Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's all about politics, say UN climate leaders

Tom Arup 
The Age, December 17, 2008

AUSTRALIA'S carbon emission reduction targets for 2020 are based in politics, not science, two of Australia's leading climatologists have said.

Professor Andy Pitman, a co-author of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fourth assessment report, told The Age he had seen no credible science that showed a cut of less than 25 per cent by 2020 would stabilise the global atmospheric level at a safe level.

The Federal Government has set Australia's reduction targets at 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020 without a global deal, and 15 per cent if a global agreement can be reached.

Mr Pitman said the work of the IPCC shows that cuts of 25 to 45 per cent from 1990 levels were needed to put the world on a trajectory towards 450 parts per million stabilisation, which means a 2050 reduction target of 80 to 95 per cent.

Professor Dave Griggs, who spent five years as head of the Science Working Group Secretariat of IPCC, said even a 450ppm stabilisation point carried a 75 per cent risk of going over a two-degree temperature increase, and a 35 per cent chance of rising over three.

Professor Pitman did concede the Australian 2020 targets meant nothing in the grand scheme of things if a global agreement was not reached as Australia emitted only about 1.3 per cent of the world's total carbon. But he said Australia's "weak" 2020 targets meant Australia had lost its ability to "show leadership" to the rest of the world. "The Australian economy is entirely based on digging crap out of the ground and selling it," he said.

"It is a really good idea to have a plan B and the best way to have that is to develop industries around low-emissions technologies and the only way to do that is to put a real big incentive in the marketplace.

"We declined that opportunity in the white paper and that's very worrying."

Yesterday, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said she doubted that a strong global agreement could be reached during climate negotiations in Copenhagen next year.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he made no apologies for the 2020 targets, saying they were responsible in the economic climate.

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