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Climate change: Morrison’s coalition of the unwilling

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Shortly after taking the country’s top job in August, Scott Morrison declared that tackling drought was the “most urgent and pressing need right now” for his government.

The Prime Minister was spot on about the grave situation in the rural heartland. Many farmers describe conditions as the worst in history, with some areas recording not a single drop of rain for several years.

Haywire weather patterns are increasingly the norm. Australia, like the rest of the world, is finding this out the hard way. It is no mere coincidence that temperatures in Tokyo this northern summer passed 40 degrees for the first time, wildfires broke out in drought-stricken Sweden and the UK sweated through a record-breaking heatwave.

Climate studies continue to indicate the planet is getting hotter. Man-made carbon pollution is hastening the severity and regularity of weather calamities across the world.

What does it all mean for Australia, one of the driest places on Earth? The prognosis, to be frank, is bad, very bad.

No other developed country is as exposed to climate change, University of Melbourne Climate Scientist Joelle Gergis told a podcast on The Conversation website.

“We are really vulnerable for a range of different reasons, and one of those is that we are a really arid continent,” she says.

“What we are concerned about is that we have… warmed by a degree, and seventh-tenths of that has actually happened since [the] 1950s.

“So most of our warming is happening really rapidly and [that is] accelerating the rates of change… I like to think of it as climate variability on steroids, and everything just becomes a little bit more intense and extreme.”

The Federal Parliament’s bipartisan Standing Committee on Environment and Communications agrees more wild weather is in store, after wrapping up its inquiry into the impacts of climate change on housing, buildings and infrastructure.

The committee has warned that “many types of extreme events will likely become more frequent or more intense” due to climate change. But its August report stops short of agreeing on a common action plan.

Multiple submissions to the committee paint a grim picture of rising sea levels, coastal erosion, increased heatwave frequency and longer bushfire seasons.

More than $226 billion of commercial, industrial, road and rail, and residential assets may be exposed to flooding and erosion hazards under a high-end scenario of a 1.1-metre rise in sea levels by 2100, the Climate Council of Australia’s submission to the committee says.

In many cases, there will be a heavy price to pay – and insurance will not be spared.

Lake Macquarie City Council in NSW warns in its submission that climate change is “potentially making insurance unaffordable for some” as it increases premiums on at-risk properties.

The National Insurance Brokers Association says many property owners in cyclone-prone north Queensland already face premium affordability issues.

A national discussion on global warming is long overdue. After all, 59% of Australians view the matter as a “serious and pressing problem”, according to a recent Lowy Institute survey. This is up five points from last year and 23 points since 2012.

Despite the growing number of inquiries and reports detailing the potential damage to Australia’s environment, society and economy, the political will of Canberra in general and the Coalition Government in particular to do anything is missing.

The Government remains heavily influenced by conservative MPs whose resistance to the terms “climate change” or “global warming” has stalled any meaningful political response to a dilemma that will one day be a crisis.

The Government’s focus on energy prices, the role of coal and the dismissal of “unreliable” renewable energy – because there isn’t yet enough of it – is one indication of how meaningful moves towards national action have become submerged in a bog of political caution.

But outside of a conflicted and hesitant political response, there is still hope. “Science is crystal clear our climate is changing, but the good news is… everything we need to turn this around already exists,” Dr Gergis says.

“Very bright minds at CSIRO and other university groups and think tanks from all over the world have really got behind this to figure out: can we actually solve this?

“And it turns out we can, but we just need the political will, and this is the thing I guess I find frustrating.

“I think we can do this. I think it is the largest cultural revolution taking place on the planet right now, and the question is, do we want to get on board?”

The price of complacency is too high, and the insurance industry, for one, is well aware of the danger of doing nothing.

The ball’s now in Mr Morrison’s court.