Climate: what will it take for our Government to act?

Newspaper headlines across the world echoed the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres yesterday, announcing code red for humanity as the IPCC released its bleak Sixth Assessment Report on climate change. Meanwhile, Australia's status as a pariah nation, whose policies preclude an invitation to global summits, was cemented recently by news that a UN endorsed report ranked Australia "dead last in the world for climate action".

The IPCC report's conclusions - that human activities are unequivocally causing climate change and that urgent, concerted action is needed to limit that change to 1.5°C warming - are as alarming as they are unsurprising. Equally unsurprising was the Australian Government's response: denial and obfuscation.

Scott Morrison responded to the IPCC report by repeating claims that Australia is doing its part on climate (relying on tricky accounting) while Energy Minister Angus Taylor released a statement to the same effect, which the Guardian was quick to fact checkThe Government’s claim that ‘technology’ is the only way out of the climate crisis is merely being employed as an excuse to avoid taking proper action now.

NSWCCL calls on the Government as a matter of urgency to drop the tricky accounting, lies and manipulation. We expect governments to act as custodians and stewards of our natural environment in order to maintain the living standards and human rights of current and future generations. Anything less than absolute commitment to mitigating and adapting to climate change, in line with the recommendations of our best scientists, can only be seen as a dangerous dereliction of duty and enormous failure of public administration.

At the very least, the government needs to introduce ambitious legislative targets of a 45% net emissions reduction by 2030 and net-zero by 2050, creating legal obligations on government to meet emissions reduction budgets. This would merely put Australia on a growing list of countries and international partners with a statutory emissions target, including the UK. If the government will not introduce such changes, it is up to our parliamentarians to force them. NSWCCL thanks Zali Steggall MP for her efforts this year in attempting to introduce a Bill along these lines.

Australian governments must also refuse to build any new coal-fired power stations, end new fossil fuel exploration and production, and end all fossil fuel subsidies.

Is this a human rights and freedoms issue?

Yes. Since 2019, NSWCCL has resolved to play our part in the fight for climate justice.

We recognise that anthropogenic climate change is a crucial and urgent civil liberties and human rights issue. A healthy and functional climate system is an essential prerequisite to the exercise of all human rights and civil liberties.

The effects of climate change - from increased incidence of extreme weather events to sea level rise - already endanger human rights and freedoms today. This was starkly demonstrated by the 2019-20 bushfire season and has been repeatedly underscored by the expert Committees responsible for administering the key UN Human Rights Treaties.

In Australia (let alone the rest of the world), basic civil liberties and rights such as the right to life, the right to privacy, family life and the home, the right to minority cultural identity and practice, and the rights of children may have all been compromised by inaction on climate change from, amongst other actors, the NSW and Australian governments.

Warming beyond the level countenanced by the Paris Agreement (preferably under 1.5° degrees, or a maximum of 2° degrees relative to pre-industrial levels) is likely to seriously infringe the fundamental rights of Australians, including the rights to life, property, enjoyment of culture, privacy, physical and mental health, and an adequate standard of living.

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