Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Scientists back climate bill despite target doubts

AUSTRALIA'S leading climate scientists believe the Federal Government is not doing enough to cut greenhouse emissions. But they want its climate legislation quickly passed in Parliament anyway.

An Age survey of scientists working with the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found six out of nine believed the emissions trading scheme - due to be introduced in the lower house today - was flawed, but better than nothing.

The most common reasoning was that it meant emissions must stop increasing and start to decrease, albeit gradually.

One scientist said: "It is important that legislation be approved now, as any delay sends a signal to business and the community that it is OK to procrastinate." Another said: "To knock it back entirely will not achieve anything - incrementalism is a part of this game."

All but one scientist who responded said the Government's proposed 2020 emissions targets - a cut between 5 and 25 per cent below 2000 levels - were not ambitious enough for Australia to play its part in avoiding climate change.

They were pessimistic about political efforts to limit global warming, predicting a rise due to greenhouse emissions of about 4 degrees this century.

The panel said this would expose hundreds of millions of people to water stress, trigger sea level rises that would swamp coastal areas and cause the extinction of thousands of species.

There is heated debate in the environmental movement whether it would be better to back the Government's proposals or reject them as too weak.

The Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF Australia have been criticised by their members for backing the Government after it raised the possibility of a 25 per cent emissions cut.

It was one of a handful of changes announced last week, including delaying the scheme until July 2011 and increasing compensation for industry. The scheme still allows an unlimited number of carbon permits to be bought overseas.

The changes seem unlikely to be enough to win passage through the Senate. The Coalition said the scheme would cost thousands of jobs without environmental benefit; the Greens will not support a 2020 target that could end up being less than 25 per cent.

The panel's lead authors and review editors responded to The Age survey on condition of anonymity. Nine answered a question on whether the legislation should pass without amendment: six said yes, one was undecided and two said it was fatally flawed.

Asked what Australia's minimum role should be in a deal to limit warming to 2 degrees - the trigger point for unpredictable climate change - the scientists nominated an average 2020 emissions cut of 30 per cent.

Other majority views included that Labor was better on climate change than the Coalition, but had gone backwards since the 2007 federal election.

Most said public investment in carbon capture and storage was justified, but it must be matched by an increase in spending on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The survey was made before the Government announced $2.4 billion for clean-coal projects and $1.5 billion for solar power plants in the budget.

The coal miners' union, the CFMEU, meets climate change secretary Greg Combet today to ask for help for gassy coal mines.

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