The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlights the narrow window of opportunity that we now have for humanity to secure a liveable future, with deep emission cuts required immediately and a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels.
It underlines the fact that the required transition across sectors to reduce emissions is possible with many of the solutions already available. The problem then is not technical but requires political commitment and governments to intervene across multiple policy domains providing regulatory and economic instruments to support deep emissions cuts.
“The problem then is not technical but requires political commitment”
For any level of warming, the risks now are understood to be much, much higher than previously thought and the concern is for compounding impacts that will make management of impacts much more difficult.
Then there is the issue of equity. The burden of responsibility clearly lies with the wealthy with the 10% of households with the highest capita emissions contributing 34-45% of global consumption-based household emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute 13-15%. Those most vulnerable to climate change impacts have also been identified as those least responsible to contributing to the problem. Furthermore, generationally, those most impacted will be those again least responsible with those born in 1980 or after compared to those born in the 1950s.
It is important to ground what is a highly technical and scientific paper into an Australian context and a meaningful response.
What does the report mean for Australia?
The magnitude of the risks of climate change impacts is hard to capture. But just on natural disasters, the 2021 report from the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities stated that “Today, natural disasters cost the Australian economy $38 billion per year on average, representing approximately 2% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020. Even under a low emissions scenario – whereby timely action will see emissions start to fall and reach zero by 2100 – this cost will rise to at least $73 billion annually by 2060, or 4% of Australia’s GDP in 2020”. A significant proportion of this cost, especially with floods, are “social costs” which capture some of the health costs.
Currently being debated in Parliament is the draft reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism. The Synthesis Report is unequivocal in our need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. Yet within the current draft reforms there are no measures to limit the planned pipeline of fossil fuel projects in development in Australia.
At the same time, in response to 2021 review into the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by Professor Graeme Samuel, the government while proposing an independent Environmental Protection Agency with a stronger focus on the effects of climate change, has ruled out a “climate trigger”, as put forward by the Greens.
And as the government rolls out a series of community roundtable and public consultation on the National Climate and Health strategy, it is worth noting that a mere $3.4 million has been allocated in the 2022-2023 budget for both the strategy and the National Health Sustainability and Climate Unit. Given the magnitude of the problem a lot more funding is required if we are to protect the health and wellbeing of Australians from climate change impacts.
Dr Richard Yin, DEA Deputy Chair