Climate freeloaders are destroying the planet.

“We’ve seen this actually play out in Australia: a strong focus on domestic emissions reductions and a policy that completely avoids addressing exports,” Jotso says. In the year The Australian government, elected in 2022, has set a target of net zero emissions by 2050, but refuses to ban any new coal and gas projects. It has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for community batteries, solar banks and EV charging, yet the country is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal and has the third-largest coal reserves.

Recent record-breaking droughts, temperatures, bushfires and floods might lead one to expect the Australian government to rethink its continued extraction of coal, oil and gas. But Polly Hemming, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Australia Institute in Canberra, says the government is too beholden to industry to do so. “Climate policy has been completely derailed. “Industry sets the climate standards it wants from governments,” she says. That influence is carried out through political donations, industry lobbyists (often former politicians and political operatives themselves), and scare campaigns against government action on climate change. “Fear is a more powerful motivator than hope or optimism, and so governments immediately recoil,” Hemming said.

There is no economic logic to this. The Australian government subsidizes fossil fuels to the tune of AU$11 billion ($7.36 billion) annually, and the fossil fuel industry employs fewer workers than McDonald’s. Most of the companies that extract and sell Australia’s fossil fuel reserves are foreign-owned and pay little tax to the Australian coffers, and much of what is produced is exported, Hemming says. Yet this “very small group of very powerful corporate interests” is still in power.

This is ironic given that the IPCC authors state that the economic and social benefits of mitigating climate change will far outweigh the costs. The economic cost of air pollution was estimated to be nearly $2.9 trillion worldwide in 2018, with 4.5 million lives lost that year alone—far more than the cost of climate change action. Options such as wind and solar power, green infrastructure, energy efficiency, urban electrification and reducing food waste are more cost-effective compared to business as usual.

Samantha Gross, director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says that while the need to decarbonize is urgent, the multi-trillion dollar energy sector just can’t turn on a dime. “We have to feed the system that is changing us,” says Gross. “The energy system that uses those fossil fuels is not changing at the rate that we want it to.” The recent gas crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a case in point, Gross says, and some European countries are restarting old coal-fired power stations to fill the power gap that remains despite increasing renewable energy availability.

Gross also argues that as long as there is demand for fossil fuels, the industry will supply them. “Combating climate change from a supply-side perspective is going to be very difficult, because there are so many fossil fuels,” she said. She argues for a focus on additional policies and regulations that promote a shift away from fossil fuels, such as greater investment in renewable energy, larger and faster moves to power the transportation sector, and carbon pricing mechanisms. To promote and support low emission technologies.

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