Australia's chance to lead climate change action


Lake Hume, Flickr image by suburbanblokeThe Australian community is divided over whether the Federal Government's proposed revised climate change strategy is a step in the right direction. The changes extend the upper limit of possible carbon reductions to 25 per cent, but delay its introduction for a year until 2011.

Carbon-emitting industry groups have welcomed delays and additional financial concessions to them, but the new package has failed to convince hard core conservationists. Three major climate advocacy groups — the Australian Conservation Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Climate Institute — have made the necessary compromises to support Labor's position, which is also backed by the ACTU and ACOSS. But more radical critics such as the Greens, Greenpeace and GetUp regard it as a sham. From the other side of politics, the Coalition has already condemned it. So it will have a difficult time getting through the Senate.

The government's ongoing systemic support for the Australian coal industry and coal-based electricity generation ensures that Australia will continue to have the highest per capita greenhouse emissions on the planet. On this, Tony Kevin in his forthcoming book Crunch Time — to be published by Scribe in September — argues that something much more radical is needed than the government's half-hearted energy policies. He suggests that as the world struggles with the twin crises of global recession and rapidly accelerating climate disruption, we have reached a crunch time in which Australia needs to apply the fundamental insights of John Maynard Keynes to help feed and employ us, while reinventing Australia as a renewable energy-based economy that will sustain our children's and grandchildren's climate security.

If there's one single factor that could push the government's latest climate change policy over the line in the Senate, it's the additional credibility it would give Australia at the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. Environment ministers and officials will meet there to thrash out a successor to the Kyoto protocol.

Australia's previous position of not going above 15 per cent would have rendered our voice basically irrelevant at Copenhagen. Even though the revised figure is highly conditional, a 25 per cent goal is enough to signify a serious commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

The devil may well be in the detail, but it's usually the headlines that make the greatest impact.

Whether we like it or not, Australia has been thrust into the climate change limelight by a combination of government policy and easily visible evidence in this country of the consequences of climate change. These include record summer temperatures, the Murray-Darling Basin desertification, and more. Climate change sceptics are being confronted by the facts that the most visible evidence so far of global climate change is in Australia.

Australia's own situation makes it all the more urgent for us to attempt to provide leadership on the world stage.

There's no doubt that the Rudd Government made a good start. In March last year, the US-based ClimateChangeCorp website noted this with its headline 'Rudd turns carbon policy on its head Down Under'. It pointed out that, soon after his election, Rudd fast-tracked Australia's signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

It added that Australia's 50-strong official delegation to the UN climate change conference in Bali 'included a broad section of executives from clean-tech to carbon-intensive industries, sweeping away any fears that Australia would establish itself as an international haven for carbon polluters'.

14 months is a long time in politics, and there are many signs that the Government has wavered in its resolve to reverse its predecessor's decade of inaction.

On Thursday, the Canberra Times led with news of budget cuts that will lead to the loss of 200 agriculture and environment science jobs. The cuts prompted one of Australia's top ecologists, the ANU's Professor David Lindenmayer, to accuse the Government of being 'clueless about climate change' and the pivotal role of environmental science. Such decisions will slow the momentum established after the last election.

But more than anything else, it would be a failure to pass legislation, which headlines a 25 per cent carbon emissions cut, that would have Australia's delegates at Copenhagen hiding their heads in shame.

If we are to be recognised as serious players in the Copenhagen negotiations, in the battle to slow climate change, there's a much better chance that we will manage to fall into line with the details.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: climate change, 25%, carbon reductions, Copenhagen, Australian Conservation Foundation



submit a comment

Existing comments

It seems to me that raising the price of coal/oil/gas by certificates or taxes, to a level which will have an effect, is not possible politically. On the other hand, encouraging savings and greater energy efficiency and making sustainable energy sources competitive, is politically possible. Successful new technologies will out compete old but it will take time and peoples' brains to achieve. We need effort in research, in engineering development, and in marketing of sustainable solutions.

Peter Horan | 11 May 2009  

Yet again the first casualty of the so-called "climate change debate" is logic.

We will continue to go mostly nowhere with this debate until both sides concede the simple logic that there is, so far, absolutely no "proof", proof that is in any strictly scientific sense, that man-made CO2 in the atmosphere is driving present global climate change.

This may be true, it certainly seems a reasonable assumption, possibly the best we have - but it is not yet proven.

Until we are clear on at least this point we seem to be doomed to continue the gratuitous name calling and flights of fancy that presently characterize much of the public discourse in this area.

John R. Sabine | 11 May 2009  

Thanks for Michael Mullins' editorial. The case for the government's amended CPRS legislation is lineball. The government's political handling of the issue has been deftly 'divide and rule'. It has wedged and split environmental groups, industry groups and political parties, creating the impression that it occupies the sensible 'realistic' middle policy ground between them all. This isn't true in my view - the Rudd government is profoundly failing in its public duty to rise adequately to the global climate change challenge - but its political massaging of the issue has certainly been shrewdly effective so far. Rudd won't be thanked by our children, however.

John R Sabine's letter is ignorant of scientific method. Science cannot 'prove' most of its theories about the observed physical world, as Sabine demands climate science 'prove' the causative link between manmade CO2 emissions and climate change. Scientists accumulate data through testing a set of theories or hypotheses repeatedly against observation. Newton could not 'prove' his laws of gravity, however often he watched ripe apples falling from trees. At a certain point, sensible scientists like Newton accepted that the laws of gravity exist because they are supported by observed data. Climate science, supported by geo-paleontology and ice core analysis, has similarly established the link Sabine questions.

tony kevin | 12 May 2009  

Similar Articles

An end to rugby's unethical code

  • Tony Smith
  • 19 May 2009

It is time we stopped allowing football administrators, advertisers and television stations to set the standards for ethical behaviour. The only way that the current unethical rugby league culture can be removed is for the code itself to disappear.


Matthew Johns is his own best judge

  • Michael Mullins
  • 18 May 2009

The public thinks rugby league star Matthew Johns behaved disgracefully in the 2002 Christchurch group sex incident. He has done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law. He needs to imagine that he is on his deathbed and then ask 'what would I like to have done?'



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up