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The Howard government is 'recklessly negligent' on climate change

By Catherine Fitzpatrick - posted Wednesday, 28 January 2004

It stands to reason that if there is available to us a mechanism that can provide us with defence against a missile attack in the future, we would be foolish, in fact recklessly negligent, not to take advantage of the opportunity of acquiring that capacity.
- Prime Minister John Howard, doorstop interview, January 16, 2004

Exactly a week before the Prime Minister uttered those words, Sir David King, chief scientific adviser to the British Government, wrote in the respected Science Magazine:

In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today – more serious even than the threat of terrorism.


Greenpeace believes that the Prime Minister has taken the wrong path on both issues – missile defence is a wanton and dangerous mistake, and climate change must be seriously, and swiftly, addressed.

Over recent months, an array of scientific papers has been released, confirming that human activities are changing the climate and that this is leading to more frequent and severe droughts, floods, bushfires and coral bleaching.

The environmental cost is likely to be massive – the destruction of natural icons such as the Great Barrier Reef and, according to a recent Nature article, the extinction of over one million species by 2050.

The social and economic costs would be at least as high, with severe disruption to agriculture, damage to infrastructure and spreading diseases. A study by Munich Re, one of the world’s leading reinsurance companies, found that the impacts of climate change would cost the global economy an astounding US$300 billion every year by 2050.

But Mr Howard and his Ministers refuse to grapple with the biggest environmental threat we face.

They have repeated their rejection of the Kyoto Protocol – the only truly global attempt to deal with climate change and a vital first step in reducing greenhouse pollution. At the time Kyoto was negotiated, they claimed it as a win for Australia. Now they claim it is flawed but haven’t proposed any alternative international regime in its place.


They have also rejected any national schemes that, if implemented well, would reduce greenhouse pollution. A national emissions trading scheme proposed to Cabinet last year was knocked back by the Prime Minister. Then, last week it was reported that the public servants working on an international emissions trading scheme had been moved to other projects.

Even Mr Howard’s favoured voluntary programs, encouraging business to reduce greenhouse pollution without any binding targets, are failing. Last year more than 75 companies left the voluntary Greenhouse Challenge program.

The release last Friday of a report reviewing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET) poses a challenge to Mr Howard. The report, by a Panel endorsed by Mr Howard, recommended that the target be maintained at the current level, meaning ‘business-as-usual’ development to 2010. A second recommendation effectively pushed the Prime Minister’s original target of a two per cent increase out to 2020.

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About the Author

Catherine Fitzpatrick is a climate and energy specialist at Greenpeace.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Catherine Fitzpatrick
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Department of the Environment and Heritage
Greenpeace Australia
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