The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a fresh warning to the world that both mitigation and adaption are essential responses to the threats posed by climate change – yet, the Morrison government is failing on both.
The Morrison government has so far failed to acknowledge the severe concerns articulated by the latest IPCC report that details the latest scientific understanding of the likely impacts of a warming world.
At the time of publication, there had been no formal acknowledgement of the release of the report and no formal statements from either of Australia’s federal environment minister or the minister for emissions reduction.
Instead, we have a statement from Angus Taylor, claiming credit for a minor drop in emissions driven primarily by Covid-19 related lockdowns rather than any structural reforms.
Well, the experience of working on a terrifying IPCC climate disaster report right up until I evacuated from a terrifying climate disaster is not one I can recommend. My nerves are shot.
— Fiona Ivits (@fiona_ivits) March 2, 2022
In its latest report, the IPCC stressed the importance and need for governments to drive both mitigation and adaptation actions in response to climate change, as undertaking both measures are complementary and can lead to better outcomes across both.
“Adaptation and mitigation can reduce climate-related risks. Implementing these two types of climate action together increases their effectiveness by exploiting synergies and reducing trade-offs among them,” the IPCC report says.
“In addition, implementing adaptation and mitigation as an integral part of development can similarly make all three more effective.”
The report underpins the urgency with which governments need to respond to climate change, particularly the governments of countries like Australia that are highly vulnerable to a climate becoming increasingly more extreme.
But it has become clear that the current Australian government is unwilling to respond to the growing urgency.
As of Wednesday, neither of the minister for emission reduction, Angus Taylor, his assistant minister, Tim Wilson, nor the environment minister, Sussan Ley, have issued any formal acknowledgement of the IPCC report.
Morrison himself did not mention the landmark report at all during an extended press conference on Tuesday – but in his defence, the parliamentary press gallery did not ask the prime minister any questions about the report.
Regardless of whether the government acknowledges the report or not, it is everyday Australians, including those in both regional and metropolitan areas, that are left to live with the increased risk.
As floods devastate communities across Australia’s east coast, just as they did last year, and just as bushfires did in many of the same communities the year before that – the Morrison government has actively pushed back against taking stronger action on climate change.
The Morrison government refused to take a stronger emissions reduction target to the landmark COP26 climate talks in Glasgow last year. Instead, Morrison re-committed Australia to the same Abbott-era target for 2030 emissions reductions or between 26 and 28 per cent, which has remained unchanged since 2015.
Morrison took a concocted ‘projection’ for Australia’s emissions reductions – claiming that Australia was on track for reductions of 35 per cent by 2030 – but has refused to adopt the projection as a binding target and issued no clear policies for how it will be achieved.
The Morrison government has also neglected the need to implement adaptation plans in response to climate change, failing to deliver on a promise made at international climate change talks to prepare and publish a National Adaptation Plan.
The National Adaptation Plan should outline how Australia is preparing for a warming planet, including how it will improve national resilience to the impacts of more frequent and intense bushfires, floods, droughts and sea-level rise.
The impacts of these failures are being felt now, as thousands of Australians are displaced by extreme flooding.
United States secretary of defence, Lloyd Austin, described climate change as an existential threat.
In contrast, Australian defence minister Peter Dutton mocked Pacific Island leaders whose countries face an existential threat from sea-level rise.
Without both substantial mitigation and adaptation measures, Australians will become increasingly vulnerable to these extreme events, which the IPCC warns will grow in frequency and intensity as the world warms.
Failure to adapt won’t be a minor economic inconvenience, it is an existential risk to some communities, and it will involve the further loss of Australian lives.
“For every day the Australian government delays on climate action, more people will get sick and more people will die,” Executive Director of the Climate and Health Alliance, Fiona Armstrong, said on Tuesday.
“The report says Australia’s 1-in-100-year floods could occur several times a year. None of us can cope with back-to-back Brisbane floods.”
“Climate change is a huge, accelerating public health crisis. Australia must make much deeper cuts to emissions this decade, alongside the rest of the world, in order to save lives, prevent suffering and promote good health,” Armstrong added.
The economic consequences of a failure to act on climate change will compound into the future, with the IPCC citing CSIRO analysis that suggests the Australian economy and worker’s wages will be weaker under scenarios with slow climate action.
“Under a ‘slow decline’ scenario by 2060 where Australia fails to adequately address climate change and sustainability challenges, GDP is projected to grow at 0.7% less per year and real wages would be 50 per cent lower than under an ‘outlook scenario’ where Australia meets climate change and sustainability challenges,” the IPCC’s report says.
“National damage costs and impacts on asset values could be significant. The macro-economic shocks induced from climate change, including reduced agricultural yields, damage to property and infrastructure and commodity price increases, could lead to significant market corrections and potential financial instability,” the report adds.
Member of the Climate Council, Nicki Hutley, said such predictions underscored the need for stronger action from the Morrison government.
“The IPCC report makes it clear that Australia’s economy faces significant and growing economic challenges due to climate change,” Hutley said.
“However, it is also clear that urgent emission reductions through renewable energy and new clean industries could see us avoid the worst financial shocks and bring about incredible economic opportunities, especially for our regions.”
“Anyone who thinks climate action is “not a race” has obviously not read this report. The first movers in the new industrial revolution will take first, second and third prize. Sadly for Australia, the Morrison Government is moving at a snail’s pace.”