Here we are, in the year 2017. With now 25 years of climate-change international agreements behind us, here we are still trying to build oil pipelines and coal mines.
It is sad. Sad for humanity.
It is no longer a question of reducing the speed at which we are approaching the cliff. It is now a question of counting the metres to the cliff, as it approaches so fast. It is no longer a question of reducing climate emissions to a reasonable level. It is now a question of counting the remaining tons which may be emitted, budgeting them carefully and switching off them with an emergency.
There are various different ways the budget can be calculated. The MCC Carbon Clock calculates that to limit increase in global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, the CO2 budget remaining is 734 gigatonnes, on a moderate (neither optimistic nor pessimistic) set of assumptions. At the current rate of emissions, that budget will be exhausted by 2035. That is time at which, continuing as we are now, scientific laws predict failure.
But there is a strong argument that a 2 degrees Celsius increase is too much. It means a vast range of climate impacts – for instance, at 2 degrees tropical coral reefs do not stand a chance. A limit of 1.5 degrees increase is an altogether better goal. Indeed, the Paris agreement aims to hold increase in global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, but “to pursue efforts” to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And the MCC Carbon Clock, under the same set of assumptions, calculates the remaining CO2 budget, to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as 41.3 gigatonnes. At the current rate, this budget will be exhausted in September 2018 — in just over a year’s time.
One year. Just one year.
Either way, it is a clear and present danger, urgent, all-absorbing, putting all other tumults to silence. All efforts must be to get off fossil fuels immediately, now, yesterday.
Yet where are we in Australia? We are about to build our biggest coal mine ever.
And Australian governments still fall over themselves to assist them. Approvals and re-approvals flow from the federal Liberal government. The Queensland Labor premier’s interventions have convinced Adani to go ahead. The total emissions of the Carmichael project — producing and burning the coal – will be 4.7 gigatonnes of CO2. That’s over 10% of the remaining budget for 1.5 degree increase. Just this one mine.
The project is itself barely financially viable. Adani says a special loan from the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) is critical to their financing. Nonetheless contracts were announced in July. They say it will employ 10,000 people: the reality, as given by Adani’s own expert under oath, is closer to 1,500.
Like everything else in Australia, the mine would be built on Aboriginal land. The traditional owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou people, released a statement: Stop Adani destroying our land and culture.
If the Carmichael mine were to proceed it would tear the heart out of the land. The scale of this mine means it would have devastating impacts on our native title, ancestral lands and waters, our totemic plants and animals, and our environmental and cultural heritage. It would pollute and drain billions of litres of groundwater, and obliterate important springs systems. It would potentially wipe out threatened and endangered species. It would literally leave a huge black hole, monumental in proportions, where there were once our homelands. These effects are irreversible. Our land will be “disappeared”.
Native Title claims being too much of an uncertain quantity for Adani – and courts showing an increasing level of respect for indigenous desires to control their land — legislation was dutifully passed by the federal parliament in June to smooth Adani’s way.
Just like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines in the US, which have seen such inspiring resistance, if the Adani Carmichael mine is built it will be game over for the climate.
It cannot go ahead. It must not.
Adani continues to acquire property along its proposed rail corridor, even as new accusations of fraud emerge against them. But largely they are currently playing a waiting game. The minister responsible for NAIF, Matt Canavan, stepped down over the citizenship farce; and his replacement is Barnaby Joyce. Until the High Court rules, and possibly byelections are held, it may wait.
As these leaders argued, it is a simple moral choice.
It is a simple scientific choice too.
Stop Adani’s mine, and switch this sunburnt country to renewable energy now.