Scientists slap down Australia government over fake climate claims

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Group of 28 climate scientists, academics and energy industry veterans release a joint statement fact checking the federal government’s “unbelievably misleading” claims on climate and emissions.

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AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
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Perhaps it was federal energy minister Angus Taylor repeatedly declaring on Sunday’s ABC Insiders program that national emissions were “coming down,” and that Australia would meet its Paris climate targets “in a canter.”

Perhaps it was the looming federal election and a feeling that now, more than ever, our most senior politicians should be held to account for what they say about such globally significant issues as climate change.

Perhaps it is because at the close of Australia’s hottest summer on record, Victoria is now burning through its hottest start to autumn in 30 years.

Whatever the trigger, the nation’s leading climate and energy experts have had enough.

A group of 28 climate scientists, academics and former heads of energy companies on Monday released a joint statement to correct the record, and remove any ambiguity on the subject:

– Australia is NOT on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target;

– Even if it was (it’s not), the target itself is woefully inadequate for what science says must be done to avert dangerous climate change.

“It is unbelievably misleading,” said signatory and Climate Councillor Greg Bourne on ABC Radio on Monday morning. “Anyone who goes into the data sets, and they’re really quite easy to look at, with some very nice graphs, show emissions rising ever since, basically, the Abbott government came in.”

The statement – signed by a slew of experts including ANU Professor and Climate Councillor Will Steffen, energy advisor Tim Forcey and APVI chair Renate Egan – notes that Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution has been rising for four years in a row, ever since the scrapping of the carbon price, as mapped out by the federal government’s own most recent data.

According to that data, the signatories say, direct combustion, transport and fugitives have all increased greenhouse gas pollution levels since 2005 and are projected to continue increasing emissions to 2030.

The joint statement also reminds those who need reminding that Australia’s 2030 target is economy wide, meaning that total greenhouse gas pollution must be reduced across all sectors: electricity, stationary energy, transport, fugitive emissions, industry, agriculture, waste and land use.

“The electricity sector has been going down… but the overall energy sector, if you take energy as a package, energy emissions for Australia have been going up continuously,” said Bourne, who is also the former CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

“Transport emissions have been going up continuously, and continue, just continue to go up. …Stationary energy and industrial processes – still going up; fugitive emissions – still going up.”

“It’s almost as if, if the politicians can get us to concentrate on the electricity sector, which has shown some downward slope, then we’ll forget all about the rest.”

Meanwhile, as The Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian explained on Sky News, the Morrison government will also be relying on “dodgy credits,” squirreled away through some tricks of accounting over a decade ago.

As Bourne explained it to Fran Kelly on the radio, when Australia used these credits back in the context of Kyoto, it was bad enough.

“Using those credits right now, and trying to bring them forward, will be seen by every other country as – this is just disgusting, just disgusting,” he said.

The timing of the joint statement – and fact check – is important. As the signatories note, global temperatures have risen 1°C in the era following mass industrialisation and this is already directly affecting humankind via worsening extreme weather events.

And Australia is in the firing line, facing increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events including heatwaves, intense rainfall, and extreme bushfire conditions.

But the timing is also important in terms of the election. And the federal Coalition – of all parties – should be heeding the call, as evidence mounts that voters, even Liberal and National ones, care deeply about climate.

Even the Murdoch press can see that. An “exclusive” story by The Australian’s associate editor on Monday reports that former competitive skier Zali Steggall is set to steal the seat of Warringah from former PM Tony Abbott, from a platform of strong action on climate and renewables.

The story says Steggall’s campaign has scored the backing of “wealthy investors who want immediate action on climate change” and who have a financial stake in the shift away from coal, to renewables.

One of those backers is reported to be renewables industry veteran and founder of Solar Choice, Angus Gemmel, who announced on Facebook that he had “taken on the coal lobby” with a postcard drop in Mosman about “solar farm facts and figures.”

Renewables, of course, will be key to meeting Australia’s emission reduction obligations – but that, too, needs continued policy support to encourage the investment needed, the experts say. What we are getting instead looks rather like investment support for coal.

“Using another horse metaphor, (Taylor) is flogging a dead horse. That horse is not going to get there in a canter, not a chance at all. …There are no policies, yet, in the electricity sector beyond 2020 which will bring the emissions further down. Sure, there’ll be some more investment, but not by any policy in government.

“…The battery of the nation, that will help in terms of creating storage for whatever will be creating electricity… so it’s also encouraging for coal.

“It’s only when you actually take out the fossil fuel plants that the Tasmanian program actually begins to make economic sense. And we’re still not sure that Snowy 2.0 makes economic sense.”

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