Scientists urge Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to crack down on climate change issues

The Age is reporting on an open letter to the Australian Prime Minister Keven Rudd, urging the PM to make strong cuts in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The letter, written by myself and 15 other Austalian scientists who contributed to the IPCC report, was released on the eve of the final report by the Garnaut review on climate change. In essence, we disagree with the recent advice by Professor Garnaut to make a slower start in cutting emissions (Targets and Trajectories – a 10% reduction by 2020), and strongly advocate the PM to reduce emissions by at least 25% bellow 1990 levels by 2020:

“As a group of Australia’s leading climate change scientists, we urge you to adopt this target as a minimum requirement for Australia’s contribution to an effective global climate agreement,” the letter states.

“Failure of the world to act now will leave Australians with a legacy of economic, environmental, social and health costs that will dwarf the scale of national investment required to address this fundamental problem”.

The scientists who signed the letter are Australia’s world-recognised experts on climate change, including Dr John Church, a leading authority on sea-level rise who recently stepped down as chairman of the joint scientific committee of the World Climate Research Program. Dr Church is also a senior CSIRO researcher, but he and other CSIRO scientists signed the letter as individuals.

Also among the signatories are Dr Roger Jones, from CSIRO, who is currently advising the federal Treasury and Professor Garnaut’s climate change review; Professors Nathan Bindoff and David Karoly, who worked on the most recent IPCC reports; Professor Tony McMichael from the Australian National University, who advised the IPCC on the human health impacts of climate change; Professor Matthew England, joint director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales; and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, an expert on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef.

On the back of the report is a recent poll by the Lowy institute, which is quite an intriguing read. Whilst the overall message is a positive one in that Australians want action on climate change, the feeling is that it cannot come at a cost to jobs or at a financial cost. Out of the 1001 people, 19% surveyed said they would be willing to pay >$21 per month ontop of their electricity bill to help solve climate change, and 20% would pay between $11-20. In contrast, 32% would be willing to pay between $1-10 per month, whilst 32% of people surveyed were not prepared to pay anything at all.

Interestingly, 64% of responants believed that the Kyoto Protocol hasn’t solved the issue of climate change but was “a step in the right direction”, yet 26% believed it was “purely symbolic”. On the bright side, if this poll is a genuine reflection of Australian attitudes, 73% would prefer Barack Obama to become the next president of the United States, whilst John McCain recieved only a 16% response.

Australia ratifies Kyoto

As Ecolog reports that green house gas emissions reach near-record level highs, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has broken the stalemate and ratified kyoto just weeks after coming into power on his first day in office. Senator Penny Wong, the newly instated Minister for Climate Change, was quoted to say that the decision sets Australia up for a leadership role at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Bali later this month.

“Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol puts Australia back on the map,” she said.

“The world now knows that this nation is prepared to do its bit and be part of the global solution to climate change. This gives us an impetus to go into the Bali conference to set that leadership role. The purpose of the Bali conference is to set out the road map for what happens post the Kyoto period. We want to ensure that what we agree in Bali gives Australia and the world the best chance to moving towards a solution on climate change.”

Rudd’s decision has run into some interesting commentary in the news. Despite previous concern of greenhouse gas emissions from India and China, The India Times ran with the headline “India to gain as Australia signs Kyoto“, quoting “India smiled from the sidelines knowing that, in the least, it would augur well for Indian industry and, at best, would push its case in global negotiations. Meanwhile, Germany’s Environment Minister has called for an international market in carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change, with a stronger focus on emission reduction from G8 countries and emerging nations. A joint statement released at the 10th China – European Union Leaders meeting has further stressed the importance of climate change and the willingness to cooperate in stabilising and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As one astute commentator summarised, “No continent is an island“, but all this leaves the ABC news wondering “Can climate progress succeed without the US?

More commentary from me on this during the lead up to Bali.

The challenge: to go from climate laggard to climate leader

The Age, 27th November

LABOR’S exceptional victory is built on its core promises, and tackling climate change is one of them. Kevin Rudd has promised that one of his first acts in government will be to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This will come as a welcome relief to most Australians. We have been suffering from deferred ratification for a long time, and the move is 10 years overdue.

However, while in the conservative context of Australian climate politics ratification may seem like one giant leap for Australians, it is now only a modest step for mankind (and other species).

The annual meeting of parties of the UN Climate Change Convention begins in Bali next Monday. For the first time in a decade, Australia — with its delegation led by our prime minister — will sit as a credible participant in debates over the Earth’s climate future. What positions and targets will we support?

The only serious proposition on the table at Bali comes from the European Union. The EU has proposed a target for developed countries to cut their collective emissions by 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. Although this target is conservative, it is still well beyond what has been acceptable in Australia to date. How will we respond?

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