The Banking Royal Commission, long resisted by the incumbency, is exposing not just a few bad apples but an industry rotten to the core from excessive remuneration, greed which is certainly not restricted to the finance sector. In sport, winning is everything, whatever the cost, but it long ceased to be sport in any true sense. Violence against women and minorities escalates, egged on by the Leyonhjelms of this world. Population pressure sees tolerance disappear. Inequality increases in leaps and bounds, exacerbated by mythical “trickle-down” economics. Drug and alcohol abuse is widespread. Terrorism threats and migration justify massive over-reaction in restricting individual liberties. Crass commercial media and shock jocks incite vindictive extremism. Continuing scandals suggest that few people in positions of public trust have any idea of the moral and ethical responsibilities which go with those roles.

Above it all sits a national parliament incapable of sane discussion on anything. Screamed abuse replaces reasoned debate, any sense of civility long gone. Little wonder societal standards decline when “leaders” set such an appalling example. But there are far more fundamental implications.

Concepts of left and right in politics long since became irrelevant to solving the critical issues facing Australia. The imperative is that those issues do actually get addressed, which is patently not happening.

The first priority of government, we are told, is to ensure the security of the people. In theory, we elect politicians to govern on our behalf to provide that security; politicians who, pre-election, profess undying commitment to public service.

What we get, with a few notable exceptions, are politicians who, once elected, focus largely on party machinations, getting re-elected or otherwise feathering their nest. Much sound and fury around minor issues, whilst the critical ones are ignored. It was not always thus; historically in politics and business there were statesmen and women prepared to set aside their personal interests in favour of the common good, but they are long gone since money came to dominate. Good people are elected to parliament, but their good qualities are rapidly subsumed by party politics.

Behind it all, the creeping cancer of the neoliberal agenda dominates the current government. Driven by right wing apparatchiks in the Institute of Public Affairs, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia, the Murdoch press and elsewhere, every opportunity is taken to push deregulation, reduce the size of government, emasculate and politicise the public service making it subservient to ideologically-blinkered political advisers, with no regard for the “common good”. Power is concentrated in a few wealthy hands in the interests of “conservatism”, shorthand for maintaining the status quo for the benefit of existing elites. So dissent must be suppressed, activist groups muzzled, the ABC silenced, academic freedom undermined, public debate dumbed down and the public treated as fools. Few are even aware it is happening, except when the occasional stuff-up occurs as with Tony Abbott spilling the beans on the real intentions of the Ramsay project for the promotion of Western Civilisation.

This is where facism begins; the cancer must be stopped if we want a prosperous, sustainable and fair society.

In this, Australia is following the US, where the process is far more advanced. The insidious efforts of right wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers, to seize the levers of power has been going on for decades, the inevitable outcome flagged by Lord Acton long ago: “Remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

The deterioration of US society, with increasing inequality, violence, crumbling infrastructure and much more has, to a significant extent been brought about by this venality. US and Australian neoliberals are inextricably linked in moving this agenda forward.

Except that the status quo can no longer be maintained, as neoliberalism has long since sown the seeds of its own destruction. The inevitable result of decades of exponential growth in both population and consumption is that we are now hitting the limits of the global biosphere, which cannot be circumvented. This is manifest in multiple ways, inter alia: increasing water stress, massive biodiversity loss, decreasing productivity of agricultural land, escalating social conflict over declining resources and associated migration. To the point that the economic growth model under which our economies operate is no longer sustainable, despite desperate efforts to keep it afloat with massive financial interventions such as “quantitative easing”.

Overshadowing it all is human-induced climate change.

Its risks are intensifying and the physical impact worsening, with global climate-related losses running at record levels. Despite 30 years of political and corporate rhetoric, nothing has been done to seriously address it, notwithstanding increasingly urgent warnings.

The result is that climate change is now an immediate existential risk to humanity. That is, a risk posing large negative consequences which will be irreversible, resulting inter alia in major reductions in global and national population, species extinction, disruption of economies and social chaos, unless carbon emissions are rapidly reduced. The risk is immediate in that it is being locked in today by our insistence on expanding the use of fossil fuels when the carbon budget to stay below sensible temperature limits is already exhausted.

To prevent temperatures rising above the upper 2degC limit of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, it is no longer possible to follow a gradual transition path. We have left it too late; emergency action, akin to wartime regulation, is inevitable. Market-based measures alone are insufficient.

Those still sceptical of this reality only have to look at the Northern Hemisphere now, particularly the Arctic, Asia and the US, as extreme temperatures trigger positive feedback loops, creating global climate conditions which make normal life impossible.

Neoliberals in the US and Australian fossil fuel industries long ago saw climate change as the greatest threat to the stranglehold on power from which they have benefited for so long. Accordingly billions of dollars have been devoted to discrediting climate science, raising doubts about its authenticity through every possible means, with much US money flowing in to support Australian campaigns. A process which has been remarkably successful, albeit nothing less than a crime against humanity.

But even the Koch brothers, the IPA and the MCA cannot change the laws of physics. The climate science has been rock-solid for decades and the cost of neoliberal disinformation is now coming home to roost. Unfortunately that cost is being borne by the poor who can least afford it, and groups like Australian farmers, rather than the elites who created it.

As Churchill put it: “Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history

Which places Australia in an extremely dangerous position. We are one of the countries most exposed to the impacts of climate change, particularly our agricultural sector. Yet our dysfunctional parliament has left the country totally unprepared for what is to come.

The crux of the problem is that our government is in total climate change denial. Climate and energy policy is a shambles, the result of endless contortions trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Namely expanding our fossil-fuel based economy, particularly coal, whilst pretending to meet our wholly inadequate voluntary commitments under the Paris Agreement. An Agreement which the government is doing its damndest to undermine, despite having ratified it in 2016.

Policy is dictated by scientifically and economically illiterate right wing hard-coalers, such as Messrs Canavan, Abbott, McCormack, Kelly, Christensen and Abetz who cannot understand that reliable, dispatchable and lower-cost power is now available from renewable energy sources far more effectively and cheaply than from coal. Even when coal continues to be massively subsidised, far more than renewables, by the lack of a sensible carbon price to account for its externalities, namely the enormous damage done by the health and climate impacts of coal use, which have been ignored since the Industrial Revolution. None of which matters if you are in climate denial.

