Climate change policy stands above all others this campaign

Professor John Quiggin, of the University of Queensland, says the key message from the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that “if the world acts now, we can avoid the worst outcomes of climate change without any significant impact on standards of living”.

But the report said it’s “now or never” to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. Action means cutting emissions from the use of fossil fuels rapidly and hard. “Global emissions must peak within three years to have any chance of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees,” he says.

If you wanted to pick the worst continent to live on as the climate changes, it would be Australia, according to Quiggin. We are a “poster child” for what the rest of the world will be dealing with. Not that we care.

If you wanted to pick the worst continent to live on as the climate changes, it would be Australia, according to Professor John Quiggin.
If you wanted to pick the worst continent to live on as the climate changes, it would be Australia, according to Professor John Quiggin.Credit:Getty Images Asi Pac

The economic costs of the transition to renewable energy would be marginal, he says. “The required investment in clean energy would be around 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product. That’s far less than the cost of allowing global heating to continue, with costs further offset by clean energy’s zero fuel costs and lower operating costs.”

Voters complain there’s no real difference between the parties, but on climate change we’re being offered the full menu of varying strengths. Climate Analytics, a non-profit research group founded by Bill Hare, has assessed three parties’ policies, plus Zali Steggall’s climate bill, which the teal independents are supporting.

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The Liberals have supported zero net emissions by 2050, but refused to increase their commitment to reduce emissions 26 or 28 per cent by 2030. This is judged to be consistent with global warming of 3 degrees, bordering on 4 degrees.

Labor’s target is emission reduction of 43 per cent by 2030. Its plan is supported by the Business Council of Australia. This is judged to be consistent with global warming of 2 degrees, which would be “very likely to destroy the Great Barrier Reef”.

Steggall’s climate bill has a target of 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, which is close to, but within, the upper boundary of modeled 1.5 degrees pathways for Australia. A higher target would give a higher probability of meeting the 1.5 limit.

The Greens’ target of a 74 per cent reduction by 2030 is judged consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. Some parts of the Barrier Reef would survive. Globally, the most extreme heat events could be nearly twice as frequent as in recent decades. In Australia, an intense heat event that might have occurred once a decade in recent times could occur every five years and would be noticeably hotter. Phew.

If you’ll forgive a little colorful characterisation, the choice ranges from the Liberals’ “let’s just say we’ll do something, so we don’t offend Barnaby and his generous donors” to Labor’s “let’s do a lot more than the Libs , but go easy on coal and coalminers” to the Greens’ “let’s not muck about”.

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