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There is only one moral, ethical approach to climate change

By Fiona Armstrong - posted Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Green Paper released by the Victorian Government this month as the first step towards their Climate Change Bill fails Victorians.

Most alarmingly, it fails to accept Victoria’s share of the responsibility of contributing to dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by failing to include an emissions reduction target that will hold Victoria to account in acting to cut its share of emissions. Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gas per person, and Victoria is responsible for 20 per cent of the national emissions.

Failing to act in a way that will ensure our state achieves our share of cuts in emissions, and contributes to the global effort of avoiding more dangerous climate change and restoring a safe climate, is morally reprehensible and represents a fundamental disregard for the safety of the Victorian community.


In the Victorian Climate Change Green Paper (PDF 4.91 MB), the Victorian Government has walked away from its commitment at the last election to introduce a legally binding target to cut emissions by 60 per cent (from 2000 levels) by 2050. The importance of a legally binding target is that it holds the government and industry to account for delivering on emissions cuts: it becomes illegal not to cut emissions, and holds the government accountable for ensuring cuts actually occur.

But the failure to include this particular target is not even the worst aspect of the government’s approach; it is the failure to include a target at all, and in doing so, the government has adopted the morally corrupt position held by the Rudd Government (and the former Howard government) that Australia will only accept a fair share of the effort to cut global emissions when someone else does too!

Climate science is moving very rapidly and it is now quite clear that we have already entered into dangerous climate change territory. Projections made in the IPCC report in 2007 have now been surpassed by far more urgent predictions from world leading climate scientists: unless we quickly stabilise the earth’s atmosphere at 350 parts per million (ppm) or less, the subsequent increase in global warming will cause the complete loss of Arctic sea ice this decade. Carbon dioxide levels are now at 387ppm and rising every day.

The rapid loss of Arctic sea ice (predicted by some scientists to be completely melted within four years; many others sometime this decade) will remove the reflective protection the ice currently affords us, and allow the unprecedented release of billions of tonnes of methane (much more powerful than carbon dioxide) from the permafrost beneath the ice, leading to a surge in global warming we will be powerless to halt.

To avoid the near term possibility of runaway climate change we have to dramatically cut our emissions, possibly by as much as 100 per cent within a decade. Not only that; we must remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere because the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already exceeded a level considered safe. The science is telling us we have just one decade to turn this around. Otherwise we face chaotic weather events; the failure of major ecosystems; the destruction of communities as natural resources disappear and ultimately, the destruction of our species.

Make no mistake, we are threatening ourselves with extinction (and quickly) if we do not demand that this government and the Australian government act quickly to avert dangerous climate change.


Yes, it is frightening, and yes, it will be difficult, but we are an intelligent species and, really, there is no other choice. We need to restructure our economy away from fossil fuels and make a rapid switch to renewable energy to create a safe future for ourselves.

A business-as-usual approach and the continuation of our current levels of emissions will ensure our destruction. Allowing this to continue when the risks are so well documented is nothing less than a crime against humanity. If we do not act, the forthcoming effects have been predicted by Nicholas Stern to lead to a progressive social, economic and environmental chaos that will eclipse the destruction wrought by the last two world wars combined. Others have suggested it will surpass that of a nuclear holocaust.

What should the Victorian government be doing?

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About the Author

Fiona Armstrong is a Melbourne based public policy analyst and commentator. She has a background in health policy and is an active campaigner for health reform in Australia. A longstanding environmentalist, she has recently turned her attention to climate policy.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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