Monday, May 4, 2009

We don't agree to burn, Mr Rudd

Citing the recession, the protection of jobs, and certainty for business, Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has further undermined the possibility of a strong international climate agreement this year by delaying the start of Australia's emissions trading scheme until 2011. Changes to the proposed scheme also include targets inadequate to secure a safe climate, a reduced carbon price in the first year of the scheme, and additional compensation to heavy polluters.

The changes extend high-emitting business-as-usual for Australia, putting us on track to cross what may well be irreversible climate tipping points. The proposed targets also fail to act with sufficient urgency even when emissions trading is implemented, continuing the government's fudging on a baseline for measurement of emissions (2000 v. 1990) and claiming the consistency of its target with a stabilisation level of 450ppm atmospheric CO2 - itself now frequently deemed inadequate by leading climate scientists.

With a group of eminent Australian scientists having recently written a letter to the coal industry describing its contribution to dangerous climate change, the government must surely also be on notice. It stands to significantly contribute to dangerous climate change through continued ineffective action, and a failure to show the kind of international leadership that would strengthen the chances of effective global solutions being agreed at the Copenhagen climate negotiations this December.

Already with melting of Arctic sea ice, the growth in bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland floods, and drought in south-eastern Australia, we are seeing the severe but only beginning impacts of climate change. Among these were February's Victorian bushfires, which have been increasingly related to climate change, with bushfire itself a significant contributor of greenhouse emissions fuelling subsequent warming.

Prime Minister Rudd's scuttling of Australia's international leadership puts transient economic cycles and vested interests ahead of permanent dangerous changes to our climate that are within our capacity to control with effective and concerted national and international measures. The failure of his government will correlate to worsening climate impacts over time, including more frequent and severe bushfires such as those we have seen in Victoria.

As University of Tasmania researcher, David Bowman, recently told Radio National's The World Today program:
We have got to understand increased bushfire activity as a direct consequence of uncontrolled climate change. This is a very good reason for Australia to do everything we possibly can to bring down the global temperature, to control carbon emissions and other gases which are resulting in the warming of the planet.
We don't agree to burn, Mr Rudd.

Update: Disappointingly, major environmental groups such as the Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation have given qualified support to the changes. While they have both offered more ambitious hopes for Australia's ultimate position, saying that 25% by 2020 in the context of a global agreement is a starting point and that Australia needs to do more, this was all lost in tonight's grabs on ABC Television's The 7.30 Report, which simply noted their support for the package, which will do nothing for Australia's international leadership on climate at December's Copenhagen negotiations.

As Kerry O'Brien did well to note against evasive climate minister, Penny Wong, Australia's unconditional commitment remains a 2020 cut of 5% on 2000 levels, with the still-meagre 25% only kicking in with a global agreement.

While the impulse for consensus is no doubt correct, it is interesting that the climate groups chose to align with the government, rather than unify around the position of the Greens, which is closer to the science in its push for a 40% cut on 1990 levels by 2020.

If we're going to build consensus, shouldn't it be around a position that stands some sort of chance of solving the problem? It seems the politics of compromise, the dangers of which have been well identified in Spratt and Sutton's Climate Code Red, have emerged to significantly weaken Australian climate advocacy - clever politics by Rudd, but the climate will respond by degrees.

See also this article outlining the Greenpeace response that Rudd needs to start again and look at a 50% cut in the next decade. In the article, deputy PM, Julia Gillard, claims to have consulted widely on the delayed start for the scheme. With whom did she consult?

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