Time for Climate change action
Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong avoid the issues, while thousands of people respond by 'Encircling The Parliament'...
"...despite the Government bending over backwards to accommodate our biggest polluters, they're still lining up to bag the scheme and predict that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will arrive in its wake. That's the thing about blackmailers: they always come back for more."
"A target range of 5-15% will spell the end of Australian icons like the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and will place even greater stress on our already struggling Murray-Darling Basin." (the Greens)
"...in its haste to placate business, the Government has created a complex Emissions Trading Scheme that will punish low emitters and reward heavy polluters, while creating minimal incentives to actually reduce carbon emissions."
A Red Ring Around Canberra
"Last Tuesday at 9:00am I stood alongside 2500 other ordinary, impassioned Australians, holding hands in a huge ring of splendid red all the way around Parliament House in Canberra.
"We demanded a swift, appropriate and ethical response to the climate emergency. Enormous red and white banners blared "100% renewables", "Our climate - our Parliament - our future", "Scrap the CPRS", and "Climate Emergency".
"As I waved to the helicopter hovering above, and smiled broadly at the camera crews and MPs' cars as they slid past, it felt like something had tipped.
"The biggest winners out of the Government's ETS, as it stands, will be heavy polluters and financial engineers in the likes of Macquarie Bank, who will work out ways to exploit and game this new, complex trading system."
What's on this page
The Rudd government's climate change policies, strategies and carbon reduction targets may well have been announced with much fanfare, but most of the announcements have amounted to a big sell-out to the polluters and they seem to pander to big, old-style industries, raising deep-seated concerns about the much-needed transformation to a post-carbon economy. By February 2009 the dissent had grown to such an extent that more than 150 NGO's, groups and organisations gathered for a weekend summit in Canberra, condemning many aspects of the policy.
This page shows some snippets of the country-wide dissent with the Rudd government climate policies that has rapidly developed since the beginning of 2009.
February 3 2009, and Canberra buzzes!
First of all, we want to "tease" you with some images from Australia's Climate Action Summit from the website. Please click through and explore the site: there's a marvellous slideshow with many photos of the weekend.
Click on the thumbnails below to open the larger version of the images.
How Oxfam puts it
The Australian Government needs to revisit their 5-15% greenhouse pollution reduction targets and increase these to 40% reductions by 2020 and 95% by 2050.
The effects of climate change are getting bigger - but extreme weather, water shortages, crop failures and rising food prices are not just happening here. Climate change is having a terrible impact around the world and undermines our work to eradicate poverty in developing countries.
What can I do? Join us for a BIG year on the road to Copenhagen.
What do we know?
Science tells us we must stay below two degrees warming or we face a very dire future. (The globe has already warmed by 0.8 degrees Celsius on pre-industrial temperatures)
What do we need?
A fair and just international agreement to prevent further warming.
How do we get it?
The UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December this year is the world's big opportunity. But to get a global agreement there is much to do locally, nationally and internationally.
We also know that:
For these reasons the Australian Government needs to revisit their 5-15% greenhouse pollution reduction targets and increase these to 40% reductions by 2020 and 95% by 2050. The government also needs to commit resources to help developing countries adapt to climate change.
4,600 Australians tell Prime Minister Rudd: 5% is not enough
Canberra, Tuesday 3 February 2009
The Australian Greens today delivered a petition signed by over 4,600 Australians to Prime Minister Rudd, calling on him to lift his Government's greenhouse emissions reduction target.
The petition from the Greens MPs' website was delivered on the day that 2,500 Australians gathered in Canberra to encircle Parliament House in protest against the Rudd Government's poor climate change policies.
"The Australian community is delivering a clear message to Kevin Rudd: your 5% target is not enough," Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said.
"People from all over Australia are coming together to demand real action from the Rudd Government to respond to the climate emergency with as much speed and zeal as they are responding to the financial meltdown.
"The Prime Minister will find it increasingly difficult to fob off Australian voters with badly thought out, ad hoc responses to climate change, when what is needed is a comprehensive transformation of the way we generate and use energy."
The Greens' online petition
The world's top scientists tell us that reductions of between 25% and 40% on 1990 levels by 2020 are required if we are to stop catastrophic climate change. The Greens will do what's right and push for a 40% target, which would help to create thousands of green-collar jobs.
Dear Prime Minister Rudd,
In 2007, you said you believed that climate change was "one of the greatest moral and economic challenges of our time".
Yet on Monday, 15th December 2008, you announced a greenhouse gas reduction target of just 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 for Australia - that is, 4% below 1990 levels.
Mr Rudd, 5% is unacceptable and dangerous.
A target range of 5-15% will spell the end of Australian icons like the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and will place even greater stress on our already struggling Murray-Darling Basin.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for developed nations to reduce their emissions by between 25-40% below 1990 levels.
We, the undersigned, are asking you to listen to the scientists and increase the target range for Australia's emission reduction to between 25-40%.
5% is not enough!
An Emissions Trading Scheme so bad, it makes tax and Liberals look good
Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane writes:
The ground is shifting under the Government's climate change approach and its previously politically strong position on the issue is being undermined.
The equation used to be simple: by adopting the appearance of moderation while committing to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme, the Government could attack both the Greens and the Coalition as extremists. The Coalition, anxious to avoid being painted as greenhouse denialists, would deal with the Government in the Senate to pass the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation.
But in its haste to placate business, the Government has created a complex Emissions Trading Scheme that will punish low emitters and reward heavy polluters, while creating minimal incentives to actually reduce carbon emissions. It has also set a bare minimum target of 5% reduction by 2020. The biggest winners out of the Government's ETS, as it stands, will be heavy polluters and financial engineers in the likes of Macquarie Bank, who will work out ways to exploit and game this new, complex trading system.
As a result, green groups are turning their backs on the Government's Emissions Trading Scheme. The backstory here is that many environmentalists were never particularly enamoured of the idea of a market-based solution to climate change in the first place. The default preference among many green groups is for regulation and taxes, rather than capitalist tools. As it stands, we'll never get to actually see whether a market-based solution would work because the politicians aren't providing one.
But earlier this month, the ACF announced it would campaign against passage of the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation in the Senate. A climate summit in Canberra composed of dozens of smaller and local environmental groups also condemned the scheme. The Greens are holding their fire for the moment but it's impossible to see them backing the Government's model without fundamental changes that, as Bob Brown said yesterday, remove the rewarding of big polluters.
The Coalition leadership is also refusing to sit still and let itself be characterised as sceptics, even if there are plenty of deniers in its ranks. Compared to the disastrous handling of the issue by Brendan Nelson, Turnbull has handled climate change adeptly. He cleverly flicked the White Paper to an external review (an Andrew Robb idea), enabling the focus to remain on the Government. And in an attempt to outflank the Government, Malcolm Turnbull launched his Green Carbon initiative in late January, committing to significant emissions reductions in areas not currently covered by the Kyoto agreement or the proposed Emissions Trading Scheme. The initiative got rather swamped by other minor issues like the stimulus package, but it indicates the direction the Coalition wants to go.
Meanwhile the economic downturn strengthens the hand of those inside and outside the Government who'd like to delay the Emissions Trading Scheme. The Treasurer's reference of the issue to the House Economics Committee will give the Government options for deferring the start date, or suggesting alternatives, like a carbon tax. There's a strong suspicion within Coalition ranks that the Government is preparing the way for a deferral of the ETS start date until after the next election.
The new push for a carbon tax is gaining momentum precisely because the Government's Emissions Trading Scheme is so bad. An effective ETS is preferable to a tax because businesses can trade credits, provide a direct incentive to further reduce emissions and partly fund investment in greener infrastructure and processes. An ineffective Emissions Trading Scheme is a huge administrative exercise with no real benefits except to bankers, and less efficient than a carbon tax, which is administratively much simpler.
A tax -- which can be offset by reductions in other business taxes, leaving no net impact but establishing an incentive to reduce emissions -- would address the Coalition's biggest concern with the Emissions Trading Scheme: the possibility of carbon and jobs leakage overseas. Turnbull and Andrew Robb have both left open the option of considering a tax. Senior Coalition sources say the Coalition's commitment is to an economic instrument to address climate change, and that while they are predisposed to an Emissions Trading Scheme to do the job, they're not wedded to it or opposed to a carbon tax. The outcome of the Coalition's own review, being conducted by CIE's David Pearce and due in the next fortnight, will be instructive. Climate Change spokesman Greg Hunt is also well placed to consider the issue, given he wrote a university thesis on carbon taxes versus emissions trading.
But whether the Coalition has a serious chance of derailing the Government's strategy of painting it as a bunch of sceptics will depend heavily on its ability to convey the complex message that it is committed to better emissions targets than the Government, but pursued via non-Emissions Trading Scheme initiatives. Voters may not understand an Emissions Trading Scheme, but they've come to believe it's the way to fix climate change. It will be a tough sell, particularly when media attention is focussed on the economic crisis and leadership shenanigans.
Even so, the comfortable position that the Government was in last year on the issue is eroding quickly. Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong might have been too clever by half in seeing climate change as a weapon in the Prime Minister's campaign to marginalise the Opposition.
Emissions Trading Scheme: the government's hole in the hole
Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane writes:
If the Opposition wasn''t making a such spectacle of itself, the debacle over the Government's ETS would be a major issue. Fortunately for the Government, a House of Representatives inquiry that began under the cover of the stimulus package debate was killed off last night while the Liberals were beating each other up.
This is the sort of thing that happens when there is no credible Opposition.
Wayne Swan, showing a hitherto unnoticed sense of devilish wit, complained that the inquiry had been "politicised". As if this or any government would ever establish a House of Reps inquiry without a clear political agenda.
Given everyone, including government figures, were mystified by the establishment of the inquiry, it is apt that its termination only raises more questions than it answers.
Clearly the Government is worried about the reaction to its abysmal ETS. According to sources in the environmental movement, Department of Climate Change bureaucrats have been in contact with the Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation in recent days to discuss their concerns about the current ETS model. That the Government waited until it had finished its extensive consultations with polluters and consequent softening of its model before bothering to check with NGOs suggests a certain political tone deafness.
Other environmental groups have suggested the Government is willing to talk to the Climate Institute because it is "conservative and "unrepresentative" of the movement, although both the Climate Institute and the ACF have savaged the proposed scheme's high emissions cap and generous corporate handouts. If the Government hopes to convince high-profile NGOs to fall into line on the scheme, it might be disappointed.
And, oddly enough, despite having spoken to NGOs, the Government has yet to talk to the Greens, who will have a far more direct say in the passage of the legislation.
The sheer size of the regulatory framework being established might also work against a rapid assessment of the scheme once it does reach the Senate. Industry sources involved in discussions with the Government talk of a vast mass of regulatory detail being developed, building on the hundreds of pages of National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting regulations and guidelines already in place for mandatory reporting of emissions. This partly reflects the desire of old Public Service hands to avoid a repeat of the experience of the Keating Government's infrastructure bonds, which were intended to encourage infrastructure investment but were so poorly designed they were successfully rorted for years after the program was terminated by financial engineers in Macquarie Bank. Expecting the Senate to sign off on the framework without detailed investigation would seem to be optimistic.
In contrast, a carbon tax might be no more effective at reducing emissions, but it would be a damn sight simpler. For the next few years, carbon credits are unlikely to be particularly costly, suggesting the Government will earn less revenue than expected from the ETS. Luckily there's a huge Budget surplus to dip into to pay for all the compensation and handouts promised.
Meantime, despite the Government bending over backwards to accommodate our biggest polluters, they're still lining up to bag the scheme and predict that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will arrive in its wake. That's the thing about blackmailers: they always come back for more.
Between the financial crisis, and its readiness to give in to industry, the Government has gone from a position of strength on climate change to being in a hole, and it is continuing to dig. Maybe it can't think of anything else to do.
The end of climate certainty
Sydney Morning Herald
All signs point to the climate becoming more extreme, write Marian Wilkinson and Ben Cubby.
When hundreds of small, grey-headed flying foxes began falling from the sky at Yarra Bend in suburban Melbourne, for some it heralded the awful events that would later unfold. It was Wednesday, January 28, one day into the ferocious heatwave that would wax and wane before returning with terrible intensity last weekend.
That first day, calls began pouring into Wildlife Victoria. As the bats were dying en masse in the city, ringtail possums were falling out of trees in the bush and distressed kangaroos, too weak to jump, were baulking at fences.
"It was just unbelievable," said Fiona Corke, a Wildlife Victoria rescuer. "The animals were behaving very strangely. We were telling people to leave dishes of water by the side of the roads."
By January 30, Melbourne's temperature topped 45.1 degrees. A climate scientist, Dr David Karoly, noticed the city's plane trees had begun to shed their leaves under the stress of the heat.
In Tasmania, half the state recorded its hottest day on record. Launceston Airport hit 39.9 degrees, well over two degrees higher than its last record temperature.
In Adelaide, in the early hours of January 29, the city experienced its hottest night on record, 33.9 degrees.
Just north of the city, the air base at RAAF Edinburgh recorded an extraordinary 41.7 degrees at 3am. "Such an event appears to be without known precedent in southern Australia," the Bureau of Meteorology said.
People began turning up in the public hospitals, felled by the heat. As the days wore on and on, heat-related hospital admissions would ultimately reach more than 700.
To climate scientists and professional forecasters, it was clear that Australia was experiencing "an extreme weather event". But few among the public realised at the time, these first awful days would be just phase one of the heatwave.
As the weather bureau would later report: "After a slight drop in temperature during the first few days of February, extreme heat returned to the south-east on February 6. Temperatures rose sharply in South Australia and western Victoria on the 6th but it was the 7th which saw the most exceptional heat of the whole event."
As the nation reels from the toll in the bushfires, climate scientists are trying to carefully assess what lessons can be learnt from the unprecedented heatwave of 2009 and the deadly fires that accompanied it.
While state authorities focus on the crucial investigations into arson, emergency advice, town planning and tree clearing, looming over all these is what role human-induced climate change is playing in Australia's weather patterns. And, critically, how much of country will become more at risk from bushfire because of climate change?
The Victorian Premier, John Brumby, bluntly acknowledged this week that climate change cannot be ignored in the future debate over the bushfires.
"There is clear evidence now that the climate is becoming more extreme," Brumby told The 7.30 Report. And, announcing a royal commission on Australia's worst natural disaster, he insisted it would look at all aspects of the events. "I want everything on the table."
On the day the bushfires started claiming lives, Melbourne reached a record 46.4 degrees for the first time in 154 years of record-keeping, overshooting the high set on Black Friday, January 13, 1939 by 0.8 degrees and far exceeding the temperature on Ash Wednesday in 1983.
Climate scientists who spoke to the Herald this week repeatedly stressed that, despite these extraordinary temperatures, one extreme weather event cannot be taken as evidence of climate change.
But nearly all made the following points. Australia has experienced a general warming trend over the past 50 years which is consistent with human-induced climate change. The south-east of Australia is also experiencing a long period of unusually dry weather which may also be related to climate change.
Both these trends will increase the number of days where the bushfire risk will be more extreme and bushfires will be more intense. Most importantly, unless global greenhouse gas emissions are curbed, these trends will get worse over the next decades.
"The projections are based on climate models which include increases in greenhouse gases and that tells us that we can expect higher temperatures and much drier conditions over southern Australia," a CSIRO bushfire researcher, Kevin Hennessy, told the Herald.
"They are two of the critical elements that are needed to create a fire. The other two are low humidity and high wind speeds. Not only are we estimating there will be an increase in the frequency of extreme fire danger days but the duration of the fire season will be longer and the intensity of some of the biggest fires may increase."
Mr Hennessy co-authored a landmark report on the increased risk of fire weather due to climate change in 2007 which was cited in the Garnaut Climate Change Review. The study defined two new categories of fire weather - "very extreme" and "catastrophic". Under a "no-mitigation scenario" - meaning no action taken to reduce greenhouse gases - there would be between five and 25 per cent more days each year when Australians face extreme fire danger by 2020 (for a low emissions scenario), compared with the baseline year of 1990.
