It’s Time to Heed the Evidence on Climate Change – full paper

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The Perfect Storm

ALP Fringe Program

31st July 2009

Ian Dunlop – Independent Governance &
Sustainability Advisor

 

The Earth’s Climate Is Always Changing

The Earth’s
climate is always changing. The issue
today is the extent to which current changes are anthropogenic (human-induced),
arising from the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other
greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel burning and agriculture, as opposed to being
natural variations.

The thin
greenhouse gas blanket encompassing the Earth is essential for our survival;
without it the average temperature would be around -19oC, some 34OC
colder than it is today, rendering human life impossible. CO2 is an essential part of that
blanket and its atmospheric concentration has a critical influence on global
climate, acting to retain solar radiation and warm the planet.

Thus atmospheric
CO2 is a good thing; however, like most good things in life, you can
have too much of it. If the current
atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
resulting from human activity continue to escalate, the corresponding warming
is likely to render much of the planet uninhabitable. The challenge is to maintain a sensible
balance which can sustain human life.

The empirical
evidence has been indicating for some time now that our climatic system is
rapidly moving out of balance as a result of human activity, and that emergency
corrective action is needed

Homo Sapiens has
evolved through the last 200,000 years in widely varying climatic
conditions. However, humanity in its
present form has developed during the short Holocene period over the last
11,000 years in a relatively benign and stable climate, with average
temperature sitting within a band of +/- 0.5oC around 15oC
– what might be called the Safe Climate Zone.

There have been
temperature ups and downs during this period, within the safe zone,
encompassing for example the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. What is noticeable in both cases is that
relatively minor variations in global temperature had a major effect on
climate.

We are now heading into a period where, unless
rapid, emergency, action is taken, scientists believe global temperature may
move into a range of 1.5 to 4.5oC above the Holocene mean by 2100,
something never before experienced throughout advanced human evolution, with
potentially devastating consequences for many parts of the world.

The great majority
of authoritative science believes that this is largely due to rapidly
increasing human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the consequent increase in
atmospheric carbon concentration since 1945 in particular, brought about by the
burning of fossil fuels for energy production and modern agricultural
practices.

The World
Has Warmed

The world is undoubtedly warming, as demonstrated by the
annual trend from 1901 to 2005. Eight of the ten hottest years on record have
occurred since 1998. All ten hottest years have occurred since 1990. The average temperature increase since the
Industrial Revolution is around 0.8oC, with a further 0.6oC
inevitable as a result of emissions to date; the latter has not yet manifested
itself due to the inertia of the global climate system.

Northern polar temperatures are increasing at more than
twice the global mean trend.

The Warming
Trend Has Not Stopped – local variations occur regularly.

Around this warming trend, there are always local
variations. For example it is currently
claimed by some sceptics that the world has cooled since 1998, heralding an
extended cooling period, possibly a new Ice Age, linked to the solar
cycles. However similar deviations
occurred in 1987-96 and 1977-89, to name but two, despite which the long-term
warming trend continued its inexorable upward path.[i]

There is a very high probability that the warming trend will
continue, and a far lower probability that solar cycle variations will cancel
it out, as the warming effect of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations
outweighs the effect of solar cycle variations.
Indeed it may well be that a new solar cycle adds to, rather than
detracts from, the warming effect over the next few years This highlights the
need to view climate change from the uncertainty and risk management
perspective.


Climate Change is Risk Management
– on a Global Scale

The climate change
debate over the last two decades has been bedevilled by the dominance of
absolutist views – you are either pro or anti the thesis of human-induced, as
opposed to natural, climate change, with no room for debate.

In reality,
climate change is probably due to both natural and human causes – we will not
know the exact answer to the relative contributions for decades to come, which
is why the science must continually probe for better understanding. This is an
incredibly complex issue, but while there remains much uncertainty, there is
also a high degree of certainty on many key issues. The bulk of the
authoritative science now indicates strongly that human activity is a major
factor, so this becomes a question of managing
uncertainty and risk whilst we continually refine our scientific
understanding. But that is no reason for inaction.

