When, on 7 September, the Coalition won the federal elections in Australia, it was clear what its leader Tony Abbott would stand for: “Stopping the boats” and “scrapping the carbon tax” had been his Leitmotif for a long time. I doubt that voters were aware of the full consequences their decision will have.
There were few good things we could expect from the new government and the first two post-election weeks have already shown that our worst nightmares might be harmless to what could happen in the next couple of years. While the three word slogan proves how superficial the very complex topic “asylum policy” will likely be handled by a Coalition government, I will limit myself here to the subjects carbon tax and climate change.
Few days after the election we could read that there were already plans to remove the recently approved expansion of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. And of course Tony Abbott insists on his plans to axe the carbon tax. The reasons for this are obvious. In an environment that sees major economies around the world suffering from an on-going economic crisis, it’s easiest to keep the engine running by an unfair competitive advantage, a recipe that had helped to make the country’s economy strong under the Howard government. Ironically enough, Howard, himself an opponent to the Kyoto Protocol, justified his position by Australia not wanting to face competitive disadvantage towards economies like China. Considering that Australia has one of the world’s highest per capita footprints, it’s obvious that the country had itself for a long time benefited from an unfair advantage at the expense of the international community.
Per capita carbon emission worldwide showing the worst polluters in dark colours (source: CICERO)
Knowing that Abbott was a loyal disciple of John Howard, one understands why the new leader follows a similar line.
In an article in The Guardian other reasons were brought forward: mining magnates having paid millions of dollars for his election campaign, Mr Abbott might want to reward them with some incentives.
What might even be worse is the fact that by willingly abandoning Australia’s already weak and voluntarily 5% CO2 reduction target by 2020, Mr Abbott’s move could incite other nations to take similar steps. Why should other countries not stimulate their labour markets with unfair measures? What worked as a cheap trick for the Coalition to win voters might be copied by other politicians and mark the start for a race to the bottom. The Kyoto Protocol has always been weak because nations like the US and Australia, both representatives of the biggest per capita CO2 emitters, were not committed to make a change. Other nations that have so far suffered much more from the global financial crisis might abandon their targets as well and in the end, the whole UN Framework Convention on Climate Change could be delayed or even abandoned. Although, other nations like China show how innovation can stimulate markets without always further degrading the environment, others might get frustrated by the fact that market distortions due to cheap Australian coal makes the transition to cleaner energy more difficult for them.
Considering the potential outcome of such a scenario, one might wonder if a nation like Australia should have the right to do what the new government is decided to do.
Human-made climate change is now considered a fact and supported by the vast majority of scientist. The consequences of denying climate change and not taking sufficient measures to address it will be fatal.
A predicted sea level rise of 1 m within this century will see millions of people either abandon their homes and being displaced or stay and drown. In Bangladesh alone, 20% of the country’s surface will likely disappear, forcing a displacement of 15 million people. Vietnam would face similar problems with 7 millions of people having to be displaced and the country losing vast areas of the Mekong Delta, home to more than 60% of the country’s seafood and 50% of its rice production. It is self-explaining that this would have not only dramatic social consequences but also immense financial impacts for already economic disadvantaged countries.
Map showing the impact of a future sea level rise in Bangladesh and Vietnam
(source: Sea Level Rise Explorer)
As this would not be bad enough, it should be considered that sea level rise is only one consequence of a changing climate. More frequent extreme weather events such as storms, droughts, heat waves and landslides will likely provoke further fatalities and economic damage.
Keeping these consequences in mind and looking at the issue from a different angle, we might find that Tony Abbott willingly risks the life of millions of world citizens. According to international law, genocide and crimes against humanity should be persecuted.
Some of the readers might find the comparison to be somewhat harsh, yet I ask you: what if a person was to place their new born child in a bathtub, turned on the water, and left the baby to its own fate? Would you call that murder or simply irresponsible behaviour? I’m not a lawyer, but I believe by law this would be judged as involuntary manslaughter, for sure it can’t be declared as an accident. Likewise, what Mr Abbott is doing is a calculated, selfish action that knowingly risks millions of lives. Depending on our judgement, we might call it a stupid action or declare it as an involuntary mass manslaughter.
Since air and climate are goods shared by all nations, we must manage them in a mutual effort and hence, the attitude of the new Australian government is simply intolerable. Throwing the first punch can provoke a bigger conflict and where offenders can be identified in time, they should be stopped before being able to fulfill their crimes. There is only one world and we all have the right to live in it, not only the rich who have the economic means to adapt to increased pollution and climate change. Australia must show responsibility in the global climate challenge, as other nations do as well.
Citizens in- and outside of Australia should stand up and tell the new Australian government that the international community does not tolerate the life of millions of people being put at risk for the economic benefit of a few billionaires gathering around Tony Abbott.
 Other than climate change denier and Liberal MP Dennis Jensen, I believe that the 97% of scientist supporting the theory are more likely to be right than the ca. 45% of Australian voters supporting the new government to some extent.
* It must be said that although the Coalition won the majority of seats in the lower house this doesn’t mean that a majority of Australian voters actually chose the Coalition as their preferred government.