Greg Hunt must resign

There are a handful of modifiers that can be used to make a word mean its opposite. To those, the Abbott government is intent on adding “direct”. As in, Direct Action n. A pretence by which to take no action at all. See also: “inaction”, “fig leaf” and “specious convenience”.

Responding to the alarming findings in the fifth report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week, Environment Minister Greg Hunt reached new levels of speciousness. Somewhere in the report’s 116 pages, Hunt found validation for his dismantling of Australia’s emission reduction mechanisms.

“It reaffirms precisely why we have taken the action we have,” he said. “What we have to focus on is reducing emissions and the best thing that we can do is clean up existing power stations.”

Of course, this is not at all what the report said. Its findings were explicit, and they were about renewable energies.

In launching the report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The good news is that, if we act now immediately and decisively, we have the means to build a better and more sustainable world. Many tools and technologies are available. Renewables are increasingly competitive.

“There is a myth… that climate action will cost heavily. But I am telling you that inaction will cost much more. With this report, science has spoken yet again – with more clarity and greater certainty.

“There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side. Let’s work together to make this world, our only planet Earth, sustainable economically, socially and environmentally for our succeeding generations.”

These are platitudes, but they follow a now irrefutable weight of scientific evidence: to contain catastrophic climate change, the world must shift 80 per cent of its energy production to renewables by the middle of this century and by 2100 must have ceased all use of fossil fuels.

For his part, however, Prime Minister Tony Abbott remains evangelical about coal. “For the foreseeable future,” he said after the report was released, “coal is the foundation of prosperity.” He called coal “the foundation of the way we live because you can’t have a modern lifestyle without energy, you can’t have a modern economy without energy”. If we are to live well, he said, “we have to be serious about making the best use of coal”.

And so to Hunt’s claim of reaffirmation – that some place in this damning report, full as it is of dire warnings, is sympathy for his deals to wind back renewable energy targets and set up a fool system by which polluters would be paid to pollute. There is, now, no credibility to his claims. He cannot articulate a plan because he has none. He points to clean coal technology that is still five years off, and will be questionable when and if it arrives. This is his alternative.

If an environment minister can tell the public that a report of this significance “reaffirms” his actions in degrading and dismantling the targets it would require, and require urgently, he should step down. He has no claim to honesty or to foresight. He is not fit to be minister. He is a liar and must resign.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 8, 2014 as "Greg Hunt must resign".

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