ACCORDING to Tony Abbott, only the coalition has a credible climate change policy to achieve a five per cent cut in Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020.
Allow me, if you will, to equate this climate change challenge to a gigantic raging bonfire of all Tony Abbott’s currently and previously-owned pairs of budgie-smugglers which would surely be a blaze three-storeys high visible from Christmas Island.
Presented with the challenge of controlling this three-story high bonfire of budgie-smugglers, what Tony Abbott is saying is that only he has a credible policy to enable him to pee on it, such is the gap between what is being offered and what is needed.
A couple of days ago, I was on a journalist’s panel listening to the three candidates for the seat of Brisbane talk climate and conservation to a group of gathered greenies. Both Labor’s Arch Bevis and Liberal Theresa Gambaro re-iterated their leaders “commitment” to that 5 per cent cut (the Greens candidate Andrew Bartlett pointed out they would be looking for a 40 per cent cut).
At one point Mr Bevis stated that Labor was following the “science” on climate change, at which point I surmised that you’d be hard-pressed to find a credible climate scientist advocating a five per cent cut.
So what does the “science” think of a five per cent cut?
Well the minimum recommended by Professor Ross Garnaut’s comprehensive government review two years ago, was a 10 per cent cut. This 10 per cent cut, Garnaut said, would represent a fair shake of the sauce bottle from Australia as part of a global effort to stabilise emissions at 550 parts per million in the atmosphere.
What does 550 ppm give us? Well according to this statement from a committee of leading marine and climate scientists hosted by Britain’s Royal Society, 450 parts per million won’t not be enough ”to prevent the catastrophic loss of coral reefs from the combined effects of climate change and ocean acidification”. And no, that wasn’t a typo. They believe that even at 450 ppm, things are not looking good for the Great Barrier Reef.
The Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies said last year that to prevent a tourism-killing transformation of the GBR, global emissions cuts of 25 per cent by 2020 were needed. Even if this was achieved worldwide, the federation’s GBR climate change alliance said, this would only give the reef a 50/50 chance of seeing anything like a healthy existence in the future.
Professor Will Steffen, science advisor to the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, says that reaching 450 ppm (not 550ppm), still only gives the planet a 50/50 chance of avoiding a temperature rise of 2C. That’s 100ppm lower than Garnaut’s advocated target, which Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard have “committed” to getting halfway towards.
Put another way, what the two main party leaders are actually offering is to get halfway to a target which most scientists already consider to be too dangerous to even contemplate.
Or in other words, they’re offering to go take a widdle on the bonfire.
By the way, if you’re interested in a full analysis of the climate change and environment policies of Labor and the Coalition, then you’ll find my latest feature over at ABC Environment.