The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 coming to the shores of Australia in early 2020 certainly came at an opportune time for the Australian government. At the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 (commonly now known as, the ‘Black Sumer’), devastating bushfires impacted New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory. This inferno caused the loss of almost 19 million hectares of land, over $100 billion AUD in damage, and resulted in air quality levels for several months that were extremely hazardous. Thirty-four people died and over a billion wild animals.
The government of Australia and the various state and territory governments exploited the isolation of Australia to enact policies that have provided Australia with relative success with regard to the pandemic. This success is not due to an excellent medical system; for example, the West Australian hospital system was stressed to the extremes in early 2021, and very few cases were related to Covid.
By forcing the various state governments to compete with each other regarding the Covid response (i.e. border controls, quarantine systems, etc.), the Commonwealth government has largely been able to use the pandemic as a distraction and not address the longer-term issue of climate change. This is further exacerbated by the reality that the pandemic-induced recession caused a significant reduction in worldwide demand for fossil fuels and as a result, CO2 emission levels in 2020 reduced significantly compared to 2019 and even 2021. This reduction is only temporary and is not a result of long-term sustainable development policies.
The switch to the Biden administration from the Trump administration (who used every policy play, including withdrawal from the Paris Agreement of 2016) has recently caused the Australian government to start to reconsider some of its climate policies; the relative dominance of the USA often impacts Australian policy.
With the Biden administration, there has been a switch of policies in the USA to address climate change but the reality is that it is a lot of rhetoric and minimal action, so far. As a result of this shift in the USA, the Australian commonwealth and state governments have been under increasing pressure internationally to respond to climate change.
So far, a few token efforts have been made regarding hydrogen as a medium of energy storage. Largely though, this can be viewed as a way to extend the life of a coal-based energy system through gasification; without subsequent CO2 storage in the subsurface, this brown form of hydrogen does very little to reduce carbon emissions.
Further highlighting the tensions in the Scott Morrison Liberal Party-led government was the dumping of Michael McCormack as leader of the National Party, the junior party of government, in favour of a return to Barneaby Joyce, who is also Deputy Prime Minister. A key aspect of the return to Joyce is the Nationals push back against Morrison laying the groundwork to fold to international pressure and commit to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Australia has huge resources to use in the shift away from fossil fuels. For example, the proposed Australian-ASEAN power link, where a submarine high voltage DC cable will be used to bring 10 gigawatts of power from the North Territory to Singapore. The question arises, “Why can this same approach not be used to power Australia?” Large-scale implementations of renewable technologies, such as this, are far more efficient than small-scale implementations of renewable technology, such as roof-top solar. Furthermore, roof-top solar exacerbates inequities in society. The low-income renters who cannot implement roof-top solar subsidize an economic advantage for solar panels on houses that are owner-occupied through higher electricity costs.
A socialist society would immediately plan and implement a diversified energy plan, owned and managed collectively by the working class people of Australia. It would incorporate a variety of large-scale energy generation and storage technologies that is driven by hard science and the resources that are available locally. Leaving climate action to the anarchy of the market has resulted in decades of inaction. Only socialism can use the resources available in Australia, and the world, to address climate change and develop a more sustainable planet.