Originally published in The Australian Financial Review on January 21, 2020

by Richard Denniss
[Originally published in the Australian Financial Review, 21 January 2020]

Scott Morrison loves to say that Australia is on track to ‘meet and beat’ our climate targets, but he’s a lot quieter about where that track leads. Admittedly, saying he plans to double Australian coal exports does provide some big hints.

If all countries meet the emission reduction targets they gave themselves in Paris, then the world will still be at least 3 degrees warmer by 2100.  Globally we’ve already burned enough coal, oil and gas to heat the world by 1 degree, so if you think this summer was bad, you’ll hate the 3 degrees that Scott Morrison has us ‘on track’ for.

The Prime Minister has been quick to offer taxpayers’ money to the small businesses ravaged by flames, smoke and an exodus of tourists. Will he be as generous for toward the 64,000 workers whose jobs revolve around the Great Barrier Reef that the Morrison Government is ‘on track’ to kill?

No doubt now is not a good time to talk about the Great Barrier Reef. Or the alpine ski industry, or the Tasmanian wilderness tourism industry. But apparently, in the five years since the Coalition scrapped the carbon price, there weren’t any ‘good times’ to talk about it either.

If this year’s bushfires are our canary in the coal mine, then spare a thought for all the endangered fish and birds that died quiet deaths on our reefs and in our forests, as scientists weren’t just ignored, but ridiculed and insulted. Many of the most powerful voices in Australia spent the last decade telling us that climate change either wasn’t happening, or that it wasn’t nearly as big a problem as refugees on boats or the right to be a bigot. Those claims won’t age well.

Scientists have been warning that the continued burning of fossil fuels will kill the Reef and melt our snowfields, for as long as bushfire experts have warned us about worsening fires. But—much like the 23 former Emergency Services Chiefs that couldn’t even get a meeting with the Prime Minister—scientists go ignored.

Remember the time Pauline Hanson went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef to ‘prove’ that it was in good health? Hold the front page! And remember when Scott Morrison’s Deputy, Michael McCormack, said only ‘woke inner city greenies’ saw a link between climate change and bushfires?

Scott Morrison says he won’t let one worker lose their job as a result of climate policy. But he is ‘on track’ to destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs through the 3 degrees of climate change he’s happy to deliver. And if compensation to South Coast tourism operators this year sets a precedent, it will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars to compensate Queensland for the permanent closure of the Reef’s tourism industry. But no doubt it’s ‘too soon’ to talk about that as well.

I know, Australia is ‘only’ the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter. We’re ‘only’ the biggest per capita emitter in the OECD and 14th largest polluter in the world. And of course, Australia ‘only’ accounts for 1.3% of global emissions. What impact could we even have at a global level? Lots.

Bob Hawke worked with a small number of agricultural exporting countries to form the Cairns Group, which went on to drag down agricultural protectionism around the world. John Howard spent billions placing Australia in harm’s way, by joining George W. Bush’s ‘coalition of the willing’ in the invasion of Iraq.

The only thing stopping Scott Morrison from working with other countries to get us off the track to 3 degrees of global warming, and onto a safer and more prosperous path, is his determination to open new coal mines, double Australia’s coal exports and protect every single coal job. His recently cancelled trip to India wasn’t to lobby them to invest more in renewables. Accompanied by Mark Vaile, former Deputy Prime Minister and chair of Whitehaven Coal, Morrison was planning to lobby India to buy more coal.

There are 700,000 unemployed people in Australia today. Over the coming decades tens of millions of jobs will be created and destroyed by technological and social change. Scott Morrison is proud to protect each of the 50 thousand jobs in coal mining but, when it comes to climate change, the other 25 million of us are on our own. By then, even Scotty from marketing will need to hold a hose. If there’s any water.

Richard Denniss is chief economist at independent think tank The Australia Institute @RDNS_TAI

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