News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate change; beyond the cross roads

Climate change; beyond the cross roads

Greenhouse gases soar; scientists see little chance of arresting global warming this century is a heading from Associated Press; it quotes the sources of its statements and they make sober reading

The international Energy Agency (IEA) is a well respected, well informed organisation listened to by governments and industry. Its pronouncements on energy security and economic development have become more compelling with the advance of climate change. Earlier this year it warned that the surge in gas development would likely derail the move to renewable energy and if continued would fail to contain the rise in emissions.

Now the IEA points out that under present intent nearly as many fossils fuels will be burned and greenhouse gases emitted in the coming 25 years than over the last 110 years, yet emissions will have to peak in 2017 if the 2 degree rise in temperature is to be avoided. Clearly this is a battle lost and although we must continue to work for emission reduction, it is vital that we work on measures to make Australia more resilient to the inevitable.

To put it another way UNEP has indicated that a 2 degrees C limit is only possible if emission levels are kept to around 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020. If nothing is done to limit emissions, they could rise to around 56 billion tons in 2020. Existing pledges to reduce emissions could partially close the gap but the international record of fulfilling pledges is poor.

South Australia and its target

For Australia to participate in further commitments the role of the states is important. DEA, in a submission to the SA government as part of review of the 2011 Legislative Review of the Climate Change and Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Act 2007, has proposed two interrelated strategies. We need a 2020 target for emissions and a co-benefit strategy of health, agricultural and energy initiatives that all can agree on—which will reduce emissions.

In setting targets the inevitable obfuscation is apparent. SA has a 2050 target of at least 60% reduction in emissions “to an amount that is equal to or less than 40% of 1990 levels as part of a national and international response to climate change”.

In reviewing the Act, SA says it is proposed to amend the South Australian principal emissions reduction target to reflect the changes to the Commonwealth’s emissions reduction target as follows:
Reduce by 31 December 2050 greenhouse gas emissions within the State by at least 80% to an amount that is equal to or less than 20% of 2000 levels.

2050 targets are easy to make and the responsibility for them can be left to future governments. Short term targets convey urgency and preferably should fall within the remit of the duration of 2 successive state governments.
DEA therefore contends that the main thrust of policy should be 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020 and in its submission it details how this could be achieved.

The basis for our recommendation for this 2020 target is detailed in the context of climate science, global environmental change, economics, energy needs, population policy, community and political psychology and practical suggestions for delivering the target through co-benefits and increases in state resilience

South Australia would not be alone in having a 2020 target of 40% on 1990 levels. Denmark has recently committed to this target through domestic action in line with the level of reduction proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as with the targets of several other Nordic and Northern European countries.

The role of states in climate change action

South Australia has probably done much more than other states to reduce its emissions and has led the way in renewable energy. Nevertheless its performance falls far short of what is necessary. Where does this leave the other states whose current leaders are showing signs of rolling back their meagre climate programs? Within two years it is possible that SA will work in an environment of uniform Coalition governments in Australia some of which are already reducing their climate commitments. It may have to carry the flag.

The situation in Victoria has been reviewed by Crikey 

The new Victorian government has systematically dismantled environmental protections and determinedly ignored its stewardship responsibilities to the environment. Whether it has been cattle-grazing in the national parks, reversing the moratorium on brown coal mining, closing down wind-farm investments or giving miners open slather on CSG, the depressing story all year has been “another week, another environmental policy failure”.

The situation in New South Wales and Western Australia is much the same and it threatens to be so in Queensland and nationally with a surge of what has been called in the literature as middle aged conservative male syndrome governance. In these states debate within government is probably over whereas in SA we are left with recognition that something in necessary but climate outcomes are impeded by the activities of ministers whose Brownie points are earned by holes in the ground and expensive developments. The problem is that Olympic Dam is not even seen as an emissions dilemma, it is a gift from Heaven.