After our debate with Kevin Ekendahl, Liberal candidate for Melbourne Ports

After our debate with Kevin Ekendahl, Liberal candidate for Melbourne Ports

In response to an Angel Visitation to the campaign office of Kevin Ekendahl, Liberal Party candidate for Melbourne Ports, 3 September 2013

Dear Kevin,

Thank you for taking the time to engage with us regarding the grave threats that the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan poses to the Earth’s climate.

As we mentioned, we hand delivered to Tony Abbott a Climate Justice lapel on Father’s Day but he would not take the time to hear that we were delivering it as a message on behalf of all children now and in the future.

You will recall that a large part of our discussion referred to the Coalition’s plan to revert Australia’s economy back to giving major polluters a free ride. Given that Australia’s is a market economy and hence responds to price incentives, if follows that it is impossible to regulate greenhouse gas pollution without penalising it and rewarding modes of production that are free of it. While a suite of policy measures are required to do this, imposing costs in the form of levies or taxes on greenhouse pollution (whatever you choose to call it is fine by us) must continue to be a major component of any plan to transition away from dirty carbon towards a clean and efficient economy.

According to the International Energy Agency the energy sector creates about two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and argues that without strong action to cut fossil fuel use, we have no hope of limiting global warming. Further to this, the agency’s special report on Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map (released June this year) concludes that energy efficiency improvement is often profitable and could deliver half of the energy emissions savings between now and 2020. Another report from the Government appointed Climate Commission (now the Climate Council) has found up to 80% of Australia’s coal reserves will need to stay in the ground if we are serious about mitigating catastrophic climate change. Yet a recent International Energy Agency report shows global emissions of carbon dioxide in 2012 rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatones, breaking records and setting the planet on a course for warming of 5.3 degrees.

Other traditionally conservative agencies are echoing the IEA’s concerns. You are likely to have heard the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde refer to the consequences posed by climate change and increased resource scarcity in her frank statements at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled” said Lagarde (February 2013). At the same forum the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, insisted that climate change be at the top of the Davos agenda “because global warming imperils all of the development gains we have made”. The IPCC’s Chairman Rajenda Pachauri has said we are a ‘five minutes to midnight in terms of saving the Planet’. A former head of the Australian Coal Association has put it, ‘Every new fossil-fuel project represents death and destruction for communities somewhere in the world, Australia included’.

Clearly, by any measure Abbott’s plans to revert to a polluters paradise, as well as his (and Rudd’s) plans to rapidly, massively expand coal exports are not a rationale response to leading, global climate scientists, energy analysts or financial institutions.

The costs of inaction on climate change have been estimated into the billions – they are projected to reach 3.5% of the global GDP by 2030. If seas rise as projected to 1.1 metres some 65,000 coastal homes, valued at $20bn are at risk. Decline in beef production is estimated at 19% by 2030 and in sugar 12%. In the Victorian Alps the ski industry has skid through the season on scant coverage, depending on man-made and farmed snow and facing losses of over half their annual coverage by 2040. An unstable climate has already had devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of Australians caught up in its extreme weather events. While we argue about the supposed threats to our ‘border security’ posed by a few thousand refuges the figure of 200 million additional climate refugees has not been mooted. The fact that we Australians could be among them has not entered our thinking.

Our atmosphere that has for millennia cocooned us in our ‘goldilocks’ climactic setting reached an unprecedented threshold when last month readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measured 400 ppm of CO2. Ice core samples show that the earth has not experienced these conditions in 3 million years, when temperatures raised 3-4 degrees Celsius and sea levels were up to 40 meters higher. A leaked draft of the IPCC’s fifth assessment report projects sea level rises of between 29-82 cms by the end of the century placing 800 million people and a trillion dollars in infrastructure at risk of storm surges and coastal flooding by 2080.

With regards to an alternative, zero pollution energy system for Australia, modelling by the Australian Energy Market Operator shows that sourcing 100 per cent of power from solar, wind and other clean sources would be technically viable by 2030. Not only this, analysts have forecast that when exposure from risks associated with fossil fuels — including rising energy prices — are factored into the equation, building the locally owned and controlled renewable energy electricity system could cost the same as continuing with ‘business as usual’ fossil fuels. The value of preserving a habitable climate aside, when the benefits to local communities of building locally owned and controlled renewable energy industries (ie local jobs and investment), where’s the debate?

The other more ambitious plan that we referred you to is the Beyond Zero Emissions Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan that details and fully costs a ten-year pathway for Australia to change its stationary electricity system from polluting energy to zero emission energy. The plan refers only to off the shelf renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that are all readily available now, and reveals that such a transition would: 1) be feasible, 2) be affordable, 3) create an estimated 140,000 new jobs in regional economies (where they are needed most), and 4) ensure Australia’s energy security for at least the next 70 years. It would use a dozen concentrated solar thermal plants in sites around Australia to provide approximately 60 per cent of our electricity, with wind power providing the remaining 40 per cent, and 2 per cent coming from biomass and hydro as contingency. The cost to construct a zero emission energy infrastructure to secure our energy supplies for the next 70 or so years, is around $37 billion a year over the next decade, which is three to three and a half per cent of GDP or eight dollars per household per week (the cost of roughly two cups of coffee per week).

What is so deeply disturbing is that we know that the Coalition’s Climate Action & Environment spokesperson, Greg Hunt, knows all of the above mentioned. Hunt knows that the Direct Action Plan is just a fig leaf designed to wind back long overdue carbon reforms and yet continues to propose it as a legitimate policy for reducing carbon emissions and averting catastrophic global warming. This is grossly misleading and deceptive at best. Modeling by the Sinclair Knight Merz/MMA and Monash University’s Centre of Policy Studies initially uncovered a $4bn shortfall in the Liberal’s Direct Action Plan. More recent findings by Reputex have uncovered a $20-34b shortfall and that Tony Abbott’s government will preside over an increase in emissions of 16%. Rather than meet the target of 5% Greg Hunt’s Direct Action Plan will increase emissions by 45% by 2050. It will increase Australia’s reliance on coal to 69% by 2030 and would effectively subsidise corporate polluters to the tune of $50bn by 2020. Some would argue that it is not long before inaction or contributing to climate change will become grounds for leaders being tried for crimes against humanity, or for class actions by effected citizens.

Kevin, you at least owe it to those young children that handed out your flyers at the St Kilda Town Hall, during local climate action group LIVE’s Senate Candidate Forum to properly inform yourself of the consequences of not taking urgent, effective action to address catastrophic climate change. To do anything else is a breach of the fundamental duty of care.

Yours faithfully,

The Climate Guardians

PS links to some useful references:

Roasted, Toasted and Fried