Australia Must Reduce Its Coal Exports To Cut Greenhouse Emissions: Climate Change Scientists

A sea buoy is buffeted by strong waves off Port Douglas. Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

The latest report from the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reinforces its consistent message that climate change is real and has dangerous consequences for humanity.

And an urgent shift is needed from burning coal, gas and oil to more clean energy, according to the report Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Germany’s Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who co-chaired the IPCC report, the third in a series.

The Working Group III report was put together by 235 scientists from 57 countries and looks at ways to fight climate change.

However, some Australian scientists believe governments have so far failed despite all the talk, negotiations, agreements and promises.

“In the face of an increasingly likely crisis, they have continued to put lives of millions at risk,” says Dr Liz Hanna of the Australian National University and President of the Climate and Health Alliance.

“Grandstanding, passing the buck of responsibility and waiting for others to reduce their carbon emissions wastes precious time, time that we simply do not have.”

Governments, industries communities and every household needs to do everything within their capacity to stop releasing carbon into the atmosphere, she says.

Dr Hanna says that Australians contribute more per head of population to the problem than any other OECD country.

“Contrary to the scare tactics, moving away from fossil fuel based economy can lead to a better, more fruitful, and healthier life than we have today,” she says.

“Cities promoting effective public transport systems and active transport, where people walk and cycle more, have cleaner air, more green spaces for recreation and this improves mental health.”

On average, Australia has warmed less than one degree and this has already delivered record heat waves with temperature more than 46 degrees in major cities.

“Delaying strong mitigation efforts lowers the likelihood that warming could be curtailed at 2 degrees,” she says.

“This wilful disregard for human safety should be recognised for what it is, short term gain at the expense of a collective future in a world that is habitable.”

Professor David Stern, from the Crawford School of Public Policy at the The Australian National University, was the lead author of Chapter 5 on Trends, Drivers, and Mitigation.

Over the last four decades, per capita emissions from all sources – energy use, land-clearing – declined in both the poorest and the richest countries but rose in middle income countries.

And because of population growth, total emissions rose in all regions. Total emissions from developing countries (low and middle income) now exceed those from the developed countries.

Global greenhouse gas emissions rose more rapidly between 2000 and 2010 than in the previous three decades and this is mainly because of rapid growth in emissions in middle income countries such as China.

The decline in per capita emissions in low-income countries is because of a reduction in emissions from agriculture and land-clearing and an absolute reduction in those emissions in the decade 2000 to 2010.

However, per capita emissions remain very unequal globally with emissions in high-income countries averaging nine times the level in the lowest income countries.

This means there is a lot of scope for “catch-up growth” in emissions under business as usual and points to the need to switch to low carbon energy sources as soon as possible.

This is because the majority of emissions are derived from energy use and energy efficiency improvements have historically been insufficient to offset the growth in income per capita let alone population growth, especially in the decade 2000 to 2010.

Professor Glenn Albrecht, Director of the Institute for Social Sustainability at Murdoch University, says the ethical implications of this new IPCC report deserve attention.

“When the consensus on the accuracy of the science is near 100%, we must ask, why are we imposing such a massive risk of social, economic, industrial and agricultural disruption and failure on ourselves?” he says.

“The ethics of greenhouse gas mitigation require of all nations and people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will deliver a safer world for all.

“In Australia, given the dominant role that burning fossil fuels has in generating greenhouse gas emissions, to do our just share to reduce the risk, we must urgently and systematically reduce our use and export of coal, petroleum and gas.

“At the same time, we must invest ethically and economically in a new era where we make a just and equitable transition to non-polluting, renewable energy sources.”

Professor Hugh Outhred, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications at the University of New South Wales, says the IPCC Working Group 3 Summary for Policymakers reinforces the key messages that climate change is real has dangerous consequences for humanity and requires our immediate action.

“Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change and is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for both domestic use and export,” he says.

“Australian society has demonstrated that it has the capability to take a leading role in developing and implementing low-emission technologies and adopting low-emission lifestyles.

“However, that seems unlikely given the present combative and ill‐informed political debate about climate change and the influence of the fossil fuel lobby.”

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