With the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage site and fears of it dying due to climate change, it might be reasonable to assume that Australia would have a vested interest in battling the negative effects of global warming. In fact, 66 percent of Australians believe that climate change is happening, while 87 percent believe that it is occurring due to human factors, but despite this belief the current Australian government has been one of the most active climate change deniers in the world. While the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are encouraging policies to combat global warming, the Australian government has been virtually silent and instead has begun doubling down on coal, one of the greatest contributors to the problem.
Taking one important issue as an example, the Great Barrier Reef is of supreme importance to Australia, not only for its beauty and natural wonder, but from the billions of dollars in revenue it generates for the country every year. The combination of tourism and commercial and recreational fishing that exist around the reef’s ecosystem generate nearly seven billion dollars annually. This is not only important to the local economy surrounding the reef, but to the Australian economy at large, which has a large base in tourism. With that in mind, the national government has a vested interest in protecting that sort of revenue, especially since the projected deficit in the national budget is possibly as much as $20 billion, and that the total revenue from taxes is projected to fall by more than 1 percent. Australia, from this outlook, simply cannot afford to lose the money coming in from anywhere for any reason.
One of the problems that really affects income for Australia is climate change. The effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef cannot be underestimated, especially since the slightest change can cause widespread damage. One of the issues at hand is rising water temperature due to global warming. An upward change in temperature of only one degree can cause bleaching to the coral, killing not only the living organism that is the reef, but failing the sea life that makes the reef its home. The reef, the fish, and the other organisms that live there will all die, meaning that this important tourist destination will lose its attraction and fishermen will no longer have any reason to congregate around it. This subtle change with its possibly disastrous effects means that the $6.9 billion in revenue the reef generates will disappear due to global warming.
The Great Barrier Reef shows how even the smallest change made can have huge effects. Should the temperature rise be reduced by any amount, even a small one, the argument goes that the reef will benefit from a drop in temperature of as little as half a degree. On Sunday, the IPCC came out with its third report about global climate change with as optimistic a forecast as any currently being made by science today. According to the new report, there is plenty of reason to hope that change now would help the climate by a lot and it will only affect global economic growth by 0.6 percent annually. Basically, it will not cost too much for the world to try to save the planet from catastrophic climate change, which is a good reason to do it.
But the Abbott government in Australia has not only been silent about climate change, it has dismantled whatever parts of the government it can that were meant to combat climate change and have recently announced that it will be doubling down on coal. The Greens party in Australia, part of whose platform is care for the environment, have called Abbott of being a “climate criminal” after he shut down the Climate Change Authority (CCA) in Australia, the part of government meant to address the issue of global warming in a constructive way. The decision to axe the CCA came just before it released its first report on climate change, meaning that any work or findings of the authority were silenced and the information it was established to disseminate was never heard by Australians.
Abbott did keep an environment minister, the position currently held by Greg Hunt, who responded to the IPCC report by saying that coal is here to stay. His view on the report by the IPCC is that coal is not going to become obsolete due to alternative energy sources. In fact, he believes that progress made in developing the still far-off technologies surrounding coal and fossil fuels will make using these sources of energy not only more efficient, but will reduce emissions as well.
Hunt also goes along with his party’s plan to cut the carbon tax, which was a tax on emissions that not only generated revenue for the government, but worked to combat climate change from human emissions. Instead of seeing a tax as a possible tool, Hunt emphasized three different sectors of the Australian economy that would help reduce emissions, including energy efficiency, the “land sector,” and the action of cleaning up power stations. He also reiterated that the Abbott government would not be raising its short-term goal of emission reduction, which currently stands at five percent.
It is not completely true as some have claimed that the Abbott government is completely silent on the issue of global warming. In fact, the Abbott government is constantly talking about the issue when they proclaim that “cutting the carbon tax” is their primary goal for the future. What they are silent on is how that action is going to combat climate change and how they are going to react to the recommendations of scientists and climate experts who have not only given a very positive message about the future of the climate, but have outlined ways in which governments can contribute easily to the effort.
In fact, one of the main ways that the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank have said governments can use fiscal policy to combat climate change. The primary suggestion was carbon pricing, basically a carbon tax like the kind the Abbott government has said they will discontinue. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Joe Hockey, Environment Minister Greg Hunt, and Tony Abbott himself have continued to hammer home their message of cutting the carbon tax, despite being completely at odds with the best recommendations of the experts. They have been silent, however, about those recommendations, basically ignoring them whenever the issues of climate change and global warming come up.
Australia has the majority of belief in climate change and the belief that the Australian government should be involved in trying to stop it from affecting their environment. The Great Barrier Reef is not only of primary concern, both environmentally and governmentally, but provides a valuable example of how even small changes can have big effects. Nevertheless, the Abbott government has refrained from addressing any of these issues except in a negative way, leading not only to a path of policy contrary to the voters’ views, but contrary to the recommendations of institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, institutions that know what they are talking about. While the current Australian government remains silent on the issues of global warming that they could be working on, they are also doubling down on coal by touting technological advances that will not only cost more money but are a long way in the future. With this sort of view, Australians may look forward to damage that could possibly be irreversible, unlike the carbon tax that Abbott and his people continue to say they will cut.
Opinion By Lydia Webb