Act on Climate Change Now Our Living Standards Come with High Price; Lecturer, Environmental Economist and Climate Modeller at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Graham Ashford Believes Australia Cannot Afford Not to Act on Climate Change. He Explains Why

Article excerpt


The pros and cons

A carbon tax can take advantage of the existing tax reporting and collection infrastructure and it provides a predictable price for pollution

That is good for investment decisions, although, to stimulate greater cuts over time, the tax must rise

The total amount of emissions reduced is not predictable however, since it depends on how expensive it is for firms to cut and how easily they can pass on the cost of the tax to consumers

BACK in 1988, when Crowded House was topping the charts and the Brisbane Broncos and acid wash jeans had just debuted, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established to determine whether the world was warming.

Thousands of the world's top scientists studied the evidence in detail, travelling to every country, analysing ice core samples, launching a barrage of satellites, monitoring the temperature and acidity of the oceans, and developing some of the most sophisticated computer models ever conceived.

Every scientifically credible piece of information was put into the mix.

The conclusion: the planet is warming and human activities are responsible.

The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion says that unless we reduce our global emissions soon and drastically, we are going to witness extremely damaging impacts and potentially unstoppable warming due to climate feedback effects.

It's an alarming message for a public already fatigued by biodiversity loss, population growth and an economic crisis.

Although some fossil-fuel powered lobbyists and climate sceptic bloggers are keen to cast doubt on the science, in decision-making circles the debate has long since moved on to what can be done to manage the problem.

Indeed Australia acknowledged that climate change was a real and growing threat back in 1992, when we signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We were not acting alone. The agreement has been signed by virtually every country in the world.

The central principle of both the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol is that of acommon but differentiated responsibilitya.

That means that all countries must reduce emissions but wealthy industrialised countries should invest first since we are responsible for most of the historical emissions and have the wealth and technology to act.

Developing countries aren't off the hook, but the reality is that much of the world's population still lives in extreme poverty without adequate food, sanitation or clean water.

There is widespread agreement that they are entitled to a better life, even if it means more emissions in the short term.

Australia already enjoys a high standard of living but at a significant atmospheric cost.

The average Australian produces about 25 tonnes of carbon emissions every year a the highest in the world.

As academics such as Professor Clive Hamilton at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics have noted, Australia produces about a third more emissions every year than Indonesia which has 230 million people.

Professor Hamilton challenges the idea that because we only produce 1.8% of global emissions nothing we do will make a difference.

By that logic he points out that France, Italy, Spain, South Korea and about 180 other countries need not do anything either since they are also just a small part of the problem. …


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