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Climate Change – Science not Politics is Needed

Plans to reduce carbon emissions are currently centre stage in Federal politics. There now exists two alternative policies to reduce carbon emissions in Australia – the first is legislation before the Senate as proposed by the Government and the second is a proposal developed by the Opposition. Neither is adequate and neither seems to countenance the next major international meeting to discuss the global response to be held in Copenhagen later this year.

The importance of the Copenhagen discussions cannot be understated. Something different from the past approach (the Kyoto Protocol) is required. It is increasingly clear that the sole success of the Kyoto Protocol was in raising public awareness of climate change more so than actually reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Another ‘success’ of this magnitude will have catastrophic consequences for Australia and the rest of the world.
As Professor Ross Garnaut, Sir Nicholas Stern and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made clear – dramatic and radical reductions in absolute greenhouse emissions are necessary immediately to minimize (not avoid – it is too late for that) the affects of climate change.
A new approach is urgently needed. The international community must base the next climate change protocol on the following seven principles and the Australian Government and Opposition must work together to ensure that science underpins our response, not political expediency.
Firstly, the new binding targets must be based on science rather than political expediency. How many Australians are aware that Australia’s Kyoto target actually allowed us to increase our emissions by 8 percent over 1990 levels? To keep global warming to just 1 to 2 degrees in the coming decades, global emissions must be reduced in 2050 to just fifteen percent of 2000 emission levels. Australia cannot be allowed to negotiate another emissions increase.
Secondly, poor and wealthy countries must both be bound by these new targets. Certain developing countries, such as China and India, are amongst the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The global targets spoken of above can only be achieved if all countries reduce their emissions. It does not matter how much Australia cuts its emissions if countries such as China and India do not cut theirs.
Thirdly, requiring developing countries to reduce their emissions will have consequences for the poor of those countries. After all, economic growth is necessary to improve the lives of the poor and so investing in technology that delivers economic growth without increasing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. Wealthy countries must support emission reductions in poorer countries by technology transfer.
Fourthly, it is important to recognize that different countries have specific circumstances that largely determine their emissions in the short-term. Therefore, the next international climate change protocol must be sufficiently long-term in its outlook – probably to 2050 – so that new investments can be made over the life-cycle of existing infrastructure. Having said that though, global emissions must peak no later than 2015.
Fifthly, some countries have the advantage of certain natural resources that also can reduce global emission levels. The majority of these carbon sinks exist in developing countries and these countries must be encouraged and supported in both protecting and expanding these sinks. If a country is able to increase its carbon sink, then this must supplement its overall emission rights.
Sixthly, the current focus on emissions from production must be replaced by a focus on emission consumption. Even though global production and consumption levels are necessarily equal, the focus on consumption of emissions is an important issue when allocating the rights to emit.
Finally, the market is a powerful tool in allocating scarce resources. Emission rights in the future will become increasingly scarce and so market-based or market-conforming instruments must be used to support the ultimate goal of global emission reductions.
These seven principles are a radical departure from the Kyoto framework. If followed though, they will support the reduction of emissions now necessary.
The international community must also determine how to best allocate the rights to emit greenhouse gases. Under the Kyoto Protocol, future emission targets were based on past emissions. This approach is incompatible with the six principles outlined above.
The only ethical manner in which future emissions can be allocated in the future is on a per capita basis. Certainly, I have no greater right than someone living in Thailand, Nigeria or Peru to emit greenhouse gases simply because I emitted more in the past. Of course, the consequence for high emission per capita countries, such as Australia, will be more stringent reductions in emissions. However, there is though no other ethical way in which to allocate such scarce resources. In deed, such a per capita allocation may facilitate technology transfer as countries such as Australia trade emission rights with poor countries not “consuming” their full allowance of emissions.

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