US analyst criticises successive governments for defending coal in wake of alarming IPCC report on climate change
Economist Jeffrey Sachs has criticised successive Australian governments for “defending a 19th or 20th century industry” rather than taking decisive action on climate change, saying Australia should be “exporting sunshine, not coal”.
“Make a plan, make a timeline, tell the world how you’re going to decarbonise, and then we’ll all be happy to hear from Australia that there’s really a plan,” Sachs said on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night. “All we see is one PM after another falling over this issue.”
Also on the panel were UK conservative writer James Bartholomew, Victorian Liberal party senator James Paterson, Labor frontbencher Terri Butler and data science teacher Linda McIver.
The debate followed the release last week of an alarming report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warned that fossil fuels would have to be urgently phased out in order to achieve a global reduction in carbon pollution of 45% by 2030, the level required to ensure the planet only warmed by between 1.5C and 2C.
The Australian government has rejected the warning to phase out coal by 2050. Paterson told Q&A the environment was “one of many priorities” for the Morrison government, with another being power prices.
About 60% of Australia’s baseload power is currently generated by coal-fired power generators, but the proportion of renewable energy is increasing thanks to energy auctions in Victoria and South Australia, the Tesla battery in South Australia, and reduced cost of renewable technologies. Labor has committed to 50% renewable energy by 2030.
Sachs said the IPCC report showed the world was “running out of time” to avoid catastrophic climate change and blamed corporate interests and the domination of the Murdoch press for “propounding nonsense” and “telling lies” about climate science and policy.
He said Australia ought to capitalise on its affinity for solar power.
“This wonderful country has so much sunshine, you cannot even believe – you could power the whole world from your desert,” he said. “So the idea that you don’t have alternatives … I don’t know who could possibly believe this. You should be exporting sunshine actually, not coal.”
Bartholomew questioned the IPCC figures, saying that he “knew a scientist” who did not agree with it.
“The IPCC report is based on thousands of scientific reports,” host Tony Jones said in response to Bartholomew’s scepticism. “Six thousand scientific reports and 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries. I mean, balancing that out against the one scientist you know, does it mean that we have to think about consensus?”
McIver said her year 10 students had been modelling data from the IPCC report, and even they could see the figures were robust.
“The idea there is not consensus around climate change is outrageous,” she said.
The panel also heard from Kevin Muslayah, the deputy principal of Red Rock Christian College in Melbourne’s north-western suburbs, who referred to theyet to be released Ruddock report into religious freedom.
Muslayah said his school would like to retain the right to hire, and possibly fire, LGBTI teachers based on “a particular alignment of values”.
Butler said there was no justification for discriminating against LGBTI teachers or students, saying: “A gay teacher doesn’t teach gay maths. They just teach maths.”
Paterson said legislation before parliament this month would prevent discrimination against students on the basis of gender or sexual identity. He said the government would also move to protect teachers “who are willing to teach the values of that school” but said religious schools should retain discretion over who they hire.