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TURNBULL’S HYPOCRISY ON CLIMATE by Ian Dunlop, published 4 May 2007.

The Government is deliberately misleading voters.
an article by Ian Dunlop published 4 May 2007.

 

Arguably the greatest casualty in the saga of Iraq and David Hicks has been the truth. We all have our views on the rights and wrongs of each case, but political chicanery has ensured that the facts will never emerge. So it is if grave concern to see misrepresentations and obfuscation growing in the climate-change debate. An article in The Sydney Morning Herald (6 April 2007) by Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the second Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released on Good Friday, has to be the most blatant piece of hypocrisy in decades.

He said ‘The IPCC report should serve as a reminder that the world must move beyond the Kyoto Protocol to find real solutions to climate change.’ Just so, which is in stark contrast to the action of the Australian Government in fighting both tooth and nail for years to water down the Kyoto obligations and frustrate any global agreement. Having finally negotiated an 8 per cent increase in Australian emissions rather than a reduction, in a final act of perfidy it then refused to ratify the protocol. ‘We cannot solve a global problem unless all of the world’s emitters are part of the solution.’

Why, therefore, has Australia spent the past 10 years doing everything possible to subvert any global initiatives, particularly anything that might involve the binding emissions reductions so essential to a meaningful global solution? ‘While very important, the science in the IPCC report is not new. That is why for years now Australia has been forming its environmental and water policies on the basis that climate change is a fact not a theory… ‘This claim must be something of a surprise to the rest of federal cabinet, most of whom are on record expressing diametrically opposite views, ranging from ‘extremism’ and ‘scaremongering’ (John Howard) to ‘entertainment’ (Ian McFarlane), that is until the community issued a wake-up call last year. ‘We play an active role within the United nations building an effective successor to Kyoto.’

So far this role seems to have comprised little more than the empty rhetoric of the ‘New Kyoto’ that Ian Campbell was to propose to the Nairobi climate conference last November. In reality it turned out to be little more than a gleam in the minister’s eye. ‘Australia is leading the world on a new Global Initiative on Forests and Climate, which has already received strong international support.’ The international forestry initiative announced in early April by Malcolm Turnbull is commendable, but it diverts attention from the real issue, namely Australia’s responsibility to reduce its own emissions. Further, it is not a unique Australian initiative, but part of a global effort to halt deforestation that the Government chose to announce unilaterally to gain domestic political advantage.

We are now embroiled in a debate over whether we will meet our Kyoto emissions targets, as if that is the ultimate climate change test. The Kyoto targets were only ever a starting point, and emission cuts will have to go far deeper, far more rapidly than either Government or Opposition acknowledge. The real issue lost in the political furore, is the need for urgent action to turn down emissions growth. The most recent science suggests that the danger level for atmospheric carbon concentrations is 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent. Current atmospheric carbon concentrations are 430 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent, increasing at two parts per million a year and accelerating fast, both here and overseas, particularly in China. In theory that leaves 10 years before we reach the danger point of 450 parts per million.

In reality, given accelerating emissions and the non-linear climatic response that is increasingly evident, we probably have no more than five years. As there is a considerable lag before any reduction in emissions has an impact, action is required in the next 6 to 12 months, not in the 3 to 5 years favoured in political debate. We do not have the luxury of waiting until September 2008 for the findings of the Garnet Review before acting, any more than we can wait for the Prime Minister to recognise that this is no longer a conventional economic problem, but an exercise in catastrophic risk management. We need a bipartisan approach to initiate action now, independent of the electoral process.

Climate change is the most serious issue to confront humanity in centuries, of an entirely different dimension to the typical political agenda. As such, it must be addressed truthfully and transparently, not with denial and misrepresentation. The community must be fully informed and committed to the solutions.

As the Prime Minister likes to remind us: ‘Trust me, our economy is doing splendidly.’ It may continue to do so for a while. But on a sustainable basis, without rapid corrective action, we are heading for a fall, the like of which we have never seen before. Particularly in an economy so dependent on unsustainable energy consumption and exports, on the driest continent on earth. As Herman Daly put it: ‘The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse.’ No environment, no economy. We know what to do – it is hard, but we need to get on with it at not waste another 10 years.

The first test will be the Government’s reaction to the third IPCC climate change report, to be released today – more guff or some honesty?

Ian Dunlop was formerly a senior international oil, gas and coal industry executive. He chaired the Australian Coal Association in 1987-88 and the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading from 1998-2000 and was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors from 1997-2001. He is a member of the Club of Rome, a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Climate Change Task Force and a Director of Safe Climate Australia. He is a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development and Director of Safe Climate Australia he advises internationally on climate, energy and sustainability.

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