The Australian conservatives are intent upon making themselves appear as Trump-Lite when it comes to climate change government inaction. Careful not be condemned as outright climate change deniers, many in the Australian government seek to minimise the effects of Australia's contribution to global warming and avoid committing to any serious policy implementations.
A report finds it is the world’s third biggest exporter and fifth biggest miner of fossil-related emissions. While it is sometimes emphasised that Australia is responsible for 1.2% of global emissions at home, the analysis by thinktank, Australia Institute, says it trails only Russia and Saudi Arabia in exporting fossil fuels.
When exports and what is burned at home are combined, Australia ranks fifth behind China, the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia in responsibility for carbon dioxide from extractive fossil industries. Australia plays a greater role in the climate crisis than global greenhouse accounting rules suggest.
Australia is responsible for 7% of global fossil fuel exports based on their carbon dioxide potential. Its coal exports doubled between 2000 and 2015 and now make up 29% of the global coal trade. Liquefied natural gas exports tripled over the same timeframe to 6% of trade, and continue to increase.
Australia is the 14th biggest emitter despite having just 0.3% of the global population. It emits more greenhouse gas than 40 countries with bigger populations. While the government promises to cut carbon dioxide, national emissions have increased year-on-year since the abolition of a carbon price scheme in 2014.
Australia ranks 12th on a list of the top-emitting countries for human-caused sulphur dioxide emissions and is singled out in the report for air pollution standards that allow power stations to emit sulphur dioxide at higher rates than in China and the EU. Power stations in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and New South Wales’s Lake Macquarie region have been named on a list of the world’s biggest hotspots for toxic air pollution. Sulphur dioxide can cause health problems including heart and lung disease, and asthma. In Sydney alone, more than 100 premature deaths a year are thought to be caused by pollution from coal-fired power stations. Nationally it’s more than 4,000.
“Australian coal-burning power stations are polluting at levels that would be illegal in China and most other parts of the world,” said Jonathan Moylan, a campaigner with Greenpeace Australia Pacific. “Air pollution is the price our communities pay for the federal government’s failure to stand up to big polluters. It’s time for state environment ministers to show leadership by championing health-based sulphur and nitrogen dioxide standards, strong pollution limits for industry and speeding up the switch to clean renewable energy.”
The conservative government is a staunch supporter of the coal industry, which delivered A$67bn ($45bn) in export earnings in 2018 and continues to generate almost two-thirds of the nation’s electricity.
Ben Ewald, a doctor with Doctors for the Environment Australia, said there were places in Australia that had “a serious SO2 problem” and limits were set well above what was needed to protect human health. He said the same was the case for nitrogen dioxide, another airborne pollutant. “These pollutants can cause childhood asthma, lung disease, cancer, birth defects and reproductive issues,” he said. “Australian governments must introduce tougher standards to protect community health.”
Meanwhile the Pacific Islanders have not been reticent in criticising Australian politicians lack of performance at the Pacific Island Forum on Tuvalu when they blocked Pacific Islands leaders from agreeing on a joint declaration to tackle climate change and phasing out coal.
“You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia,” said Enele Sopoaga, prime minister of Tuvalu, during a joint press conference with Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister. “I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu.”
Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister, expressed disappointment . “We came together in a nation that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communiqué,” he said. “Watered-down climate language has real consequences — like waterlogged homes, schools, communities and ancestral burial grounds.”
Jonathan Pryke, an analyst at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney think-tank, said, “Of the 18 leaders that are members of the forum, Australia is the only one standing in the way of a consensus communiqué that calls for robust climate action."