By 2020 for a high emissions scenario it may rise to between 15 and 65 per cent more days a year. The threat would rise quickly. In 2050, for a high emissions scenario, when the global average temperature may be 2.9 degrees hotter than in 1990, there may be 100 to 300 per cent more days of extreme fire danger a year.
This effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020, the Garnaut report noted.
The soaring heatwave temperatures last weekend, while unprecedented, are consistent with a general warming trend as a result of growing global greenhouse gas emissions. The 1990s were the warmest decade ever recorded instrumentally, and the last 100 years were the warmest of the millennium.
In 2007, Victoria recorded its warmest year on record, 1.2 degrees above the average. In the decade before, it experienced its driest years on record. Then, briefly, the end of 2007 promised relief. It was supposed to be a cooling, "La Nina" year. Rain fell in spring last year and temperatures dropped, but this summer hopes were dashed. From January 4 to February 7, virtually no rain fell in Melbourne, "equal to the second-longest dry spell on record for the city", according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
The mighty forces determining Australia's climate are complex and only partly understood, but research published in the past month has added significantly to the stock of knowledge. It also overturns some of the popular understanding of the "La Nina" influence.
The University of NSW research showed that the Indian Ocean Dipole, a swirling current that circulates warm water off Australia's north-west coast, appears to have a major influence on our weather and can override La Nina.
Dr Caroline Ummenhofer and Professor Matthew England at the university's Climate Change Research Centre showed that when "positive" dipole cycles send unusually hot, dry winds down to south-east Australia, drought is often the result. The big dry that straddled the start of the 20th century and ruined thousands of outback pioneers corresponded to a positive dipole, and so did the drought that spanned World War II.
The severe drought across southern Australia, the backdrop to this week's fires, has been accompanied by a run of three positive dipoles. The researchers believe this is why the La Nina event in the Pacific in 2007-08, which traditionally brings rain, was unable to break the drought. Three consecutive positive cycles is unprecedented, Ummenhofer said. Whether this is linked to human-induced climate change needs further investigation, the researchers say. And the El Nino-La Nina cycle of warm and cool atmospheric phenomena in the Pacific will still have a major influence over Australia's climate, even though not as much as previously thought.
Another, separate force driving weather patterns in southern Australia is the haze of air pollution over Asia. The aerosol haze, a stew of industrial output, fires, exhaust fumes, dust and plankton respiration, cools Asia, acting like a shield for the sun's heat and keeping much of Asia a degree or two cooler than it would otherwise be. This can actively force changes in wind and ocean currents by changing the distribution of solar heat on the Earth's surface, said the lead researcher, Dr Leon Rotstayn, of the CSIRO's Marine and Atmospheric team.
The aerosol haze forces more heat into the monsoon winds which douse Australia's north-west. But it also contributes to a build-up of high pressure which may contribute to less rainfall across southern Australia, according to new research released by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.
Human-induced climate change, while separate to these overlapping forces, has the power to exacerbate them. CSIRO's Dr Penny Whetton says the long-term trend in Australia includes about 0.9 of a degree warming through the 20th century. Australia is looking at a warming of about 1 degree by 2030 and 1.5 to 4-5 degrees by 2070 unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.
"You can't say we expected a 46 degree day in Melbourne this year but we would expect that it is getting increasingly easy to set new records compared to the past because of the underlying warming trend that's occurring," Whetton said.
The causes for the big dry over southern Australia are, she says, more complicated.
"The drying trend over the last 10 to 12 years is consistent with the rainfall change we are projecting using climate models. It's actually a more severe decrease than the models are projecting. At the moment it's too early to say whether its climate change-related. In all likelihood it's some combination of some influences of long-term climate change and natural fluctuations of the climate system."
Whatever the immediate causes of the bushfires, for many Australians it is a reminder of the potential risks of uncontrolled climate change.
As the Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, put it last year,"As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia's economy and environment will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we don't act now."