Group push needed to tackle climate crisis Opinion Article

Sep 26, 2013 - 10:34am

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 26 September, 2013. 

Erwin Jackson
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute 

When I started working on climate change in the early ’90s I could count the number of climate change policy advocates in Australia on one hand.  Since then, concern about the impact of  burning  coal, oil and gas on the global climate has grown. 

So has the number of  climate groups, think tanks and government agencies trying to tackle the problem.

In Australia alone there are environmental groups as well as our key national scientific body, CSIRO. There is also The Climate Institute,  Climate Change Authority, ClimateWorks, the Climate Change Institute,  Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, and, until last week, the Climate Commission.

Given that we are fast running out of names that can be attributed to a  ‘‘climate’’ body, it is not unreasonable to ask what is the purpose of all these bodies and why can’t we just rely on CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) for information, as the new government argues. 

But when you look clearly at what the challenge entails, you see that the simple answer is no. 

Holding the government to account ultimately can only be done if the full gamut of organisations is there, actively playing to their respective strengths, working towards a safer and cleaner Australia.

All of these groups and bodies have different roles to play. CSIRO and BoM have world-class scientists who ensure that we have the best scientific knowledge available to guide policies to reduce emissions and adapt to the climate change that is now inevitable.

This is why the rebirth of the Climate Commission as the Climate Council is good news. The commission, set up by the previous government to raise public awareness  on climate science and economics, suffered the chop in one of the first acts of the new government.  Then, on Tuesday, it was reborn, with  public financial support, in the form of the Climate Council.  

In its previous incarnation the organisation played an important role in synthesising knowledge and engaging directly with the community in building public understanding of climate science and its implications for Australia.

That is a role we still need someone to play, as most other groups are focused narrowly in a sector (for instance environment groups), or on policy that the public never really wants to know the full details around.

Also the Climate Commission, CSIRO and BoM mostly avoided offering policy prescriptions to address  scientific concerns.

That role is left to groups like us, The Climate Institute. We look at the science and try to  communicate the potential consequences, whether it’s on key sectors like emergency services, or major infrastructure like roads and energy networks, or how your own superannuation fund investment ties into Australia’s ability to make the transition to a cleaner economy. 

We also look at how other countries are tackling climate change and inform our government of best policy approaches.

You would be forgiven for being turned off by climate change stories in the media over the past few years. News cycles dominated by  ‘‘the carbon tax lie’’ and widely exaggerated claims of economic Armageddon as the world’s biggest carbon tax (which it is not, by the way) drives industries to the polluting shores of China, the world’s biggest investor in clean energy.

This politicising of the climate change issue is exactly why we try to reframe the debate in more tangible ways for everyday Australians. For instance, we have long felt that climate scientists are faceless to the  broader community. To try and change this we   asked their views on what keeps them up at night.

For our part The Climate Institute will be expanding its independent, non-partisan and solutions-focused efforts in the  time ahead.  

The new government is yet to provide its own independent assessment of whether  it can achieve the emission targets it has committed to.

Holding the government to account ultimately can only be done if the full gamut of organisations is there, actively playing to their respective strengths, working towards a safer and cleaner Australia. 

Chopping one here and another there may seem like saving taxpayer dollars. But it is actually just a short-term knee-jerk reaction that leaves us exposed to much greater costs in the future – costs that are not just financial, but physical and potentially impossible to recover from. 

Independent commentators and evidence-based analysis  remains critical to ensure we don’t just try and wish climate change away.

Erwin Jackson

Erwin is Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute. With nearly 20 years practical experience in climate change policy and research, Erwin has developed and led many national and international programs aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution. This work has been undertaken in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the Pacific and Antarctica. He has represented non-governmental groups and advised government and business in national, regional and international fora, including being a non-governmental expert reviewer of the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Erwin has written, researched and produced many publications on climate change and energy policy including a number of review papers in scientific journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia.
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