Thursday, July 17, 2008

Code red: Climate skating on thin ice, authors say

Governor of Victoria Professor David de Kretser at the launch.
Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Adam Morton 
The Age, July 18, 2008

CLIMATE watchers yesterday warned that the Government's carbon pollution reduction plan had so many exemptions it was unlikely to lead to a cut in greenhouse emissions before 2020.

A book launched in Melbourne last night, Climate Code Red, argues that the climate change challenge is far worse than officially acknowledged by the Government or modelling undertaken by Government adviser Professor Ross Garnaut.

By economist David Spratt and Philip Sutton, the book warns that glaciologists are convinced the summer Arctic ice will disappear within five years, returning only as a thin layer during winter. It says the question is not whether this can be stopped, but whether it can be reversed over coming decades to avoid sea level rises much worse than predicted by the comparatively conservative Nobel-Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — probably between two and five metres.

"The problem is not that the sea ice is melting now, though that's bad enough. It's that Greenland will melt over a hundred years or two," Spratt said. "If within 20, or 30, or 40 years, we can start to get the Arctic back a bit, that will actually stop the really catastrophic sea rises that will happen in the second half of the century."

The bottom line, Spratt said, is that the Government's emissions trading green paper does not address the problem.

He said the Government's 60% reduction target for 2050 is purely a political target and has "nothing" to do with scientific recommendations. It concedes atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will rise to a level — about 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide — that will cause at least a 3-degree rise in global temperatures. A 2-degree rise is predicted to trigger feedback effects leading to much more rapid melting of ice too difficult to model, he said. "What the Government doesn't understand is that when it comes to climate you are not dealing with social or economic policy, but you're actually dealing with the laws of physics and chemistry, and trying to negotiate with the laws of physics is a really dumb idea," Spratt said.

"We have to go to a zero emissions economy as fast as humanly possible or the dominoes are just going to fall."

Spratt and Sutton said the response must be immediate and drastic — a war footing equivalent to sacrifices made during World War II.

Their goal is a reduction to about 325 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent — lower than where it is (460), and what governments and their economic and scientific advisers are considering. Spratt said Australia could reach zero emissions within "a decade or two".

Andrew Macintosh, associate director of Australian National University's centre for climate policy law, yesterday agreed that the Government's blueprint would not keep temperatures rises to less than 2 degrees.

Mr Macintosh said the targets advocated by Spratt and Sutton were "pretty much impossible" unless we had near-zero carbon emissions.

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