Let’s be straight. The planet is heating because we’re adding gigatonnes of greenhouse gases into our habitat. The consequences get worse for every additional gram we displace from deep underground and send into the sky, through the dual actions of extraction and combustion. We know with certainty that the impacts – inflicted already and inevitably due if we don’t stop fast – are gruesome and visceral.
As the world recovers from Covid-19, so too does fossil fuel use. It’s largely unsurprising, considering how little real work was done to decouple human existence from the burning of carbon. Not only do these gases accumulate in the atmosphere, the amount we add each year is itself increasing. That is to say: it’s getting worse quicker.
In the midst of this terrifying climbing curve, it is understandable that we instinctively seek out positive signs. Recently News Corporation, a long-time blocker of climate action, loudly proclaimed a grand turnaround in its attitude. The “Mission Zero” campaign wrapped the smiling faces of miners, billionaires and government advisers around the paper.
This campaign must be seen entirely within the context of the outlet’s legacy on climate. It is an ugly record.
According to one recent study, the climate science reporting in News Corp’s Australia outlets was the worst compared to New Zealand, Canada, UK and US media. The Daily Telegraph and the Courier Mail scored second and fourth worst in terms of climate science disinformation between 2005 and 2019. Even in the midst of the Black Summer bushfires, the Australian published an op-ed declaring: “There are no carbon emissions. If there were, we could not see because most carbon is black.” This sits alongside campaigns to frame renewable energy as too unreliable, too expensive and even causing “wind turbine syndrome”.
News Corp has played a major role in ensuring a truly catastrophic track record for emissions in Australia over the past decade. Though the Labor party’s 2009 to 2014 renewable policies resulted in some ongoing reductions, those are easily erased by ballooning coal and gas mining projects and a growing fleet of city-choking combustion engine vehicles. Only a deadly pandemic has resulted in a meaningful drop in fossil emissions in Australia.
Despite the shiny cover, the “Mission Zero” campaign makes a show of repeating many of the climate-delay talking points that have caused so much damage over the past decade. “The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow … some energy experts believe we will still need gas- and coal-fired power to keep the lights on 24/7.” That’s severely disconnected from the modern realities of electricity generation, in which zero carbon grids are theoretically understood and practically getting closer every day.
Another example involves News Corp uncritically repeating the greenwashing campaigns of some of Australia’s most severe emitters. AGL Energy has openly decided to breach a 1.5C-aligned trajectory by keeping its coal plants open well into the 2040s. Ditto for Energy Australia and Alinta Energy, both justifying this on the grounds that shutting down coal would cause “blackouts”. It’s the worst of corporate climate delay, but it’s heralded as if it’s a grand turnaround on climate.
The campaign avoids the biggest and most serious problems within Australia’s climate footprint. In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a pathway to global net zero by 2050, one that pointedly does not rely on dodgy offsets or uninvented technologies. Australia breaches nearly every single requirement for this pathway. The IEA calls for no new fossil-fuel mining projects – Australia has 72 new coalmining projects planned, and 44 LNG, gas or petroleum extraction projects, as of November last year.
The IEA’s report also calls for the end of coal power by 2030, with clean grids by 2035. The grid operator’s best-case scenarios see Australia blowing past that target. And the IEA’s criteria of a combustion engine sale ban by 2035 in rich countries has no chance of being endorsed by the current government.
For Australia, the abysmal 2030 emissions target of 26% (of 2005 levels) by 2030 needs to be axed. A real trajectory to align with a 1.5C warming limit would mean a reduction of around 74% by 2030, according to a report by the Climate Targets Panel.
“Mission Zero” mentions none of these things. The company has a trophy wall of climate policy scalps – carbon pricing, a vehicle efficiency standard, home insulation and badly-damaged renewable targets. But when the time calls for them to propose and argue in favour for new policy, they revert to vague promises about technology, and an absolution narrative for the country’s worst emitters.
It’s worth noting that even though the prices of renewables have fallen precipitously, this doesn’t guarantee emissions reductions. Coal and gas need to get out the way, and deployment of renewables needs to be managed to ensure grid reliability. Ditto for the falling price of electric vehicles, which will only drip-feed into vehicle stock at a painfully slow pace without massive government intervention, such as the UK’s 2030 combustion engine ban.
Media outlets in the UK, including those outside the Murdoch stable, have undergone similar transformations. In February this year, Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth signed up to the Daily Express’ “Green crusade”. Ten days after that, the Express was back to attacking Greta Thunberg. Without clear signs of a real, fundamental change, we can surely expect the same of News Corp.
We know what a real revelation would look like. It would look like grief, not smarm and gloss. It would involve a genuine acknowledgement of how their actions have caused irreversible harm to human life, on a scale no other media organisation on the planet could ever aspire to. And it would acknowledge that the years of delay they wrought have resulted in a tripling, no, a quadrupling of the urgency with which we need to act today.
News Corp leans on its monopolistic grip on Australian media to ensure that delivering the bare minimum on climate is met with nervous applause from players trapped under their all-encompassing umbrella. This cruel power dynamic hasn’t changed.
In the not-guaranteed event that News Corp is faced with a political opposition that proposes real, substantial emissions cuts aligned with global climate goals, it will revert back to its comfort zone: adding climate policy scalps to its trophy wall. We know this because nothing fundamental has changed.
It doesn’t know the damage it did. And it doesn’t know the damage it could still do, once the shine comes off its politically-charged greenwashing campaign.
• Ketan Joshi is a freelance writer and communications consultant specialising in climate and energy who has worked for private and government clean-energy organisations in Australia. He is the author of Windfall: Unlocking a fossil-free future