Dangerous degrees, dangerous indifference Opinion Article

Aug 08, 2013 - 2:00pm

This article was originally published in Climate Spectator on 26 July, 2013. 

By John Connor, CEO, The Climate Institute

- See more at: /articles/opinion-pieces/taking-the-measure-of-party-climate-policies.html/section/1677#sthash.qP6SA6o1.dpuf

This article was originally published in Climate Spectator on 8 August, 2013.

John Connor
CEO, The Climate Institute

Ice is not political or ideological, it just melts. While yesterday’s American Meteorological Society’s State of the Climate 2012 report has Antarctica’s sea ice increasing, the Arctic cap hit record lows and it appears 2012 was the 22nd straight year of loss of mass in glaciers worldwide.

That report highlighted records in ocean heat and a host of other indicators adding to a teetering stack of scientific evidence and warning signals that have come from just 0.8 degrees Celsius average global warming above pre-industrial levels.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, babies were kissed, fluoro vests donned and the focus remained on cost of living, refugees and the economy.

Want cost of living impacts? Try the impacts on food prices and insurance premiums (if you can get them) already emerging, but that will grow with more warming.

If you think we have a refugee problem now, researchers forecast tens of millions of people displaced by climate change and its fallout in our region.


It be very unwise to be lulled into a false sense of security: two degrees is a ‘wrong way, go back’ sign, not a mark of safety. The warming is unlikely to be slow, gentle, or steady. Evidence from the deep past, observations today, and climate models shows that we’re in for a rocky ride.
Amidst talk of a ‘new way’, and ‘real solutions’ there has been little on addressing the risks arising from a more hostile climate. Yesterday’s Senate report into extreme weather events acknowledged our lack of preparation, but it too failed to adequately map out a framework of action and disclosure that should focus on the disturbingly too realistic scenarios of two or four-degree warming. Today I’m donning a fluoro vest and hard hat to launch The Climate Institute’s latest report Dangerous Degrees . It highlights why eminent experts are genuinely alarmed by the evidence for mounting costs and insecurity in a world even a few degrees warmer. Joining me in fluoro is world renowned scientist Professor Tony McMichael as well as economic strategist and ex-leader of the Liberal Party, Dr John Hewson.  

Outside of our political bubble the risks of an increasingly hostile climate are making waves in economic, security, and health circles. In fact our attitudes research shows a majority of Australians recognise climate change is impacting Australia now and nearly two-thirds are concerned about its cost of living impacts on food prices and insurance premiums.

Humanity has never lived with an atmosphere so heavy with heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Carbon pollution in the atmosphere has risen by 40 per cent since the start of the Industrial Revolution. It’s now at levels greater than at any time for least 800,000, possibly millions of years.

On present trends, humanity will pump up the heat by at least four degrees by 2100, if not well before.

When the president of the World Bank (hardly a raging greenie) says a four-degree world would come with ‘high uncertainty and new risks that…can and must be avoided’, surely it’s time to sit up and take note?

The recent World Bank report – Turn Down the Heat – spelt out how, unchecked, climate change will deprive millions of prosperity and undo decades of progress. A failure to contain emissions risks a global economic decline that would make the current financial crisis, for all its pain, look like a blip.

There are signs of hope: the last decade has seen a global boom in clean energy, more than 80 countries – including the US and China – have policies to cut pollution, dozens of countries have priced carbon, and there is widespread agreement, if as yet insufficient action, to hold warming below two degrees.

It would however, be very unwise to be lulled into a false sense of security: two degrees is a ‘wrong way, go back’ sign, not a mark of safety. The warming is unlikely to be slow, gentle, or steady. Evidence from the deep past, observations today, and climate models shows that we’re in for a rocky ride.

And Australia will be amongst the developed countries most at risk. Avoiding two degrees warming is truly in our national climate interest.

Strife in one part of the world has a habit of spilling over into other parts. Australia is more exposed than any other developed nation to the direct impacts of climate change, but we’ll have to contend with climate-related problems elsewhere too.

A recent report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – Heavy Weather – points out that climate change is likely to degrade Defence’s operating environment; increasing conflict risk and military workload. According to the American Security Project, the defence and intelligence services of more than 100 countries recognise the growing risk to peace and security.

It’s alright as long we’ve got our health, right? Well, a growing chorus of experts warn that we risk eroding the environmental and social foundations of good health. The symptoms we already see in people hit by bushfires, storms, floods, and drought are the early warming signs. The risks to physical and mental health, as well as community morale, mount with every year of inaction.

While governments have taken some encouraging steps and made impressive pledges, it remains to be seen if their words will translate into deeds matching the scale and urgency of the task. There is a big gap between the emissions pathway we’re on currently and the one we need to be on to avoid unmanageable, costly climate risks.

Regardless of their political colours, all Australian governments, as well as investors and businesses, must manage the impacts of the now unavoidable warming already in the pipeline and cut emissions to avoid the increasingly unmanageable dangers of warming beyond two degrees.

John Connor

John Connor was CEO of The Climate Institute from 2007 to March 2017. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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