Australian Fossil Foolery Called Out on the World Stage | Between the Lines


The Wrap with Richard Denniss

Australia’s governments, both state and federal, usually like to brag about their ability to attract foreign investment and generate exports, but when it comes to growth in fossil fuel exports, they prefer to hide their light under a bushel. But while governments in Australia tend to downplay their enormous fossil fuel expansion plans, governments around the world are paying increasingly close attention.

At last week’s United Nations Climate Ambition Summit, the danger of continued fossil fuel expansion was centre stage.

In the words of the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres: “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”

Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano also said, “there is no bigger threat than fossil fuels.”

Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, a major oil and gas-producing state, declared, “This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis. It’s not complicated”. He announced that his state, the globe’s fifth-largest economy, was suing five of the world’s biggest oil companies for 50 years of deception and damage related to climate change.

No wonder there was such interest, in New York and around the world, in the full-page advertisement that the Australia Institute took out in the New York Times featuring more than 200 climate scientists and experts calling on the Australian Government to stop building new gas and coal mines.

Despite this focus on fossil fuels, when Foreign Minister Penny Wong was asked why her government was supporting new gas and coal mines, given her view climate change was the biggest security threat facing the Pacific, all she could do was repeat lines about Australia’s commitment to build new renewable energy. This answer rang hollow, especially given that her colleague, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, was that same week fighting in court for the right to ignore climate impacts when approving new coal mines.

The science of limiting climate change is simple: we need to stop producing and consuming fossil fuels and store more carbon in trees and soil. We need to do both.

But here in Australia, not only has this federal government already approved four new coal mines and 116 new gas wells, it is also subsidising that expansion and fighting in court for the right to approve even more.

The science and economics say we need to stop.

And as the Governor of the fifth largest economy in the world says, it’s not complicated.

— Richard Denniss, Executive Director of the Australia Institute

The Big Stories

Last week, world leaders gathering in New York for the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit woke up to a full-page open letter in the New York Times from over 220 scientists and experts calling on the Australian Government to accelerate climate action, not climate annihilation.

Signed by eminent individuals from all over the world, the letter exposed the extent of Australia’s fossil fuel expansion and called on the Australian Government to stop approving and subsidising gas and coal.

The open letter made quite the splash in New York: Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong was asked about Australia’s fossil fuel expansion on CNN on her way into the UN headquarters. The letter — and Australia’s poor record on climate action — also made international headlines in the Daily Mail and the South China Morning Post.

Closer to home, this ripper headline didn’t hold back: Australia shamed on climate change in full-page New York Times advert: a massive full-page advertisement in the New York Times has been taken out to slam Australia and it doesn’t pull any punches.

And the ABC highlighted calls from Pacific activists to ramp up climate action, backed up by the pressure of our open letter — check out the ABC’s Instagram and TikTok for some great quick explainers.

It’s safe to say that the Australian Government heard the message. Whether it heeds the call of the world’s scientists is another matter.

If you’re wondering what happened at the ambition summit itself, Australia was denied a speaking spot in the keynote session — reserved only for countries that could demonstrate leadership and credible action in response to the climate crisis.  However, Australia, represented by Minister Wong, did announce a long-term climate adaptation project with Tuvalu later in the days. The details were vague — more of a plan to have a plan to have a partnership than anything — and as expected, Australia avoided talking about its planned fossil fuel expansion.

None of this would have been possible without the overwhelming support of people like you who chipped in to help us take out a full page in the New York Times. Thank you. 

You can add your name and donate to the open letter here.

Judy Horacek Cartoon

All cartoons © Judy Horacek

Corporate Profits Must Take Hit to Save Workers

Greg Jericho and Jim Stanford continued their dynamic work on corporate profits with a second paper presented at the ACTU Price-Gouging Inquiry on Thursday 21 September.

The findings were conclusive — corporations must reduce their own inflation-fuelled profits if workers are to reclaim losses on their real wages.

You can check out the ACTU Inquiry here, or read the report: Corporate Profits Must Take Hit to Save Workers.

Aunty Pat Answers Questions About the Voice

What is the Voice to Parliament? What is the Uluru Statement from the Heart?

To answer your questions about the upcoming referendum, Kate McBride sat down with Pat Anderson AO, Alyawarre woman and architect of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Watch the video here!

Authorised by Ebony Bennett, The Australia Institute, Level 1 Endeavour House, 1 Franklin St Manuka ACT 2603

Early Bird Tickets to the Revenue Summit

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Western Australia Backpedals Climate Policy in Major Blow to Federal Targets

The West Australian Government quietly proposed a new climate bill last week, which fails to set a 2030 net zero target in line with other states and the Commonwealth or address the state’s growing gas industry.

