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Politicians Are Going Cold On Climate, Despite The Hype

Graham Lloyd, The Australian

Despite a global push for more action on climate change, momentum has drained away.

Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg speaks at a climate protest outside the White House in Washington, DC last week.

This month was supposed to be the one in which a global push for higher ambition on climate change took flight.

Child prophet Greta Thunberg set sail for New York by luxury yacht to save petrol, a climate emergency was declared around the world, and workers were given permission to join students in a climate strike.

Despite this, momentum behind real action by government has been steadily drained away.

In Australia, the Labor Party’s proposal to dump the targets that cost it dearly at the federal election effectively has let the Morrison government off the hook.

Few world leaders are lining up to deliver what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had in mind when he called them together for a New York conference to boost ambition. The New York meeting, scheduled for September 23, was conceived as a show of global defiance at US President Donald Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris Agreement.

Rather than a competition for more robust action, as was intended, the New York agenda looks deflated.

Key world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, will not be attending. Instead China will send a lower-ranking official, and there are mixed signals about whether the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emissions nation will offer to do more.

As things stand China, which is responsible for 26.83 per cent of global emissions, has pledged to keep increasing them until about 2030.

The EU has been unable to agree on a uniform position for 2050, with a split between the coal-dependent east and more progressive west.

A pushback is building in Germany against higher energy prices and the impact of strict new emissions regulations on a struggling car industry. Renewable energy investment across much of Europe has stalled.

The EU admits it is not on track to meet its 2030 target of a 40 per cent emissions cut on 1990 levels.

Relations with Brazil have fractured following the election of development-focused President Jair Bolsonaro and a resurgence of clearing in the Amazon.

The US, with 14 per cent of global emissions, is showing no signs of pulling back from its threat to quit the Paris Agreement next year despite achieving greenhouse gas emissions cuts from a switch from coal to gas.

In Australia there is little mood politically for greater action.

The federal opposition has all but surrendered its pre-election target to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

As it takes stock of its unexpected election loss, Labor looks likely instead to focus on a 2050 target of being carbon neutral.

The backdown was first moot­ed by opposition assistant climate change spokesman Pat Conroy in The Australian last week when he said a net zero target by 2050 had to be “the overriding objective”.

Anthony Albanese said Labor “will examine our short and medium and long-term commitments on where we go on climate change but we won’t re-examine our principles. We want to work towards zero emissions by the middle of this century.” […]

Labor’s capitulation has given the Morrison government a free pass on what could otherwise have been an uncomfortable time. The Prime Minister will not be attending the New York climate conference despite being in Washington for a state reception with Trump.

Instead Australia will by represented by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and climate change ambassador Patrick Suckling.

Australia is not expected to speak at the conference or offer anything above the existing Paris Agreement pledge of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The federal government has yet to make a call on whether to join the growing global push to declare a target to become “carbon neutral” by 2050. […]

The latest, and unexpected, shot against fearmongering was issued by World Meteorological Organisation secretary-general Petteri Taalas to Finnish newspaper Talouselama.

Taalas told the paper while climate scepticism had become less of an issue, the challenge was now coming from “doomsters and extremists”.

“Climate experts have been attacked by these people and they claim that we should be much more radical,” Taalas said.

He said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports had been “read in a similar way to the Bible: you try to find certain pieces or sections from which you try to justify your extreme views”.

“This resembles religious extremism,” Taalas told Talouselama.

Following publication of his comments, Taalas issued a clarifying statement that he was not questioning the need for robust action.

“In my interview, I made clear that a science-based approach underpins climate action and that our best science shows the climate is changing, driven in large part by human action.

“However, I pointed out that the science-based approach is undermined when facts are taken out of context to justify extreme measures in the name of climate action,” he said.

“Action should be based on a balanced view of the science available to us and not on a biased reading of reports by the Inter­governmental Panel on Climate Change, of which WMO is one of the parent organisations.”

Taalas said the challenges were immense.

The lesson from Labor in Australia and the UN in New York is that the political challenges remain equally large.

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