Nobody would deny that sometimes the most obvious can be overlooked. However, given current trends in GHG emissions, it seems pathetic that governments can’t be bothered to do more. One might ask “have we all gone nuts?”
While climate scientist have long been warning that we are on a very worrisome path, and while current trends (e.g. first-time CO2 levels above 400ppm since monitoring earlier this year) show that the targeted maximum increase of 2° Celsius in global mean surface temperature will likely be surpassed very soon, some governments and individuals still care little or nothing at all.
In NSW, Resources Minister Chris Hartcher has just released a draft plan that will put economic activities above all other interests (such as biodiversity, human communities, ecosystems etc.) when considering new developments. In other words, mining is what rules in NSW and won’t be stopped any longer, not even by affected residents.
In Queensland, the Newman government has passed changes to the land clearing laws earlier this year, allowing huge areas to be deforested and allowing farmers to have their cattle grazing in National Parks.
The destruction of the Great Barrier Reef goes on despite protests and concerns.
And earlier this month (and probably tempted not to look weak among all these heroic decisions in Australia), Spanish president Mariano Rajoy announced that he will start taxing private households that produce their own electricity (off grid). In Spain, the use of sunlight has from now on a price and fighting climate change by private initiative will be punished.
GHG emissions must and can be reduced, and the longer we wait with action, the costlier it will be.
Today, Climate Works Australia have published a report that tracks the progress of GHG emissions and provides information about further reduction potentials in Australia. The critical reader will find that under status quo an already low target of 5% reduction against the emissions in 2010 will possibly not be met by 2020. It can further be found that there is a huge potential for further emission abatement, most of it uncaptured: a total of 293MtCO2e, which are 52% of the total emissions (563MtCO2e) in 2010-11!
Likewise, BeyondZeroEmissions have long shown how the Australian energy sector could be transformed into a zero carbon industry within only ten years and without generating costs that wouldn’t be compensated by avoidance of further external costs.
So why do we not do more then? Why do we follow status quo and pollute as always, despite all warnings and abatement measures at hand?
To me, the answer seems obvious and can be described in one word: mining.
Australia has been blinded by the fast cash from mineral exploitation ever since beginning of white settlement. Interestingly enough, a study published in 2001 has shown how instead of being beneficial, abundance of natural resources can turn out to be a curse for a nation. The explanation is that significant increase in revenues from raw material exports can lead to the following:
- The boom draws labour and capital out of traditional (or alternative) industries (such as manufacturing)
- Domestic prices increase as a result of the boom, which in turn impedes international competitiveness of sectors such as manufacturing
- Entrepreneurial talent and innovation get siphoned by the resource sector, thus leaving a vacuum in innovation and as a consequence, development.
All of that might apply in Australia.
While everyone must see that the potential of GHG emission reduction is nowhere bigger than in the (fossil fuel) mining sector, it provides “easy accessible” labour and thus a cheap excuse, not to change. However, if we don’t dare to say no to ignorance, we might as well stop counting GHG emission. Simple accounting doesn’t fight climate change, nor does mining make us more intelligent.
 GHG stands for greenhouse gas and GHG inventories usually encompass the following greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, hydroflurorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.
 It might be worth mentioning that Australia is an exception among developed or emerging economies in so far that under the first Kyoto Protocol period it was allowed to increase its emissions by 8% until 2012 while all others committed to reduce their emissions by up to 8% against 1990 figures. In the second round (2013-2020), Australia committed to reduce 5% against its 2000 emissions, while most others committed to reduce 20% against 1990 emissions until 2020. And all this despite the fact that Australia has emissions that are six fold world average and two to five times higher than other developed countries.