One of the dominant ideas buzzing around the internet is that there’s little we can do to escape the prospect of more frequent and worse bushfires - ever.
That’s because there’s little we can do to slow or reverse the change in the climate.
Australia accounts for just 1.3% of global emissions. That’s much more than you would expect on the basis of our share of world’s population, which is 0.33%. But even if we stopped greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we could and started sucking carbon back in (as would be possible with reafforestation) it’d make little difference to total global emissions, which is what matters – or so the argument goes.
But this argument ignores the huge out-of-proportion power we have to influence other countries.
We’re more important than we thinkSupplied
Garnaut conducted two climate change reviews for Australian governments, the first in 2008 for the state and Commonwealth governments, and the second in 2011 for the Gillard government.
In the second, he produced two projections of China’s emissions, based on what was known at the time.
One was “business as usual”, which showed continued very rapid increases. The other took into account China’s commitments at the just-completed 2010 United Nations Cancun climate change conference.
Egged on by the US Obama administration and by governments including Australia’s under Julia Gillard, China agreed at Cancun to slow its growth in emissions, and at the Paris talks in 2015 hardened this into a commitment to stabilise them by 2030.
The extraordinary graph
Garnaut’s 2011 projections showed growth moderating as a result of China’s commitment, which was at the time a cause for optimism.
When he returned to the numbers in 2019 to prepare his book, he was stunned. Egged on by the example of countries including the US and Australia, China had done far, far better than either “business as usual” or its Cancun commitments. Instead of continuing to grow rapidly, or less rapidly as China had said they would, they had almost stopped growing.
- ^ 1.3% (www.environment.gov.au)
- ^ Super-power: Australia’s low-carbon opportunity (theconversation.com)
- ^ The bushfires are horrendous, but expect cyclones, floods and heatwaves too (theconversation.com)
- ^ 27% of the global total (climateactiontracker.org)
- ^ United States and the Soviet Union (www.vox.com)
- ^ page 29 (www.blackincbooks.com.au)
- ^ Australia could fall apart under climate change. But there's a way to avoid it (theconversation.com)
- ^ chief scientist (www.chiefscientist.gov.au)
- ^ fall in the cost (www.csiro.au)
- ^ three (asianrehub.com)
- ^ consortia (www.pv-magazine-australia.com)
- ^ drawing up plans (www.informa.com.au)
Authors: Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University