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As IPCC warns of incoming climate change danger, Australia’s Abbott throws caution to the wind

A March 2014 report from the UN on the impacts from climate change appears to haven been ignored by the current Australian government, which is pressing ahead with many ecologically detrimental projects.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued stark warnings from Kyoto in their report on potential consequences of environmental change. The planet’s temperature increases will impact society, the environment, and the economy in a profound manner, with food security a primary concern in the future. Furthermore, the impacts combined with existing problems of poverty and economic inequality could cause conflict and humanitarian crises in some of the poorest regions of the world. The panel has reaffirmed its call for action on greenhouse gases and also in improving mitigation and adaptation capabilities.

Australia’s record on climate change isn’t exactly pristine. Successive governments have overseen the mining industry become a significant exporter.  Australia has already capitalized on China’s demand for raw materials, exporting over AUD 42bn (approximately ($40.5bn) in iron ore and concentrates alone for FY2013 according to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Total exports to China account for AUD 71.8bn (approximately $69.3bn), over 31.6% of Australia’s total exports. Elsewhere, Asia’s surging energy demand is fueling about $65bn of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal terminal construction on Australia’s northeast coast. The country is highly dependent on coal and energy for its economy and exports.

The current administration, a Liberal/National coalition government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seems reluctant to stem the trend. On the contrary, it seeks to actively accelerate it. He attacked proposals of Carbon taxes as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism” and his record reflects deeply engrained climate skepticism. He has already drawn criticism for ignoring the independent Climate Change Authority’s recommendation on carbon pollution reductions, which considered the current 5% reduction targets “not a credible option” in October 2013. They hoped for 15-20% reductions instead, but Abbott stuck with the current target. Australia was also conspicuously absent from the UN Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw on Climate Change in November 2013. Policy measures include repealing Australia’s Carbon tax and cutting the Australian Renewable Energy Agency funding by AUD 435m (approximately $420m) over three years.

Elsewhere his government has also ploughed ahead with less environmentally friendly action. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved dumping 5m tonnes of sediment into the park in January 2014, and the decision could soon be delegated to the local Queensland government. Elsewhere, legislation designed to protect Indigenous heritage is also under consideration for modification as it may be seen as red tape to the mining industry.

Following a deal in 2012 which managed to quell a decade long battle between timber companies and environmentalists in Tasmania, Abbott has also reignited the battle, claiming too much forestry is locked up. UNESCO has been asked to remove 74,000 acres from World Heritage status. Speaking in March 2013, Abbott declared the environment “is meant for man, and not just the other way around”. He saw loggers not as “environmental bandits”, but as “people who are the ultimate conservationists”.

Bob Brown, an Australian green politician, says the government has misled the UN in applying to have the forest stripped of its World Heritage protection. He counter-claims that 90 percent of it is “ecologically pristine” and boundaries were redrawn to incorporate areas where there had been some peripheral logging. The major proportion of the forest has not been previously disturbed at all, with mandates to preserve species such as the Tasmanian devil also to be diluted.

This all persists despite warnings from the IPCC that Australia is not immune from the impacts of climate change. Consequences include; droughts would damage agricultural production, more extreme summers causing greater human casualties, along with wildfires and depletion to coastal infrastructure. Economically, Australia would see its gross national product decline by 7.6% by 2100 if there was no action to tackle climate change. If carbon concentrations in the atmosphere were stabilized, this loss could be less than 2%.

Abbott has taken the calculated risk that the growing evidence pointing to climate change is wrong in favor of short term gain and the primacy of the energy and commodity industries, key components of the Australian economy. If the IPCC is correct however, it will be a hard fall not only for Abbott, but for Australia itself.

For more information, take a look at our Australia metals and Mining Industry Profile

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