Pollies hot air leads to more red faces Ópinion Article

Jan 11, 2015 - 12:05pm


This article first appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 11 January, 2015. 

Erwin Jackson        
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute

The thing about physics is that it does not care too much about political hot air, such as that often coming from our pollies in Canberra.

Physical hot air was just one of the conditions that saw record temperatures and other climate records broken throughout Australia, and in the Hunter specifically, over 2014.

This week it is likely that the two major US climate science bodies will join their Japanese counterparts and conclude that 2014 was the hottest year in the instrumental record globally. This is just continuing the global warming trend, principally driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas,which has seen the last three decades being successively warmer than any preceding period since 1850.

The majority of governments around the world are now listening to their respected scientific experts and starting to act to address the challenge. Last year the US, China and the European Union announced new emission reduction goals, which cover over half of global emissions.

Domestic action in each of these regions, and others, is also significant. For example, to meet its new international commitment, China will need to build a power sector the size of the current one in the US, powered almost entirely by solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Similarly, the US is implementing new rules that would ban new traditional-style coal-fired power stations and cut pollution from the power sector by nearly a third in this decade.

Underpinning these actions is a recognition that action to control carbon emissions is not just inevitable, it is beneficial.A reduction in local air pollution, increased energy security,and the development of new clean high tech/high smart industries helps cut emissions, but also creates new jobs, investment and can boost local development.

The recent political discussion in Canberra on climate change policy lacks foresight. Both major parties continue to discuss action over the next five years, but ignore the longer-term vision, or economic benefits of providing longer-term incentives for new industries and for older ones to clean up their polluting ways.

Over the past 12 months political wrangling has snuffed out investment in large-scale renewable energy. Australia has slid from being the 11th largest investor in 2013 to 31st in 2014. Countries like Algeria and Myanmar now invest more in renewables than we do. Globally, more investment is flowing into renewable power generation than fossil fuel electricity capacity.

Australia’s leap backwards on renewables investment is made worse given that we became the first country to repeal a functioning carbon pricing mechanism.

Inaction and hot air don’t add up to much. Recent climate extremes in Australia are part of a longer term trend that scientists say will only intensify. There are countries that are starting to wake up to this reality.Let’s hope this year, in Canberra, they wake up to this fact as well.

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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