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While others face climate reality, our government denies the undeniable

No! The tin-eared Coalition has preferred silly stunts such brandishing a lump of coal in Parliament, claiming unjustified electoral mandates to mine more coal and build a new coal-fired power plant in North Queensland, even though there is no net demand for electricity in that region (when more than 80 global banks wouldn’t finance it nor insurers insure it, and where renewable alternatives are much cheaper). It has also ignored the potential of carbon farming in agriculture and scare-mongered over the inevitable transition to electric vehicles.

While Australia dithers, others face reality. In November, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco will host what is believed to be its first research conference focused on climate change, acknowledging the systemic risks to the soundness of the US banking system. In April, with global insurers shouldering $160 billion in climate-related losses from last year alone, a group that included 30 central banks – Australia’s included – called for measures to spur green finance. In May, the Bank of England issued climate risk guidance to help insurers and re-insurers assess the financial risks posed by climate threats such as heatwaves, floods and storms.

Illustration: Matt Davidson

Illustration: Matt DavidsonCredit:

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has warned of the potential perils of “a sudden and disorderly adjustment to a low-carbon economy”. But savvy investors are getting ahead of the curve. Research by the Imperial College Business School shows “smart carbon portfolios” enable investors to capitalise on a low-carbon transition without sacrificing returns.

The Morrison government, meanwhile, ignores the advice of the experts, the 97 per cent of peer-assessed climate scientists who have consistently emphasised the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge. It ignores the likes of Martin Parkinson, the outgoing head of the Prime Minister’s own department, who blames the blowout in electricity and gas prices on government failure to respond quickly and decisively, especially by failing to put a price on carbon. The inherent carbon price is now considerably higher than it would be under a market-determined price.

Defining and executing an effective transition strategy for the next three decades is well beyond the Coalition. Our government is seen as a laggard, having squandered the opportunity to be a global leader, with significant export opportunities, in the transition to a low-carbon society.

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The Prime Minister claims to “believe in miracles” and wears his Pentecostal Christian faith on his sleeve. I sincerely doubt that his God could be forgiving of one who facilitates the slow destruction of His planet and its species.

We need to find a way to establish a climate transition commission, independent of the political process, working to a terms of reference in the national interest. It would establish pathways to move away from coal mining, and from coal and gas-fired power to renewables, and identify the essential transitions in transport, agriculture, building, infrastructure and industrial processes – and the likely extent of disruption and the necessary relocation and retraining.

Our governments are also teetering on the brink of major national crises in relation to waste and fuel security, yet waste can be converted to electricity and lower-emissions fuels.

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There is a very real risk of a climate-induced global financial crisis, probably resulting from a combination of three main factors: increasingly regular extreme weather events, government reactions and inaction, and rapidly advancing technology.

All this is undeniable. How long can it be denied?

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

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