They stamp their feet like petulant schoolboys whose favourite coal toy is being taken away. They lie and dissemble, misrepresenting and cherry-picking sound technical reports, twisting them to achieve their preferred pro-coal outcomes, irrespective of the severe implications for the wider Australian community, egged on by the serried ranks of the neoliberal cheer squad.

Just because we have large coal resources does not give us the right to use them if the result is an existential threat to humanity. Commodities come and go; coal is no different. Coal has created great wealth, but it’s time has passed as its climate impact, along with that of other fossil fuels, is now destroying the societies it helped create. The development of Galilee Basin coal, along with CSG in NSW and Queensland, and shale gas in the NT and WA, would be suicidal in current circumstances.

As Sheikh Yamani put it in the oil context: “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil”.

Australia was built upon the innovative application of science. That is also its future, which the government is destroying with third-rate, anti-science policy such as the National Energy Guarantee. The certainty for energy investment which business and politicians crave will be non-existent until action on climate change is accepted as the absolute priority in determining energy policy.  The solutions are available and blindingly obvious, including a realistic price on carbon and bans on any further fossil fuel expansion.

We have many opportunities to invest in low-carbon alternatives for both domestic and export use which provide far greater potential than traditional commodities such as coal. Particularly in providing distributed energy across the rural community. This is where our aspirations must lie, not in massive investment in propping up coal-fired power stations or investing in new ones. The cost to Australia as these investments inevitably become stranded assets, will be enormous, along with physical damage to the country from their climate impact. Rather than holding back renewable energy development, which is clearly the objective of current policy, we should be accelerating it to the maximum extent possible along with dramatic improvements to energy efficiency and conservation.

Neoliberal climate denialists insist that Australia’s domestic carbon emissions, 1.3% of the global total, are such as small amount that nothing we do will have any effect in addresssing climate change globally. That is nonsense; if exports are included, which they must be given the rapidly accelerating climate impact, Australia is already the sixth largest carbon polluter globally and will soon be fourth given the ramping up of our LNG exports. In short, we are a very big emissions player. What Australia does mattters.

The pretence that the government is serious about addressing climate change becomes ever more ludicrous. The most recent example is the $500 million allocated in a futile attempt to repair climate damage to the Great Barrier Reef, via the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, whilst simultaneously advocating the opening up of massive new coal mines in the Galilee Basin which would compound that damage, totally decimating the reef, along with tourism and other industries far more valuable than coal.

Likewise the announcement from Minister for Agriculture , David Littleproud, about an agreement with state ministers to help farmers adapt to climate change. Why was this needed? Because the climate is changing. What are we doing to stop it? Nothing, just attempting to adapt whilst making the problem far worse by building new coal-fired power stations and mines. Just how long can this cognitive dissonance continue?

The Prime Minister proclaimed in 2010 that: “Our efforts to deal with climate change have been betrayed by a lack of leadership, a political cowardice, the like of which I have never seen — “. He promised never to lead a political party that did not take climate change seriously. He now revels in doing exactly that, placing the future of generations of Australians in jeopardy. An abject failure of principled leadership.

The Opposition are little better, continually sitting on the fence denying the urgency for climate action, and ambivalent toward new coal development such as Adani. Equally lacking in leadership and principle.

Many parliamentarians are climate deniers, but that does not absolve them of the fiduciary responsibility to set aside their personal prejudices and to act in the public interest with integrity, fairness and accountability. This requires them to understand the latest climate science; it is not acceptable for those in positions of public trust to dismiss scientific warnings in the cavalier manner which has typified the last few years. Particularly when the risk is existential.

Ministers in particular do not seem to understand that they have that fiduciary responsibility, along with the related public duty and a public trust.

As Sir Gerard Brennan puts it: “A fiduciary is a person to whom power is entrusted for the benefit of another. ——- Power is reposed in members of Parliament by the public for exercise in the interests of the public and not primarily for the interests of members or the parties to which they belong. The cry ‘whatever it takes’ is not consistent with the performance of fiduciary duty ———- All decisions and exercises of power should be taken in the interests of the public, and that duty cannot be subordinated to, or qualified by, the interests of the (parliamentarian or Minister)

Effective action on climate change must be raised above political infighting if the government’s first responsibility to ensure the security of the Australian people is to have meaning. But nowhere in the political spectrum is there evidence of leadership that might step up to the challenge.

In the corporate sector, the widespread abuse of power, declining ethical standards and falling community trust in business is calling into question corporations’ “social licence to operate”, and their right to enjoy the privilege of limited liability, which has been the cornerstone of business since the early 1800s, on the grounds that it should be a privilege to be earned, not an inalienable right.

Trust “is a belief that a person or institution will perform their role or function in accordance with its obligations, or where not bound by duty, in a predictable manner”.

Beyond trust is legitimacy “a recognised and well-founded right to claim a certain status, role or function.

Our parliament must be held to higher standards than the corporate world. But community trust in parliamentarians is non-existent. Further, a parliament that is incapable of firstly, understanding, secondly, addressing and thirdly, is deliberately worsening, the critical issues which Australia faces, particularly climate change, has forfeited any legitimacy. It has no right to continue in its present form.

When the risks are existential, it is not acceptable to allow parliamentary renewal to await the next election and the likely continuation of dysfunctional government. The parliament is on Winter Break; it should not reconvene. The Governor General should disband it and consider alternative national governance arrangements.

Different forms of democratic structure are being canvassed widely, recognising the profound weaknesses of the current system. This expertise should be used to create something akin to a wartime Government of National Unity, with leaders of foresight and integrity.

Because the brutal reality is that climate risk now has to be handled as an emergency. Either we act, or we face a bleak future. Parliament must work for the people, not destroy them.

Sometimes we have to do what is required” 

Published in Pearls & Irritations, 9th August 2019

Climate Risk – MCA Directors Breach Duties of Care and Due Diligence

After 30 years of inaction, the focus on climate risk is accelerating as the physical impact of climate change worsens and the transition risks to a low-carbon world intensify. Despite effusive official rhetoric, nothing has been done to seriously address climate change, notwithstanding increasingly urgent warnings . Global climate-related losses are running at record levels .

To prevent temperatures rising above the upper 2degC limit of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, it is no longer possible to follow a gradual, incrementalist glide path. We have left it too late; emergency action, akin to wartime regulation, is inevitable, which further increases the transition risk. Market-based measures alone are insufficient.

Despite years of denial in the top echelons of corporate Australia, legal opinion has confirmed that: “company directors who fail to properly consider and disclose foreseeable climate-related risks to their business could be held personally liable for breaching their statutory duty of care and diligence under the Corporations Act.” . Regulators are finally waking up that climate risk has the potential to create a crisis far greater than the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, emphasising that: “climate risks are foreseeable, material and actionable now” .They have yet to honestly face up to the existential implications.

Curious then that the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) should recently publish an astonishingly misleading report on Market Demand for Australian Export Thermal Coal, 2017-2030. In 52 pages, from consultant Commodity Insights, there is not a single mention of the greatest threat to thermal coal exports, namely climate change risk . Government estimates of thermal coal expansion are used to produce a single-line estimate of a massive 60% increase in thermal coal import demand by 2030 for countries across the Asian region. A strongly supportive media release from MCA Coal Director Greg Evans, confirms that “Australian coal is ideally placed to meet this growing demand”, albeit the report is silent on Australia’s possible share of this growth.

The report optimistically includes new powerstation builds but fails to properly net out older powerstations closures. It contradicts authoritative studies such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) 2017 World Energy Outlook, which suggests that to meet Paris climate change commitments, global thermal coal trade, far from expanding, will reduce by 28% by 2025 and 59% by 2040 . Even the IEA central New Policies scenario shows no growth.

The MCA is a company limited by guarantee, incorporated and domiciled in Australia, hence subject to the Corporations Act. To promulgate such material without qualification is misleading and deceptive. MCA’s directors must consider how climate change impacts MCA’s business, and the business of its members. This reports demonstrates an ignorance of climate risk and failure by the directors’ to discharge their duty of care and diligence in overseeing the company’s operations. The report is a blatant attempt to influence the current toxic political debate on climate and energy policy in favour of coal expansion.

The MCA has form in this regard, for three decades having been a serial offender preventing the introduction of serious climate policy in Australia. To the point that the two major MCA members, BHP and Rio Tinto, under pressure from their own shareholders, finally reconsidered their MCA involvement given the stark contrast between MCA climate policy and their own. Following reframing of MCA policy, which includes the duty to consider climate risk, both BHP and Rio retained their involvement.

Yet this report deliberately breaches the updated policy. Thus, MCA’s directors are increasingly exposed to personal liability for failing to govern the company in a manner that adequately considers climate risk.

Some MCA directors have short memories. In November 2015, the New York State Attorney General, via the US Securities and Exchange Commission, secured undertakings from the world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, for violating state laws prohibiting false and misleading conduct in regard to Peabody’s public statements on risks posed by climate change . In part by misrepresenting the findings and projections of the IEA. Peabody Energy Australia, a subsidiary of Peabody Energy, is a member of the MCA, with a director on the MCA Board.

The implications of South Asia following a Chinese pattern of coal expansion, which is what this report implies, are horrendous in terms of climate impact; the result would be: “a world incompatible with any organised global society” . Far more people would die from the use of coal than will ever be pulled out of poverty. The market for seaborne coal, far from growing, would disappear. The cost to Australia, in terms of stranded assets, would be massive.

In the national interest, regulators must now stop the stream of MCA disinformation once and for all.


This article was published in Pearls and Irritations and RenewEconomy in July 2018

Facing Reality: Reframing Climate Change as an Immediate Existential Risk

The Big Question:

“Who at the highest levels of leadership in corporates and public service will take the bold risks that are required, not gradually or incrementally, but decisively in line with the new scale and speed that ‘unthinkables’ emerge.”

ITD – Climate Change Emergency Response Rationale June 2018

Climate Change: The Fiduciary Responsibility of Politicians & Bureaucrats in the Era of Existential Climate Risks

“Fiduciary: a person to whom power is entrusted for the benefit of another”

“Power is reposed in members of Parliament by the public for exercise in the interests of the public and not primarily for the interests of members or the parties to which they belong. The cry ‘whatever it takes’ is not consistent with the performance of fiduciary duty”

Sir Gerard Brennan AC, KBE, QC

After three decades of global inaction, none more so than in Australia, human-induced climate change is now an existential risk to humanity. That is, a risk posing large negative consequences which will be irreversible, resulting inter alia in major reductions in global and national population, species extinction, disruption of economies and social chaos, unless carbon emissions are reduced on an emergency basis. The risk is immediate in that it is being locked in today by our insistence on expanding the use of fossil fuels when the carbon budget to stay below sensible temperature increase limits is already exhausted.

As one of the countries most exposed to climate impact, and in the top half dozen carbon polluters worldwide when exports are included, as they must be, this should be of major concern to Australia. Instead, politicians and bureaucrats urge massive fossil fuel expansion to supply domestic and Asian markets, the latter justified on the grounds of poverty alleviation and the drug peddlers argument that: “if we don’t supply it, others will”. Blind to the fact that fossil fuels are now creating far more poverty than they are alleviating. In so doing Australia would be complicit in destroying the conditions which make human life possible. There is no greater crime against humanity.

Regulators now recognise that climate risk far outweighs the financial risks which triggered the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and demand action. Company directors have a fiduciary responsibility to understand, assess and act upon climate risk. Overseas, directors are already facing legal action, and personal liability, for having refused to do so, or for misrepresenting that risk. Compensation is being sought from carbon polluters for damage incurred from climate impact. Similar action will be taken here.

But what of our politicians and bureacrats and their contribution to this crime? The last few years have seen an unprecendented stream of lies and disinformation emanating from our official bodies around climate and energy policy, in blatant disregard of the facts, with seemingly no end to distortions designed to achieve short-term political advantage. What fiduciary responsibility do they have to the community they are supposed to serve?

Ministers repeatedly remind us that the first responsibility of government is the security of the people. On any balanced assessment of the science and evidence, climate change is now the greatest threat to that security and to our future prosperity.

Australia signed and ratified the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, presumably with the intent of meeting its objectives to limit global average temperature increase to “well below 2degC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5degC”, and “to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible —– in accordance with best available science”, recognising that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet”.

The voluntary Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) made by Paris participants, if implemented, would not meet the objectives, leading to a global temperature increase in the 3-4degC range, a world incompatible with an organised global community. The Australian commitment, of a 26-28% emission reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels is derisory on any fair international comparison.