It is right to be
sceptical of any absolutist position. However, scepticism works both ways, and
denial is not scepticism. Other
explanations of the global warming phenomenon, apart from the anthropogenic CO2
thesis, may be feasible, but on the balance of probabilities they seem highly
unlikely given the evidence before us.
Indeed if the warming now occurring is a result of natural factors, then
we have an even bigger problem as we have even less means of containing
it.

The evidence
demonstrates that climate change is happening far faster than previously thought
and that our risk exposure to abrupt and major irreversible changes is
escalating rapidly. What was supposed to
happen at 2oC warming is in many cases happening at 1oC
warming or less. The urgency of our
response needs to be similarily re-thought.

Delay and
procrastination since 1992 in agreeing and implementing any measures to
seriously address the climate challenge mean that we have wasted the
opportunity to take a graduated response.
If risks are to be sensibly contained, we now have very little time to
take action, far less than is being acknowledged politically.

Risks Are Escalating Fast – The
Evidence

The evidence of
accelerating risks from climate change is clear:

  • Accelerating human carbon emissions
  • Rapid summer melt of Arctic sea ice
  • Initial indications of Arctic permafrost &
    possibly seabed methane hydrate (clathrate) emissions
  • Decline in natural carbon sinks
  • Large increase in projected sea level rise
  • Non-linear response to climate forcings with
    potentially escalating temperature increase
  • Tipping point for ice sheet loss & glaciers
    at lower temperatures than expected
  • Increased ocean acidification

Emissions Rising Faster Than Projected by IPCC

Despite much
rhetoric from political leaders, and extended negotiations over two decades,
virtually nothing has been done so far to contain anthropogenic carbon dioxide
emissions. Emissions are now accelerating faster than the worst case envisaged
by the IPCC, (International Panel on Climate Change) estimates[ii].

This makes it even
harder to stabilise emissions in the future within the 450 – 550 ppm
atmospheric CO2e concentration band which is the supposed objective
of current political debate. The latest
science is indicating that this target band, which was adopted several years
ago, is itself far too high.

Arctic Sea Ice Melt Accelerating

The
"canary-in-the-coal-mine" on global warming evidence is undoubtedly the Arctic
sea ice summer melt, which is moving far faster that anticipated. It has already reached levels which were not
supposed to occur until 2100, to the point where the Arctic may be completely
free of sea ice in summer within a few years[iii].

The disappearance
of Arctic sea ice has major implications for global climate. The solar radiation reflected from the ice
declines, that radiation then warms the ocean water, thus leading to more
warming, greater ice melt etc.. These
non-linear, positive feedback effects have global ramifications in accelerating
warming.

Arctic Is Warming Disproportionately

The Arctic is
warming at possibly 2-3.5 times the global average, a major cause being warmer
ocean currents[iv]. One result is that the melting of the
permafrost encircling the Arctic, which has been occurring for some time, is
also accelerating.

In the medium to
long term this will lead to the emission of extremely large quantities of CO2
and methane. Potential carbon emissions
from permafrost melting are around 2.2 times atmospheric carbon and 5 times the
total fossil fuel carbon emissions since 1850.
If the permafrost starts to melt extensively, we have a very big, and
possibly irreversible, problem, with the potential for runaway global warming.

Committed Warming as of 2005 – probably 2.4oC

Some of the most
recent science is suggesting that global emissions, as of 2005, have already committed
the world to an eventual warming of around 2.4oC ( probability range
1.4 – 4.3oC)[v]. Presently this is masked by the effect of
aerosols from airborne pollution (from fossil-fuel burning), which offset
warming by reflecting the sun’s rays, and by the thermal inertia of the global
ocean system, giving the current observed warming of around 0.8oC.
But the full warming effect will unfold over time. If temperature turns out to be toward the
lower end of that probability distribution, we may have already triggered
tipping points for:

– Arctic summer
ice;

– Himalayan /
Tibetan glaciers;

– Greenland Ice
Sheet – up to 7 metre sea level rise

and, if
temperature at the higher end of the probability distribution materialises:

– Amazon Rain
Forest turning into savannah;

– extended El
Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions;

– North Atlantic
thermohaline circulation slowdown;

– West Antarctic
Ice Sheet disintegration – further possible 6 metre sea level rise

Himalayan Ice-Sheet Loss

The loss of the Himalayan
ice sheets, which is already well underway, will if it continues result in severe water shortages for some 2
billion people in South East Asia, with the potential for major social
disruption, and impact on Australia, as environmental refugee pressure
intensifies.

