Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Carbon: embrace the change

Tim Costello and Don Henry

The Age, April 22, 2009

It's time to get realistic about carbon reduction.

BUSINESS needs certainty if it is to unlock the investment needed to shift our energy markets and bring cleaner technologies to the market to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The innovation and vigour of the private sector is essential to successfully tackling climate change.

World Vision and the Australian Conservation Foundation recognise that transitional assistance may be justified for some emissions intensive trade exposed industries in Australia to help them green up their practices until their overseas competitors are subject to a comparable carbon price.

Business has been listening to policy debates about emissions trading and combating climate change for years. Many businesses are keen to get involved in solving this "diabolical" global problem, as Professor Ross Garnaut describes it.

But concrete action demands certainty.

Households also need certainty that our smaller efforts will count and help the world avoid dangerous climate change.

And we need certainty that the measures governments in Australia and around the world are adopting to reduce greenhouse emissions will actually do the job.

"Doing the job" means avoiding a climate crisis that could put at risk the lives and livelihoods of 1.6 billion people in Asia and Africa through food and water shortages and make hundreds of millions of people vulnerable to sea level rises because of climate change. We must act.

Unfortunately, the proposed climate change measures in Australia at the moment risk delivering neither certainty for business nor protection for the climate and the world's poor.

Certainty for the environment demands science-based global action. The best opportunity to achieve this is at the negotiations in Copenhagen in December where all governments have agreed to strike a new treaty to take effect after 2012 when the current Kyoto Protocol expires.

The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has advised that to keep warming below levels considered extremely dangerous, atmospheric levels of greenhouse pollution will need to be stabilised at 450 parts per million or lower and global emissions will need to be cut from 1990 levels by 50 to 85 per cent by 2050.

Developed countries as a group will need to cut their emissions by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020.

Recent reputable science is now indicating the need to go further and faster.

Two weeks ago, New Scientist magazine revealed that melting icecaps affect not just polar bears but could cause "runaway" global warming due to melting permafrost.

"A warmer Arctic will change the entire planet and some of the potential consequences are nothing short of catastrophic", according to a report entitled Meltdown.

The human misery caused by the recent Victorian bushfires is unfortunately just a small taste of what is to come if the world doesn't act strongly.

CSIRO estimates our children will face a future with twice as many extreme and catastrophic fire days if the world doesn't dramatically cut greenhouse emissions.

Here at home the Great Barrier Reef, the only living thing on Earth that can be seen from the moon, is at grave risk, along with the regional Queensland economies and tens of thousands of jobs that it supports.

The global economic crisis makes us all focus on the bottom line — business and charities alike — but it also presents an opportunity to support policies that can stimulate a low carbon economy, foster much-needed public support for change and international collaboration and secure large-scale investment in a sustainable future.

Climate change is about jobs. A new low-carbon future means a future with new industries, properly accounting for carbon and other waste, a fairer deal for all nations, and a less polluting lifestyle.

If we all pursue our individual self-interest, one thing is certain: we will knowingly condemn billions of people around the world and our planet to catastrophic climate change, and the great opportunity to smoothly change to a productive low carbon economy will be squandered, at the end of the day costing business dearly.

It is in all our interest that there is a strong global outcome from the Copenhagen negotiations, that Australia plays a leadership role, that business is a central part of the solution and that we move in an efficient and fair way to a low carbon economy.

At the moment in Australia, the Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme proposals will not deliver this in its current form.

The scheme desperately needs to be fixed and passed this year.

Tim Costello is chief executive of World Vision Australia; Don Henry is executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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