Dear Mr Morrison, Can We Remind You About The Problems With Coal?

Over the past month, the Australian Government has been given a thunderous message about the need to do more to tackle climate change and leave our coal in the ground:

A truly apocalyptic warning from the world’s climate scientists, climate change the top priority for voters in the Wentworth by-election, and a stark message from Anote Tong, the visiting former President of Kiribati, that Australia’s recklessness risks the very survival of some of our Pacific island neighbours.

These messages are being sent loud and clear in Australia at the same time as an accelerating shift to renewable energy worldwide, which comes with the promising benefits of new jobs, lower power prices and future prosperity for Australia as a clean energy superpower. Not to mention the fact that an overwhelming majority of Australians are concerned about climate change and want a swift end to coal-fired power.

The coal-powered Bayswater power station in the Hunter region of NSW. (Image: AAP)

But this cacophony of voices from across the community, crying out for leadership, seems to have gone unnoticed in Canberra. Remarkably, the Coalition has chosen yet again to double down on its perverse love of coal and its denial of its responsibilities to Australia and the international community alike. A move that seems sure to hasten its own demise, just as it threatens the future of vulnerable communities here and abroad.

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Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued nothing short of a battle cry for more urgent action. From rising seas swallowing land and homes, to the worsening droughts imperilling our farmers, to the death of coral reefs, climate change is already taking an immense toll on communities worldwide - and on the places we love. Limiting warming to 1.5°C, which is by no means a ‘safe’ limit, requires transformative changes, beginning with our energy system. It means bringing a rapid end to the fossil fuel era and a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Any less risks a very bleak future indeed.

Our Government would do well to look beyond our shores to the actions of the international community. New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and about 20 other countries have already committed to the managed phase-out of coal-fired power – by 2030 across the OECD and by mid-century in the rest of the world.

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Nonetheless, this week Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor have once again left the door open to new coal-fired power in Australia, and even the possibility of subsidising it -- a move that is utterly incompatible with our responsibility to tackle the global climate crisis, out of step with the international community and an extraordinary risk to Australian taxpayers. At the same time, and despite the structural decline in thermal coal trade and with the world’s emerging economies -- including India -- accelerating their own transition to clean energy, both the Government and Opposition have refused to rule-out new coal mines in Australia, including the proposed Adani mega-mine in Queensland.

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In a further sign of its willingness to ignore Australia’s responsibilities under the Paris Agreement and the growing tide of climate action globally, the Government has so far refused to consider strengthening its current target of reducing Australia’s economy wide emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Our current target is among the weakest in the developed world and even if met, would still see Australia with amongst the highest per capita emissions and most polluting economies on earth. What’s more, Australia’s emissions are continuing to climb.

Encouragingly, from Fiji to France, many countries are already in the process of strengthening their commitments to the Paris Agreement and putting in place more ambitious plans and targets. Indeed, all countries will be expected to do so before 2020. Those on the frontlines of climate change and with the least responsibility for global carbon pollution, including our Pacific neighbours, are leading from the front and not waiting for Australia and other laggards to get their house in order.

The people of Kiribati are forced to face the direct consequences of climate change as sea levels rise. (Image: Getty)

The message is clear: prolonging the life of coal will be measured in more lives lost, homes and livelihoods destroyed, entrenched poverty, and robbing our children and grandchildren of their futures.

Make no mistake, climate change is now unequivocally the defining issue of our times.In Oxfam’s work around the globe, we are witnessing the devastating impacts of climate change – extreme weather equals extreme hunger, putting food, water and health at risk.

The scale of the threats that lie ahead are matched only by the irresistible opportunities for a more equal, healthy and prosperous world should we have the vision and courage to rise to challenge and do what needs to be done.

The message from former President Anote Tong this week has been one of urgency, but also hope. The Pacific is -- and always has been -- willing to work with Australia towards accelerating global action on climate change. But if Australia continues down its current path, it will further tarnish its relationship with our region, not to mention inflict a future of increasing dangers and hardships on Australians and Pacific Islanders alike.

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In its bombshell report, the IPCC also had a message of hope amidst its startling projections of the catastrophic costs of inaction. Put simply, there are no technical or economic barriers to limiting warming to 1.5°C and staving off a future of yet more devastating impacts. All we are lacking is leadership and a willingness to listen to those on the frontlines of the climate crisis. In the wake of Wentworth, there can be no doubt that Australians are now very hungry for that leadership. For its own sake, it is well past time for the Government to listen.

As federal and state ministers prepare to meet today in yet another attempt to make progress on the nation’s embattled energy policy, they must be under no misapprehensions about the urgency of ending Australia’s rising carbon pollution and powering past coal.