It’s time to heed the evidence on climate change

Current global negotiations on climate change are based on science which is 6-7 years out of date.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. 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.

A very recent analysis by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research 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 20C by 2050, and probably 3.5OC by 2100, a catastrophic outcome. 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 and 95-100% by 2050, compared with the 5-25% by 2020 and 50-80% by 2050 currently under discussion.

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

  • emission reduction targets are far too weak
  • the proposed compensation is wholly unjustified
  • carbon price caps are unwarranted and
  • 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 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. The CPRS should not be enacted in its current form, but should be restructured urgently to reflect current scientific realities.

But climate cannot be viewed in isolation. It is 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. This requires a global emergency response akin to wartime mobilization.

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.