Thursday, 3 December 2015
The international conference in Paris this week has placed a timely focus on climate change. Climate change is a global problem; it is a serious problem. Mounting scientific data confirms that. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are now over 400 parts per million, compared with about 280 parts per million in the pre-industrial era. Scientists tell us that the longer we delay action, the more difficult will be the decisions that need to be made and the more pain they will cause. That in turn will make global consensus even harder.
Climate change is not just an environmental issue; it is equally an economic and social issue. Extreme weather events, higher temperatures, changing weather patterns, melting ice, rising sea levels, bushfires and loss of biodiversity all have economic, social and environmental consequences, and the costs run into billions of dollars. Linking weather events to climate change will always be difficult, because weather pattern changes have always been part of life, but the evidence is mounting that the climate is permanently changing. Quoting from the second draft report of the Climate Change Authority's special review:
The global scientific consensus is that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities (such as burning fossil fuels and clearing land) have been the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century, and will drive additional warming and more serious impacts and risks in the future. This is why … global emissions need to be reduced so that global average warming is kept below 2 degrees …
The difficulty with reaching universal consensus about how to do that is that no-one likes making sacrifices. Developing countries do not believe they have caused the problem, and there are disagreements about the use of per capita emissions rather than total national emissions, which allows countries to shirk their responsibilities.
The most difficult issue, however, is dealing with the investments already made, the income generated by those investments and the influence of those who have the most to lose if we listen to the scientists. It is also claimed that those same people, and the entities they direct, are making substantial efforts to discredit the science and undermine governments that pose a threat to their investments.
I also note that amongst the strategies discussed very little is said about limiting global population growth. The Prime Minister who previously lost his leadership over climate change has been prepared to sell out the scientific community and future generations of Australians to secure his personal ambition of becoming Australia's Prime Minister. He now desperately tries to recover some of his lost credibility by attending the Paris conference, joining the innovation bandwagon and talking about future reviews. Innovation, however, does not prevent the government from adopting a much higher emissions reduction target. The government's concocted targets may be politically convenient but will not fool the scientists or other nations, who expect Australia to do its fair share.
Nor is it responsible climate change policy for the Prime Minister to rob the aid budget to pay for his climate change announcements or to use clever accounting to fudge the reduction figures. Governments should not play politics with climate change. Avoiding responsibility today will not only deprive future generations of the world as we know it but saddle them with a worse burden than today's generation refuses to deal with. It is the worst type of intergenerational theft that I can think of. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was established in 1992. Over the past 23 years, there has been not nearly enough progress. Nations cannot keep pushing back the difficult decisions that need to be made without adding to the consequences that we already know about.
Inaction could be excused if mankind were unaware of the climate change consequences of human activity, but that is no longer the case. The evidence is clear and it is compelling. That is why the outcomes of the Paris conference are more important than ever before. If the science is right, and I believe that it is, what is at stake is the future of our planet and all that it gives life to. Perhaps nature will find its own way of protecting the planet as it has done in the past. My fear, however, is that that would be a much more drastic action than what could otherwise be achieved at the Paris conference if today's world leaders show the coverage and the statesmanship to do what is right.