Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A tough call on climate is just what we need

Today Professor Ross Garnaut will release his final report recommending the emissions cuts Australia should adopt as its contribution to the international effort to fight dangerous climate change. The final recommendations come as 16 eminent scientists have written to the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, urging the adoption of at least a 25 per cent cut on 1990 levels by the year 2020.

The prime minister has a big decision to make. Either he will disregard the science and set a target that plays to the interests of the big emitters, or he will act with courage, heeding the evidence that a 2020 target that reduces our 1990 emissions by 25-40 per cent is urgently needed to give us a chance to avert dangerous climate change.

The Age has today published my letter urging the prime minister to make this tough and courageous call. Here is the full version:
The minimum 25 per cent cut on 1990 emission levels a group of eminent scientists has urged on the prime minister on the eve of Garnaut's final report looks tough. It should not be compared, however, to the 10 per cent cut on 2000 levels Garnaut has recommended to the stifled delight of high-emitting industries. The scientists have in fact recommended as a minimum cut the start of the 25-40 per cent range science says is needed to fight dangerous climate change.

With the ABC reporting a Lowy Institute survey showing that, since last year, fighting climate change has slipped from our first to fifth most important foreign policy goal, it appears we are being persuaded the Rudd Government is doing something on climate. Unfortunately, the scale of our response will literally be a matter of degrees. If adopted, Garnaut's recommendation will see warming of at least three degrees, by which point dangerous climate change will be well and truly, and perhaps irreversibly, in play.

If Australians have been distracted by the global financial crisis and think that's where our focus needs to lie, they should think again. Climate impacts - both economic and environmental - will amplify and stand to dwarf the impacts of a greedy Wall Street. So I say to the prime minister that he needs to get tougher on climate, but enough to stop the climate getting tough on us.
The same Lowy Institute survey that showed a slip in our ranking of the foreign policy goal of fighting climate change also found that 60 per cent of respondents nevertheless agreed with the statement that:
Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.
This is what the prime minister should bear in mind: that a clear majority support strong action on climate change even if it involves significant costs. However, as Professor Garnaut has himself said, we must compare the cost of action - in both environmental and economic terms - with the cost of doing too little.

Quick, strong action is our best chance, and the position we take to international climate negotiations - one of leadership and courage, or of defeatism and climate inaction - is prime minister Rudd's decision to make.

The Larvatus Prodeo blog is running an open thread on the outcomes of the final Garnaut report.

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