Almost ten thousand people attended Montreal for the United Nations climate change conference in Canada. The conference occurred as carbon dioxide, the principle climate change culprit, is the highest it has ever been over the 650,000 years of history we can measure.
Australia was there, with Environment Minister Ian Campbell present for the high-level negotiations. He has been saying that humans are undeniably changing the world’s climate but is still not committing this country to greenhouse gas reduction targets.
So is Australia’s current climate change stance reasonable? Can we hope to avoid dangerous world changes? Is the alternative really, as a recent On Line Opinion Forum post suggested, going “back to sitting in dark, cold caves growling over raw meat”?
I would like to offer you three pointers to find your way through this climate morass. They are an ethical base for climate decisions, a real world check, and a greenhouse gas emissions position decoder.
So what is a fair and just approach to climate change?
Ethicist Peter Singer has pointed out it is very hard to think of a fair way under which nations produce greenhouse gas without the starting point being that everyone in the world is entitled to the same amount.
For example, Singer uses the Kyoto Agreement, the next stage of which was discussed in Montreal, as a notional acceptable output for greenhouse gases. He then divides this by the population of the world and finds developing countries like China are not yet using their per person share. China is in fact using 75 per cent of its per person share, while the United States, on the other hand, is using 500 per cent.
And Australia? The Australia Institute revealed last year that we produce 27 per cent more greenhouse gas per capita than people in the US. This makes us the highest emitter among all the world’s industrialised countries. Even looked at in absolute terms Australia’s total emissions exceed France and Italy, each with about three times Australia’s population.
If we are in support of a fair world, we would therefore be committed to massively cutting Australia’s emissions. But do such cuts mean we will be eating raw food and have no power?
This is where the real world comes in. There has been substantial action across the world from business, governments and the public. For example, 155 institutional investors, representing more than US$21 trillion in assets, have joined together as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) to call for action.
With such financial clout behind it over 70 per cent of the US FT500 companies are now responding to the CDP. This includes Australian companies like BHP Billiton, Telstra and Westpac.
And major companies like Dupont are also achieving real change. Dupont has cut worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, and saved US$2 billion through using energy more efficiently.
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