The recent United Nations COP26 conference in Glasgow has nudged the Pacific nation of Australia into the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
On and off the playing field, Australians like to win and don’t respond well to criticism. Yet, numerous voices agree that the resource-rich nation’s climate policies are profoundly weak.
Viewed as a climate laggard, Australia risks international pariah status unless its government heeds warnings, including those of faith groups, to implement policies to address climate change.
A Greenpeace report, titled “Pacific Bully and International Outcast,” claims that Australia sought to silence regional critics ahead of COP26 by distributing aid bilaterally rather than through the internationally sanctioned Green Climate Fund.
The fund, part of the basis for the Paris climate agreement, finances projects in the developing world that cut emissions or promote resilience to climate impacts. Australia invested $200 million in the fund between 2015 and 2019 when Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered funding to cease.
Greenpeace International’s executive director Jennifer Morgan claimed Australia had blocked global climate ambition and climate justice since at least 1995.
Meanwhile, a Climate Change Performance Index assessment of government climate policy responses ranked Australia worst out of 60 countries. Australia’s ranking slipped from 50 to 54 overall, and Australia was the only country to score zero in the climate policy category.
As talks proceeded in Glasgow, the Climate Action Network presented its annual “Colossal Fossil” award to the nation its member organizations believe has been most destructive to positive outcomes at the conference.
The award went to Australia for turning up with low targets, declining to sign pledges to phase out coal and reduce gas emissions, implementing poor emission reduction policies, and approving new coal mines in the lead-up to the conference.
Morrison defended his government’s record on climate policy as “the Australian way.” While technically true, this is an insult to all Australians and raises questions about Morrison’s moral leadership and his claim to be a follower of Jesus.
The Australian government has declined to improve its existing 2030 targets, refused to support a proposed international agreement to phase out coal in electricity generation by 2030, failed to pledge to stop building and issuing permits for new coal plants, and refused to sign a methane reduction pledge signed by more than 100 countries.
Instead of robust policy initiatives, Australia chose to promote gas, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen as solutions to the climate crisis, and to insist on subsidizing new technologies to drive down the cost of reducing emissions.
A so-called path to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 has no substance and no detailed policy proposals. It is a directionless path, and there are no maps.
Australia came to COP26 “with not much more than a brochure,” Dutch member of the EU Parliament Bas Eickhout said.
Rather than offering moral leadership during a global crisis, Australia appears to be doing everything possible to slow the pace of transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
“There’s no genuine strategy, no reasonable interim targets or any appropriate investment,” Suzanne Harter of the Australian Conservation Foundation said. “There’s no phase-out plan for fossil fuels, no carbon pricing and the technology roadmap relies on technologies that don’t even exist yet. There’s no national renewable energy policy and we’re one of the last OECD countries without efficiency standards for vehicles.”
“Not only do we not have a policy, but the government is promoting the opposite direction,” she said. “If anything, the government is giving more money to fossil fuels, such as with the gas-fired recovery.”
Such criticism is warranted and illustrates why Australia received the Colossal Fossil award.
Prime Minister Morrison identifies as an evangelical Christian who takes seriously the moral teaching of the Bible. Perhaps he does not know Scripture as well as he thinks he does, or he allows its influence to be felt only when politically expedient.
Here then is a brief for Morrison on why it is biblically and theologically imperative to support a more ambitious and effective climate policy:
1. The God of Morrison’s Bible is the Creator and Sustainer of all things who calls us as stewards to wisely manage the creation and safeguard it for future generations (Genesis 2:15).
2. The mission of God includes the renewal of creation, which groans under the weight of poor human choices (Romans 8:19-23).
3. Action on climate change is an expression of humble Christian discipleship since climate change is likely to have a severe impact on the poor, especially those living in low-lying and vulnerable regions, and Jesus calls those who follow him to sacrificially care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45).
Luke reported that Jesus Christ “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). The Australian government’s climate policies are calculated to do the opposite, and to line the pockets of large corporations with vested interests in fossil fuels.
Australian church leaders have consistently urged successive governments to enact courageous policies to address the growing climate threat (see here and here). This prophetic work continues, especially when it appears to fall on deaf ears.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Australian people to drive change – in our parliaments, through our corporations, at global summits and at the ballot box.