Regional temperature variations would be far greater than these global averages, rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable even at 2degC, beyond the capacity of human physiology to function effectively. This may well be the case across much of Australia.   Since Paris, our Federal Government has ignored the Agreement, brushing off the increasingly urgent warnings of “the best available science” and ramping up fossil fuel expansion, whilst placing every possible obstacle in the way of low-carbon energy alternatives.

The fact that many Ministers and parliamentarians are climate deniers for ideological or party political reasons, does not absolve them of the fiduciary responsibility to set aside their personal prejudices and to act in the public interest with integrity, fairness and accountability. This requires them to understand the latest climate science and to act accordingly. It is not acceptable for those in positions of public trust to dismiss these warnings in the cavalier manner which has typified the last few years. Particularly when the risk is existential.

The Prime Minister failed this test recently by implying the disastrous Tathra bushfires had nothing to do with climate change. Every extreme weather event today has some element of climate change involved; it is irresponsible to imply otherwise.

Ministers justify their approach by misrepresenting international studies to support their fossil fuel expansion ambitions. Notably by citing the work of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA sets out its perspective on the energy sector over the next 25 years in its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO), exploring the implications of alternative climate and energy scenarios. Key scenarios are: current policies (CP) which assumes business-as-usual (4-5degC temperature increase), new policies (NP) which extends CP with policy committed to but not yet implemented (3.5-4degC temperature increase), and sustainable development (SDS) which is the pathway to meet various sustainable development goals. SDS claims to keep global average temperature increase below 2degC, but only with a 50% chance of success by relying on massive investment in sequestration technologies which have yet to be invented. In reality, SDS would result in temperature increase substantially above 2degC. There is no scenario which realistically achieves the Paris objectives.

The IEA is no paragon of virtue regarding climate change. It downplays both climate impact, and the potential of alternative energy sources, as a result of strong pressure politically from its developed country membership, and from vested interests who make up its advisory bodies such as the IEA Energy Business Council and the Coal Industry Advisory Board.

Consequently their scenarios are seized upon to justify further fossil fuel investment. For Australia, Asia Pacific coal demand is a key factor, this being our major export market. In the November 2017 WEO, under NP assumptions annual coal demand increases by 12% or 480 million tonnes by 2040, but under SDS assumptions it declines by 47% or 1880 million tonnes.

The IEA takes NP as their central scenario as this is where we are headed if governments implement their current commitments. However, in the fine print the IEA make it clear that NP is not a sustainable future. In the 2017 WEO, Executive Director Fatih Birol says: “Decision-makers also need to know where they would like to get to. — This is the point of the SDS scenario” – even though SDS does not meet the Paris objectives.

Having ratified Paris, presumably this is at least where Australia wants to get to. Not so our Ministers. At his National Press Club address on 28th March 2018, Resource Minister Canavan insisted on using the IEA NP Asia Pacific 480 million tonnes annual demand increase by 2040 to justify expansion of our coal industry, ignoring the SDS 1880 million tonnes decline. The latter is the minimum transition to approach a sustainable future; many existing operations become stranded assets before the end of their working life, and certainly no new coal investment. Ministers Frydenberg and Ciobo similarily insist on using NP estimates and ignore the SDS.

Canavan then assured the Press Club that in the first 40 years of this century, the world will use more coal than in the entire previous history of the coal industry. The IEA repeatedly emphasise that their scenarios are not forecasts. They are designed to give decision-makers an understanding of the implications of their actions, and they only cover part of the story. If the NP pathway is followed, there will be no market for export coal as Asia Pacific economies will shrink rapidly under the weight of climate impact. If more coal is used by 2040 than in previous history, humanity will become extinct. These are consequences the IEA does not discuss.

Such ministerial naivety is laughable, but it highlights a serious governance failure. As with company directors, it is incumbent upon ministers to understand these issues, in particular the risks to which the Australian community is exposed by their decisions. The only possible justification for Minister Canavan’s view is that he does not believe climate change is even a problem, let alone accept the need to rapidly reduce emissions. Further, he has no understanding of the implications of his proposed action. Whatever the Minister’s personal position, or the views of those who voted for him, given the overwhelming science and evidence confirming the urgency to address climate change, such ignorance is unacceptable and a fundamental breach of his fiduciary responsibility to the nation.

At the National Press Club, the Minister reacted angrily to a suggestion that the coal industry will phase out, objecting strongly to any thought of planning a transition. The mining industry will undoubtedly remain an essential part of the Australian economy, but markets for commodities come and go. Irrespective of political preferences, absent some unlikely technological breakthrough to sequester its emissions, coal will phase out, not instantaneously but relatively rapidly. Coal has been through many transitions in the past. The lesson from these disruptions is the need for thorough planning, retraining and support to avoid many people being badly hurt. Even more will be hurt, with massive climate impact, social and economic chaos, if the coal industry is expanded. It is irresponsible for the Minister to leave communities unprepared for these realities.

Minister Canavan then turned on “well funded” environmental groups “abusing” our “robust environmental laws” to prevent or slow down major projects, such as the Adani coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. Australia’s environmental laws were developed when human impact on the environment was far less than today. As that impact has grown, far from being robust, these laws are no longer “fit for purpose”. In particular, being domestically focused, they do not take account of the greatest environmental risk of all, which is climate change.

Under current UNFCCC rules, emissions from fossil fuel exports such as coal or gas are accounted for in the consuming country and are ignored by Australian courts and institutions in granting approvals for projects such as Adani.

However carbon emissions have global impact; coal exports from the Galilee Basin, would have major climate and environmental implications in Australia, as well as in consuming countries such as India. Our laws must be reframed accordingly if they are to be meaningful. As for “well funded”? Vested interests pour vastly more money into supporting fossil fuel expansion than has ever been available to environmental groups.

Parliamentarians, particularly ministers seem to have lost sight of the fact that they have a fiduciary responsibility to the public, which imposes upon them a public duty and a public trust. Sir Gerard Brennan again: “all decisions and exercises of power should be taken in the interests of the public, and that duty cannot be subordinated to, or qualified by, the interests of the (parliamentarian/minister)”.

It is entirely appropriate, when the legal system fails, for affected parties to take action to correct such failure, as with Adani, and with CSG projects in many parts of the country. In fact these are the only groups who are genuinely acting in the public interest. That the Federal government is now trying to muzzle them indirectly via the proposed Foreign Donations Bill is a further breach of its fiduciary responsibility.

The public has the right to expect that Minister Canavan take an holistic view of the Adani project and the many other fossil fuel developments he is promoting, including an honest appraisal of their climate implications for the community. That is not happening.

Similarily with Environment and Energy Minister Frydenberg, who should be proactive in changing environmental laws to include the climate impact of fossil fuel exports on Australia, rather than advocating that Adani proceed on the grounds it has met current inadequate environmental approvals.

Minister Frydenberg, and the government generally, breach their fiduciary duty by promoting poor climate and energy policy as represented by the National Energy Guarantee, whatever that ultimately means. This lowest common denominator solution is only being considered because of the fiduciary irresponsibility of a minority group of right wing parliamentarians, inappropriately identified as the Monash Forum, who put their own self-serving ideological agenda ahead of the public interest.

To claim, as the Minister did in his National Press Club speech on 11th April 2018, that: “the future of energy policy must be determined by the proper consideration of the public’s best interest not ideologically-driven predisposition”, just adds insult to injury given that the Coalition is, and has been for two decades, in total ideological denial on climate which largely explains our current policy shambles. The cost to Australia of this self-indulgence is enormous.

The Minister also misrepresents IEA analysis of Australia’s energy policies. The IEA conducts a periodic review of individual member countries policies. The latest IEA Australian review in February 2018 was presented by Minister Frydenberg as “backing the government’s energy policies — commending Australia’s commitment to affordable, secure and clean energy”. The report itself did no such thing, being highly critical in many areas, including Australia’s continuing failure to comply with IEA membership oil stockholding obligations of 90 days net imports. We hold less than half that, thus rendering Australia incapable of contributing to IEA collective action in the event of an international oil crisis; a further major security threat to the Australia community which has not been addressed despite repeated representations over many years.

In the light of these ingrained fiduciary failings, what of the bureaucracy, historically reverred for providing “frank and fearless advice” to the political class? It seems that analogy no longer applies. In recent policy reviews, the refusal to accept and articulate the implications of climate change on Australia shines through.

The December 2017 Review of Climate Change Policy was one of the most dishonest reports ever published by government in the climate arena. What purported to be a comprehensive review of the climate change challenge, and responses to it, is nothing more than a re-iteration of Australia’s wholly inadequate and inconsistent policies. No discussion of the latest climate science and its implications, no preparedness to face up to the real action required. In short little more than political whitewash for public consumption, pretending to do something whilst doing little.

The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper acknowledged that climate change will be an important influence on international affairs, particularly in our region. It then anticipated: “buoyant demand for our exports of high-quality coal and LNG — ” based on the IEA NP scenario referred to above, around which policy is presumably centred, despite the fact that demand under this scenario would be decimated by climate impact. This should be unacceptable to DFAT as our lead Paris negotiator, as it is totally inconsistent with meeting Paris objectives.

The 2016 Defence White Paper for the first time did mention climate change in passing in one of its six key strategic drivers of Australia’s security environment to 2035 and it is understood the Department of Defence have since extended their planning to prepare for its impacts as a “threat multiplier”. This is encouraging, but far behind action being taken by the military overseas.

The overriding impression is that the Federal bureaucracy, with some notable exceptions, are not treating climate change with anywhere near the urgency it demands; whether because of political pressure to downplay the issue, or because of personal convictions, is not clear.

Either way, fiduciary responsibility arises again. The Australian Public Service Impartiality Value requires advice given to government to be: “apolitical, frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence”. Further, it must be: “objective and non-partisan; relevant comprehensive and unaffected by fear of consquences, not withholding important facts or bad news; mindful of the context in which policy is to be implemented, the broader policy direction set by government and its implications for the longer term”.

Henceforth, climate change will determine policy across the spectrum, encompassing national security, defence, energy, health, migration, water, agriculture, transport, urban design and much more. Given continued urgent warnings from scientists, including the government’s own experts, on the need for far more rapid action, the parlous state of our climate and energy debate and the shortcomings in policy formulation, the Federal bureaucracy is hardly meeting its own standards of fiduciary responsibility to the community.

So what can be done? Many argue that current failures are the nature of politics and we should expect little else. But when the key issues are existential, that is to consign democracy to the dustbin of history and to accept increasing social chaos. In contrast to earlier eras, the concepts of fiduciary responsibility, public interest and public trust, are clearly not understood by the incumbency, from the Prime Minister down. This has to be corrected.

A Federal Parliament with any degree of such responsibility, would recognise that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to Australia’s future prosperity, requiring emergency action. To those prepared to honour this obligation, there is ample information before parliament to warrant that conclusion. In the public interest, parliamentarians would set aside party political differences, adopting a bipartisan approach to structuring such action, with the bureaucracy in full support.

That is highly unlikely, so there remains legal action. Around the world the seriousness of the climate threat, and the inaction of governments, is prompting communities to take this step, with increasing success. The same will happen in Australia, absent an outburst of commonsense within the political class.

This article was published on Pearls & Irritations, RenewEconomy and Climate Code Red

If Business Leaders Want To Regain Our Trust, They Must Act On Climate Risk

Business leaders seem astonished that community trust in their activities is at an all-time low, trending toward the bottom of the barrel inhabited by politicians. To the corporate leader dedicated to the capitalist, market economy success story of the last 50 years, that attitude is no doubt incomprehensible and downright ungrateful.

But it is hardly surprising given continuing scandals and declining ethics across the corporate and banking worlds, driven by the pernicious impact of short-termism, rising inequality and undue political influence; in large part the outcome of the oxymoron of “pay-for-performance” remuneration. So how is trust regained? The need for stronger leadership, ethics, greater transparency, open communications and improved culture feature prominently in current responses.

But a far more fundamental requirement is ignored, namely that business must lead on really critical issues, particularly the point raised long ago by economist Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who considers economic growth can continue indefinitely in a finite system is either a madman or an economist”. The constraints Boulding anticipated have now arrived, as burgeoning population and economic growth crash into global biophysical limits which cannot be circumvented.

Those constraints, encompassing resource shortages, biodiversity loss and pollution in various guises, do not feature in the capitalist economic lexicon, as technology and the market are supposed to overcome all as we march toward the sunlit uplands of the neoliberal nirvana. In the real world, the entire growth model under which Australia and global economies operate, is not longer sustainable; it sowed the seeds of its own destruction some time ago and is rapidly driving itself into the ground as growth rates decline. This is the great “black elephant” of business and politics; a known, knowable fact that no-one wants to acknowledge – the unmentionable in the Business and Governance Summits currently in full swing around the country, as our leaders strive mightly to compound the problem with self-defeating subterfuges to maximise growth, not least corporate tax cuts and trade agreements.

