Professor Garnaut gets a low score for his speech on Friday, which outlined his targets for reducing Australia’s greenhouse pollution by 2020.
The Garnaut Review’s conclusion that “an international agreement on a global goal of 450ppm or less is not immediately feasible” shows a lack of leadership and a lack of belief in social change.
The Garnaut Review was commissioned to consider two emission reduction scenarios - stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at a concentration of 450ppm and 550ppm. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a grouping of over 2,000 of the world's best climate scientists, 450ppm, the lower scenario, will give us a 50 per cent chance of warming the planet by 2C global average temperature.
While 2C doesn't sound like much, it is often cited by scientists as a dangerous threshold which we should not cross. Garnaut’s draft report found that a 2C increase in global average temperature will cause major impacts on the natural systems that support human life:for instance a 40 per cent drop in Australia's agricultural capacity, 12-25 per cent reduction in inflow to the Murray Darling Basin and inundation of low lying areas across Asia and the Pacific causing people to lose their homes and livelihood.
Two degrees may trigger "run away climate change" where natural systems start releasing greenhouse gases in such quantities that temperatures rise 4, 5, 6, 7, 8C, leaving much of the planet uninhabitable. Essentially, a 2C rise in global temperature could spell complete climate disaster.
A 50 per cent chance of preventing climate disaster, a flip of a coin, does not sound like very good odds. Imagine you are getting on a plane, as the flight attendant scans your ticket he informs you that, by the way, this plane has a 50 per cent chance of crashing. Would you still get on?
Perhaps the government should consider a new question, the question the Garnaut Review should have been tasked with from the beginning: "what do we want the future to look like?"
It's fair to say that Australians want a safe and stable climate for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. Nobody wants a 50 per cent chance of disaster. The question that frames climate policy should be: "how do we ensure a safe climate for ourselves, our children and generations to come?"
Recent research published by Dr James Hansen, the world renown climate scientist and Head of the NASA Goddard Institute, shows that to ensure a safe future greenhouse gases should not exceed 350ppm of CO2 (or 400 ppm CO2-e, in Garnuat language) as an absolute upper limit. He states that this target is required if "humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed".
Cutting emissions to 400ppm CO2-e certainly requires a transformation of the global economy. However, failing to aim for where we want to go will guarantee that we will not get there - it's as simple as that.
Australia has an abundance of climate solutions at our fingertips: the prospect of plentiful renewable energy, and a public concerned about the problem and willing to act. Globally, the world has never been as educated, or as wealthy, and we've never been in a better position to find the breakthroughs - technological, economic, social and political - that we need to solve climate change and stabilise emission reductions at a level below Garnaut’s terms of reference - 400 ppm CO2-e.
Australia must reduce greenhouse pollution as quickly as possible to the lowest levels possible, and rapidly transition to a new, more efficient economy with new investments, new industries and thousands of new, green jobs for our generation.
Climate change is the challenge of our generation. The Garnaut Review's disappointing targets will not meet this challenge. The Australian Government must take bold brave steps to protect Australia and our planet.
While the changes required will not be easy, they are necessary to ensure our planet remains habitable for future generations. As John F Kennedy aptly stated in 1963 "our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air (and) we all cherish our children's futures".