Blaire Palese on QandA

News from the front desk: With COP26 wrapping up it seems appropriate to join the chorus of voices deriding our government’s participation. To revel in the image of them slinking back to Australia with a slapped bottom and the moniker of global pariah hanging around their neck.

But as much as we’d like to, it doesn’t seem to fit. In fact to our surprise, the government did have a few climate-positive tricks up its sleeve.

Has our favourite punching bag actually seen the light? Surely not. For one thing, where would that leave environmental opinion writers? Out of a job faster than a coal miner under a Labor government.

In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the Joker tells Batman that they need each other. That they are two sides of the same coin in constant symbiotic struggle. And we too know, every good story needs a villain.

So far the federal government has played it well. Refusing to take action on climate to the point of mockery, while good people struggle around them literally trying to save the world.

Another villain, happily perpetuated by the media, is China which some can’t fathom could be making any progress on climate change. Indeed, the suggestion is enough to draw the ire of certain xenophobic keyboard warriors.

Just ask Blair Palese, who fresh from appearing on QandA, this week contributed a piece to The Fifth Estate outlining China’s dedicated approach to emissions reductions.

COP26, China and why Australia is out in the cold

Both the article and the TV appearance drew blowback from those wanting to paint the Chinese as villains, and villains alone. How could a country that is not our own be both good and bad?

It just so happens Blair’s article flagged China’s significant shift in attitude to climate action that on Thursday manifested in what media termed a “shock” announcement: a partnership with the US to work together to achieve the 1.5 degree target set out in the Paris agreement. Definitely one of the more surprising and optimistic outcomes to emerge from COP26.

Meanwhile, if there’s any publication that understands the value of a villain, it’s the Daily Telegraph, which this week saw fit to try and throw the Voices independents under the bus by tying them to “radical groups” like Extinction Rebellion.

To be fair, wouldn’t you rather your politicians linked to the good people at XR, rather than the planet killers in the fossil fuel industry?

Even so, the article by Sky News personality James Morrow, drew spurious links based on social media comments. Proving only that the author is still happy to play social Dementor to the rest of Australia’s better-natured Harry Potter. Some people just love to be bad.

What did COP26 yield for Australia?

But back to the question of whether the global exposure of COP26 could be a turning point for the government and for Australia. Let’s check the policies.

Starting with a genuine, on paper, commitment to net zero by 2050, there has also been a fair bit of cash put forward to fund transitional projects.

Electric vehicles saw some love, as did hydrogen, echoing moves already underway by the states. Australia also established an emissions reduction framework with major fossil fuel trading partner South Korea and increased funding for climate resilience in the Asia Pacific region.

Granted, the approach is almost entirely aimed at facilitating private participation in industries where the financial payoff is as great, or greater than, the environmental one. But it should be no surprise with this particular political party that money talks.

One could ask if all of these highly-choreographed strategies are just a ripple in the ocean? Perhaps. A band aid on the coal-extracting, gas-burning, nature-destroying daily reality that exists in this country. Sure. Not to mention time is against us.

Then there is the more recent announcement of an additional $500 million to invest in new low emissions technology via the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The government even took the opportunity to laud the ongoing success of the CEFC, which was established in 2012 by perhaps one of the Liberal party’s greatest victims, Julia Gillard.

Well, that’s alright — let money do the talking and other people’s policies do the walking. Fine with us as long as it works.

But then there’s the issue of where the money is actually going and here’s where, according to some, we hit a major stumbling block. Because the government is looking to change the remit of the CEFC, which would allow investment in carbon capture and storage.

By now, between climate change and the pandemic, most of us agree that listening to science is probably the right move. And in this case the science just doesn’t support such investment in CCS when it could be reliably spent elsewhere.

As professor Mark Howden of the ANU Climate Change Institute told SBS, “the history of carbon capture and storage across the world is not that great — we have to be very convinced that we can improve where others have failed.”

Why then would we want to pump hundreds of millions into an unproven technology? The cynic in us says so they can keep the coal fire burning as long as possible.

But nobody could be that evil…

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