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Issue #1617      November 6, 2013

Climate change crisis

Urgent action needed

The news on climate change keeps getting worse. The gap between what needs to done in Australia and what is actually being implemented keeps blowing out. But the response to the looming calamity has gone from token under Labor to non-existent under Abbott and the Coalition. A streak of self-satisfied anti-intellectualism has crept into the “debate” over climate change. Abbott, former catholic seminarian, business manager, journalist and political advisor, has taken to wearing a hard hat and high-vis gear to deliver his pitch that the climate has always thrown up the sorts of challenges it is currently sending Australia’s way.

It doesn’t wash. The volunteer fire fighting stints and other “common” touches won’t hide the fact that the planet has broken over 100 heat-related records this year. The Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research has concluded that the El Niño Southern Oscillation will produce worse droughts during the El Niño phase and more extreme storms and floods during the La Niña years, courtesy of global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recently released Fifth Assessment Report was clearer than ever on the relationship between global warming and the type of human activity being practised at present. In passing, it should be noted that some countries, such as Cuba and China, have long heeded the warnings and launched massive, society-wide programs to reverse the damage. Others, like Australia, have governments that are climate change deniers obliged by the weight of public opinion to appear to be doing something.

Authority after authority is weighing in with their judgement that the Coalition/ALP target of a five percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from 2000 levels by 2020 is woefully inadequate. Europe’s Ecofys consultancy has proposed a 27-34 percent reduction by 2020, 82-101 percent by 2030 and 98-106 percent by 2050. Australia’s own Climate Change Authority has released a draft report on the burning question and recommended a conservative 15 percent reduction by 2020 and a 35-50 percent cut by 2030. Observers are wondering if the Authority will survive government cuts long enough to produce its final report in February of next year.

The Coalition still needs to repeal Labor’s carbon tax legislation but it appears it will be able to introduce most of its “Direct Action Plan” without the need for parliamentary approval. Abbott & Co are using this tactic extensively to usher in their reactionary program. Parliamentary Labor is still wondering whether it should drop off the issue leaving it to unions and community organisations to shoulder the responsibility for the future of the planet. The results of the federal election were, by no means, a landslide but the ALP’s enthusiasm for a carbon tax leading to an Emissions Trading Scheme has clearly been dented.

As governments prepare for the next big gathering tasked with setting new global emissions targets in Paris in 2015, debate is still raging about the efficacy of emissions trading schemes. Some economists, sniffing new investment opportunities for their sponsors, are very keen. They like the idea that pollution “credits” can be bought from other, usually poorer countries. Others note that markets don’t always deliver the desired goods and point to the failure of the European model. Few are talking about the difficulty of getting on top of the problem while political power stays in the hands of the elite groups of people who get rich off destroying the planet.

In the meantime, Australia’s federal Environment Minister is planning to do nothing. He has the support of University of Queensland professor Paul Frijters, who says “I think the government’s policy of ‘no policy’ is exactly the right one for a small country like Australia,” the professor told the media. What the government is doing is embarrassing the people of Australia with outrageous comments and gaffs on the topic of climate change.

The Prime Minister said the visiting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, was “talking through her hat” when she explained that there was a strong link between climate change and extreme weather events. There was a barrage of ridicule directed at anybody who made a connection between global warming and the dramatic early onset of the NSW bushfire season. Expert opinion from Professor Will Steffen, who has co-authored a soon-to-be-released report on the bush fires, was dismissed as “complete hogwash” by the PM.

And, of course, there were the comments from Environment Minster Greg Hunt questioning the consensus on global warming and citing Wikipedia as a source. A short-lived note on Wikipedia’s entry for Greg Hunt said, “Since the 2013 election Hunt has become the Minister for the Environment. He has already proven to be terrible at his job, to no surprise.” Sometimes the online reference is spot on!

Next article – Editorial – Agri-businesses taking over the farm

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