It is finally out, the long awaited interim report by Professor Ross Garnaut, the eminent Australian economist who had been commissioned by the Labour Party to model the cost of dealing (or not dealing) with climate change for Australia. Professor Garnaut's report makes sobering reading. Professor Garnaut confirms what many climate scientists have been arguing for some time, namely:
- The pace of climate change is much faster than anticipated (see my earlier entry on recent Australian research findings here), emissions have continued to rise and time is running out if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.
- Australia will suffer more under climate change than other developed countries due to its already hot and dry climate. Australia therefore has a particularly strong interest in mitigating the effect of climate change.
- We will have to start acting now and continue with a sustained effort to cut emissions beyond the 60 percent reduction target set by the government for 2050.
What is particularly interesting is Professor Garnaut's take on Australia's role in reducing world emissions. The previous government under John Howard consistently claimed that Australia only emitted a small percentage of global emissions and therefore Australia could be excused from taking action, totally ignoring the fact that Australians have among the highest per capita emissions in the world.
Professor Garnaut, by contrast, sees Australia as vital for achieving a positive climate change outcome. While he stresses that Australians do have to an important part in reducing our own emissions, it will have a much bigger role to play in working with other countries to achieve a significant reduction on a global scale. According to the Executive Summary of the report:
"Australia has an important role to play alongside its international partners in establishing a realistic approach to global mitigation. Australia can contribute to the development of clear international understandings on the four components of a successful framework for global mitigation: setting the right global objectives for reduction of the risk of dangerous climate change; converting this into a goal for stabilisation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a specified level; calculating the amount of additional emissions that can be emitted into the atmosphere over a specified number of years if stabilisation of atmospheric concentrations is to be achieved at the desired level; and developing principles for allocating a limited global emissions budget among countries."
The media have made much of Senator Wong's insistence that Australia will not increase its reduction target for 2050 from currently 60 per cent to 90 per cent as recommended by Professor Garnaut. While I was disappointed about this myself, I do think it is far more important to see what the government will do in the immediate and medium term future.
A target as far away as 2050 is a beacon to guide us in the right direction. However, it is also kind of meaningless as it is so far in the future, and there is a danger that we may leave action until a later date if we only focus on this particular date. By getting serious about climate change right now and starting to tackle the massive structural change needed in our economy, and indeed in the economies of the world, we may well find that once we start moving in the right direction, this change will develop a momentum of its own and we may be able to achieve a reduction beyond what we can imagine today.
I still feel very optimistic that the Rudd government is serious about climate change and will lead the country in the right direction but I will be watching carefully how they will go about it.