Failing to tackle climate change will cost younger generations dearly and place Australia behind the rest of the world with a degraded environment and a lagging economy. Yet, successive governments have wilfully refused to enact evidence-based policy, despite the significant majority of young Australians demanding change. Sian Perry reports.
The 2019 OECD Environmental Performance Review of Australia detailed the crippling failure of the Australian Government to address the climate crisis. This evaluation damned subsequent Australian government’s over reliance on coal industry exports and predicted that the country would not meet its 2030 Paris Agreement target obligations to reduce emissions by 26% to 28%.
The Climate Council illustrates the failure of Australian leadership in noting that if the world followed Australia’s approach we would be on track for at least 3-4C of global warming.
Consequences for young Australians
The broad consequences for inaction on climate policy are well known, yet the specific costs Australians, particularly younger generations, will pay bare repeating.
An analysis from The Australia Institute shows the cost of inaction of climate change could cost Australia’s GDP $130 billion per year if the Paris Agreement is not achieved. Climate aggravated disasters are already costing Australians $18 billion a year, and that’s before factoring in this summer’s fire season.
Moreover, a report emerging for Melbourne University’s Sustainable Society Institute found the toll far higher. In the report the potential damages from climate change to Australia at current global emissions patterns are calculated as:
- $584.5 billion in 2030
- $762 billion in 2050
- more than $5 trillion in cumulative damages from now until 2100.
These costs are conservative — they exclude the bulk of costs of floods, bush fires, pollution, damage to environmental assets and biodiversity losses.
Australian policy makers, by refusing to transition our economy, are doing so against the most prudent financial advice by both domestic and world institutions.
For example, the world’s largest investment firm Blackrock requires all firms they invest in to disclose and manage climate-related risks. Australia cannot afford to be viewed as a high-risk investment location. Australia’s financial regulators have called for climate action to be undertaken.
The Reserve Bank of Australia, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission have all cited risks posed by climate change as a central concern the economy and future financial stability.
What a bargain
Clearly, the Government does not wish to implement environmental policy that would steer the Australian economy away from its current reliance on the extraction of fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources.
When pressured to address the inadequacy of current environmental policy in reducing the impacts of rising temperatures as demonstrated by the bush fire season, Morrison eventually acknowledged that policy should evolve to reduce emission targets. Under strict conditions however, telling the ABC,
“I want to do that with a balanced policy, which recognises Australia’s broader national economic interests and social interest.”
Ostensibly then, younger Australians could expect to see some economic windfall from the degradation of the environment brought on by the current government’s “balanced policy”. However, they would be wrong.
Australia’s lack of vision
In dismantling key pieces of legislation which would have effectively set Australia up as a transitional economy leader, particularly the Labor’s carbon price in 2014, successive Coalition governments have framed the issue as one of economy vs environment.
The carbon pricing scheme, admitted by even the Business Council of Australia as the best bet for reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, had a negligible impact on the Australian economy. Under the carbon price period, Australia successfully reduced emissions by 2% while the economy grew by 5% and 200,000 jobs were created.
The national costs of effective emissions reduction – based on a carbon price or renewables target – are estimated at $35.5 billion from 2019 to 2030, or 0.14% of cumulative GDP, a negligible impact compared to the benefits in acting.
For reference, last year the IMF estimated that annual fossil fuel subsidies in Australia totalled $29 billion, or 2.3 percent of annual GDP.
Missing out on the future
The Government’s lack of vision concerning a low-carbon economy is also stripping new economic opportunities away from younger Australian generations.
Researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s government scientific research agency, have found that strong international action on climate change would benefit the Australian economy, even ignoring the accompanying benefits of reduced climate impacts.
Australia’s economic future looked brightest in scenarios where stronger climate action was taken, and the financial benefits could even kick in before 2050.
Although such decisive action would weaken demand for its coal, the country would enjoy increased demand for its uranium, agricultural produce and other resources – all things Australia can export in spades.
Empty neoliberal rhetoric and diffidence to extractive multinational conglomerates has replaced innovative environmental policy concerned with safeguarding future generations and even promoting sound economic policies.
A 2019 report conducted by Roy Morgan found that over a third of young Australians believe that an attempt to negate the impacts of global warming would already be too late. Surely these statistics should act as motivation for the government to take climate change more seriously in the hope of engaging young Australians in the political system.
Moreover, approximately 96% of the participants, aged 7-25 years, consider climate change to be a serious problem. While many respondents were taking action in their own life to mitigate the effects of climate change, they expressed concern that their actions were inadequate. Furthermore, about 60% of the respondents think that the Australian government does not adequately acknowledge climate change as a serious problem and is not committed to tackling this issue.
The Morrison Government’s failure to take climate change seriously has been continuously demonstrated. A complete overhaul of the environmental approval process for major projects was declared in November last year to streamline the process for big businesses. The decision was made to allow companies to get approval for major projects easier in the goal of boosting the productivity of the workforce.
This is after Australian has become a global deforestation front according to the WWF, with NSW having the highest land clearing rate following 15 years of forestry and environmental deregulation. Australia is the only developed country on the WWF’s list which includes Brazil and both the Congos.
Hope for the future
The data tells us that young Australians are concerned about climate change, often helplessly so. In spite of the massive cost of inaction, successive Coalition governments have failed to take prudent and responsible action. Instead, we have seen seven years of a government either ideologically or monetarily captured by high carbon industry to the detriment of the broader economy and society.