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Issue #1634      April 9, 2014

Abbott govt belittles UN climate change report

Last week the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced its Fifth Assessment Report into climate change, the first such report since 2007.

It’s a very disturbing document. However, it also provides very positive recommendations for taking initiatives that would not only deal with the crisis but also act as a springboard for economic development.

The report was prepared with contributions and assistance from 2,474 scientists from 70 countries. It confirms that the global temperature rise of just 0.85 degrees since 1880 is affecting all continents and the oceans, with rising sea levels and temperatures, the extinction of flora and fauna species, and a rising incidence of heat waves and extreme weather events.

Without drastic action to correct matters, a 2.0 degree change is entirely possible by 2100. Unless determined action is taken soon, climate change will result in slower economic growth, greater poverty, and soaring death rates from food scarcity and spreading tropical diseases. Hundreds of millions of people will be displaced by rising sea levels.

No nation is adequately prepared to deal with the current situation, let alone the future. The poorer nations will be worst hit by the immediate impact, but all nations are being affected.

The record for annual average temperature in Australia has been frequently broken over the last 20 years. Droughts and bushfires are also becoming more frequent.

Large parts of the Great Barrier Reef are under threat from pollution and ocean warming. Some species of fish that inhabit coastal areas are migrating southwards, and the spread of invasive species has contributed to a severe reduction in stocks of coastal fish.

Helen Berry, Associate Dean of the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Health and a contributor to the IPCC report, has warned that human life may not survive the effects of climate change if no steps are taken to mitigate it.

A government of deniers

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has dismissed the ICCC report’s warnings, sneering that the IPCC has issued bad reports many times before.

He scoffed at the idea that the increasing incidence of extreme weather events is linked to climate change, remarking: “Australia is a land of droughts and flooding rain. Always has been, always will be.”

The government has paid lip service to dealing with the developing crisis. Abbott and many members of his cabinet are actually climate change deniers, or are totally cynical about the whole issue.

One of the first acts of the government was to sack the Climate Commission, which provided public reports on climate change.

The Commission has continued working, with funding from concerned citizens. However, in July after the government gains control of the Senate, it will introduce legislation to eliminate other government agencies which the former Labor government established to monitor climate change or assist in the development of renewable energy.

Abbott’s so-called “Direct Action” policy involves paying business to stop polluting the environment, rather than penalising them for doing so. It is intended to give the impression of doing something about climate change, while actually perpetuating the problem by preserving the economic dominance of the fossil fuel industries.

The government is now considering increasing the scope and/or size of the goods and services tax, but it also intends to eliminate the carbon tax in July.

The government has failed to deal with job losses in manufacturing and other sectors of the economy. It has ignored the possibility of stimulating growth in these sectors by promoting the development of renewable energy and related industries, an idea strongly supported by the IPCC report.

The fossil fuel industries, the main contributors to human carbon emissions, may well be removed from their dominant position within the next 30 years.

Public opposition to CSG mining and coal-fired power stations is rising. With easily-accessible oil fields beginning to run dry, the cost of petroleum will continue to soar. Sooner or later the demand for electric vehicles, which are cheaper to run and maintain than petrol-powered cars, will rocket, and the age of petrol-driven vehicles will grind to a halt.

But 30 years is far too long to wait for a positive change. Action to mitigate climate change is needed immediately.

The way forward

The government could save the Australian vehicle manufacturing industry and make a major contribution to the struggle against climate change by offering auto manufacturers financial assistance, providing they produce a given annual quota of electric vehicles and return a proportion of the profits to the Australian public.

They should also nationalise the electricity generation industry and place restrictions on the sale of coal and gas overseas. Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coking coal, and the fossil fuel industries, the major contributors to carbon emissions, are one of the biggest threats to the future of the human race.

In their globally dominant position those industries are suppressing the development of renewable energy with the help of conservative governments.

They’re also using deceptive public relations campaigns to convince the public that the climate is not undergoing significant change, or that the best way to deal with it is to use methods that don’t impact on their profit margins.

Mining magnate Clive Palmer recently claimed that the government should curb nature’s carbon emissions (“97 percent of the total”, he declared indignantly), rather than focusing on man-made emissions.

He studiously ignored the fact that most of nature’s emissions are absorbed by photosynthesis in the carbon cycle, and the build-up of extra human-generated emissions over the last 200 years has caused the problem.

The renewable energy industries are taking a progressive position at this point in history, and their development deserves public support. But that doesn’t mean they will necessarily act in the public interest.

For example, they stand to benefit from privatisation of the electricity generation industry, which should definitely remain under government control.

Capitalism sees the public interest simply as a means of improving the profits of the private sector, and it is capitalism that’s proving to be the ultimate enemy in the climate change crisis. And that’s what we’ve got to change.

Next article – Australia built by Boat People

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