This morning NASA and NOAA declared 2016 the hottest year on record. Sea ice is melting and the Arctic is warming at a rapid rate. Right now, the east coast of Australia is sweltering through heatwaves, and bushfires are blazing in NSW, Western Australia and South Australia.
The fact that we are in the midst of experiencing the impacts of dangerous global warming, made it all the more jarring when the Federal Government came out championing the big polluters that are driving global warming.
Over the last week, in an extraordinary display of cognitive dissonance, the Minister for Resources held a torch up for so called ‘clean coal,’ the Minister for the Environment spoke out in support of big gas corporations, and the Prime Minister of Australia espoused his support for coal.
The Minister for Environment kicked off the week by prosecuting the gas companies’ misleading war on supply constraints. He called – I believe recklessly – for states and territories to lift restrictions on polluting fossil fuels in response this confected gas supply crisis.
There is no supply problem. The ‘problem’ is that successive governments have built export terminals and supported big gas companies to send gas offshore – forcing Australian households to compete with China and Japan to buy gas – rather than helping households to invest in cheap renewable energy.
Yesterday, the Minister for Resources threw his weight behind so-called ‘clean coal,’ and championed clean coal as the solution to Australia’s rising greenhouse gas emissions.
It is not possible burn your way to lower emissions. The only way that we will even come close to the ambition of the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris, is to leave the coal in the ground and rapidly transition to a clean energy powered economy.
Minister Frydenberg is right about one thing, energy security is very important. But, he is wrong that we will achieve it by digging up more coal and gas and further destabilising our climate.
Not only is it absurd to suggest that our clean energy future will be powered by digging up more coal, but it is economically irresponsible. As the cost of solar and wind drops around the world, it makes no sense to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into the outdated, and polluting, technologies of the past.
That’s why the ACT has decided that we cannot wait for the Turnbull Government to get its act together. All of our electricity will be powered by clean, renewable energy by 2020 and we have a plan to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest.
And we’re on track. By the end of this year, almost 30% of our electricity will be powered by the sun and the wind. By 2018 that will have risen to 50%, we will be powering over three quarters of our electricity with clean, renewable energy by 2019, and 100% by 202.
Minister Frydenberg’s calls for states and territories to lift restrictions on fossil fuels is a dangerous one, particularly when a lack of federal political leadership means it will largely fall to states and territories to take the next steps in shifting their economies towards our clean energy future.
The ACT is a great example of what subnational governments can achieve. We must not allow the federal government’s inaction to limit what we can achieve at a state and territory level, and state and territories.
Shane Rattenbury is the ACT Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability.