Friday, August 15, 2008

State 'failing to grasp' urgency of climate change

Adam Morton 
The Age, August 16, 2008

THE head of a new expert panel advising the Premier on climate change has criticised the State Government's performance in cutting greenhouse emissions, arguing that senior ministers fail to comprehend the scope and urgency of the problem.

Professor David Karoly, a lead author with the UN's climate panel that last year shared the Nobel Peace Prize, said the Government was sending the wrong message by simultaneously backing a new brown coal power station and claiming it would cut emissions. He called for a moratorium on new coal-fired stations until experimental "clean coal" technology — capturing carbon dioxide as it is emitted and burying it kilometres underground — became commercially viable. Experts predict this is at least a decade away.

Professor Karoly's views challenge the Government's backing last month of a new Latrobe Valley plant that would cut emissions from brown coal by about 30%, making it roughly equivalent to a black coal station.

Speaking after being appointed as chairman of the new climate change reference group, Professor Karoly said the Government had an "interesting definition" of what cutting emissions meant.

"The Premier and the Government are now looking at how to respond to climate change, but they don't recognise the scale of the problem or the scale and urgency of the response that is needed," the Melbourne University meteorologist said.

"How can you tell people climate change is important and then say 'we're going to have this new black-coal-equivalent power station and we're going to put lots of money into it'?"

According to federal figures, Victoria's greenhouse emissions rose by 12% between 1990 and 2006.

Emissions from the energy sector — the biggest contributor — increased by 27%. The State Government has a target of cutting emissions by 60% from 2000 levels by 2050.

Stressing they were his personal views and not necessarily those of the panel, Professor Karoly called for:

■Rapid conversion of existing brown coal power stations to natural gas.

■A rethink of transport funding so it was weighted at least 5:1 in favour of public transport over new highways.

■Financial incentives to encourage power companies to get customers to cut electricity use.

■An end to the "disastrous, crazy" deal that gives heavy-polluting Alcoa aluminium smelters cheaper electricity rates.

■A commitment that all Government policies would be assessed in terms of climate change.

Mr Brumby said the Government wanted the advice of the state's best science, policy and business experts.

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