The clear evidence and thinking on climate change suggests that Australia is way behind the eight ball in leadership, policy and action to reduce greenhouse emissions, the major contributor to global warming and climate change.
The most recent CSIRO report indicating an essentially drier Australia - particularly the southern half of the continent - means that we need strategic leadership, vision and urgent action on climate change. The emerging water and food security crisis in Australia implicating vast tracts of the agricultural belt will not be solved by hoping for rain.
The drying of the southern part of continent is now inevitable with major ramifications for alpine areas, for rivers and wetlands, for habitat for our fauna and importantly, with serious fire consequences. No amount of “cool burning” will roll back the impacts of climate change. No amount of wishful “clean coal” or “carbon sequestration” thinking will stop the rolling global warming events that now deliver catastrophic fires, extreme storm and wind events, certain rises in sea levels and the significant reduction in the water yield of the land.
What is evident, however, is that none of the major parties have a clear strategic vision to ensure the environmental, water and food security of the nation. What is clear is that the elements of water and energy privatisation that continue to visit public policy, will potentially pit farmer against farmer in a bidding water for critical water supplies. As a major competitor for Australia's key water resources is Snowy Hydro attempting yet again, to “privatise” or “recapitalise” as the major “renewable energy” generator in Australia with its eye on expansion into gas generation and retail energy.
The competition for water is acute, affecting natural environments including the Snowy River, agriculture, peak energy supplies and now, regional communities no longer able to secure their potable water needs.
The most startling example of the stress on the Snowy Scheme catchments was the sudden depletion of the major storages, Lake Eucumbene and Lake Jindabyne, after the failed initial public offering of Snowy Hydro. At the time, the Snowy River Shire simply thought that Jindabyne would never have a water shortage. This was soon overturned as the local community watched Snowy Hydro pump water out of the lake as if there was no tomorrow, forcing the Jindabyne council to invest in a submersible pump to secure the town's water supply. And this, in the heart of the Snowy Mountains catchment area!
Water shortages are the acute reminder of the failed mish mash of soft climate change policies dribbled out by the Commonwealth Government that do not address the primary need to drastically cut emissions of polluting greenhouse gases. The Commonwealth prefers to protect the coal, gas and aluminium industries - relatively low contributors to GDP - which are the major emitters of greenhouse gases contributing up to 80 per cent of all emissions.
The Howard Government has allowed itself to be unduly influenced by a minority, albeit powerful, lobby group on policies that have serious implications not only for Australia's water, energy and food security, but also for regional neighbours in terms of policy settings on climate change and energy generation, most pertinently, China and India.
The question is why has the coal lobby had such a powerful influence on key policies including the non-ratification of Kyoto? With such a relatively small contribution to Australia's overall GDP there is little reason to allow one group to have such a major influence, particularly as it affects greenhouse pollution and climate change that is currently devastating the agricultural sector, which impacts on a range of allied industries, regional centres, communities and families. The concurrent costs of supporting and indulging the wishes of the coal industry are astronomical and will continue to be so as the nation begins to total lost earnings and problematically, the desertification of agriculture zones.
The time for a strategic vision is now and that must arise from the shared wisdom of the many people dealing with the impacts of fire, drought, flooding, wild storms, loss of forested areas, soil erosion, diminishing of water catchments and water supplies.
The “top down” solution from the major political parties is at best reflexive driven by the desire to win at the polls. A carefully considered and planned approach to tackling climate change and the concurrent major issues of water shortages and food production is overdue and now urgent. The emergency water and food needs must now focus on city-centred storm water capture and a range of food production options within city precincts.
The water privatisation agenda - supported by the Federal and State Governments inviting for example, foreign investment in desalination plants, water trading, water auctions and sale of irrigation licences to infrastructure groups including the Macquarie Bank - not only adds complexity to water sharing arrangements, but also compromises economically exposed and vulnerable people, essentially, families and individuals.