Australia's future prosperity and national security will depend on lifting its game on climate action. Over 100 former Australian ambassadors, high commissioners, trade commissioners, diplomats and development specialists issued a climate-focused foreign policy in December 2021, calling on the government to take immediate, ambitious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to restore Australia's international standing on this issue.
Diplomats for Climate Action Now recently signed a joint letter, with four other professional groups, asking the incoming prime minister to make climate action the government's top priority through a national mobilisation.
Why would we do this? The job of a diplomat is to represent the government of the day abroad, to understand our international partners and to advise the Australian government on how best to prosecute its policies. We do not usually weigh into domestic policy debates.
But climate change is not a domestic issue. It is a global issue which poses a significant threat to Australia's national security and future economic prosperity. We have seen the effects of climate change in abundance over recent years, with drought, the devastating Black Summer and recent Western Australian bushfires, and catastrophic flooding in Queensland and NSW.
Climate change does not respect national borders. It is a global challenge requiring every nation to pull its weight. It is wrong to claim that, because only around 1.3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are released in Australia, what we do is irrelevant. Climate action by nations is a matter of political choice: Australia is a wealthy country with the resources to transform its economy and the innovation to do so in a way that we can profitably share with other countries.
Australia will never persuade the big global emitters - the United States, China, India, the EU, Brazil - to take more ambitious action as long we cling to a nostalgic hope we can maintain a 1970s coal- and commodities-based economy and wait for a magical technological breakthrough to suck up the resultant carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In fact, Australia can benefit from our potential to generate cheap and abundant renewable energy to create a sustainable, high productivity, export economy. Australia's reliance on raw commodity exports has led to heavy dependence on a single market: Australia sends more product by value to China than to the six next largest export destinations.
Seeking alternative markets for raw product is not enough: Australia needs to manufacture and process new, higher value products that can be sold in other markets.
Global finance and investment are moving away from fossil fuel economies and Australia's ability to attract job-creating foreign investment (and even insurance for those investments) is already compromised by a decade of denial and inaction. Our trading partners and strategic competitors are investing heavily in decarbonising their economies.
Climate risk increasingly features in global investment decisions, and even more so in global insurance markets. Adani had to self-finance and self-insure its Carmichael coal mine because it could not persuade any bank or insurer to take on the risk.
This was not because of woke capitalism, but rather a hard-headed assessment of the financial risk associated with new coal projects. Australia will export coal as long as there is a market for it, but as our major trading partners - including China, Japan and India - implement their climate action commitments, that market will collapse.
The European Union and United States are now preparing to apply carbon border adjustment taxes - effectively a carbon price on imports from countries that are not taking effective measures against climate change. We will have a carbon price imposed on Australian goods, but it will not accrue to the benefit of the Australian people.
Australian inaction on climate change over the past decade has led vulnerable countries in our region to seek alternative development and security partners as they have seen Australia fail to act on what they perceive as their primary national security threat - climate change.
Australia must honour its oft-repeated claim to care about the interests of its Pacific neighbours, rather than allow the nation's standing to continue to decline through inaction and a perception that we are a drag on international action.
Australia's international credibility can only be restored by ambitious and immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions followed by a concerted diplomatic effort to assure international partners we have a plan to phase out our fossil fuel industries.
We must seize the opportunities afforded by our abundant renewable energy potential to create sustainable, high productivity jobs and to secure Australia's future prosperity in a low-carbon world.
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