Make no mistake – Australians worry about climate change. Labor’s sweeping victory in the Federal Election was, after all, partly due to Prime Minister Rudd’s commitment to ratify Kyoto. And in Bali this week the Government has a one off opportunity to flex some muscle on climate change. In one fell swoop Australia could go from the back of the pack to the front by declaring to the world that it’s ready and willing to take up the challenge, not just for Australians but for all people around the world to tackle the worst effects of climate change.
The world’s leading climate change scientists have raised the alarm and the clarion message is a simple one: the world has only a decade to reverse the worst effects of climate change. To avoid dangerous climate change, global temperature increase must be kept below 2 degrees Celsius. But unfortunately the world has already experienced a global mean rise of 0.7 degrees since 1910. Some world leaders however have shown resolve and announced steps to avoid a two degree temperature rise such as the European Union. Sadly Australia has not. To make matters worse not enough is being done by the wealthy nations of the world to support poor countries adapt to climate change. But let’s be clear. The world’s poor are already suffering from increased environmental and human disasters leading to food and water shortages, poor health, increased poverty and instability. If we fail to act now we risk this further.
Perhaps more alarming is that the impacts of climate change will continue to worsen until at least 2030 even if global carbon emissions are cut dramatically starting today as a result of existing levels of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. And that means there’s little to cheer for those poor people around the world already feeling the impacts of climate change. In the West African country of Niger changing rainfalls patterns are already contributing to increased desertification and the loss of livestock. For people like the Tuareg and Wodaabe loss of livestock in Niger means chronic food insecurity and, disaster. Meanwhile in Bolivia, rising temperatures have led to an increase in the number and intensity of forest fires as well as damage to agriculture.
There’s little doubt rich nations such as Australia know the scale of the climate change problem faced by all humanity – we all do. Ratifying Kyoto however is only a first step along the road to forge a new path and future for Australia as an international leader on climate change.
What’s needed now is a commitment from a Rudd Government to help establish a $54 billion global fund to provide the world’s poor with the resources necessary to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change. Oxfam estimates that Australia’s equitable contribution to this fund would be $1.5 billion per year. Yet, to date, the nation has pledged a mere $7.5 million – the amount Australians spend on air-conditioners and desk fans every two days.
At home however Australia is investing almost $15 billion to build the nation’s resilience to climate change. And although it is encouraging that Labor has committed to provide $150 million over three years for adaptation in our region, most rich countries are stalling when it comes to providing adequate funds for poorer countries to cope with climate change.
And right there is the deep injustice and cruel irony of the impacts of climate change. Rich countries like Australia are largely responsible for causing the problem, with many decades of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet poor countries are, and will be the worst affected, facing more severe droughts, floods, hunger as well as disease, and with less capacity to adapt.
This week at the UN Bali Climate Change Conference the newly formed Australian government should show political will and leadership. We are looking to the Rudd government to chart a new course for Australia’s future. A future that includes urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at a rate that avoids dangerous climate change.
We hope the Australian government is able to demonstrate it is serious about tackling climate change. To do so it should commit to a fund that will help poor countries adapt to climate change. This can be done by agreeing to a road map to tackle the worst effects of climate change. So this is it Prime Minister Rudd. Press your shoulder to the wheel and show us all that you can put the needs of the poorest countries and most vulnerable communities at the heart of your Government’s efforts to ensure a just and equitable future for everyone.
Australia demands it, poor people around the world demand it and planet Earth deserves it.
An edited version of this opinion piece was published in Melbourne’s The Age on December 5 2007