The juxtaposition of the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released overnight, and the passage of the government’s inaptly named “direct action” policy last week, is a painful one for anyone who believes in basic science and is concerned about the economy we will bequeath future generations.
The “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” identified by the IPCC that climate change will inflict on the world are an economic threat: our children and their descendants will be significantly poorer as a result of the lower economic growth, higher prices and higher taxes that the impacts of climate change will impose on countries like Australia — and that’s before the higher mortality and population displacement that will result worldwide. The costs of climate change far outweigh the modest, indeed almost trivial, costs of using pricing mechanisms to decarbonise even a carbon-addicted economy like Australia’s.
The government’s direct inaction policy at least has that rare virtue of uniting climate action advocates and climate denialists — both agree it’s a waste of money. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Direct Action — it is simply an industry handout program that, however inappropriate for a post-entitlement age, won’t actually increase our carbon emissions. But with Clive Palmer and the Abbott government having removed a functioning, effective and cheap carbon pricing mechanism that was reducing Australia’s greenhouse emissions, Direct Action means Australia has no carbon abatement policy beyond the less efficient Renewable Energy Target — and the government wants to remove that as well.
With the Abbott government deep in climate denialism, serious climate action has been left to citizens. Switching to renewable energy, where affordable, can undermine the emissions-intensive fossil fuel sectors politicians like Greg Hunt hope to prop up. Pressuring superannuation funds and banks to withdraw from fossil fuel investment can help prevent the expansion of emissions-intensive extractive industries. These are less efficient and effective mechanisms than a carbon price — but the government has left us with no alternative if we genuinely care about the standard of living of our children.