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Climate reports strengthen action and support efforts
Posted: Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Published on The Drum, ABC online on Monday 28 November, 2011
In the muddied, often toxic climate change debate, it is difficult from media reports to work out the significance of the latest round of expert findings. But on the eve of the next international climate change forum at Durban in South Africa we have seen in recent weeks the release of three key reports. And what is clear is that each report challenges some of the justifications made for delaying decisive action against climate change.
First was the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2011. The IEA is an autonomous organisation with 28 mainly high-income member countries including Australia. By no stretch of the imagination could the IEA be called a radical green organisation. But in its report it made two startling points :
Firstly, that the world’s current energy trajectory, even allowing for recent government policy commitments to increase energy efficiency, is likely to result in emissions consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of more than 3.5°C.
And that if stringent new action is not forthcoming by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure in place by then will use up the world’s entire carbon budget to limit emissions to 450ppm, leaving no room for additional infrastructure unless it is high cost zero carbon.
In other words, the idea that the international community can delay curbing carbon emissions until after 2020 and expect the next generation – our children - to sort out the problem is head-in-the-sand cowardice.
Depending on the country and who is making the case, it is claimed that we shouldn’t act now because unemployment or debt is too high, or growth is too low, or no-one else is doing anything. To the IEA, the real message is clear: if dangerous climate change is to be avoided in a way that is affiordable, we all have to move extremely quickly. The window of opportunity is six-years narrow, and closing fast.
Following the IEA was a joint CSIRO-AECOM study of the cost to Australian households of a $23 a tonne carbon price. The CSIRO and AECOM (a building, energy and environment consulting company) estimated that a $23 carbon price would increase the cost of living for the average household by 0.6% in 2012-13, or about $9.10 per week. This is similar to Treasury’s 0.7 per cent, well below the 2.5 per cent from the GST, and assumes that businesses pass on the full carbon price. Because some businesses will likely absorb some of that carbon price, households may well pay less. And the 0.6 per cent increase is before any of the promised compensation for most households. So two separate estimates - Treasury and the CSIRO – now challenge the view that a $23 carbon price will dramatically increase living costs for Australian families.
Finally, last Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary of its forthcoming report on extreme weather events and climate change adaptation. The IPCC’s language is cautious and often talks in terms of probabilities. Despite this caution, the report strengthens the view that climate change is contributing to more extreme weather. So, for example, the IPCC expects warm daily temperature extremes will become more frequent and cold extremes will decrease (99-100 per cent probability); heatwaves will become longer and more intense (90-100 percent probability); and while the number of tropical cyclones may not increase (66-100 per cent), average maximum wind speed will increase (also 66-100 per cent probability.) Reflecting their conservative approach, for particularly complex phenomena (such as droughts), and/or where data are insufficient (such as river floods), the IPCC attached medium or low confidence to those events becoming more frequent or severe.
A view held by many engaged in the climate change discussion is that no extreme weather event can be said to be the result of climate change. The IPCC report adds to other work (such as that by climate scientist Gabriele Hegerl at the University of Edinburgh) that takes us a little further along the path to answering the question of whether there is ‘a human fingerprint in more frequent extreme climate events’.
As well as challenging some common justifications for climate inaction, all three reports reinforce the need for developed countries to take more action more quickly.
For World Vision Australia, a child-focussed Christian relief, advocacy and development agency, climate action is also a matter of global justice. As the IEA notes, one in five of the world’s population is currently without access to modern forms of energy. The CSIRO study confirms that the cost of introducing a price for carbon capable of changing behaviour in a high polluting high income country is modest. And the IPPC report adds to the growing evidence that points to a link between human induced climate change and dangerous weather events,the impact of which is concentrated in the world’s poorest countries.
All three reports strengthen the case for adopting and implementing more robust policies to mitigate climate change and help the poorest and most vulnerable adapt to the adverse climate change that cannot be avoided. As a bonus, as the IPCC says, many of the necessary measures are ‘low regret’ – they have benefits beyond the impact of climate change and can be justified under a range of differing climate outcomes.
World Vision Australia and other parts of the World Vision Partnership will be closely monitoring the climate talks beginning next Monday** (Nov 28) in Durban. These have implications for our work in the field, including sharing the best ways to assist the world’s poorest, particularly children, better cope with the health and livelihood impacts of the climate path we are currently on.
But as the most recent reports show, rapidly getting off that perilous path now is where the real wins are - for both the developed and developing worlds.
David Lansley is senior economist with World Vision Australia