When a film about climate change featuring Al Gore, An
Inconvenient Truth, was shown in Parliament House in Canberra
on Monday night, even the enviro-sceptics and climate change
flat-earthers were shocked. Climate change requires determined
government action and a change in the way we live that goes well
beyond the next electoral cycle.
The film examines some of the effects of climate change: extreme
weather - droughts, floods, cyclones; the potential displacement of
millions of environmental refugees as water levels rise; extinction
of plant and animal species. It shows that last year was the
hottest year on record, and the 10 hottest years have been in the
past 14. Category 4 and 5 cyclones and hurricanes have doubled in
the past 30 years.
Gore's film focuses mostly on US science, but the Australian
context is just as scary. By 2030, the CSIRO says, Sydney's water
supply will drop by 25 per cent, as will rainfall in the
Murray-Darling Basin. Domestic food supply and agricultural exports
will be affected. NSW is experiencing its worst drought ever.
Wetlands such as Kakadu face permanent change and warmer oceans
threaten the coral that builds our Great Barrier Reef.
It's not just environmentalists who recognise climate change as
a major threat. Businesses are ahead of the Government in
understanding the need for urgent action to cut soaring greenhouse
pollution. Business needs the investment certainty that comes from
a long-term target to reduce emissions.
The report of the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate
Change says Australia can deliver significant reductions at an
affordable cost. Furthermore, the longer we delay acting, the more
expensive it becomes for businesses and for the wider Australian
economy. They argue for early action to minimise economic damage
through a gradual adjustment, and to maximise opportunities to
develop and export low-emission technologies to the likes of
Australia has more endangered animal and plant species than any
other continent - numbering hundreds - with 54 animal species and
61 plant species already extinct. Climate change will speed their
demise. The number of bird and animal species listed as extinct,
endangered or vulnerable rose by 41 per cent in the 10 years to
Mountain pygmy possums provide just one example. In winter these
possums live in the relatively warm pocket of air created between
the ground and the snow-covered gorse and heath of the Kosciuszko
National Park. They are protected against cold that would otherwise
be lethal. Because of global warming snow falls are declining.
Instead of a blanket of snow the possums are getting only rain,
which melts what little snow has fallen. Without the protective
blanket of snow, the mountain pygmy possums are likely to be among
our earliest casualties from global warming. It's probably too late
for this species, but with determined action we may be able to save
The respected international biodiversity expert Professor Norman
Myers has warned the world is facing the largest mass extinction in
65 million years. Myers told the National Press Club in March that
Australia's conservation efforts would be brought to nought unless
we tackled climate change. There was little point trying to protect
individual species, he said, without tackling global warming.
The Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, recently blocked an
electorally unpopular $220 million wind farm project in the
marginal Victorian seat of McMillan. The wind farm would have
reduced Australia's greenhouse emissions by 435,000 tonnes a year,
the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road. The reason
given was that one endangered orange-bellied parrot might get
killed every 1000 years.
We can't pick and choose the environmental science that suits
our political purposes. Unarguably climate change is happening,
although uncertainty exists about the pace of change - it could be
that disaster is approaching faster than we thought. Australia
needs a long-term target for cutting greenhouse gases and a serious
plan for how to reach that target.
The Prime Minister should listen to business, the CSIRO, the
Australian Greenhouse Office and the majority of Australians who
agree that climate change is a major threat. He might also benefit
from being strapped to a chair for 90 minutes and forced to watch
Al Gore's film.
Tanya Plibersek is a federal Labor member of
Copyright © 2006. The Sydney Morning Herald