Climate change: Is Australia serious?
I don’t believe Australia’s announcement of a 5% cut in greenhouse gas emissions goes far enough to prevent a climate change catastrophe.
Today Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Australia will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 5% of 2000 levels by 2020. If an international agreement were made, Australia could make a cut of up to 15%.
The announcement of such a low target has angered many in the community, who were expecting a much stronger response from Canberra . Like many Australians, I am also disappointed with the government’s weak emissions target.
Just last Saturday, the nations of the European Union announced that they would cut their greenhouse emissions by 20%, rising to 30% if an international agreement is reached. At the Climate Change conference in Bali in 2007, the Australian Government said it supported a 25-40% cut on 1990 emission levels by 2020. Now it seems that the government has changed its mind.
This announcement comes as a major disappointment, not just for Australia and for the environment but the new Labor government’s environmental credibility.
After 11 years of Liberal rule under climate change skeptic John Howard, there was an expectation that Labor would lead Australia to a dignified position on climate change. Indeed, Rudd’s first act as PM was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which earned Australia a standing ovation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
With today’s announcement, Rudd has effectively squandered Australia’s chance to make a real difference. After Mr. Rudd had personally declared that he wanted Australia to be a “creative middle world power“, today’s announcement suggests otherwise. Timidity on climate change will not put Australia in a leadership power position in Asia, let alone globally.
Nothing Australia can practically do in relation to climate change will prevent irreversible climate change, because our overall emissions are so small (1.2% of world emissions). Therefore, Australia has to demonstrate moral leadership, so that the big polluters – particularly India (4.9%), Russia (5.6%), China (18.4%) and the United States (22.2%) – will act upon the example that our nation sets. We’ve led the pack on tariff reduction and free trade, so why not carbon emissions?
Australia stands to lose more than many countries from climate change. The Great Barrier Reef will be completely destroyed, as will many other iconic natural wonders. Many of our agricultural districts will be more prone to drought and bushfires will become far more commonplace.
Those opposed to higher emission targets raise concerns about job losses. In some cases this is quite a legitimate concern, and governments need to plan around this to minimise the effects on individuals. That said, segments of Australia’s economy were subjected to pain when our tariff barriers were torn down and yet we all collectively recovered and later enjoyed the benefits of a lean and efficient economy. The only difference this time is that the subject of concern is far more serious. Whilst free trade could ultimately wait until all nations are ready, the climate can’t.
Australia needs to show real leadership on climate change, and do it now. Our nation needs to make a real commitment to reform, in order to convince the ‘big polluters’ to do likewise.
A paltry 5% emissions reduction target is nothing but a national embarrasement and demonstrates the Commonwealth Government’s lack of committment to the environment. It also shows the government’s contempt for younger Australians who will have to live with the consequences of this generation’s lack of foresight and leadership.