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Acting on climate change can get us out of recession. There are no excuses left

The Guardian logo The Guardian 2 days ago Greg Jericho
a group of clouds in front of a building: Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

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Seven years ago this week the Abbott government released the exposure draft of legislation to “repeal the carbon tax”. It was also the same week that documents from an IPCC report suggested climate change could cause deaths from heatwaves in Sydney to triple over next 70 years.

October is generally not a good month for news on climate change.

Two years ago, another IPCC report in October suggested we had just 12 years to keep global warming to just 2C above the pre-industrial level – and that was if we started straight away.

It barely rated a mention in the federal election held seven months later.

© Abstract Aerial Art

This week has also delivered bad news: Nasa announced that September was the hottest September on record, and a new study found the Great Barrier Reef has more than halved in size over the past 25 years.

It feels like we have reached the point where such things wash over us now without care or concern. Another temperature record, another bushfire season, another US supreme court justice nominee not willing to say if she agrees with the science.

And it is easy to ignore climate change in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession.

But acting remains imperative and this week, in its latest world economic outlook, the IMF revealed that acting on climate change will actually help us deal with the recession.

Gallery: Natural wonders under threat around the world (Love Exploring) 

Acting on climate change boosts growth in the short term and massively prevents economic destruction later.

The outlook noted that at the current rate, global temperatures will increase “well above the safe levels agreed to in the Paris agreement, raising the risk of catastrophic damage for the planet.”

It estimated that on a business-as-usual approach, temperatures are likely to reach 5C above the pre-industrial average by 2095 – in 75 years’ time.

Given the aim is to limit warming to just 2C, 5C is something you don’t want to have to contemplate.

A rear view of people with placards and posters on global strike for climate change. A rear view of people with placards and posters on global strike for climate change.

It means frequent year-long droughts, southern Europe looking like the Sahara desert, and billions of people migrating closer to the poles to find hospitable areas.

Catastrophic.

But that is far off in time, so let’s make it more manageable and personal.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, can note that by the time his youngest child reaches Dad’s current age of 52, the IMF estimates temperatures will be more than 3.2C above pre-industrial averages.

Out of control fire on Narrow Neck Plateau, Katoomba, Blue Mountains, Australia. Climate change is causing extreme weather, prolonged droughts and increasing bushfires © Andrew Merry Out of control fire on Narrow Neck Plateau, Katoomba, Blue Mountains, Australia. Climate change is causing extreme weather, prolonged droughts and increasing bushfires

Oh well, at least they’ll always have memories of that time he made a chicken coop for the cameras.

But the IMF report is not all doom and gloom – it actually proposes a way out.

And would you believe it, it is the very thing Australia already had in place before the Abbott government committed its act of economic and environmental vandalism.

Yes, a price on carbon.

Dramatic skies and pack ice in the arctic water of Svalbard. Dramatic skies and pack ice in the arctic water of Svalbard.

The IMF proposes a price that starts at between US$6 and US$20 a ton of CO2 and reaches between US$40 and US$150 in 2050.

For reference, the last year of the carbon price here was $24.15.

The IMF estimates it will knock back annual GDP growth by a touch over 2% by the end of the decade. But here’s the thing, the IMF also suggests environmental measures that will boost economic growth.

It proposes an “80% subsidy rate on renewables production and a 10-year green public investment program” of 1% of GDP – so roughly $20bn a year for Australia.

Motorists drive through water on a flooding highway Motorists drive through water on a flooding highway

Combined with transfers to lower income households to counteract the impact of the carbon price, the IMF estimates this package will actually increase annual economic growth over the next 15 years by about 0.7% of global GDP and decrease emissions to net zero by 2050.

Yes, increase growth and decrease emissions.

And it will also keep temperatures below 3C, and in a best case below 2C.

No, it is not easy or “cheap”. Those political parties arguing that some rinky-dink policy such as Direct Action, which cost $2.3bn over three years, will be enough are just charlatans.

We need a price on carbon, and we need massive investment. Together they can prevent catastrophic climate change while also getting us out of a recession.

Win-win. And no political party has any excuse not to act.

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