With the release of the Intergenerational Report: Australia in 2055, the Government has once again demonstrated that it does not realise the potential impact of climate change and is more interested in the economy than the environment.
Rather than being an independent, bipartisan, non-political document, the report has delivered:
Politicised projections calibrated to demands of the daily news cycle, not the challenges of the next 40 years. (The Age)
Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, a well-known Australian science communicator and populariser, who fronted the Government’s advertising campaign for the report, has since distanced himself from the document. He believes he was misled into putting his name to a “flawed piece of work” that, despite assurances otherwise, is “highly political and largely ignores the impact of climate change”.
While the full report does have some discussion of climate change, the 24 page report overview (which most people will read) does not. Although the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, describes the report in its forward as a “social compact between the generations” at a “critical juncture in our history”; climate change – one of the biggest issues facing future generations – is not even mentioned.
The full report does a bit better. Climate change gets 12 mentions in the nearly 50,000 word report. It gets a couple of mentions in a discussion of the Great Barrier Reef, a couple when discussing the Government’s Clean Air Plan, and one mention in relation to the Antarctica and the Government’s investment in science. The rest are in a section devoted to climate change (pp. 40-42).
This discussion is set in the context of economic growth:
Achieving strong economic growth and strong environmental outcomes are complementary objectives. Policies that create strong economic growth and a sustainable budget will mean that government is better placed to invest in environmental protection. (p. 35)
Most of the focus is on the Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and how it will
Reduce Australia’s emissions through direct investment in projects that improve the environment and increase productivity. By achieving verified domestic emissions reductions through incentives, the ERF will avoid achieving such reductions simply by driving domestic production offshore — a process which would cost Australian jobs for no decrease in global emissions. (p. 40)
The closest it comes to discussing the potential consequences of climate change is in a small section discussing how the Government has committed $9 million over three years to re-fund the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and “more than $23 million” over six years “to an Earth Systems research hub to improve our understanding of how the climate system may change in the future” (p. 42). In the introduction to this promotion of the government’s response to climate change, the reports states:
Governments must continue to plan for the potential economic and environmental effects of climate change. Some economic effects may be beneficial — where regions become warmer or wetter this may allow for increased agricultural output — while others may be harmful. For example, lower rainfall may reduce crop yields, or transport infrastructure (such as roads, ports and rail networks) may become more susceptible to damage from extreme weather events.
The emphasis of the report is clear. If we ignore general words like Australia, projection and government, four of the five most frequently used terms are economic.
The report is another missed opportunity. It is simply not good enough that the Government continues to ignore climate change, to minimise its potential impact and to promote economic growth regardless of environmental impacts.
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