The failure of the bill to rein in the rapidly rising emissions of the gas industry threatens Australia’s national emission reduction targets. In fact, WA’s energy emissions grew by a whopping 53% from 2005-2021, effectively cancelling out emission reductions by other states.

To accompany the proposed bill, the WA Government released an explanatory paper.

Read more: Weak WA Climate Bill a Blow to National Emissions Target

NDIS in Need of Urgent Overhaul

Our new report from Fiona Macdonald at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work has found that an urgent overhaul of poorly paid and casualised disability support work is needed to ensure the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s viability and to protect participants from substandard care.

The NDIS has great potential to do more for the people accessing and working for it, but only if we face up to the real problems that risk undermining its purpose.

Read more: Deteriorating Disability Worker Pay, Conditions Undermining NDIS

Supermarkets Reaping up to $1.2 Billion From Food Waste

A new report, Food Waste in Australia, has found that Australian food retailers make $1.2 billion in profit each year from selling food that households waste.

This incentivises them to go slow on reform measures that would help address the problem of the 7.6 million tonnes of food Australians waste yearly, costing an average household between $2000-2500.

Supermarkets make up such a large portion of Australia’s food waste problem that without their help, Australia won’t meet its target of halving food waste by 2030.

Lilia Anderson, report author, explains what we can do to help.

Read more: Food Waste in Australia

The Delegation to Free Assange

Last week, a delegation of Australian politicians ventured across the Pacific to campaign for the immediate release of Julian Assange.

Dr Emma Shortis wrote an op-ed in the Guardian about what this means for the evolving Australian-American alliance and how the release of Assange could shift how Australia views the power dynamic between the two countries.

Read more: The Australia-US alliance Has Long Gone Unchallenged. The Delegation to Free Julian Assange Changes That

Spin Bin: Coal Industry Attacks Queensland Government

In this week’s Spin Bin, Rod Campbell unpacks a scare campaign from the Queensland Resources Council, which attempts to make a $5 billion boost to that state’s revenue – the result of some Queensland Government tweaks to coal royalties – sound like a bad thing.

Victorian Electoral Laws Need to Be Examined

As the Albanese Government contemplates changing Australia’s electoral laws, Australia Institute research into Victorian electoral laws sounds a note of caution.

Our Democracy & Accountability Program finds that Victoria’s cap on donations has concentrated financial power, with parties raising more money from subsidiaries or levies on their own MPs and parliamentary staff than from donations from the Victorian public.

Exceptions to the donation cap primarily benefit political parties, at the expense of new entrants and independent candidates.

Read more: Victoria’s Electoral Laws Need Truth in Advertising and Fair Rules for New Entrants

Follow the Money Podcast

This week’s Follow the Money podcast episode, The Special (Economic) Relationship: Australia and the US, features Joey Herlihy from our International & Security Affairs program, discussing the intricacies of one of the world’s most consequential (and lucrative) alliances.

Listen to The Special (Economic) Relationship: Australia and the US

The Quote

We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.

— UN Secretary General António Guterres at the UN Climate Ambition Summit

The Win

Timor-Leste Signs Onto Fossil Fuel Treaty

Timor-Leste has become the first fossil fuel-producing nation to sign a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite oil and gas making up 90% of its total exports.

The country joins six other Pacific nations in calling for an end to fossil fuel production, all six of which are highly vulnerable to the increasing damage from climate change.

Speaking on the Treaty, President Jose Ramos-Horta said,

“Its mission is simple — to halt new fossil fuel ventures, phase out existing ones and fund a fair shift to clean energy. It is more than a climate agreement between nations — it is a health, development and peace accord that can foster genuine well-being and prosperity for all.”

The Bin

Rishi Sunak Winds Back Green Initiatives

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has rolled back several green initiatives, jeopardising 2050 net zero emission reduction targets and impacting the progress of the electric vehicle industry in the UK.

The changes included pushing back a ban on both the sale of new petrol cars and new fossil fuel heating for off-gas-grid homes to 2035, as well as scrapping a gas boiler replacement grant and removing a requirement for landlords to lease homes with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C, that would have ensured energy efficient homes in the rental market.

The Prime Minister defended the changes, saying they were in the interest of saving families thousands of pounds by delaying the green measures.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did not attend the UN Climate Ambition Summit in New York last week.

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