Fossil fuels not the answer to global poverty at G20

Fossil fuels not the answer to global poverty at G20

In the lead-up to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane, faith leaders called for climate change to be on the agenda and given serious attention. Speaking from Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Indigenous perspectives, they urged the political leaders to take every opportunity to address this urgent problem in the lead-up to the all-important talks in Paris at the end of 2015.

“Economics cannot reasonably be treated as somehow separate from the environment on which all life itself depends,” said Right Rev’d Professor Stephen Pickard of the Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University. “We must transition quickly to ways of living which respect the physical limits of the natural world. To do otherwise will result in unthinkable suffering, first among vulnerable people of the developing world, then among ourselves, our children and grandchildren.”

“This means a concerted effort, even in developing countries, to shift boldly to solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy,” Bishop Pickard said. “But this is being thwarted by government subsidies for fossil fuel companies, giving these companies an unfair advantage. Governments are essentially providing incentives for companies whose products are destroying the biosphere.”

The fossil fuel lobby, including the Minerals Council of Australia, are strenuously resisting the call for change. Their most recent campaign message is that fossil fuels are an indispensable necessity if developing countries wish to lift their people out of poverty. “This is a biased view of an industry fighting for its own survival,” said Bishop Pickard.

At their press conference on November 12th in Brisbane, the religious leaders put forward a case for developing countries to “leapfrog” straight to renewables. They noted that fossil fuels take up large amounts of increasingly scarce water resources, and that burning coal is already causing poor air quality and significant health problems in places such as China and India and certain parts of Australia.

The price of renewables has come down so dramatically that they offer more cost advantages than coal, oil and gas. They also lend themselves to small-scale, decentralised energy delivery systems which means they’re more locally accessible to impoverished communities. The Australia Institute’s recent research shows that, even where fossil fuel companies are assisting with energy poverty, it is in the form of solar power and off-grid technologies.

The faith leaders further went on to address the question of Climate Finance to assist developing countries to adapt to the impacts of global warming. Bishop Pickard said, “Australia is only the worst example of wealthy countries stepping back from their obligations in this regard. While wealthy countries are spending $50 – 90 billion USD annually on subsidies for fossil fuels, most are failing to put more than the most basic amounts on the table to meet their Climate Finance commitments. This is an up-ending of priorities. Wealthy countries must take a new direction if we are to have the binding international agreement the world so desperately needs.”

On the same day as the faith leaders released their open letter and held a press conference, President Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping struck an historic deal in which each increased their ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China committed for the first time to cap its emissions by 2030, or earlier if possible, and to increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to 20% of the country’s energy mix by 2030. The US will cut its emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The ambition is insufficient but the significance of this is the spirit collaboration, and the buy-in at the top. This is very different from the stand-off at Copenhagen, and subsequent negotiations being conducted largely by delegates. This creates the foundation for greater ambition in the near future when climate change will be biting harder.

The implication, or course, is that Australia is being left well behind when countries with which we have important relationships are forging ahead, albeit slowly.  Our 5% emissions reduction target is looking increasingly out of step. ARRCC indeed holds it is deeply irresponsible, especially for a nation which is relatively wealthy and whose population has one of the highest carbon footprints per capita in the world.

The open letter, signed by prominent faith leaders in a range of traditions, is available at

 Thea Ormerod is the President of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, based in Sydney


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