It turns out one of the laws of thermodynamics can be applied to politics: temperature will rise when pressure increases in a fixed volume.
On climate change, the pressure is building: the time left to take action is diminishing, the political constraints are tightening and global despair at Australia’s approach is growing.
The federal government’s space to act remains fixed, with the deadline of the Glasgow climate change talks in November looming.
And so, the heat on Prime Minister Scott Morrison is rising.
IPCC report reinforces need for immediate action
Climate change and its impacts are accelerating. This is the conclusion of the IPCC’s Sixth Amendment Report, the most comprehensive climate report in many years.
The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, has the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2.0 degrees, preferably 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels.
It’s already 1.1 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels.
The IPCC’s new report suggests we will hit 1.5 degrees warming by the middle of 2034.
Forget reaching net zero emissions by 2050, the long-term target the federal government is being dragged towards adopting.
It is what can be done between now and 2030 that will be paramount.
Crabwalk towards Coalition climate policy slowed by infighting
Scott Morrison had been inching the Liberal and National parties towards a climate policy of sorts, one that sought to cease the warring as much as address the warming planet.
The ‘Technology Investment Roadmap’ is effectively guidance for federal government investment in green industrial developments.
There is little for the Liberal and National nay-sayers to object to, but not much to compel a reduction in pollution, either.
The crabwalk towards reaching net zero emission started with a target of “in the second half of the century”.
Scott Morrison sidled along, bringing that ambition forward to “as soon as practically possible” and eventually to “preferably by 2050”.
He was a half-step away from committing to the net zero by 2050, the target championed by allies such as the US.
Then came Barnaby Joyce.
After wresting back the leadership of the Nationals, he gave a rambling explanation of his views on climate change action that somehow involved the price of lunch and sauteed gherkins, but no actual policies.
His return to the leadership of the junior Coalition partner, and the deputy prime ministership, marks the return of the rancorous battles over Australia’s climate policies.
International pressure on Australia to act
Then there is the international pressure, which has been well-canvassed.
US President Joe Biden embracing the ‘net zero by 2050’ target was part of a cascade of ambition on emissions reduction targets by much of the developed world.
As host of the Glasgow climate talks in November, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to more immediate action, promising a 78 per cent cut on 1990 levels by 2035.
Australia’s current policy of 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 is comparatively parsimonious.
Now the IPCC’s latest report has issued a “code red for humanity,” as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described it, expectations will change.
Before, Australia adopting net zero by 2050 may have satisfied the international community.
Now, action in the next 10 years will be paramount.
Australia, along with the developing powerhouses of India, China, Indonesia and Brazil, will have to outline more immediate action.
Without it, limiting global warming to under 2 degrees is a chimera.
The climate is warming, the pressure is building, and Scott Morrison will feel the heat.