Rann compares gas industry to big tobacco

Former Premier Mike Rann has issued a stark warning about climate change, attacking the gas industry in clear contrast to the rhetoric of the current Labor Government.

Dec 06, 2023, updated Dec 06, 2023
Adelaide's gas-fired Torrens Island power station, which will be mothballed in 2026. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Adelaide's gas-fired Torrens Island power station, which will be mothballed in 2026. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Delivering the Don Dunstan Oration for the Insitute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) and the Don Dunstan Foundation in Adelaide this morning, Rann said progress towards renewables was not occurring quickly enough on a global scale, risking catastrophic results.

He said people’s “real-life experience of climate change is now matching and reinforcing the stark warnings of the scientists”.

“Because of this, climate deniers have lost any credibility but, like the tobacco industry decades ago, they have switched from denial to delaying tactics,” he said, according to his speech notes.

“Fossil fuel companies hyping the benefits of gas, as if it’s a newly discovered climate solution, remind me of the tobacco industry’s embrace of vaping. It’s all hot air.”

While he praised the Malinauskas Government’s plans to build a hydrogen power plant and South Australia’s historic record on renewable energy, his hard rhetoric on gas is very different to the current administration’s supportive approach to the industry.

Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis has repeatedly emphasised the ongoing importance of gas to the electricity grid, going so far as telling an industry meeting this year that the state government was “at your disposal” and that “we cannot transform our economy to net zero without this industry”.

Just this week, a state government spokesperson told InDaily that the administration was “firmly of the view that gas, as well as hydrogen, is essential to a smooth transition to renewable energy”.

However, Rann said today in his oration at the Hilton Hotel that fossil fuel investment would make things worse for a world facing a catastrophic three-degree increase in temperatures without a “massively bigger and faster effort”.

“The era of cheap fossil fuels is now well and truly over and the smart money from business is flowing into sustainable products while smart governments are investing in a net zero future not subsidising sunset fossil fuel industries that will worsen our problems,” he said.

Rann, chair of the UK board of the non-profit Climate Group, spoke about Dunstan’s environmental legacy and said the former premier would be “campaigning for climate justice” if he was alive today.

“I’m convinced that if Don Dunstan was still with us the issue of climate justice would have lured him back into the ring,” Rann said.

“Last year’s COP (United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties) in Egypt was supposed to be about assisting poorer nations most threatened by climate change.

Mike Rann

“It’s true that commitments were made at COP 27 by rich nations to establish a fund to help developing nations recover from the ‘loss and damage’ caused to the Global South by the Global North.

“Various western leaders described this as a ‘historic’ measure advancing climate justice for those nations most vulnerable to global warming even though they did the least to cause the looming crisis. But no money was committed at COP 27 for this fund and developing nations who desperately need support to adapt and build resilience against climate-related disasters are justifiably suspicious.  They fear they will again be at the back of the queue on climate justice just as they were in the rollout of vaccines during the Covid pandemic.

“Unfortunately, a number of governments previously regarded as leaders, including the UK, are now backing away from their own key climate commitments and timelines and approving new fossil fuel exploration while, at the same time, cutting back on development aid.”

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He said this year’s COP climate summit, underway in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, was “crucially important” but he was sure that fossil fuel lobbyists were “corralling delegates in Dubai to frustrate progress by pressing for further delays”.

“We have seen in Australia how fossil fuel companies have bought influence.

“Around the world polluters have shown that while all politicians will say they cannot be bought, there are certainly those who can be rented.”

Rann, who was premier from 2002 to 2011, oversaw South Australia’s first moves towards establishing widespread renewable energy.

He praised the state’s record, saying we had become an international leader in renewable energy.

However, he said the world was moving too slowly. While global investment in green technologies was outstripping fossil fuels, the world faced the possibility of being “overwhelmed by the impact of catastrophic climate change”.

“Despite years of warnings by scientists, despite all the promises of world leaders and internationally agreed carbon reduction targets, we are currently losing the battle against unsustainable climate change.

“It is becoming increasingly unlikely that we will achieve our goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 C degrees, the level above which scientists warn that the impacts of the climate crisis will rapidly become catastrophic and irreversible. Without a massively bigger and faster effort we are currently heading for a 3-degree rise, a death sentence for many in the most vulnerable countries.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the speech was delivered at the Adelaide Festival Centre. The event was at the Hilton Hotel.

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