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(Image: Unsplash/Anqi Lu)

While no Australian minister has done anything to substantially address the climate emergency or stop emissions from increasing — beyond soil magic, naturally — only some are actively ignoring their own departments.

Let’s see which portfolios have at least acknowledged global heating, and which are hanging on to the final few years of anything resembling normal human life.

Departments that have issued climate warnings

Environment and Energy

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first: yes, 30 years after the CSIRO and Commission for the Future first brought climate change into the political discourse, the good folks at Environment and Energy acknowledge global heating.

The department oversees government climate policies, notably the renewable energy targets and repackaged Abbott-era Emissions Reduction Fund, as well as independent bodies like the Bureau of Meteorology, Clean Energy Regulator, and the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System.

Industry, Innovation and Science

Naturally, a number of research bodies at DIIS tackle climate change, from the Climate Science Advisory Committee to the COAG Hydrogen Working Group. Note, however, that tying Science to Industry means about as many bodies within the department are resource-focused i.e. the Resources Policy Group and the Uranium Council.

Agriculture

With the Coalition’s climate policy pretty much starting and ending at the Emissions Reduction Fund, it’s maybe not surprising that Agriculture has the next largest climate change section, which acknowledges climate change’s impact on “rainfall, temperature and extreme weather events”.

Home Affairs

On the other hand, Home Affairs has absorbed so many departments it was bound to include climate change somewhere.

For example, the National Resilience Taskforce’s 2018 National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework aims to map increasingly intense and frequent natural hazards, while the impact of climate change on migration crops up in a few different reports. Watch this space for fear campaigns around “climate refugees”.

Defence

Defence officials, as Crikey explored earlier this year, have been on this since 1995, while a 2018 Senate inquiry identified the Australian Defence Force’s response to increasing natural disasters, conflicts exacerbated by climate change, and climate-induced migration.

Foreign Affairs and Trade

Relatedly, DFAT quietly released an action strategy last week pledging $500 million for Pacific nations across 2020-2025, acknowledging climate change as an “existential threat” requiring new disaster resilience.

Fun fact: the only mentions of climate change or coral bleaching at Tourism Australia, which technically falls under DFAT, can be found in their Freedom of Information disclosure log.

Treasury/Finance

Treasury demonstrated all the way back in 2008 that action on climate change is less expensive earlier than later, that a market-based emissions trading scheme is the most effective form of decarbonisation, and that industries can maintain or improve competitiveness under international agreements.

Ditto Finance (which commissioned reports into emissions trading well over a decade ago) and, as of this year, related but independent financial agencies such as the Reserve Bank and ASIC.

Indigenous Affairs

Federal carbon farming initiatives have explicitly targeted Indigenous land managers since at least the 2008 Indigenous Emissions Trading initiative, while the Emissions Reduction Fund offers a brief acknowledgement of Indigenous communities.

At a glance, there’s less federal work addressing the disproportionate impact global warming has on remote and rural Indigenous communities; a search of the Indigenous Affairs’ website turns up just seven, disparate results for “climate change”, the most substantial being a seawall built for Saibai Island in 2017.

There are, however, examples of Indigenous-focused climate change programs in other departments, such as a Yolngu elder-run education workshop at Landcare or a CSIRO study into the health impacts of climate change on remote Indigenous communities in Northern Australia at the Department of Health.

Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development

Back in 2004, the department commissioned a study into the impact of climate change on road infrastructure, specifically how changes in temperature and rainfall will affect road agency costs. Infrastructure also tracks transport emissions and enforces Australia’s (relatively weak) vehicle emission standards, which the Coalition has refused to touch at both an environmental and economic cost.

Health

None of the department’s initiatives target the health impacts of climate change, but enough historic reports mention global warming — from Climate Change and Environmental Health (2008) to Arboviruses in the Australian region, 1990 to 1998 (1998) — that, if we’re being generous, Health gets over the line.

Departments that haven’t issued climate warnings

Social Services

The last time climate change, apparently, was mentioned by Social Services was a 2013 review of the (now defunct) Clean Energy Future Household Assistance Package.

Potential update: compensation from an emissions trading scheme, if Australia ever sees another one.

Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business

True, Employment’s website technically includes a result for “climate change” but a DVD/CD on sustainable manufacturing is not a government a policy.

Potential update: a Green New Deal.

Sport

While Sport technically falls under the Health portfolio, it’s worth noting that nothing in the Sport 2030 national plan relates to climate change.

Potential update: something like the United Nations Sports for Climate Change Action Framework, which has been signed by Tennis Australia.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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