To the community, these constraints are increasingly obvious as the quality of life for the average person deteriorates in myriad ways. The greenwash and rhetoric of much-vaunted corporate social responsibility no longer holds water when our supposed leaders are not prepared to address the issues that really count for our survival, let alone prosperity.

These range from basic considerations such as ensuring food and water availability, to the creation of genuinely sustainable global societies. However the first priority must be human-induced climate change, manifest as the lack of an atmosphere into which we can continue dumping carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation, without causing catastrophic consequences.

Climate change is accelerating far faster than expected, to the point where it now represents an existential threat to humanity, that is a threat posing permanent large negative consequences which will be irreversible, an outcome being locked in today by our insistence on expanding the use of fossil fuels. This should be a major concern in Australia given that we are more exposed than most, but instead our leaders would have us embark on massive fossil fuel expansion. Already one of the world’s largest carbon polluters when exports are included, Australia is complicit in destroying the conditions which make human life possible. There is no greater crime against humanity.

The economic and social impacts will be devastating unless that policy is rapidly reversed. The unprecedented hurricane season in the Atlantic, bushfires in the Californian winter, extreme heat in many parts of South Asia and rapid heating of the Arctic with associated instability in the Northern Hemisphere weather system, are only the most recent portents of what is to come. The worst outcomes can only be avoided now by emergency action, akin to restructuring economies on a war-footing.

It finally seems to be dawning on corporate and investor leadership that climate change is a real and present danger which is not going away. Company directors are personally liable for failing to assess and act upon climate risk, but the greenwash continues. Major corporates parade their credentials in support of serious climate action, but none of their scenarios and policies are in line with the Paris objective of constraining global temperature increase “well below 2degC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5degC”.

Fortunately, as understanding of the risks improves, regulatory pressure mounts. The recommendations triggered by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, via the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) are gradually being taken up, with companies voluntarily disclosing the impact which a 2degC policy framework would have on their organisation, assuming such a framework was ever put in place (by governments?). Progress, but reactive and certainly not leadership. The question that must be answered is: “what are you doing proactively as a company to create a 2degC world” – more realistically closer to 1.5degC, as it is now patently clear that 2degC is far too high?

If business genuinely wishes to regain trust, it must proactively face up to the challenge posed by climate change and initiate emergency action. Beyond that, it must open up honest debate on a new economic model to replace conventional growth. It is the only way business will be sustainable in the 21st Century with a real social licence to operate.

In Churchill’s words: “Sometimes we have to do what is required”.

An edited version was published in The Guardian.

Climate & Energy – Appeasement Does Not Work

The current chaos around climate and energy policy brings to mind George Santayana’s caution that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That is exactly what we are witnessing, albeit with far more profound implications even than the advent of the Second World War.

In November 1936, Winston Churchill, concerned at the dangers posed by the Third Reich, warned the House of Commons about the refusal of the British establishment to face up to reality:

They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent……Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have now entered upon a period of great danger ….. The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In it’s place we are entering a period of consequences….. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now …..”

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, not to be diverted from the appeasement path, returned from Munich in September 1938 waving his “peace in our time” paper signed with Hitler. The rest is history; the war started a year later.

So it is with the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). Conjured out of nowhere, with experts press-ganged to provide underwhelming technical credibility, warning lights flashed red when the little Hitlers of the Coalition’s right wing, such as Craig Kelly, Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott himself, gave effusive support.

Most media commentators demonstrated their profound ignorance by instantly heralding the NEG as the answer to our energy prayers, despite a total absence of detail and minimal reference to the climate implications.

For climate is the key. Until climate drives energy policy, there will never be the certainty for investment, reliability, security and affordability, that everyone craves. Kelly gave the game away by letting slip the magic word “backloading”. Put simply, to satisfy these little Hitlers, when detail of the NEG does emerge, it will guarantee business as usual for energy supply, ramping up coal and CSG, with any attempt to reduce carbon emissions in line with our wholly inadequate Paris Agreement commitments, left until the last possible minute prior to the 2030 deadline.

The rationale being that the cost of compliance by then will be greatly reduced due to technology improvements.

In that one word, the government has completely abrogated its first responsibility to safeguard the people and their future wellbeing, for everything about this “elegant” solution is wrong.

Many parliamentarians still do not believe human-induced climate change even exists; a view closely correlated with massive political donations from the fossil fuel industry. For a country whose wealth has been based on the sensible application of science and technology, a parliament so corrupt and lacking in basic scientific, technical and economic understanding, and commonsense, is the greatest threat to our future security and prosperity.

In the real world, beyond the Canberra goldfish bowl, human-induced climate change is accelerating far faster than expected. The unprecedented hurricane season in the Atlantic, devastating bushfires in California and extreme heat in many parts of South Asia are only the most recent portents of what is to come.

The lower Paris objective, of limiting temperature increase to 1.5degC above pre-industrial levels, is no longer achievable. Staying below the upper objective of 2degC requires a halt to the burning of fossil fuels today. That will obviously not happen, but the more carbon that is pushed into the atmosphere, the greater the overshoot beyond 2degC and the greater the catastrophic conditions we create for ourselves.

For Australia, as one of the hottest and driest continents, this is extremely dangerous, particularly for our rural communities and for Northern Australia.

The climate impact of carbon emitted today does not manifest itself for years to come. In these circumstances, to seize upon “backloading” as a key policy plank, deliberately encouraging Adani and other Galilee Basin coal mines, the expansion of domestic coal-fired power, and CSG which is worse than coal from a warming perspective, is the height of irresponsibility, for it would automatically lock-in catastrophic outcomes.

Emissions have to be reduced now, not a decade hence. Lower energy costs will only come from a major investment in renewables, improved energy efficiency and changing social values, not from massively expanding fossil fuels and continuing to subsidise them by refusing to price carbon.

For the last twenty years, beginning with John Howard, both major parties have continually played the appeasement card on climate policy. Howard signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and as a result triggered the first design of an Australian emissions trading system, completed in 1999 (see disclosure below).

Despite strong business support, he shelved it when George W Bush refused to sign Kyoto. Business interest in climate action evaporated and fossil fuel industry resistance grew.

