Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kelvin Thomson gets the climate-bushfire link

A submission to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission by Kelvin Thomson MP shows the Federal Member for the Victorian seat of Wills has a firm grasp of the connection between climate change and the 7 February Black Saturday bushfires.

The submission is well written and researched. Thomson states that 'We need to consider stronger action on climate change to help minimise the risk of more intense fires in the future' (p. 2) and that '...prudent risk management requires that we reduce the risk of fire in Australia by addressing climate change' (p. 5). His conclusion states that: 'By 2020 fires of the ferocity of Black Saturday may be a regular occurrence. At a national and international level this requires mitigation policies that reduce our carbon emissions'.

While I am impressed by Thomson's obvious grasp of the problem, his marshalling of research evidence to substantiate the climate-bushfire link, and the coherence of his arguments, his efforts fall short by recommending no specific climate policy action to address bushfire risk beyond repeating an inadequate Treaties Committee proposal of an 80% cut on current emissions by 2050 (as Senator Christine Milne noted in The Age), and stabilisation of greenhouse gases at 450ppm.

While I am far from certain that the former is consistent with the latter, I'm pretty confident that 450ppm is nothing like what we need to return us to the safe climate zone.

David Spratt, a climate campaigner, and co-author of Climate Code Red, who spoke with Thomson at a Moreland climate event back in April, has posted on the sorts of targets we need to achieve climate safety in light of the current science, and an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in the order of 300ppm seems to be indicated (See under 'A safe-climate target').

That Thomson fails to follow through on his obvious conviction by proposing scientifically adequate climate measures is symptomatic of the current climate inertia of the Rudd Government. A key problem is the Government's seeming perception that it need only position itself relative to a climate-ignorant Coalition rather than subjecting itself to the objective measure of climate science. Unfortunately, that just won't be good enough to avoid dangerous climate impacts such as the 7 February Black Saturday bushfires.

With regard to the Royal Commission, I would have liked to see Thomson push for specific recommendations to shape the outcome of this inquiry (see my submission). If this royal commission merely nods its head at climate change - so far it has been virtually unable to utter the words - we will have missed a vital opportunity to acknowledge the bushfires as a climate impact in a way that might positively influence the position we take to international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.

Australian climate leadership could help shape a stronger post-Kyoto agreement that would reduce our bushfire risk over time.

Finally, I encourage you to read Thomson's submission. Despite the criticisms made here, it is well worth the time, and has important things to say not only about the climate-bushfire link, but also on renewable energy, the need to address land-clearing, and the design of homes in bushfire-prone areas.

Read more on the 2009 Victorian bushfires. Comments welcome.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.