Interminable climate argument is costing us solutions for our future

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Over the last week, we have seen tiresome name calling return after the CCA report that suggested a fresh approach to these decisions and actions.

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An artificial leaf could convert carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other industrial operations into burnable fuel. Credit: Louis Vest/flickr
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It is fair to say that people are getting fairly tired of the climate change debate in Australia.

Whenever the issue emerges, all you see and hear is heated disagreement. Usually name calling then ensues –  “environment evangelists”, “big polluters” and political “sell outs” become all too common catch phrases.

These are points that avoid addressing the fundamentals of what we are trying to achieve.That is, to make effective, pragmatic decisions and to take action now that will address the economic and safety challenges climate change is confronting us with. It’s not a difficult concept. And we have to play a credible part in assisting the rest of the world to do this.

Yet, over the last week or so, we have seen tiresome name calling return after the Climate Change Authority – the Parliament’s climate change advisory group –  released a report that suggested a fresh approach to these decisions and actions.

It was asked to outline a pathway for the current Parliament to agree on a policy framework that would actually stop Australia’s emissions from continuing to increase, so they would start to fall, in line with the international commitments Australia has made under the Paris climate agreement  last year. This is an agreement around 180 countries of the world have entered into in an historic attempt to deliver economic prosperity and safety to all of us.

This report was quickly followed by a dissenting report from two of the Authority’s own members, which stated that the Climate Change Authority had not gone far enough and had made compromises for political expediency. They said it had failed in its own mandate to provide rigorous independent science-based advice to the Australian community.

The merry go round continued. Once again we fell into discussing the merits of “emissions intensity schemes” and other arcane policy solutions.

Once again, the real discussion about the fundamentals we are trying to achieve, and the ability of the Climate Change Authority’s proposals to achieve them, was drowned out by contentious debate.

Where was the discussion about their effectiveness in helping us deliver the future we would all like to see come to fruition? Does the proposal allow for us to reduce emissions in line with avoiding the very severe climate impacts on our families, communities and economies? Did it set a clear and timely direction for replacing our aging coal-burning electricity generators with clean energy? Does it allow us to stand up proudly with the rest of the international community and do what we said we would do at the Paris conference last year? These are the fundamentals.

We have failed to learn the mistakes of the past. People want to understand the outcomes of the policy, not its details. This was a major undoing of the previous carbon mechanism. Yes, people had concerns about its impact on the cost of living, but they also did not understand what they were paying for – lower emissions and more renewable energy that would help us stop temperatures from continuing to climb so we can limit global warming. To do this, the world has agreed we need to get to net zero emissions.

The Climate Institute did raise concerns about the Climate Change Authority’s report. The reality is that, despite some useful suggestions, its proposals do not deal with these fundamental issues.

In just over a few years time the government, on our behalf, will be asked to stand with the USA, China, and the rest of international community, to demonstrate how we are on a path to zero net emissions. Yet, the Authority has ignored this. It does not put forward proposals that give us the option of boosting greater renewable energy, combined with other climate change solutions, that would mean we could meet this goal.

Similarly, the dissenting report may be  based in science, but many of the policy proposals it puts forward are not realistic in the short-term.

We must stop acting as if there has to be a trade-off between being science-based and developing policies that can address the political and economic constraints we know exist in tackling climate change.

Power companies, local communities, environmental groups and unions all want a clear plan to replace our aging coal-burning power stations. The shift to clean energy is now unstoppable but we can’t plan for the future unless we have clarity on the path we are going down. The market, by itself, is not fit to deal with this challenge and the changes required for workers and the community.

So here we are yet again. The release of the reports over the last week has been another great missed opportunity to bring the debate into the space of principled pragmatism. People are understandably fed up with it all. Unfortunately, while we shake our heads and argue, our emissions continue to rise, and we continue to miss out on the economic opportunities that effective action would bring while the rest of the world is getting on with it.

John Connor is the CEO of The Climate Institute

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4 Comments
  1. Keith 3 years ago

    “In just over a few years time the government, on our behalf, will be asked to stand with the USA, China, and the rest of international community, to demonstrate how we are on a path to zero net emissions.”

    John,

    I’m not sure why you think there are still “a few years” until reality bites. China and the US agreed to ratify the Paris Agreement last week. http://seekingalpha.com/article/4004376-china-us-ratify-cop21-agreement-g20-meeting-early-outcomes-investors Later this month in New York there is a meeting to round up sufficient contributors to emissions (55% needed) to make the Paris agreement binding. With China and the US ratifying, we are above 40% already, with several other countries (Denmark, France and others) ready to ratify.

    While the plan was to have the agreement ratified by 2020, there is now urgency to get moving. Australia has agreed to follow the US this year and ratify, although I think neither major political has understood what ratification means.

  2. john 3 years ago

    With the present attitude which is a continuation of the past Australia will not make much headway I am afraid.
    Lip service will be given and small efforts from past policies as in home owner solar will be lauded as some kind of effort.
    Let us just hope that realization does dawn on the decision makers both before elections and after.

  3. Ian 3 years ago

    Let’s be fair here there is a lot of money invested in fossil fuels in this country. Foreign companies lead by the Americans have invested 50 billion dollars in the Gorgon Project, similar amounts have been invested in gas extraction and export in the Eastern part of Australia. Investment in coal mining has not been far behind. If the resistance to renewables has only been a bit of name-calling and some obfustication of renewables polices that’s not so bad. Per capita solar installations and wind farms in Australia are still world leading. We have 5.4 GW of solar for 29 million people. To match us China would need to have 260GW of solar, they have 50GW – p!ss poor actually. What about America which has a population 10 times ours how have they done? 32GW of solar installed so far. To match us they should have installed 54GW . These two Laggards can ratify The Paris agreement as much as they want but they still can’t beat us to the renewables finishing post.

  4. Kenshō 3 years ago

    This quote:

    Whenever the issue emerges, all you see and hear is heated disagreement. Usually name calling then ensues – “environment evangelists”, “big polluters” and political “sell outs” become all too common catch phrases.

    What’s going on John is you must admit your not trained in social science or psychology, so you’ve under estimated the real differences that exist between people. Your frustration about why they can’t all get on together and hence why we can’t all get down to the business of making pragmatic decisions, is due to not being able to make these decisions. You’ve apparently given your life to caring for the planet, however have not being educated in inner awareness and how cognition unfolds. There is also a science of human awareness.

    This quote:

    We must stop acting as if there has to be a trade-off between being science-based and developing policies that can address the political and economic constraints we know exist in tackling climate change.

    In this quote here, there is a particular structure to your thinking. You attempt to draw together at least two potentially antithetical streams of thought, groups of people – the environmental evangelists and the big polluters and sell outs. One group reasons from environmental imperatives and the other reasons from economic imperatives.

    Your chief problem is to bring these two groups together requires all of them to have a higher level of cognitive reasoning, which developmental psychologists call “dialectical thinking” or “synergistic thinking”. It the purpose for Dialectical Behaviour Psychology being invented. In summary, your dealing with participants where many are unconcerned with reconciling that which you are interested in reconciling. The people labelled big polluters are probably really at a lower rung on the developmental continuum, lacking real empathy for the environment or social justice. Until the gravity of the whole group shifts somewhat higher in empathy and care, your goals are likely to be thwarted.

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