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Your guide to the federal government’s climate spin — before it’s announced

  • 18 October 2021
In July this year the UN ranked Australia dead last out for climate action out of more than 170 countries surveyed. Yes, our federal government’s climate policies are literally the worst in the world. But while Australia is a global laggard in reducing pollution, we’re something of a leader in covering up this failure and getting away with it.

The history of Aussie climate spin goes back to an earlier climate agreement called the Kyoto Protocol. At the last minute, the Howard government negotiated to allow emissions from land use changes — essentially deforestation — to be counted in the baseline year, 1990.

Why? Because there was a lot of deforestation in Australia in 1990, and emissions from land use spiked. Against that artificially high baseline, emissions in future years were bound to look pretty good. As a result, we were able to keep increasing our pollution from burning coal, gas and oil, and then boast about meeting a target that was ludicrous in the first place.

Makes you proud, don’t it? This dodgy accounting trick was later dubbed the ‘Australia clause’, and has set the tone for Australia’s role in UN climate negotiations ever since.

So as the Morrison government prepares to head to the UN climate talks in Glasgow, what other world-class sneakiness do they have in store? And what do all those percentage targets being bandied about mean anyway? Here’s a short guide to prepare you for this week’s spin in advance.

'Don’t believe any arguments about little old Australia being too small to make a difference. Australia is actually the world’s largest exporter of LNG and one of the top two exporters of coal.' 

Net zero is a distraction

First, the whole debate about net zero by 2050 is a political sideshow. Nearly every country in the world, plus all the Australian states and territories, have already signed up to this goal. It’s a given the federal government will too. But the federal Coalition is deliberately having a loud, public debate about a distant target so they don’t have to talk about taking action in the immediate term.

2030 trickery

What really matters is the next decade. This is the main game for COP26 in Glasgow — world leaders are being urged to update their pledges for how quickly they can cut emissions by 2030.

Australia still had the target Tony Abbott set years ago — cutting emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030. At the time, the Coalition government argued this was in