President's Report April 2020

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While the federal government’s wage stimulus package in response to the coronarvirus pandemic is set to end in September, given the state premiers are setting their own rules there remains no definite timeline for the current shutdown. There has, however, been much conjecture that this pause to ‘business as usual’ offers an opportunity for action on climate change. Any ‘kickstart’ to the economy to deal with the anticipated ‘COVID-19 recession’ should surely begin with transitioning the nation’s electricity infrastructure to renewable energy sources and building battery storage capacity across the regions, along with installing rooftop solar on all government buildings and schools—to better protect us all from blackouts during storms or bushfires and to lower carbon emissions.

Such projects could be developed alongside other initiatives to decarbonise the economy: policies to incentivise the establishment of parts manufacturing for the renewable sector; a nationwide network of EV highways to drive the uptake of electric vehicles by removing range anxiety; policies to encourage business and municipal governments to transition their fleets to EVs; and the manufacture of cost efficient Australian-made electric vehicles. Fast-tracking our transition to electric vehicles – cars, buses and trucks — would also address concerns around the imminent shortage of oil.  Electrification of the railways is another major project that would yield both economic and environmental benefits.

Apart from the lack of political will, which the federal government’s current shift towards Keynesian interventionism may have shaken, there remain key obstacles to decarbonising the economy that politicians with appropriate resolve could remove by: 1.) greenlighting development of the renewables sector with a coherent, nonpartisan climate policy, thereby creating the requisite business certainty to attract investment and entrepreneurs; 2.) addressing bureaucratic blocks impeding the development of a national smart grid; and 3.) funding research and development into decarbonisation as a priority for the CSIRO.

But with parliament not sitting again until August, and former Fortescue head Nev Power at the helm of the COVID-19 Coordination Commission—the group that the PM has said will “cushion the economic impact” of the pandemic—there seems little reason to hope for a green revolution. That leading business executives rather than our elected leaders are managing this emergency and the nation’s economic recovery from it, appears a concerning retreat from democracy.

Unfortunately, as is often the case in wartime, much of the mainstream media appears to be neglecting its role of holding truth to power, of scrutinising elites, perhaps like many of us too disturbed and distracted by events unfolding in these extraordinary times—of conflicting messages and warnings, horrifying statistics, and fears of hospitals and medical staff being pushed beyond their limits.

And so, under cover of the kerfuffle of their COVID-19 media announceables, governments are escaping mainstream media scrutiny regarding climate and the environment — more bad news I’m afraid

Recently, in the aftermath of the 2019/2020 bushfires the federal and Victorian governments agreed to extend logging industry exemptions from Conservation Laws, risking further extinctions of native wildlife. And similarly the federal and NSW governments weakened environmental protections with an agreement to facilitate the purchase of replacement habitat—offsetting—in lieu of habitat protection, thereby enabling miners to pay government to locate equivalent replacement habitat, leaving koalas—which some naturalists deemed ‘functionally extinct’ after the 2019-2020 bushfires—likely homeless for some time. 

Recently too, the NSW government approved extension of a Peabody owned coal mine under one of Greater Sydney’s reservoirs, while in Victoria, the Andrews government announced onshore gas exploration will resume—both moves apparently made under financial pressure from the federal government. And finally, this month we learned the Great Barrier Reef has experienced its third mass bleaching event in five years, and the worst yet, with February 2020 recording the highest monthly sea surface Reef temperatures ever.

Bad news aside, it has been said the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a kindness pandemic as people begin to appreciate the fundamental essentials of life, and the work of those who deliver them – medics, cleaners, supermarket staff. It would certainly be wonderful if this new caring society survived the pandemic and turned its attention to the environment. Then, maybe even if the business leaders currently making decisions about our nations’s future ignored that other emergency—the climate crisis—a new engaged and kinder public focused on a better world might force a change of direction, perhaps even drive non-partisan climate policy?

Whether you take the glass half full or half empty approach, one thing remains certain, climate activists were never more important and valuable than they are now.  So please, BREAZE community, look after yourselves and stay safe.

Meanwhile, in this time of social distancing the BREAZE Board continues monthly meetings online, making submissions and advancing our Social Solar program, in the interests of our 2030 zero emissions target. 

All the best

Mary

Mary Debrett, President,  April 2020