Climate Lag – ‘Frog in Boiling Water’

In
trying to spread awareness of the risks of climate change, one of the most
difficult aspects is the delay factor before the results of our actions today
manifest themselves in concrete climatic events – in short, the "frog in boiling water" analogy. If a frog is placed in water on a stove and
the water gradually heated, the frog will stay there as the water boils, oblivious
to its own demise!

So it
is with climate change – actions we take today have enormous impact for decades
to come, even if emissions are rapidly reduced[vi]. The implication is clear – if we are serious
about containing climate change risk, and minimising the risks for future
generation as well as our own, action is needed now whilst solutions can still
be effective – not in five or ten years time. The fact that we are already
seeing bad things happen at the existing levels of warming gives added weight
to this urgency:

Current Impact of Climate Change

One of
the fallacies of current perceptions of climate change is that its impact will
be some time off into the future.
Nothing could be further from the truth – it is happening here and now.
For example:

– the EU heatwave in 2003 killed
35,000 ,

– Hurricane Katrina in 2005
killed 1500 and caused major economic disruption.

– Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in
2007 killed 3,700,

– Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in
2008 killed 150,000,

– ongoing US, Greek &
Australian bushfires and floods, etc

None
of these can be put down exclusively to climate change, but all are in line
with its predicted evolution, leading to the reasonable conclusion that climate
change played a significant role.

Recent
work by the Global Humanitarian Forum[vii] has for the first time
attempted to quantify the impact worldwide.
Some 325 million people annually are thought to be seriously affected by
climate change, already 315,000 die each year from climate change with an
economic cost around US$125 billion, equivalent to total global development
aid. Unless corrective action is taken,
this impact will accelerate, with the potential for major environmental
migration, failed States, escalating terrorism etc..

Stabilisation Risk

The
current global greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations are:

– 387
ppm CO2

– 455
ppm CO2e – (CO2 equivalent including other gases)


increasing at around 2ppm per annum


temporarily offset by aerosols, reducing this effectively to 375 ppm CO2e

The
current political negotiating range for emission reductions is based on
stabilising

atmospheric
carbon at between 450 – 550ppm CO2e.
This range, which is now several years out-of-date, is assumed to
contain climate change below the dangerous level, this being the objective of
the UNFCCC 1992 Agreement.

450
ppm is presented politically as equating to 2oC global mean
temperature warming above pre-industrial levels. However the analysis on which it is based
actually says that 450 ppm gives a[viii]:

26 -78% chance of exceeding 2oC,
say 50% on average

4 – 50% chance of exceeding 3OC,
say 25% on average

0 – 34% chance of exceeding 4OC,
say 17% on average

Even
if 2oC were the right target to prevent dangerous climate change,
which on current evidence it patently is not, would you fly in an aircraft with
only a 50% chance of reaching its destination?
I doubt it, so why do so with climate change?

Temperature Rise Implications

The
implications of temperature increases of 1oC to 3oC,
based on the latest scientific assessments are set out below: 

1oC


Destruction of Arctic ecosystem, possibly triggering tipping point

– More
frequent, intense heatwaves & extreme fire events


Ongoing drought – for example Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, western USA


Swift retreat of mountain glaciers – Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Europe etc.


Drying of Eastern Amazon, regular droughts, fires & large carbon emissions


Fresh water eliminated from 1/3 of global land surface by 2100


Low-lying states & coral reefs facing extinction due to bleaching

 

2oC


Large feedback loops triggered in oceans, ice-sheets, permafrost, forests &
soils


Possible disintegration of Greenland & West Antarctic ice-sheets, leading
to 5-13 metre sea level rise


Extinction of 15-40% of plant & animal species


Dangerous ocean acidification


Increasing methane release


Widespread drought & desertification – Africa, Australia, Mediterranean
Europe, western USA

 

3oC


Northern hemisphere free of glaciers & ice-sheets – several more metres of
sea level rise


Semi-permanent El Nino conditions


Extensive melting of permafrost with large-scale carbon dioxide and methane
release


Possible tipping point for ocean-bed frozen methane deposits, leading to severe
temperature escalation


Amazon turns to savannah grassland


Increased extreme weather events

 

Major
changes are already occurring with the current level of warming of around 0.8oC
relative to pre-industrial times. The additional 0.6oC warming to
which we are already committed as a result of existing emissions will take us
well into the dangerous bands outlined above.

Are we
prepared to tacitly stand by and risk this level of destruction taking
place? If we have any consideration for
future generations, as well as the current global community, the answer is
surely no!

Urgency – time for realism

Current
global negotiations on climate change are based on science which is 6-7 years
out-of-date. As a result, the current
scientific and political debates are like two ships passing in the night with
minimal communications.

A very
recent analysis by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research[ix] demonstrates that even if
the best emission reduction commitments currently on the table in these
political negotiations are realised, they would virtually guarantee a global
temperature increase of 2oC by 2050, and probably 3.5OC
by 2100, a catastrophic outcome.

If
this disconnect continues, it guarantees that the December 2009 UNFCCC
Copenhagen Climate Change meeting will be a disaster. There is an urgent need to inject the
realities of the latest science into these discussions before that meeting
takes place[x]
[xi] [xii] [xiii].

The
science indicates that a 2oC temperature rise compared to
pre-industrial levels is far too high if we are to avoid dangerous climate
change[xiv]:


non-linear effects are already occurring at 0.8oC rise


tipping points may be already committed

– we
are probably well into the danger zone already

The
new objective, for a safe climate will have to be a stabilisation target of
around 300ppm CO2. This
requires developed world emission reductions of:


45-50% by 2020


95-100% by 2050

compared
with the 5-25% by 2020 and 50-80% by 2050 currently under discussion.

This
is a far greater task than is being acknowledged politically or
corporately. Many will argue that it is
impossible given the extent of change required, but that is only so when viewed
with a "business-as-usual" mindset. We
have the solutions, given the will to honestly face the size of the challenge.

The
Federal Government’s CPRS, in these circumstances, is dangerously misleading
for the following reasons:

– emission reduction targets are
far too weak

– compensation is wholly
unjustified

– carbon price caps are
unwarranted

– unlimited access to
international abatement permits is unwarranted

– it is an abrogation of
fiduciary responsibility to the community to enact policy knowing full well
that it is based on a wholly inadequate response to the best scientific
advice.

If
enacted, it will ensure Australia makes minimal progress toward a low-carbon
economy for a further decade at least, as innovation is stifled and fossil-fuel
vested interests continue to dominate national policy. This in turn will lead to the rapid loss of
jobs and economic opportunity as the rest of the world moves past us into the
low-carbon era. Of course those vested interests are desperate to see the CPRS adopted
as they will never get a better compensation deal, compensation which is
unjustified and which absorbs much-needed funds that should be re-directed to
encourage new low-carbon technologies. 

Opposition
calls for even further compensation as the price of their political support for
the CPRS are irresponsible, confirming that the current political debate is not
focused on looking after the interests of the community in addressing dangerous
climate change.

The
CPRS should not be enacted in its current form, but should be re-structured to
reflect current scientific realities.

Global Sustainability – the immediate
convergence

But
climate change cannot be viewed in isolation, as we are currently doing. It is part, admittedly a very big part, of
the much wider challenge of Global Sustainability, as the planet tries,
increasingly unsuccessfully, to cope with the demands of a rapidly increasing
population and its consumption aspirations.
Before 1800, global population was below 1 billion, in 1945 around 2
billion – still a relatively empty world.
Today it is 6.7 billion – a full world – with 9 billion forecast for
2050. We already require 1.3 planets to
meet our current needs, 6 planets if humanity all lived at Australian
standards, 9 planets at US standards. We
are rapidly eating into our global natural capital – clearly this cannot
continue.

The immediate
pressure points are Peak Oil and Energy Security, Climate Change, Water and
Food shortages and financial instability.
These are all inter-related, although we tend to treat them in their
separate silos; they are all symptomatic of a full, and unsustainable, world.

It is essential we seek integrated
solutions to these inter-related problems if we are to have any chance of
resolving them. For example, global oil
supply has either peaked already or we are close to it. The result may be a decline of 25-50% in oil
availability by 2030 – a fundamental change for Western economies which are
addicted to cheap oil, and particularly for Australia[xv]. If the result of such a shortfall is a
fall-back on increased coal consumption, without the ability to capture and
safely store the resulting carbon emissions, which is in itself unlikely, it
will be disastrous from a climate change perspective. 

Why
are current warnings ignored?

Given the seriousness of the
circumstances now unfolding, why are these warnings being ignored by global and
national leaders? Key factors are:

Vested interests & power structures
maintain the status quo

– the existing Western economic system has been built up over decades
around the culture of conventional growth and incremental improvement. Power and influence have evolved
accordingly. The changes we now require
are transformative, not incremental, in which many established players will
lose and new players gain. Inevitably
there is a reluctance to break with the status quo, as the old players continue
to exercise power and adopt defensive rather than leadership roles, even though
this is not in their own long-term interests.

Short termism & incentives prohibit
long-term thinking

– over the last two decades, both political and corporate thinking has
become predominately short-term, to the detriment of long-term
considerations. This is accentuated by
the dominance of short-term incentives at all levels. Climate and sustainability are long-term
issues, thus every opportunity is seized upon to downplay their importance (eg
by lending unrealistic weight to denial despite the obvious evidence to the
contrary)

Ideology & Fundamentalism blunts the
senses

– neo-liberalism and free market ideology has dominated Western
economic systems. Markets are important,
but to be effective they must operate within realistic rules. Unfortunately the rules of key markets have
been progressively dismantled over the last decade, one result of which has
been the GFC. More fundamentally there
is a reluctance, because of vested interests, to acknowledge the true costs of
externalities, such as carbon pollution, and incorporate them into the market
model. Far easier to rely on denial.

Managerialism triumphs over leadership

– corporate and political culture, whilst supposedly focused on
leadership, in reality is predominantly built around managerialism; that is the incremental improvement of the
status quo, oblivious to the fact that the status quo is unsustainable. Real leadership means being prepared to
honestly acknowledge the challenge of climate and sustainability, set out the
solutions however unpalatable, then build support for, and implement the change.

Technology will save the day

– the easy response has been to assume that technology will save the
day, as it has periodically in the past.
Technology is essential to finding the right solutions, but given the
degree of change now required, it must be accompanied by a change in value
systems, particularly in the Western world. 

Given
these dominant attitudes, it is not surprising than any alternative view to the
mainstream science is seized upon with alacrity as evidence that either the
global warming thesis is nonsense, or that it is far less serious than
presented. For example, that the world
is about to enter a cooling rather than a warming phase, based on declining
solar activity and/or cosmic ray variations, that the changes observed in recent
time are no different from those frequently observed throughout geological time
and thus warrant no special attention etc.
Certainly these claims deserve serious consideration, given the
implications of climate change for humanity. They need to be peer-reviewed for
objectivity and scientific rigour as per the mainstream science, but most
importantly the risk implications of accepting these arguments must be thought
through.

None
of these alternative theses have adequately explained the enormous changes we
now see actually happening globally and all have even greater uncertainties
associated with them than the greenhouse gas thesis. Critically, they need to allow for the fact
that the impact of humanity is very recent; it is only since the end of WW2 that
the major impact of population growth and its associated human carbon emissions
has manifested itself, to be overlain on whatever natural climatic variations
are taking place. For example the
geological perspectives advanced recently by Professor Ian Plimer, indicating
that current climatic variations are minor compared with the geological record,
ignores the fact that for the vast majority of this time, humanity did not
exist as the climatic conditions were not conducive to life. 

The
real issue is the risk we now run of moving outside humanity’s safe climate
zone as a result of our own activity, and the extent to which we can apply
corrective action.

At
present, our political and corporate leaders are working on the assumption that
climate change can be solved in the time-honoured tradition of political
compromise between competing ambit claims, or incremental change to
business-as-usual.

If you
have any belief in the scientific and empirical evidence now before us, it is
patently obvious that these avenues offer no solutions. That is underlined by the inability of
current political debate to face the issues honestly even after two decades of
argument.

We
face a Global Sustainability Emergency

The
convergence of these issues represents nothing less than a global emergency,
which needs an emergency response. This
might have been regarded as extremist nonsense some time ago, but an increasing
number of world leaders are beginning to talk in similar terms, for example:

"This is an emergency and for emergency situations
we need emergency action"

Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General

7th
November 2007

 

"The world’s energy system is at a crossroads.
Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently
unsustainable – environmentally, economically, socially. But that can – and
must- be altered; there’s still time to change the road we’re on. It is
not an exaggeration to claim that the future of human prosperity depends on how
successful we tackle the two central challenges facing us today: securing the
supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a rapid transformation
to a low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply.
What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution."

International Energy
Agency, World Energy Outlook 2008

12th
November 2008

"Recent observations confirm — the worst case IPCC
scenarios are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is
already moving beyond the bounds of natural variability within which our
society and economy have developed and thrived. —- There is a significant
risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of
abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts".

Key Messages
from Copenhagen Climate Change Science Conference

10 -12th
March 2009

 

Global Emergency Action – what does it
mean?

The
emergency we now face will require a response akin to emergencies of the past,
for example: 

– the
mobilisation of the UK or German economies on a war-footing pre-WW2

– the
US response to Pearl Harbour – the economy was placed on a war-footing within 18 months

– the
Marshall Plan for the re-construction of Europe post WW2

Whilst
the war-footing analogy is not ideal, it does indicate the scale of change that
can be achieved if built around a clear objective – in this case moving rapidly
to a low-carbon economy. That is the type of thinking needed, not the current
incrementalism based on the "art-of-the-politically-possible"

The
GFC is no excuse for inaction, on the contrary it is our great opportunity to
set the economy on a sustainable footing.
At present, implicit denial of the urgency for change from some sectors
of the corporate world continues, with the emphasis on slowing up implementation
of emissions trading, demands for compensation etc. The problems and costs of
change are exaggerated and the enormous business and job creation opportunities
ahead, in making the transformation, are ignored. This time the excuse is the
GFC, last time it was to avoid doing anything which might disrupt the China
boom.

History
shows that rapid change can occur with the right incentive and we now have that
incentive; we must not waste the opportunity.
Quite apart from the need to manage the climate challenge, if we do not
act rapidly the Australian economy a decade hence will be severely compromised
as the rest of the world moves past us into the low-carbon era.

Emergency Action – Technical Components

The
technical components of the transformation are well-defined:

– Rapid phase out of high-emission assets

§ unless carbon can be safely sequestered,
which looks unlikely in the short term

– Major, nation-building, investments in:

  • Energy conservation & efficiency
  • Renewable energy
  • Latest generation nuclear
  • Efficient public transport
  • High-speed broadband
  • Low-emission technologies
  • Terrestrial Carbon
  • Halt de-forestation, accelerate
    re-forestation, farming practices

Technology transfer and financial support from developed
to developing world and innovative technology
may enable developing world to "leapfrog" the developed world.

Australia is
well placed to prosper in the new low carbon world as we have arguably the
world’s greatest endowment of renewable energy and the intellectual capacity to
develop it, provided we have the appropriate vision and foresight. Sadly that vision remains dormant as myopic
fossil-fuel interests still dominate the national debate.

Our Great Opportunity

The
challenge is enormous, but rather than a disaster, this is the greatest
opportunity we have ever had to place the world on a genuinely sustainable
footing, for what we are currently doing is not sustainable. We know the
solutions, but they hit at the very fundamentals on which our society is based
– their implementation will need far bolder and broader thinking than we are seeing
at present, along the lines of the initiatives shown below: 

– Mobilisation to establish
sustainable, resilient societies

§ conventional economic growth is
untenable

– Re-defining success

§ based on long-term
sustainability, not maximising consumption

– Re-designing markets

§ based on enhancing the
"Commons", not short-term profit maximisation

– New forms of community
involvement & democratic structure

§ essential, given the extent of
change required

§ traditional elites unlikely to
provide leadership

– Developed / developing world
cooperation

§ new paradigm built around
climate / energy solutions

– Business & governance
models re-structured

§ incentives re-focused

– Technology is critical

§ combined with changing values

– Peak Oil & the Financial
Crisis

§ essential circuit-breakers to
trigger a sustainability transformation

§ not an excuse for inaction

Debate
on these issues is gaining pace globally, but has barely surfaced in Australia
as we remain embroiled in argument over outdated political and business models.

Critical Policy Elements

In the
light of the climate and sustainability emergency we now face, climate change
policy needs to be re-formulated along the following lines:

– Set key parameters (eg targets)
based on science

§ not on a political view of the
"art-of-the-possible"

– Acknowledge this is an
emergency needing an emergency response

§ not incremental change to
"business-as-usual"

– Base response primarily on
moral & ethical grounds, not economics

§ economics is valuable to set the most efficient path, but
not as determinant of targets

– Balanced portfolio of
solutions, focusing on new opportunities

§ rather than shoring up and
compensating established vested interests

– Genuine global leadership, with
concrete proposals for developing world

§ convergence toward global per
capita carbon & oil allocations

– Focus on integrated solutions

§ climate change, peak oil, water
& food shortages, financial crisis are all inter-related.

– Honestly explain & educate
community on implications of the emergency

§ to build commitment for action

– Take rapid, decisive
action

 

Conclusion

The
climate and sustainability challenges we now face are unprecedented; they
need a fundamentally different approach from incremental change to "business-as-usual". Most importantly they need
our personal involvement to ensure in every way possible this message is passed
on so that political and corporate leaders understand they have the legitimacy
to make the changes needed. 

It may
well be that the existing political system is incapable of handling these
challenges given the extent of change required.
At the very least a bipartisan "war-footing" approach will be required
if we are to successfully negotiate the transition to a sustainable world.

Climate
Change Minister Penny Wong recently chided climate change activists for being
unrealistic and unreasonable in their demands.
But in the words of George Bernard Shaw:

"All
progress depends on not being reasonable"

As Gus
Speth, Dean of Yale University Environmental Sciences faculty puts it, in the
circumstances we now face:

"It is
time for a large amount of civic unreasonableness"

Only
in this way will real leadership emerge.

———–

This
paper is based on a presentation given to The Sydney Institute on 30th
June 2009 as part of a debate on "Climate Change -Two Views" with Ray Evans,
Lavoisier Society.

 

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas
and coal industry executive. He chaired
the Australian Coal Association in 1987-88, chaired the Australian Greenhouse
Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading from 1998-2000 and was CEO of the
Australian Institute of Company Directors from 1997-2001. He is Deputy Convenor of the Australian
Association for the Study of Peak Oil, a Director of Australia 21 and a Member
of the Club of Rome. More detail on his
climate change policy perspective can be found at:
http://www.aph.gov.au/SENATE/committee/climate_ctt…

 

 

References

[i] S.Solomon, NOAA
USA, 2009

[ii] M.Raupach et al,
Global Carbon Project, 2008

[iii] A.Sorteberg,
Bjeknes Centre for Climate Research, Svalbard, Norway, 2008

[iv] NASA GISS Surface Temperature Analysis 2008

[v] Ramanathan & Feng 2008 PNAS

[vi] International
Panel on Climate Change, 2001

[vii] The Anatomy of a
Silent Crisis,

http://www.ghfgeneva.org/Portals/0/pdfs/human_impa…

[viii] Stern Review 2006, Meinhausen 2006

[ix] Halfway to
Copenhagen: http://www.nature.com/climate/2009/0907/full/clima…

[x] Synthesis Report,
Copenhagen Conference of Climate Scientists, June 2009:

http://climatecongress.ku.dk/pdf/synthesisreport/

[xi] Climate Change
2009 – Faster & More Serious Risks, W.Steffen:

http://www.anu.edu.au/climatechange/wp-content/upl…

[xii] NOAA, June 2009
Global Sea temperature record:

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090717_…

[xiii] World will warm
faster than predicted, Guardian 27th July2009:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/27/…

[xiv] Prof. Hans Joachim
Schellnhuber, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research -interview 5th
March 2009, C.Zieler University of Copenhagen

[xv] ASPO-Australia,
Energy Watch Group Germany, Fatih Birol IEA August 2009: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/warning-oil-supplies-are-running-out-fast-1766585.html

 

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