It is probably not what he is doing right now, but Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott should be wondering exactly how long it is that he can continue with his climate change policy charade.

On Sunday, the United Nations climate body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered the third of its landmark updates on the climate science, impacts and mitigation options. The chief message of Working Group III, the mitigation of climate change, was one of hope: the world still had time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and although this would require a dramatic and urgent decarbonisation of the world’s energy and transport systems, it needn’t actually cost that much.

Indeed, as the IPCC graph indicates, the combined impact of all the measures that would be needed to encourage renewable energy in particular, and a suite of other technologies, might subtract just 0.06% from annual global growth:

And that is without calculating the obvious benefits or reduced air pollution and enhanced energy security, and without the obvious devastating impacts on the economy if climate change is allowed to continue unchecked.

In Australia, the IPCC reports have gone largely unremarked or cherry picked by much of the mainstream media. After the report from Working Group II last month, The Australian reprinted an article from The Wall Street Journal highlighting how global warming might mean fewer deaths from cold. This morning its headline screamed that action to mitigate climate change would cost 10% of GDP. The Australian Financial Review and The Daily Telegraph completely ignored it in their print editions. Apparently, their editors believe it is neither a business issue nor one that would trouble the general public.

This media approach has created an insular and distorted view in Australia of what is happening around the world. But any chance that world governments might sweep this under the carpet, as the Abbott government has been allowed to do by the mainstream media, were swiftly torched by the United States. Within minutes of the formal release of the report, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying the report was a “wake-up call” about the global economic opportunity that the world could seize. Kerry said abatement technologies can cut carbon pollution while growing economic opportunity at the same time:

“The global energy market represents a $6 trillion opportunity, with 6 billion users around the world. By 2035, investment in the energy sector is expected to reach nearly $17 trillion.

“We already know that climate science is unambiguous and that every year the world defers action, the costs only grow. But focusing only on grim realities misses promising realities staring us right in the face. This report makes very clear we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity.”

As if to prove his point, the Australian government’s response was to announce that it would wait to see what action others take: despite the protestations of its environment minister Greg Hunt, it has no willpower to address the science, and is currently intent on dismantling its capacity and the mechanisms that would allow it to do so.

Consider what Abbott has done in the seven short months since elected prime minister. He has sought to remove or castrate every instrument that could help deliver the cheapest abatement and facilitate the profound changes that are required — the carbon price, the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. And Abbott has sought to dismantle any organisation that might inform him that this is a really dumb idea and an act of economic and environmental vandalism — the Climate Change Authority and the Climate Commission — and slashed the numbers of those who may do so internally — the environment ministry and the CSIRO.

Given the contents of the IPCC report, the huge amount of research that has contributed to them, and the acceptance of these findings by virtually all the world’s governments, the Abbott government policies could only be introduced by a government that does not accept the science.

It is no accident that Abbott has chosen climate change science denier Maurice Newman to be his chief business advisor, and another climate change denier and nuclear advocate Dick Warburton to head the review of the RET. Abbott’s inner core is infested with advisors from the arch-conservative Institute of Public Affairs and other hard-right affiliates, who hold a similar contempt for the science.

The Abbott team, however, is not the only institution blithely ignoring the obvious and the ethical. The fossil fuel industry continues to frame its forecasts, business strategy and investment decisions on the premise that nothing can, or will, change. This is happening across the world, but the Abbott government is unique in that it is the only government — apart from perhaps Canada — that has cravingly kowtowed to the ministrations of Big Coal and Big Oil.

Another graph from Climate Nexus shows what the fossil fuel industry is concerned about. The IPCC says the decarbonisation of the world’s energy system will require a significant increase in renewable energy sources, and in energy efficiency, and a dramatic reduction in annual spending on fossil fuel extraction and burning:

Remember, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $600 billion last year just looking for new deposits …

*This article was originally published at RenewEconomy

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey