All roads lead to Copenhagen

Arguably one of the most important meetings of nations about the health of the planet that we’ll witness in our lifetime is now taking place in Copenhagen. Leaders from the developing and developed world, including Australia, have descended on the Danish capital to thrash out a global strategy to deal with climate change.

It is already clear that a binding global agreement with firm targets for action to cut greenhouse gas emissions will not be reached at this meeting. The obvious disappointment about this must now be turned to a renewed resolve to forge an agreement in 2010 that achieves the ultimate goal – to reduce and stabilise greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Let’s be clear about the need for action. The experts on climate change are the scientists who study it.  And the consensus of qualified climate change scientists around the world is that the debate about it being real or not ended years ago.

The challenge now for the global community is how to cut 14 billion tonnes of greenhouse emissions by 2020. We have agreement on how to cut the first 8 billion tonnes, now the question is how to cut the remaining 6 billion.

The highly politicised climate change dispute in Australia is just a distraction to this global reality. We’ve heard much discussion about what role, if any, Australia should play in tackling climate change. Kevin Rudd planned to go to Copenhagen armed with Australia’s economic-based plan to tackle the problem – the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) – but political jockeying oiled by the well funded and orchestrated sceptics camp, in bed with industry determined to avoid responsibility, turned the debate into something akin to a comic tragedy.

As a result, we stalled on setting a market price for carbon.

We stalled the economic viability and vast commercial opportunities in the renewable energy market in Australia.

We stalled the potential for local innovation and green jobs.

And while the opening day of the Copenhagen meeting saw the Danish Prime Minister describe the event as “an opportunity the world cannot afford to miss”, back in Australia we saw more evidence of the intention to continue the stalling tactics from the new Opposition leader, embellishing claims that somehow climate change is not real.

This despite well recorded global temperature rises for the last three decades.

Try telling the people of the Torres Strait islands who are experiencing more frequent king tide inundation that their world is not changing, or explain to the Australians who have suffered through natural disasters of unprecedented intensity that the predictions that these sort of events will become more frequent is something we can ignore.

Try telling the people of the Maldives or Tuvalu they are just seeing things when they raise further alarm that their ancestral lands are disappearing from beneath them as sea levels continue to rise.

The bottom line is that climate change is real – we’re already seeing the warning signs of what is certain to become our reality.

To prevent warming of more than 2°C – the threshold many scientists see as dangerous – atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases cannot exceed 450 parts per million (ppm). This will require cutting annual emissions by at least 30 billion tons (30 gigatons) by 2030, or roughly what the world emits today.

The task is as ambitious as it is essential; continuing with “business as usual” is likely to lead to catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

Given the unacceptable risks of inaction, our most urgent objective is to identify realistic opportunities to reduce emissions, and then seize those opportunities. The practical actions we can take to combat climate change are ready and available now. I want to know why we are not focusing on things like:

•    Protecting our native forests, which store vast amounts of carbon pollution;
•    Improving public transport to reduce vehicle emissions;
•    Adopting a national energy efficiency strategy to ensure the energy we use already goes further;
•    Enforcing building standards to lock in energy efficient design, water use and waste minimisation plans, and;
•    Raising the renewable energy target to encourage greater investment in non-polluting technologies such as geothermal, wind and solar power.

Now’s the time to get serious and commit to change.

What would you like to see come out of the meeting in Copenhagen? And what do you think Australia should be doing to tackle climate change?

Ian Kiernan AO

Clean Up Australia Chairman


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