Skip to main content

WA’s Fossil Fuel Powered Drought

22 April 2024

Today at Parliament House, experts including farmers and biologists spoke about the impact of drought on our SW. Here is what climate scientist Dr Bill Hare had to say:

“The unprecedented heat and drought that we’ve seen in south-western Australia the last months is driven by global warming which is primarily caused by burning fossil fuels

As a consequence we are seeing vegetation browning off and dying from Shark Bay through to Albany, including in our Jarrah and Karri Forests.

This is NOT the “new normal” as the government claims.

It’s the beginning of what is going to be a terrible decades ahead increasing drought, heat and aridification of south-western Australia

This will mean the loss of many of our beautiful, unique and biodiverse ecosystems.ill inevitably come with more devastating bushfires.

The southern and southwestern parts of WA have been experiencing very low, if not unprecedented low, rainfall and high temperatures since September 2023.   

As a consequence, large-scale impacts are now being seen.

Significant areas of the forests and bush of southern and southwestern Australia in a 1000 kilometre arc from Shark Bay to Albany are browning and beginning to die off.

This should be no surprise.

This region is drying at one of the fastest rates in the world and this is caused by global warming driven by fossil fuel

The IPCC warned of the risk of then collapse of the northern jarrah forest due to  global warming unless warming is limited.

Researchers at Murdoch University have published images of browning dieback happening in shrublands, Northern Jarrah, Karri forest and places like William Bay near Denmark, Margaret River.

These images  are as confronting as they are alarming.

People throughout the region are upset, angry, anguished by what they are seeing happening to their favourite place that they, their parents and grandparents grew up in.

There has been no acknowledgement of this by the Cook government, instead they have doubled down calling for more gas development.

In reaction to uproar in the south west  the WA government has set up a “Dry Season Task” force to attempt to assuage anger.

I hope that they are ready for a very, very long dry season because what we are observing, is set to accelerate and worsen.

It’s well known that southwestern WA is one of the most rapidly drying places on the planet and that there’s been about a 20% reduction in rainfall in this region since the 1970s.

Most of this reduction in rainfall is caused by human induced global warming, which is largely due to fossil fuel emissions.

Unless we reduce our fossil fuel use rapidly, both here and globally these problems are just going to get worse.

But we have to start at home before pointing fingers anywhere else.

Unfortunately, Western Australia is far behind the rest of the country in taking advantage of renewable energy to get rid of fossil fuel emissions.

As a whole, the penetration of renewable energy into electricity generation in Western Australia is only half of the national average and thus has significantly slowed in the last few years. 

But the potential is almost endless: the sun and wind is free and the technology to convert it to electricity and store has never been cheaper

And goodness knows in WA we have enough sun and wind.

The government is promoting new gas developments and the continuation of current developments for up to 50 years at exactly the time when the world should be phasing out these fossil gas resources. 

The premier argues we are in a gas deficit – but this is an absolute nonsense.  

The vast majority of our gas development is to export it offshore.

Australia is one of the world’s largest LNG exporters and we have a responsibility to the world to reduce this, not increase it. 

The total gas used to supply LNG and is around 7 times the size of the total demand in the WA domestic market.  In other words close to 90% of WA gas is being exported  of gas most of it does not pay any royalties

No royalties are paid on gas exported from Chevron’s Gorgon and Wheatstone projects, Woodside’s Pluto LNG and Shell’s Prelude.

Even setting aside the fact that nearly all of our gas is exported within Western Australia close to 70% of domestic gas use is for power generation both in the SWIS and in the north-west system and elsewhere.

This gas can be replaced quickly with renewable energy and storage. The W.A. is going slow on all on the renewable energy rollout.

President Biden is now re-examining LNG export terminal expansion because of the potential impact on the climate. I see nothing like this here.

And all this despite warnings from the International Energy Agency that we need no new gas development if we want to keep warming to 1.5˚C. 

Contrary to the government and industry claims, gas is absolutely not a transition fuel: it needs to be phased out almost as fast as coal. 

The government has no science behind its claims that gas is a transition fuel to net zero.  It is the say so of companies like Woodside who have a vested interest in expanding this.

Think about this: since the Paris Agreement was adopted 60% of the increase in CO2 emissions has come from gas.

Gas is still a fossil fuel. Gas puts us on the highway towards a global warming catastrophe the beginning of which we are seeing here in Western Australia. 

What does the Cook government need to do?

It’s not doing anything seriously, so there’s a lot to do and a lot that can be done:

  • It needs to set a binding target for 2030 for the state consistent with Australia’s commitment to reduce admissions by 43% by that year.
  • Accelerate renewables in Western Australia and not just in the southwest but to require any company and any entity that is generating electricity in the state to move to renewable energy
  • It needs a phase out plan for the gas industry and stop supporting new developments.
  • It needs to withdraw approval for Woodside Karratha plant to operate until 2070.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *