Monday, June 17, 2013

Climate Commission Says Leave Coal in the Ground

Greetings from The Playhouse Theatre in Canberra, for Professor Tim Flannery and the Climate Commission community forum on "How is the climate changing and what does it mean for our future?". I am not sure who chose the music, but the Bee Gees "Staying Live" seems apt. This meeting is timely with the Climate Commission having released today "The Critical Decade 2013 Climate change science, risks and responses" (by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes) that "... most of the fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground". The Australian Government is reported to already have rejected this finding. The Federal Resources Minister, Gary Gray, is reported to have argued that coal is helping bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Mr. Gray considers it better to bring millions out of poverty for a few years even as this condemns thousands of millions to greater poverty  some years later.

The Climate Commission argues that the world needs to "de-carbonize" by 2050 to limit global warming to 2 degrees. In my view aiming for a 2 degree rise is a poor strategic choice by the commission.In effect the commission has accepted a political compromise to minimize the economic impact. However, the commission is supposed to leave the politics to the politicians. In my view the commission should work on a zero temperature increase, then leave it to the politicians to compromise. Also the commission might look for some economic positives with alternative energy. The fear of being left behind with Australia having coal which it can't sell because it is banned as a dangerous pollutant and having no alternative, may be effective.

Will Steffen mentioned that ANU has a new six star energy saving building (the Frank Fenner building). Recently I attended a seminar in the building and found it very comfortable. Such a building has non-environmental benefits which may have more influence on decision making, than the environmental issues. I teach "ICT Sustainability" at ANU and suggest my students find direct business benefits from the energy savings measures they find.

At question time many of the speakers said they were staff and students of the ANU. This raises one positive and relatively uncontroversial way government can address climate change, through education. Post-secondary education is a major export industry for Australia and education about sustainability could be a future major contribution to this.

ps: A video of the evening will be on the commission's web site.

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