Thursday, May 21, 2009

Penny Wong dubbed minister for 'not yet'

Australian climate minister, Senator Penny Wong, was tonight dubbed the minister for 'not yet' by Bob Ellis, fellow panellist on ABC TV's Q&A program. The quip referred to the government's proposed delay to its emissions trading scheme from 2010 until 2011. Unfortunately, with Australia's weak proposed emissions targets and the release of a new MIT study modelling warming using economic and climate data, the Senator might also be the minister for 'too little too late'.

The study, undertaken by MIT, ran 400 simulations on its data and examined the most likely warming outcomes. It found the median projected outcome by 2100 was 5.2C, which more than doubles the 2.4C result predicted by a 2003 study quoted in the new paper. It also found there was a 90% probability that the range of 2100 warming will fall between 3.5 and 7.4C - well and truly suggesting an overwhelming chance that critical climate tipping points will be crossed in the absence of strong action at December's international negotiations at Copenhagen.

Instead of correlating Australia's target with the sort of warming it might lead to if similar cuts were universally adopted by developed nations, Senator Wong chose a familiar tactic favoured last year by the Australian Industry Group. She painted Australia's conditional 25% cut on 2000-level emissions by 2020 not as the ineffectual and defeatist target it is, but as a heroic reduction from where we are currently projected to be in 2020 based on current emissions trends. Under the government's scheme, by 2020 we will drop from the business-as-usual 120% of 2000-level emissions to 25% below them, the Senator proclaimed.

Firstly, there's something odd about her statement that, under the conditional 25% cut, we'd be going from 120% to -25% by 2020. If we're talking in 2000 terms, it's more accurate to say we'd be going from 120% to 75% by 2020. Doesn't seem quite so drastic, does it?

Perhaps the minister has been talking to too many coal and industry lobbyists, but there's also something not right about judging our target not against the reduction we need to achieve a safe climate, but against how much we are giving up relative to the accumulated emissions from 11 more years of unconstrained, climate-destroying greed.

My challenge to Penny Wong is to publicly state the level of warming scientifically associated with the government's targets if similar cuts were adopted internationally by developed nations. We can then match that warming, and its corresponding atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, against a scale of likely tipping points - uncontrollable bushfire, drought, floods and numerous others - all of which have been established by science. Because that's what her policy is - a pro-bushfire policy, a pro-drought policy, a pro-flooding policy, and the list goes on. Not quite as bland as 'CPRS', but so much closer to the truth, especially with these latest findings from MIT.

See the video question I posted at Q&A.

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