Australia ignores risks, shirks moral responsibility on climate | RenewEconomy

Australia ignores risks, shirks moral responsibility on climate

Climate risks are either not understood or wilfully ignored at leadership level in Australia, a profound failure of imagination, and far worse than that which triggered the GFC in 2008.



The first responsibility of a government is to safeguard the people and their future wellbeing.

The ability to do so is increasingly threatened by human-induced climate change, the accelerating impacts of which are driving political instability and conflict globally.  Climate change poses an existential risk to humanity which, unless addressed as an emergency, will have catastrophic consequences.

An existential risk is an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.

In military terms, Australia and the adjacent Asia-Pacific region is considered to be “Disaster Alley”, where the most extreme impacts are already being experienced.

These risks are either not understood or wilfully ignored at the leadership level in Australia, which is a profound failure of imagination, far worse than that which triggered the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

The management of existential risk cannot be handled with conventional, reactive, learn-from-failure techniques.  We only play this game once, so we must get it right first time.

This should mean an honest, objective look at the real risks to which we are exposed, guarding especially against the more extreme possibilities which would have consequences damaging beyond quantification, and which human civilization as we know it would be lucky to survive.

Instead, the climate and energy policies adopted by successive Australian governments over the last twenty years, largely driven by ideology and corporate fossil fuel interests, have deliberately refused to acknowledge this existential threat to our future well-being, as the shouting match over the wholly inadequate reforms proposed by the Finkel Review demonstrates only too well.
Our leaders have access to the best possible scientific advice and to the overwhelming evidence that we have badly underestimated both the speed and extent of climate change impact.  In such circumstances, to ignore this threat is a fundamental breach of the fiduciary responsibility with which political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are entrusted by the community they are supposed to serve.

A hotter planet has already taken us perilously close to, and in some cases over, tipping points which will cause profound changes in major climate systems: at the polar ice-caps, in the oceans, and the large permafrost carbon stores.

Physical impacts of global warming include a hotter and more extreme climate, more frequent and severe droughts, desertification, increasing insecurity of food and water supplies, stronger storms and cyclones, and coastal inundation.

Climate change was a significant factor in triggering the war in Syria, the Mediterranean migrant crisis and the “Arab Spring”, albeit this aspect is rarely discussed.
Our current global carbon emission trajectory, if left unchecked, will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, forced migrations, political instability and conflicts.
Australia is not immune, domestically or regionally.
We already have extended heat waves above 40oC, catastrophic bushfires, intense storms and flooding.  The regional impacts do not receive much attention but they are striking hard at vulnerable communities in Asia and the Pacific, forcing them into a spiral of dislocation and migration. Impacts on China and South Asia will have profound consequences for employment and financial stability in Australia.

In the absence of emergency action to reduce Australian and global emissions far faster than currently proposed, the level of disruption and conflict will escalate to the point that outright regional chaos is likely. Militarised solutions will not be effective. Australia is failing in its duty to its own people, and as a world citizen, by downplaying these implications and in shirking its responsibility to act.

Yet people understand climate risks, even as political leaders wilfully underplay or ignore them. 84% of 8000 people in eight countries recently surveyed for the Global Challenges Foundation consider climate change a “global catastrophic risk”. The figure for Australia was 75%. Many people now see climate change as a bigger threat than other concerns such as epidemics, weapons of mass destruction and the rise of artificial intelligence threats.
So what is to be done if our leaders are incapable of rising to the task?

First, establish a high-level climate and conflict task-force in Australia to urgently assess the existential risks of climate change, and develop risk-management techniques and policy appropriate to that challenge.

Second, recognise that climate change is now a global emergency which threatens human civilisation, and contribute to building practical steps internationally for a coordinated global emergency response

Third, launch a domestic emergency initiative to decarbonise the economy no later than 2030 and build the capacity to drawdown carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Fourth, build more resilient communities domestically, and also in the most vulnerable nations regionally by high-level commitments and development assistance; build a flexible capacity to support communities in likely hotspots of instability and conflict; and rethink refugee governance accordingly.

Fifth, ensure that Australia’s defence forces and government agencies are fully aware of and prepared for this changed environment; and ensure their abilities to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Sixth, establish a national leadership group, outside conventional politics, drawn from across society, charged with implementing the national climate emergency programme.

A pious hope in current circumstances? Our leaders clearly do not want the responsibility to secure our future.

So “Everything becomes possible, particularly when it is unavoidable”.Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.  This article is extracted from “Disaster Alley: Climate change, conflict and risk”, by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt, published this week:

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  1. Tim Buckley 3 years ago

    Absolutely spot on, well said Ian. And yet the Federal Senator For Adani is pushing the NAIF effectively telling the “independent board” made up of his friends, to ignore its Clause 16 “Reputation” giving the facility “a responsibility to act in a way that is not likely to cause reputational damage to the Commonwealth”. Don’t worry about your Fiduciary Duty as directors, no one will notice, not! Our Federal LNP seems to be abrogating their moral responsibility to anyone. Anything to stay in power?! FFS.

  2. howardpatr 3 years ago

    The “Leasership” and those around them lack scientific training; and it shows each day.

  3. brucelee 3 years ago

    Is there a way we can sue them? Class action?

  4. Shane White 3 years ago

    Interesting to compare the number of comments to this story with those of any story about any form of energy generation or storage technology.
    People are thinking about the wrong things.

  5. Jeremy Mansfield 3 years ago

    Some useful contributions to raise awareness to the existential climate risks, thanks Ian Dunlop & David Spratt for your contributions on climate risk issues! I heard Ian talk to these issues last week and it got me wondering whether the focus on risk probability language focuses the reader to contemplate the likelihood of risks happening (tending to unconscious biases) rather than the more fundamental issue of dealing with the consequences of inaction more directly. eg, With some reframing of Ian’s statement it becomes in my view much more powerful, ie. “This should mean an honest, objective look at the real consequences of what we are exposed to, guarding especially against the more extreme damage beyond quantification, and which human civilisation as we know it would be lucky to survive.” Decision making framed in terms of risk may not help focus on the consequences of indecision (or short term ideological decisions). There are widely held unconscious biases that prevent many moving beyond whether climate is a risk to deal with now. Just like people not appreciating the risks they may face in living in a bushfire prone community. Risk assessments which determine the likelihood and frequency of something happening as low but high impact typically end up being cause for little action. Likewise, ‘Black Swan’ catastrophic events are low-probability, high-impact and almost impossible to forecast. A range of studies have also illustrated how seemingly benign ways of thinking can impair risk assessment even among open-minded people eager to learn the truth. In the case of ‘existential climate risk’, may be the focus should be more directly on the consequences and leave the ‘risk of’ language back in the box.

  6. AussieJoe 3 years ago

    Natural catastrophes and human conflict have been part of World history for over 50,000 years. If Ian Dunlop really wanted change he would be on the streets of Beijing and Mumbai demanding it. He’s just peddling his book which has similar tones to other extremist Climate institutes. I don’t think this helps the energy debate at all.

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