To appease the fossil fuel lobby, every proposal subsequently has been used as a starting point to further ratchet down sensible climate policy ambition, the most recent example being the Finkel Review. In good faith, Alan Finkel put forward an honest proposal for a politically acceptable climate and energy policy, albeit far from ideal. It was simply taken as the starting point to be ratcheted down again to the magical vision of the NEG.

Those who have any genuine concern for the future of this country need to call out climate appeasement for what it really is, namely the destruction of our security and prosperity by a bunch of ignorant, self-serving ideologues who have no regard for the Australian people they so earnestly claim to represent.

Appeasement never works. The devastation wrought by Hitler pales into insignificance compared with the risks to which we are now exposed by the government’s refusal to adopt sensible climate policy. The period of consequences is upon us and there are certainly no Churchills in sight.

(Disclosure: I chaired the AGO Experts Group which designed this first emissions trading system for Australia under the Howard government in 1998/99)

This article was published on RenewEconomy and Pearls & Irritations.  

Australia’s Coal & CSG Delusion

Energy policy is the issue to trump them all.  We have already lost several Prime Ministers in its cause, and more will likely walk the plank before commonsense prevails.  But the last few weeks have set new standards for national stupidity .

The political rhetoric grows ever more florid, starting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last October: “Coal is going to be an important part of our energy mix, there is no question about that, for many, many, many decades to come, on any view”. Just as he launched an independent review into the future security of the national energy market by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel; no pre-conceived ideas here.

Then, at the National Press Club on 1st February 2017: “Old, high emissions coal-fired power plants are closing down, reducing baseload capacity. They cannot simply be replaced by gas –because it’s too expensive – or by wind and solar because they are intermittent.  Storage has a big role to play, but we will need more synchronous baseload power, and as the world’s largest coal exporter we have a vested interest in showing that we can provided both low emissions and reliable baseload power with state-of-the-art clean coal-fired technology. —- The next incarnation of our energy policy should be technology agnostic – Policy should be ‘all of the above’, working together to deliver the trifecta of secure and affordable power while meeting our emission reduction commitments” And to ram the point home : ”Those people who say coal and other fossil fuels have no future are delusional and they fly in the face of all of the economic forecasts”.

 Simultaneously, former Resource Minister Matt Canavan was spruiking the benefits of Galilee Basin coal, initially in the shape of the Adani Carmichael Mine, subsidised with a cheap loan from NAIF; then domestic High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) power stations; and finally the full blown development of five or six Galilee Basin mega-mines in addition to Adani. All very technology agnostic.

 Unfortunately the independent reports commissioned by the government from Finkel and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), did not toe the party line. The experts set out sensible steps to solve the problems of our energy market, with the electricity system moving toward increasing use of renewable energy and no need for additional investment in coal – the result being lower electricity prices and no energy crisis.  The pre-requisite is a sensible policy framework delivered by government; a big ask after two decades in which the abject failure of political leadership on these issues, from John Howard onwards, created the current mess.

Not to be diverted from the Minerals Council of Australia’s roadmap for a coal-based future, the government instantly twisted one AEMO recommendation, to establish a 1000MW flexible dispatchable reserve to maintain supply reliability in South Australia and Victoria over the coming summer, to claim we face a massive energy crisis.  In a mind-boggling non-sequitur, it is now using this lie to justified its attempt to force AGL to keep open the oldest, least efficient and dirtiest baseload coal–fired power station in Australia, at Liddell NSW, for a further five years after its planned 2022 closure date.  No one has apparently told the government that baseload coal-fired power is neither flexible nor dispatchable.

But the rhetoric soared: Matt Canavan assured us that “Renewables are just a short-term sugar hit”, Barnaby Joyce sternly lectured us that “We must not lose sight of the main game. Baseload coal-fired power it is, and will remain”. The Prime Minister insisted his energy policy was based on “engineering and economics, not ideology”.

Such visionary leadership brings to mind Field Marshal Earl Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during WW1. In 1925, a decade after his disastrous WW1 campaigns, he still opined that: “Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse – the well-bred horse – as you ever have done in the past”. A sentiment that might appeal to the National Party, given its rural origins.

But the analogy goes far beyond horses.  Haig’s pigheaded arrogance and failure to imagine the consequences of his actions, contributed to the death or injury of hundreds of thousands of men in the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, including many Australians. Yet he learnt nothing from the experience.

Today, we see history repeating itself with the same pigheaded arrogance and failure of imagination, as both the Federal Government and Opposition avoid the over-riding issue which must determine energy policy, namely human-induced climate change, which the government is sweeping under the carpet to appease conservative climate deniers and their fossil fuel industry funders.

Climate change is no longer a benign theory which might have impact decades hence.  It is happening now, faster and more extensively than expected, as escalating extreme events such as the spate of unprecedented hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, and the devastating monsoon on the Indian subcontinent demonstrate.  The cost of these disasters is already a major constraint on economic growth, even in the USA.  But worse lies ahead because climatic tipping points, where the climate jumps from one state to another far less conducive to human survival and prosperity, are beginning to trigger. Once such changes gather momentum, humanity’s ability to influence outcomes will rapidly disappear, bringing with it death and devastation on a massive scale. A substantial reduction in global population would result, with Australia, one of the driest and hottest continents on Earth, particularly impacted.  In an ironic reversal of “Stop-the-Boats”,  many Australians may find themselves having to migrate.

To have a realistic (90%) chance of staying below the 2oC temperature increase which is the upper limit of the Paris Climate Agreement, global carbon emissions must reduce rapidly, with an immediate halt to all new investment in fossil fuel projects, as we have no carbon budget left. It is not a question of whether we transition to a low-carbon world; we have no choice.  We have to make renewable technologies work as an absolute priority, dramatically improve the conservation and efficiency of energy use, and reboot our economic and social systems to operate within the biophysical constraints we now face.  Business craves policy certainty before investing; but certainty, secure and affordable power will be mirages until emissions reduction becomes the top priority of energy policy. And those reductions have to be far greater than our wholly inadequate Paris voluntary commitments.

