Global warming: the nine essential questions for election candidates

Providing thoughtful answers should be the minimum requirement for candidates. Even more exhaustive answers should be demanded of cabinet hopefuls.

How quickly the hype, rhetoric, and faux concern of our feckless political elites evaporated following COP 26. There is no sense of alarm or urgency over the observable failure of the conference to materially reduce the climate risk. Yet, the next parliament, which will run to 2025, is going to be absolutely critical in shaping Australia’s response to global warming.

By any sensible standard, all candidates should be required to address the issue of global warming comprehensively and exhaustively in the next election campaign. Not flippantly in party flyers or leaders’ three-word-slogans, but through the enunciation of meaningful policies and strategies. In a democracy a well-informed media should be pressing them.

The visceral sense we get that global warming’s impact on humanity is accelerating was confirmed by Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), at COP 26 last October. “Global warming of 1.5°C and 2.0°C will be exceeded during this century unless immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, especially of carbon dioxide and methane, occur in the nearest future”, he said. There must be a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to “avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change”.

This clearly is not going to happen. Of course, missing the emission targets that had to be met to avoid 1.5°C and 2.0°C was the inevitable outcome of COP 26!

Take coal. Coal is “the single largest source of global carbon emissions”. Yet, following all the hullabaloo of the conference, where the world was to be saved from 1.5°C plus warming, coal-powered energy generation reached an “a new all-time high” in 2021.

Coal-power generation increased by around 20 per cent in the United States and the European Union, and worldwide demand grew by around 6 per cent in 2021. Moreover, “global coal demand is set to rise to 8,025 Mt in 2022, the highest level ever seen, and to remain there through 2024”.

The analysis underlying the IPCC Chair’s warning was set out in AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Here the evidence was presented that “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land” and that “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred”.

The AR6 report unambiguously identifies the intensity and extent of human induced climate events across the world, and highlights the risks and the magnitude of steps required to avoid “the most catastrophic consequences” referred to by the Chair. It offers accessible and easily understood knowledge.

Anyone seriously interested in the problem of global warming, which presumably includes ministers and public policy advisers, already knows all this. Or should. The evidence concerning global warming has been mounting for several decades and the science is now incontrovertible. Moreover, they should be aware that the trends in emissions growth are disturbingly at odds with avoiding “the most catastrophic consequences”.

What basic questions should be put to the political classes who aspire to take on the responsibility for the wellbeing, welfare, prosperity and security of Australian citizens – all matters affected by global warming?

  1. Have you read the latest IPCC publications concerning the impacts of global warming on the cryosphere and land, on staying below 1.5°C, and on the current science, Or the summaries for policymakers?
  2. Can you list all the most consequential risks to Australians before mid-century if; the world fails to halve current greenhouse emissions by 2030, or if the world fails to avoid warming above 2.0°
  3. What are the main sources of greenhouse gases in Australia and in which direction are the emissions trending?
  4. Do you have any confidence that either 1.5°C or 2.0°C increase in average global temperature can be avoided; if so, explain how and if not, explain why not?
  5. If the Antarctic icesheet, and/or the Greenland icesheet, melts what will the consequences be for Australian coastal areas and should Australia do anything?
  6. What role does government have in advancing climate mitigation and adaptation outcomes in agriculture, transport, energy, and settlement?
  7. Does the developed world have any obligation to; assist developing countries to access the financing, technology, and skills to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and assist, and maybe accept, populations displaced by climate change?
  8. Do you think a failure to plan and invest now in long-term adaptation responses to future extreme heat events, frequent droughts and flood events, and rising seas will lead to future generations experiencing a worse life than the one you have enjoyed?
  9. What should Australia do on the global scene to address global warming?

Providing thoughtful answers to these questions should be the minimum requirement for returning members or aspiring candidates.

Even more exhaustive and policy-oriented answers should be demanded of cabinet ministers hopeful of returning, or from leading figures from the alternative government, because the consequences of global warming will be felt across all sectors of Australian society and economy, and will impinge on all portfolios.

There are good reasons why the more jaundiced and pessimistic among us might see it as a futile hope that global warming will become a key matter (see hereherehere, and here). However, the facts are simple and the evidence is clear. Global warming needs to be taken very seriously because it will not be kept within safe boundaries.

Therefore, without planning for, and investment in, mitigation and adaptation to a more threatening and unpredictable future the coming generations will live less prosperous, less secure, and more uncertain lives. That’s an election issue.

Copyright Mike Scrafton. This article may be reproduced under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence for non-commercial purposes, and providing that work is not altered, only redistributed, and the original author is credited. Please see the Cross-post and re-use policy for more information.

Also published in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations.