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A global responsibility

By Arthur Thomas - posted Monday, 3 March 2008

Much has been made of the Ross Garnaut Interim Report, but anyone who is retained by a political party, to write a report on a highly sensitive campaign issue and a key part of its platform, knows what they are in for. There is also the professional obligation to present both positives and negatives and Professor Ross Garnaut has done just that in his interim report.

Why an interim report? Any government wants to be aware of the electorate's opinion on its journey into such sensitive issues and to “minimise” the prospect of “negative overreaction” when the final report is released. There is also another motive, and that is to prepare for a campaign to limit “collateral damage” that may arise from weaknesses in either its campaign promises, or impracticality in execution. Those opinions also provide the Government with an indication in the possible identities, direction and strategies that may be adopted by the opposition, influential individuals as well as activist and extremist groups.

When reading through the entire 63 pages one can only agree that Professor Ross Garnaut has presented a detailed interim report, correctly highlighting the impact, causes and urgent remedies to tackle climate change. As one would expect he has drawn attention to the sensitive key issues in the Rudd campaign to reduce emissions and the impact of climate change on Australia's environment, its people and its economy. He rightly details the extent of the massive cuts that Australia must make to achieve the crucial results.


The report has prompted a considerable response and, as one would expect, crosses the entire spectrum from the professional, the highly emotional to selective data dredging - by those with specific agendas, the sceptics and the radicals.

Let us first understand climate change and the impact of Australia's response.

Climate change or global warming, call it what you will, is a direct function of the global atmospheric circulation system in which emissions from all over the globe are agglomerated to form the “global shield”. It is in terms of total emissions from each country that determines the impact of the measures that each may adopt to reduce the effects of climate change.

Australia has been quoted as being fourth largest in per capita global emissions and that claim has been used selectively for political point scoring, to target the uninformed and especially used by radicals and hotheads both inside and outside parliament. The global emissions data is based on outdated 1996 figures: Australia is an industrialised nation with a relatively small population and huge numbers of livestock producing huge volumes of methane.

So where are we on the total emission scale? At end of 2006 Australia produces less than 1 per cent of global emissions and using Ross Garnaut's extreme recommendation of a 90 per cent cut in emissions, Australia's contribution will achieve less than 0.9 per cent reduction in the overall global emissions.

Like many sensitive government reports, the keys are often found buried in the text.


Ross Garnaut is acutely aware of the limitations that Australia's reductions would have on climate change and has referred to it on page 25 in 3.2 under section 3 "Comparing Costs of Climate Change and Mitigation".

The extent of Australia's own commitments to mitigation would depend upon progress towards effective global mitigation.

In short, without global reductions in emissions, Australia will achieve nothing in implementing the most drastic reductions outlined in the report and will suffer the consequences.

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About the Author

Arthur Thomas is retired. He has extensive experience in the old Soviet, the new Russia, China, Central Asia and South East Asia.

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