At a time when conservative international organisations including the World Bank and the International Energy Agency are warning that we are heading for 4 degrees or more of warming and that this will have devastating impacts for our children and all of humanity you would think that this issue would dominate election debates.
When the Climate Commission is telling us that current greenhouse gas emission reduction targets are nowhere near enough and that around 80% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous climate change you would think that our leaders would be taking this seriously and telling us how they intend to address the problem.
You would think so but you would be wrong.
At the first election debate last night there was only one question about climate change and this was asked by Peter Hartcher from Fairfax (a transcript is available here).
Hartcher began his question: “Mr Abbott, setting aside some of your earlier comments on climate change, you said here in this Press Club in January that climate change is real, that humanity is contributing and that strong, effective policy is required to deal with it.”
Mr Abbott interrupted and said: “Thank you for remembering what I said, Peter.”
Hartcher continued: “I’m happy to quote you back to you any time, Mr Abbott. Particularly when I can get you to tell us if you’re going to honour your commitments because you and the Government have both committed to cut carbon emission by a minimum of 5 per cent by 2020 and up to as much as 25 per cent, depending on international progress. Under global negotiations, Australia will have to decide next year on the next phase. Will you keep your commitment? If there is global progress, will you agree to cut carbon emissions above and beyond the 5 per cent target? And Mr Rudd, part of that question for you - what would you do to help prepare Australia for climate change impacts?”
Mr Abbott began his response: “Well, Peter, I’d rather deal with the facts rather than with hypotheticals.”
Hartcher interrupted: “Your commitment is a hypothetical?”
Mr Abbott continued by saying “We will reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020” before going on to attack the government’s policies.
Hartcher interrupted: “Your commitment rather than Mr Rudd’s. If there is international progress, would you keep your commitment to consider cuts above and beyond the 5 per cent?”
Mr Abbott continued: “We’ve always said that if circumstances change we will adjust appropriately but there is no way that other countries are embracing the kind of carbon tax and the kind of Emissions Trading Scheme that Australia has…”
Mr Rudd began his response by saying “Let me tell you climate change is there front and centre and we will be doing a disservice to our kids and our grandkids if we do not act” before going on to list what the government has done and talking about the likely impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.
Debate moderator David Speers interrupted: “And your willingness to increase the target if the rest of the world shows action?”
Mr Rudd continued by saying “We honour our international obligations and will make a careful judgment about what the rest of the world does” before going on to talk about the decrease in the carbon price associated with the shift from the ‘carbon tax’ to an Emissions Trading Scheme and the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation since the government’s policies were introduced.
Neither leader directly affirmed their previous commitment to increase Australia’s emissions reductions target to 25% by 2020 if the international community agrees to stronger action. In fact both appeared to want to give the impression that they are committed to doing less rather than more to help prevent dangerous climate change.
As one on the wealthiest nations in the world which also has among the largest historical and current greenhouse gas emissions (per capita) we have an ethical duty to the children of today and tomorrow to be leading the way in terms of emissions reductions targets. Instead, the current targets mean that Australians will use four times as much of the carbon budget as the average global citizen, making us a nation of emissions bludgers and hurtling the world ever closer to climate disruption.
Both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott say they accept the findings of climate science and that strong, effective policy is required to prevent dangerous climate change. Yet from what they said last night one can only conclude that neither adequately comprehends the science and/or the scale and urgency of action that is required to protect the children of today and tomorrow.