For those who need it, some heavyweight support for climate action

Major climate change studies released last week, from the United States Government and International Red Cross, warn that we must cut emissions and help people adapt to inevitable change. [23 June 2009 | Peter Boyer]

I’m overdoing the scary climate scenarios, a reader told me last week. So today I’ll give it a rest and cut to something respectable and official — studies by the United States government and the International Red Cross. You can’t get more sober-minded than that.

In separate reports released last week, dealing with opposite extremes of the world’s economic spectrum, both these august institutions advise that climate change is here now, primarily caused by human activity, and threatening us with a very trying future if we don’t lower carbon emissions, quickly.

The Red Cross World Disasters Report traces the impact of natural disasters on communities in developing countries, while the US government’s Global Climate Change Impacts focuses on consequences for the United States.

Both reports hold out a reasonable prospect that humanity can meet the climate challenge, if we can muster the will and take the necessary action, together. But the need to act is urgent.

Dealing with impacts on the world’s most advanced economy, the US report, prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says that “the projected rapid rate and large amount of climate change over this century will challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt.”

“Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced,” says the US report. The main cause of rising global temperatures over the past 50 years has been human greenhouse emissions.

Quick and decisive action is needed. “Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today. The amount and rate of future climate change depend primarily on current and future human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases and airborne particles.”

Both reports tell us that human carbon emissions have already caused changes to our climate that are affecting people’s lives all over the world, and that projections show these impacts becoming bigger, with major threats from increasing extreme events and disruption to food production.

The Red Cross report focuses on the needs of developing countries and the value of early warning. In the case of climate change, it said, we’ve had all the warning we need: “It potentially threatens more lives and livelihoods than any other disaster the world has faced.”

The response has been piecemeal, says the report. The biggest responsibility lies with richer countries, having done most to cause the problem: “Some countries and communities are well on the way to protecting themselves; others, though often aware of the danger, have no means to act.”

Red Cross argues that developed countries must seize the opportunity “right now” to mitigate climate impact and help people in poorer countries adapt to unavoidable changes. “Vulnerability to climate extremes, variability and uncertainty can be addressed today, to build resilient communities that can cope with whatever the climate brings in the future.”

The Red Cross report asserts that “climate needs to be mainstreamed into sustainable development strategies that address current inequalities and failings.” I can see little sign of that happening in Australia.

The sole global superpower (last time I checked) and the world’s largest international aid agency both want urgent and purposeful action to reduce global emissions. That should make our own elected representatives stop their politicking and do the same. Wouldn’t you think?

• Cyclists and others in Hobart with an interest in the future of personal transport are invited to an Environment Tasmania public forum on power-assisted pedal cycling, 7 pm tomorrow at the Baha’i Centre, 1 Tasman Highway. Chaired by Glenorchy Mayor Adriana Taylor, the forum will look at the potential role of these cycles in light of new regulations now being discussed.

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