Lockdowns are grabbing the headlines here in Australia, but the disastrous floods, droughts and bushfires of the northern hemisphere’s summer should be a reminder that climate change poses an even more serious threat than COVID-19.
In Germany and Belgium, unprecedented rainfall has caused flooding that has killed at least 170 people and devastated ancient towns that have stood untouched for centuries. Meanwhile, last month the town of Lytton, in British Columbia, Canada, recorded a freakishly high temperature of 49.6 degrees shortly before it was burnt to the ground by wildfires. Along the west coast of the United States, wildfires of extraordinary extent and ferocity are still raging out of control. Californians have been asked to cut water use by 15 per cent because of a historic drought.
Of course in the developing world the disasters are at least as severe, if less widely reported here.
These tragedies are all consistent with decades of scientific predictions of the likely impacts of human-induced climate change. It is actually happening. Global temperatures are already 1.2 degrees higher on average than a century ago, and they are predicted to rise 5 degrees this century on the current trajectory.
Yet in the same week that our televisions are full of this compelling evidence of the urgency for strong action to fight climate change, the federal government continues to avoid making strong commitments and abrogates what many view as our responsibilities as global citizens.
It remains Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “preference” that Australia adopts a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, a goal that climate scientists say is still likely to be slower than required to hold the global temperature rise below an average of two degrees.
Yet he faces renewed opposition within his own government. Returned Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce told The Australian Financial Review that he would lose his leadership if he even contemplated agreeing to such a target.
In an interview on ABC TV on Sunday, he said he would not accept the target until he knows “what is involved”. This is a lazy excuse. As NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said on Twitter, Mr Joyce is “as well placed as anyone to see ‘what’s involved’ and come up with a plan”.