There’s rough weather ahead, Prime Minister

Climate change will be the toughest test of our new government. One election win does not a leader make, but success in reducing our emissions will find Kevin Rudd a place in history. [27 November 2007 | Peter Boyer]

Dear Kevin

Congratulations on your win. But no more happy returns. As you’ve said, so many things are demanding your attention. And looming over all of them is the unprecedented crisis that is global warming.

We need to be sure that you truly appreciate the magnitude and urgency of this challenge.

You’ve said that you’ll go to the United Nations climate conference in Bali in December, and that you’ll quickly have parliament ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

These are encouraging signs. The climate crisis underscores our need to resume active membership of the global community. Ratifying Kyoto brings us back into the fold and gives us access to international emissions trading, with attendant cost benefits.

You’ll be increasing support for solar, wind-wave and geothermal energy, aiming to have these sources contributing 20 percent of our energy by 2020. More welcome news.

So too your promises of a “clean energy export strategy”, a “green car challenge” supporting Australian manufacture of low-emission motor vehicles, and incentives to improve water and energy efficiency including household rebates for solar power and hot water.

But there are problems. A UN scientific report out this month said that to avoid dangerous climate change, global emissions must be on the downward path by 2015, and emphasised that by 2050 developed countries’ emissions will need to be cut by at least 80 per cent.

But you say we have till about 2020 before global emissions need to start heading down, and that a 60 per cent reduction by 2050 is enough. Both of you can’t be right – and I know where I’d put my money. You need to look again at your targets.

You aim to have an emissions trading scheme within two years, but you don’t countenance more direct regulatory measures such as a carbon tax, nor a personal carbon rationing scheme – an idea being seriously pursued in Europe. You should.

You endorse the idea of “clean coal” as if it just needs time to become reality. If it’s viable there will be rich rewards, and on that basis the coal industry can invest its own funds. But a decade of heavy public subsidies have produced precious little progress, and public money’s needed elsewhere.

There’s so much more demanding your attention – like land clearing, carbon storage in trees, road spending versus mass transportation, air transport, and competing land and water demands of human habitation, food crops, livestock and the natural environment.

We’ll come to them soon enough. In the meantime, take some heart from the fact that Australians don’t mind some discomfort if they know the problem and can see progress.

Good luck Kev. Good luck to all of us, if it comes to that. We’ll need it.

This entry was posted in Australian politics, climate politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.