“We see this playing out perfectly in Australia: a strong focus on reducing domestic emissions and a policy that completely avoids tackling the export side of things,” says Jotzo. The Australian government elected in 2022 has set a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, but it refuses to ban any new coal or gas projects. He has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for community batteries, solar banks and electric vehicle charging, but the country is the world’s second-largest coal exporter and has the third-largest coal reserves.
Given recent droughts, record temperatures, bushfires and floods, one would expect the Australian government to rethink its pursuit of coal, oil and gas extraction. But Polly Hemming, director of the climate and energy program at the independent think tank Australia Institute in Canberra, says the government is too indebted to industry to do so. “Climate policy has been completely reversed. Industry sets the climate standards it expects from governments,” she says. This influence is exerted through political donationsindustry lobbyists (who are often themselves former politicians and political staff) and alarmist campaigns against government actions on climate change. “Fear is a much more powerful motivator than hope or optimism, and so governments back down right away,” Hemming says.
There is no economic logic to this. The Australian government subsidizes fossil fuels to the tune of around A$11 billion (US$7.36 billion) each year, while the fossil fuel industry employs fewer people than McDonald’s. Most of the companies extracting and selling Australia’s fossil fuel reserves are foreign-owned and pay little tax into Australian coffers, and most of what is extracted is exported, Hemming says. Yet this “incredibly small handful of really powerful business interests” still dominates.
Which is ironic, given that the IPCC authors claim that the economic and social benefits of mitigating climate change will far outweigh the costs. The only economic cost of air pollution…estimated in 2018 to an estimated US$2.9 trillion worldwide, as well as 4.5 million deaths this year alone, far exceeding the costs of action on climate change. Mitigation options such as wind and solar power, green infrastructure, energy efficiency, electrification of urban systems and reduction of food waste are increasingly cost effective compared to the status quo.
Despite the urgency of the need to decarbonize, a multi-trillion-dollar energy sector cannot turn around in a flash, says Samantha Gross, director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. “We have to feed the system we have as we transform it,” Gross says. “The energy system that uses these fossil fuels is not changing fast enough that we don’t need them.” According to Gross, the recent gas crisis precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine illustrated this, with some European countries having restarted old coal-fired power plants to fill the energy gap that still exists, despite the growing deployment. renewable energies.
And Gross argues that as long as there is demand for fossil fuels, industry will supply the supply. “It’s going to be really difficult to tackle climate change from the supply side, the reason being that fossil fuels are abundant,” she says. She argues for a focus on the demand side of this equation: more policies and regulations that move away from fossil fuels, such as even greater investment in renewables, bigger and faster moves to electrify the transport sector and the use of carbon pricing mechanisms. encourage and support the adoption of low-emission technologies.