The Morrison Government is adopting the newest form of doubting climate change by arguing that yes it does exist but that it can all be fixed by some unproven technological developments such as carbon capture or hydrogen both of which may end up looking a bit like nuclear fusion – just around the corner for decades.
Yet increasingly there is a tidal wave of global opinion which puts Morrison on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of some surprising, and perhaps not so surprising, advocates of action. The Economist (21 May 2020) editorialised that: “Covid-19 creates a unique chance to steer the economy away from carbon at a much lower financial, social and political cost than before. Rock-bottom energy prices make it easier to cut subsidies for fossil fuels and to introduce a tax on carbon. The revenues from that tax can help repair battered government finances. The businesses at the heart of the fossil-fuel economy—oil and gas firms, steel producers, carmakers—are already going through the agony of shrinking their long-term capacity and employment. Getting economies back on their feet calls for investment in climate-friendly infrastructure that boosts growth and creates new jobs. Low interest rates make the bill smaller than ever. The world should seize the moment.”
It also said: “But governments need to make the signals clear. Around the world, they currently provide more than $400bn a year in direct support for fossil-fuel consumption, more than twice what they spend subsidising renewable production. A price on carbon, which hastens the day when new renewables are cheaper than old fossil-fuel plants, is another crucial step. So is research spending aimed at those emissions which are hard to electrify away. Governments have played a large role in the development of solar panels, wind turbines and fracking. There is a lot more to do.”
The Financial Times editorialised (16 May 2020): “Given the scale of the economic damage wrought (by COVID-19) ….policymakers face a difficult balancing act: do they preserve the status quo and rely on fossil fuels to revive their stricken economies or launch new policies to promote a green recovery? They should choose the latter and emulate the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt.” The FT too called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, carbon pricing and more regulation to boost green electricity generation.
Morgan Stanley Investment Management reports record inflows into environmental, social and governance in the first quarter of 2020 while the rest of the market saw billions of dollars go the other way. JP Morgan Chase, under shareholder pressure, demoted Lee Raymond, former ExxonMobil CEO, from his position as lead independent director.
BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is reviewing investments in companies that exacerbate climate change. First State, one of Australia’s bigger super funds, has said it is unlikely to invest in the pet Nev Power/Morrison gas pipeline. Santos drove another nail in the idea’s coffin by pointing out that it was uneconomic to build the pipeline and basically telling Power and Morrison they were dreaming.
The independent MP, Zali Steggall has pointed out that the pipeline idea was ridiculed as completely uncommercial two years ago and the Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood has said using gas to replace coal would be more expensive than wind and solar.
The first lots of evidence before the Bushfire Royal Commission – from the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency services staff – both made it clear that climate change was happening and the risk of the summer’s bushfire season being repeated was growing.
Meanwhile The Age (25 May 2020) has reported that Nev, a non-executive director of oil and gas explorer Strike Energy (he has agreed to miss a few board meetings as a token form of conflict of interest avoidance) also owns $2.5 million in shares and stands to make an addition $2.1 million if the shares increase from 20c to 35c – a prospect if more gas is found and tapped under his and Morrison’s plans.
Transparency International and various legal groups have called out the potential conflicts in this situation calling on Morrison to subject the NCCC to integrity and transparency safeguards including Parliamentary oversight; processes for managing conflicts of interest including a register of interests available on the PM&C website; broadening the membership; provision for public submissions; providing interim reports; and ensuring “there is immediate transparency over the day-to-day operations to the NCCC and require it to publish an active register of meetings, processes for soliciting proposals, any advice provided to the Government, membership of any working groups, regular reporting about the activities of the commissioners, its budget and spending and Freedom of Information procedures.”
As for increasing international isolation Australia now joins Brazil and Trump’s America in being regarded as the international bad boys of climate change denial and have been described as the ‘chief wreckers’ of diplomatic efforts to tackle climate change. Although, in the FDR New Deal spirit, a Biden administration would introduce a form of the Green New Deal thus marginalising Australia even further.
The Age (23 May 2020) reported that Christiana Figueres, one of the UN’s top climate negotiators, said: “I am deeply pained by the attitude of the current Australian Government, that still after the worst disaster that has ever hit the planet, the bushfires in Australia, that this government is still denying climate change and denying the fact that there is a lot that Australia can and should be doing.”
The Age also reported that the January 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, drafted by several think tanks, ranked Australia worst of 57 nations in having the absolute worst climate change policy.
However, if Morrison is really committed to cutting back on costs after the pandemic passes and also really tackling climate change, a good place to start would be sacking Nev Power and his committee; binning the King Report; and sending someone down to a local bookshop to bring back a copy of Ross Garnaut’s new book Super-Power – cheaper, better value and much, much more rigorous.
And, while opinion is changing around the world it is worth remarking the time many, many years ago when the oil and gas industry told the truth rather than sowing doubt. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has had an exhibition – Cars: accelerating the modern world – which features a 1962 Esso poster announcing that every day the company supplies enough oil to melt seven million tons of glacier!