Denying this reality, the government dances to the tune of the fossil-fuel industry, trying to establish as many new coal, Coal Seam Gas (CSG), LNG and oil projects as it can before the shutters finally come down on the industry, which they will.  But our leaders deliberately ignore the fact that the full climatic outcomes of these projects do not manifest themselves for decades hence. If they proceed, with lives of 30-40 years, the result will be suicidal globally – and nationally given the damaging impact of climate change on Australia’s water and soils.  The massive Adani mine alone, in the absence of any further carbon budget, will push the world above the 2oC limit. None of the arguments routinely trotted out to justify these projects, such as poverty alleviation or the HELE power stations being built in Asia and their supposed “emission reductions”, are credible in these circumstances.   Demands to expand CSG fracking are particularly flawed, given that experience demonstrates CSG’s global warming impact is worse than using coal, due to methane leakage, quite apart from its disastrous effects on agricultural productivity and water availability.

The current Federal government energy policy, to the extent it exists, is criminally negligent. So what should be done? We need bipartisan agreement to three principles on which policy must be based:

First, human-induced climate change now represents an immediate existential risk to humanity. Second, an emergency response is essential if that risk is to be managed realistically. Third, it must be based on action to achieve clearly defined objectives, rather than accepting “politically realistic”, and wholly ineffectual, pathways.

An existential risk poses large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone, and which would either annihilate intelligent life or drastically curtail its potential. The risk is immediate as, in the absence of any carbon budget, our actions are locking-in irreversible, existential outcomes today.  Sensible risk management addresses risk in time to prevent it happening and that time is now.

Having accepted the principles, politicians should then get out of the way, taking their ideology with them, and let the experts, who really do understand engineering and economics, reform our energy system accordingly.  And that includes pricing carbon to remove the greatest subsidy of all, which the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed since the Industrial Revolution by not having to account for the full costs that they impose on society, such as health and climate impact.

Australia’s low-carbon energy resources mean its potential to prosper in the low-carbon 21st Century is far greater than in the high-carbon past. The Prime Minister’s real duty is to ensure the Australian people can realise that potential, not see it thrown away in the delusional pursuit of coal and CSG. His grandchildren, and mine, deserve better than the appalling leadership failure we are seeing at present – and the destructive, nihilistic nonsense being spouted by Tony Abbott. Unconscionable indeed!

Published in Pearls & Irritations and RenewEconomy


Facing “Disaster Alley”, Australia Shirks Responsibility


The first responsibility of a government is to safeguard the people and their future wellbeing. The ability to do so is increasingly threatened by human-induced climate change, the accelerating impacts of which are driving political instability and conflict globally. Climate change poses an existential risk to humanity which, unless addressed as an emergency, will have catastrophic consequences.

An existential risk is an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.

In military terms, Australia and the adjacent Asia-Pacific region is considered to be “Disaster Alley”, where the most extreme impacts are already being experienced. These risks are either not understood or wilfully ignored at the leadership level in Australia, which is a profound failure of imagination, far worse than that which triggered the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The management of existential risk cannot be handled with conventional, reactive, learn-from-failure techniques. We only play this game once, so we must get it right first time.

This should mean an honest, objective look at the real risks to which we are exposed, guarding especially against the more extreme possibilities which would have consequences damaging beyond quantification, and which human civilization as we know it would be lucky to survive.

Instead, the climate and energy policies adopted by successive Australian governments over the last twenty years, largely driven by ideology and corporate fossil fuel interests, have deliberately refused to acknowledge this existential threat to our future well-being, as the shouting match over the wholly inadequate reforms proposed by the Finkel Review demonstrates only too well. Our leaders have access to the best possible scientific advice and to the overwhelming evidence that we have badly underestimated both the speed and extent of climate change impact. In such circumstances, to ignore this threat is a fundamental breach of the fiduciary responsibility with which political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are entrusted by the community they are supposed to serve.

A hotter planet has already taken us perilously close to, and in some cases over, tipping points which will cause profound changes in major climate systems: at the polar ice-caps, in the oceans, and the large permafrost carbon stores. Physical impacts of global warming include a hotter and more extreme climate, more frequent and severe droughts, desertification, increasing insecurity of food and water supplies, stronger storms and cyclones, and coastal inundation.

Climate change was a significant factor in triggering the war in Syria, the Mediterranean migrant crisis and the “Arab Spring”, albeit this aspect is rarely discussed. Our current global carbon emission trajectory, if left unchecked, will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, forced migrations, political instability and conflicts.

Australia is not immune, domestically or regionally. We already have extended heat waves above 400C, catastrophic bushfires, intense storms and flooding. The regional impacts do not receive much attention but they are striking hard at vulnerable communities in Asia and the Pacific, forcing them into a spiral of dislocation and migration. Impacts on China and South Asia will have profound consequences for employment and financial stability in Australia.

In the absence of emergency action to reduce Australian and global emissions far faster than currently proposed, the level of disruption and conflict will escalate to the point that outright regional chaos is likely. Militarised solutions will not be effective. Australia is failing in its duty to its own people, and as a world citizen, by downplaying these implications and in shirking its responsibility to act.

Yet people understand climate risks, even as political leaders wilfully underplay or ignore them. 84% of 8000 people in eight countries recently surveyed for the Global Challenges Foundation consider climate change a “global catastrophic risk”. The figure for Australia was 75%. Many people now see climate change as a bigger threat than other concerns such as epidemics, weapons of mass destruction and the rise of artificial intelligence threats.

So what is to be done if our leaders are incapable of rising to the task?

First, establish a high-level climate and conflict task-force in Australia to urgently assess the existential risks of climate change, and develop risk-management techniques and policy appropriate to that challenge.

Second, recognise that climate change is now a global emergency which threatens human civilisation, and  contribute to building practical steps internationally for a coordinated global emergency response

Third, launch a domestic emergency initiative to decarbonise the economy no later than 2030 and build the capacity to drawdown carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Fourth, build more resilient communities domestically, and also in the most vulnerable nations regionally by high-level commitments and development assistance; build a flexible capacity to support communities in likely hotspots of instability and conflict; and rethink refugee governance accordingly.

Fifth, ensure that Australia’s defence forces and government agencies are fully aware of and prepared for this changed environment; and ensure their ability to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Sixth, establish a national leadership group, outside conventional politics, drawn from across society, charged with implementing the national climate emergency programme.

A pious hope in current circumstances? Our leaders clearly do not want the responsibility to secure our future. So “Everything becomes possible, particularly when it is unavoidable”.


An edited version of this article appeared in Fairfax Media. It is extracted from “Disaster Alley: Climate change, conflict and risk”, by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt: