2022 in review: Did Australia face its climate reckoning this year? | the environment

THe 2022 can be seen as the year in which Australians begin to act as if climate and environmental crises are not just abstract concepts that will mostly occur elsewhere or in the distant future.

A political account

The country finally had its long-promised climate election and it was strong. Social research indicates that climate concerns have helped push the coalition away from Labor in some areas, and “tilt” from the main parties, independents and the Greens in others. It follows a long-term campaign by the conservation movement and some political candidates to address the climate crisis as an opportunity, not just a cost.

According to the work of Rebecca Huntley, a social researcher, this was the first time extreme weather events – specifically, Black summer bushfires And Catastrophic floods In northern New South Wales and Brisbane – Clearly the vote changes.

Anthony Albanese and Adam Band speak at Parliament House
Anthony Albanese (right) and Greens leader Adam Band have successfully campaigned on environmental issues – but now have to deliver on their promises. Photo: Lucas Koch/AAP

The New Labor government immediately raised the country’s minimum 2030 emissions reduction target from 26% to 43% (compared to 2005 levels) and modest, but symbolically significant, Climate Change Act. Climate Change Minister, Chris Bowen, has started work on the policies Cut emissions from major industriesDrive Adoption of electric vehiclesa made The offshore wind energy industry and reaching 82% share of renewable electricity by the end of the decade.

Some details including its reconstruction Tony Abbott-era safeguards and a review The controversial carbon credit scheme, is due early in the new year. Experts say the new policies need to be ambitious. While a significant improvement, Labour’s climate targets are still what scientists, or governments, think are necessary Speech gathering on the global stage.

The damage has been done, and is coming

Floods that devastated Lismore and surrounding areas in northern New South Wales and engulfed central Brisbane in February caused multiple deaths and billions of dollars worth of damage to homes and infrastructure. They were just the beginning. A third straight La Nina over the Pacific Ocean helped bring unprecedented rainfall to many areas, including the country’s largest city, Sydney, as Australia’s eastern seaboard stalled throughout the year.

Scientists say that atmospheric emissions aren’t the cause of increasingly humid conditions, but they’ve loaded the dice, so heavy rains are more likely to have a big impact. For every 1C of global warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture and Australia is about 1.5C warmer than in pre-industrial times.

Adaptation remains a hotly debated part of the climate equation in Australia, but the floods have prompted fresh warnings that parts of the country could become uninsurable and raised questions about whether it is wise to rebuild in floodplains and cyclone-prone areas in the north.

The banking regulator has weighed in with caution, suggesting that big banks may be reluctant to lend to households and businesses in the most vulnerable areas as climate damage mounts.

Nature freely. Can it be fixed?

A five-year government report on the state of the environment, due in 2021 but not released until after Labor was elected, provided evidence that the country’s natural heritage is vulnerable and in declining health due to the climate crisis, habitat loss, invasive species. , pollution, mining – and generally being taken for granted by its guardians.

Hundreds of species, including koalas and many less charismatic flora and fauna, have been newly listed as threatened in the past decade. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest and other ecological sites continue to be cleared. Nineteen ecosystems are reported to be in decline or showing signs of near collapse.

The shocking report card shows years of deep cuts to the federal environment department, hundreds of recovery plans for endangered species not completed and governments prioritizing development over conservation. Environmental offsets used to justify project approvals are often inadequately designed and sometimes not delivered.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek acknowledged the scale of the challenge and pledged to act. He has set a goal of zero extinction and plans a major overhaul of environmental laws, including the introduction of a national environmental protection agency next year. Design will be important.

A sea turtle swims over a badly bleached coral reef
A sea turtle swims over coral at Moore Reef in the Gunungandji Sea Country off the coast of Queensland. Photo: Sam McNeill/AP

The science and politics of reef protection

The world’s largest reef system has been damaged through Fourth mass bleaching event in seven years, aerial surveys show that almost 1,200 km stretch of reef was not affected. This was the first time mass bleaching took place La Niña yearsWhen the temperature is usually cool.

The reaction was familiar: denial from a vocal minority in the media; Government funding to address local causes, including pollution from farms; Recognition that 2,300 reef systems are in conflict unless global warming is addressed more quickly.

As always, the health of 2,300 reef systems is a complex story. The Australian Institute of Marine Science later reported on the northern and central areas of the reef Coral levels were the highest in 36 years. But scientists have been cautious in interpreting the results, warning that they may be short-lived, as the fast-growing corals that drove the growth are vulnerable to heat waves, storms and crown-of-thorns starfish.

In November, it was revealed that a UN-backed mission had found what should be Rifti Listed as an “in danger” World Heritage Site. Plibersek said the government is doing more than its predecessor to protect the landmark and will fight changes in 2023.

Reason for optimism: Renewable energy

The bright news for climate action in Australia is the continued rapid uptake of renewable energy, which has continued to grow despite slow efforts by the previous federal government. Solar, wind and hydro power provided a little more than 20% of electricity on the East Coast three years ago; It’s been 35% over the past year, and 43% over the past month.

Solar energy, in particular, has grown at a phenomenal pace, both in regional solar farms and on rooftops. More than 3 million households in Australia have solar panels. Their cheap supply in the middle of the day is rapidly shortening the life of old, failing coal plants. The state government’s renewable energy policies are expected to accelerate the transition.

Solar panels point to the sky
The renewable energy revolution is up and running, but will need support in the form of storage and interconnection. Photo: moisseyev/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Challenges include – massive expansion of grid energy storage and interconnection to ensure a reliable and secure supply. A multi-billion dollar “recycling of the nation” deal between Canberra and some states – incl $7.8bn commitment this week with NSW – and a recent contract Effectively underwrite new batteries and other forms of storage should help

Reason for asking the question: Fossil fuels

The upside to this optimism is that the coal and gas export industry is expanding, with new projects likely to come before the government for approval.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has sent fossil fuel prices skyrocketing. The fallout is adding to a cost-of-living crisis for Australian consumers and has led to a heated showdown between the government and the gas industry, which has resisted measures to cut war profits. Until Parliament enters.

Fossil fuel companies’ boom times won’t last forever, but have created a burst of industry enthusiasm for projects previously thought unlikely to go ahead. Government data shows there are now 118 coal and gas developments in the “investment pipeline,” up from more than a year ago. Many won’t make progress — 80 are in the feasibility stage or earlier — but some are likely to be submitted for federal approval next year. Other decisions are already pending.

Labor has tried to walk a line on fossil fuels, promising to cut emissions at home but not block new gas and coal exports that have private financial backing and meet ground environmental standards. This is an absurd position, as export development also leaves pollution within Australia.

Bowen ended the year rejecting industrial claims That gas is a “transition fuel” or “low emission”. Its flexibility while telling makes it a useful “background” supporting power source. A big question for the government next year will be how far its policies reflect this by curbing new fossil fuel development, if they seem unlikely to outright scrap them.

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