Exclusive: Former environment minister calls for creation of ‘war’ cabinet committee to plot transition to zero carbon
— The former environment minister Peter Garrett has urged an incoming Labor government to convene a climate emergency summit to plot a transition to zero carbon, and create a super department aligned to Treasury, like the Department of Post War Reconstruction after the second world war, to implement the transition.
In a speech overnight at the Carbon Market Institute summit gala dinner in Melbourne, Garrett – a former environment minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments – said Bill Shorten should create a standalone “war” cabinet committee, charged with the responsibility of overseeing the new initiatives and ensuring Australia meets its emission-reduction goals.
If Bill Shorten wins on 18 May, he should “declare runaway climate change a bona fide national emergency” and call for bipartisan action, Garrett said. If that isn’t forthcoming he should court Liberals prepared to cross the floor and independents who have campaigned this election on climate change with a view to building a standing parliamentary caucus on climate.
“If we fail to act on climate chaos at this point in our history then Australians will be hostage to external and increasingly unpredictable events of an order of magnitude and seriousness of threat most reasonably compared to war,” Garrett said.
“I’m not comfortable with the military analogy but it is applicable for the simple fact that it is the closest example we have for an incoming government to reference. Climate chaos washes across borders, it is on a world scale. Our national interest is at stake, as is our relations with other nation states.”
Garrett said if Shorten wins next weekend, parliament should expedite the passage of Labor’s climate policies and leave open the prospect of ramping up those measures after making structural changes to manage the risks of climate change. He also challenged Shorten to declare an immediate moratorium on future coal, oil and gas developments – which is not what Labor is proposing this campaign.
“History will judge our role in this period harshly” — Peter Garrett
As well as the national summit, which Garrett suggested could come alongside one the Labor leader has already flagged with business and the unions, the former environment minister said the Council of Australian Governments should be reconfigured to better direct planning and infrastructure decisions related to climate risk.
Federal and state governments could consider a “massive public works scheme to make the country more resilient to extreme climate, including the provision of large-scale carbon sinks to draw down carbon – also a way to engage our farmers and regional communities – and rehabilitation of degraded waterways and landscapes, with substantial participation by First Nation’s peoples”.
The former environment minister said if Shorten wins, the government should provide “regular and clear information” on the progress of climate change through weather reports, a state of the carbon budget report, and a natural set of accounts alongside the current budget.
“The government should issue long-term climate bonds to boost available finance and enact sensible tax reform measures targeted at unsustainable activities and free riders,” Garrett said.
“Internationally, Australia needs to return to the table with a proactive and constructive stance to advancing global action. It is nothing short of scandalous that as a first-world nation with high per-capita emissions, exporting coal at the volumes we do, we have been a laggard and spoiler in international climate negotiations whenever the Coalition has been in office.
“History will judge our role in this period harshly.”
Garrett said it was imperative that an incoming government strengthen Australia’s relationships across the Pacific and south-east Asian sphere with cooperative policies and action on climate as the primary driver.
“This approach has the added benefit of lessening our vassal state status, providing ballast in the region against the expansionist tendencies of China, and the quixotic nature of current US foreign policy,” Garrett said.
“Globally we will see shifts driven by the end of fossil fuels, with many countries that are rich and powerful today facing massive economic hardships and resulting societal blowback occasioned by their loss of oil income.
“Regionally, we could see food and climate crises driving climate refugees our way on a scale beyond anything we have ever faced. This isn’t so implausible, for even with the best-case global emergency response to climate, as past emissions will continue to lead to climate chaos and worsening impacts for decades after the carbon curve finally gets bent downwards.
“This climate emergency approach needs to be central to future security and defence planning as well defining a strong and positive engagement with our neighbours – in our national interest and in theirs.
“Without sounding alarmist I believe the Australian defence forces and the reserve need to be geared up and ready to play a greater role given climate chaos will put significant pressure on domestic infrastructure and emergency services, and the unpredictable ways it could reshape geopolitics in our region.”
Garrett’s intervention comes as new polling from the Lowy Institute reinforces what politicians from all sides have been saying since the start of the year – that 2019 is the climate change election.
A majority of Australians in the new Lowy poll nominate global warming as a critical threat, with 64% of the sample ranking climate change number one on a list of 12 threats to Australia’s national interests, up six points from last year’s survey and a jump of 18 points since 2014.
The 2019 result is the first time climate has topped the list of threats since Lowy began the research in 2006.
The Lowy result is consistent with private research undertaken by environmental groups and by the major political parties, which suggest climate change is surfacing as a concern in parts of the country normally sanguine about the issue.
The new poll comes as a shocking new report from the United Nations this week found that biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, with one million species at risk of extinction, and human populations in jeopardy if the trajectory is not reversed.
by Katharine Murphy | The Guardian