IPCC report: reduce emissions or suffer the consequences

Australia’s deplorable emissions scorecard that was withheld until recently shows greenhouse gas emissions have hit an all time high, rising by 1.3 per cent in the 12 months to March this year. Then early this week came the much anticipated release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that all but shouts “too much, time to stop polluting, it’s already almost too late.”  

Compiled by 91 scientists under the mantle of the United Nations, the IPCC report mentions 6,000 scientific references and states global warming will exceed the critical 1.5°C threshold by 2040 unless rapid and drastic action is taken, including eliminating coal from electricity in that time frame.

The IPCC believes average temperature increases can still be kept to 1.5 degrees provided a "global transformation" of all sectors of the economy is undertaken, with emissions reducing 45 per cent from 2010 levels (58 per cent from 2015 totals) by 2030.

If the atmosphere warms by to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels by 2040 it would bring more intense droughts and poverty, and inundate coastlines. Ninety per cent of the world's coral reefs would die off.

A 2°C increase in global temperatures would finish off all reefs and result in higher risks of malaria, dengue, yellow fever and Zika virus.

Or is it all simply a case of fake, over-baked news? The Coalition’s response to what is arguably the most conclusive report ever on climate change has been nothing less than astonishing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated his intent to tackle power prices, not emissions, and pushed aside the need to phase out coal-fired power in the next two decades, stating the IPCC report “does not provide recommendations to Australia … we are not held to any of the recommendations, and nor are we bound by them.”

Energy minister Angus Taylor who is famously anti-wind, pro coal, also rejects the thrust of the IPCC report and appears to believe Australia is on track to meet the Paris target (rather than fall short by a billion tonnes or so).

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack also dismissed the very thought that coal production be wound down, instead questioning why he should take any notice of “some sort of report?”

And rounding off the government’s response was Environment Minister Melissa Price who said: “I just don’t know how you can say by 2050 you are not going to have technology, good clean technology, when it comes to coal. That would be irresponsible of us to commit to that.”

The Coalition’s tunnel vision is mind-boggling. (Who was it that suggested it was time for an ICAC inquiry into political party donations?)

[For the Liberal government] to put their head in the sand on this issue – they just fobbed the IPCC report off, like it doesn’t matter – it’s a pretty unsatisfactory position,” said past Liberal leader John Hewson.

Smart Energy Council chief executive John Grimes made the point that once again the evidence becomes clearer. 

“Earth’s climate is in genuine peril,” he said. “An orderly transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels is critical both socially and economically.

“The issue of climate change is undoubtedly going to be a key issue at the next year’s federal election.”

Political and environment groups have been vocal in response to the IPCC report.

Adam Bandt of the Greens circulated a missive under the subject header ‘Climate Emergency’ stating “The IPCC report is crystal clear. Scientists have laid down the challenge for politicians. Act now, or face the catastrophic consequences.

“If we don’t quit coal, it will kill us. If we don’t quit coal, we are screwed.

“With a coal-loving Prime Minister … it’s time to mobilise for a war against coal and a war against climate change.”

Labor’s position is to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent from 2005 levels and boost renewable energy contributions to 50 per cent by 2030.

The Australian Conservation Foundations said “Based on 6000 scientific references, the IPCC report says the situation is now dire. We must stop burning coal – urgently. As the world's biggest exporter of coal, what Australia does matters, for everyone.

“We have clever people and the technology to quickly phase out coal and replace it with 100% clean energy from the sun and wind. We can create a country of flourishing, resilient communities and thriving nature. What we need is political courage and action.

The ACF is encouraging people to take action by talking to people about climate damage, and to call the prime minister, and has declared the next federal election “the climate election”.

For his part, Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone has focused on the “worrying predictions for human health” contained in the IPCC report that the government cannot ignore.

“The 2018 report shows that the magnitude of projected heat-related morbidity and mortality would be even greater with global warming at 2°C than by limiting global warming at 1.5°C,” he said.

“The impact on human life is significant. The AMA urges the Government to seriously consider these predictions, and act accordingly.

“The IPCC has previously concluded that there is high to very high confidence that climate change will lead to greater risks of injuries, disease, and death due to more intense heatwaves and fires; increased risks of undernutrition; and consequences of reduced labour productivity in vulnerable populations,” Dr Bartone said.

Other impacts at 1.5°C compared to 2°C were listed in the IPCC report, including the spread of diseases, increase in malaria and ozone-related mortality.

On a more local level, according to the report heat-related deaths in Australia’s five largest cities are projected to increase from a baseline of 214 per year, to 475 per year at 1.5°C, and to 970 per year at 2°C.

Years of life lost due to heat-related illness in Brisbane are projected to increase from 616 in 2000, to 1178 at 1.5°C, and then to 2845 at 2°C.

By-election fever: Pressure is building on candidates in the build up to the Wentworth by-election, with Liberal front-runner David Sharma a no-show at local forums where the need to address emissions and tackle climate change is up for discussion.

One prominent figure making his presence known is past Liberal leader and Smart Energy Council Patron John Hewson, who fronted up to a rally declaring the Coalition was “grossly irresponsible” in its response to greenhouse gas emissions and that the seat of Wentworth is “ripe for a protest vote”.

“Voters have the opportunity on October 20 to signal to government the importance of tackling climate change – now. The by-election can be seen as a referendum on climate change.

“The community has a unique opportunity now, with a by-election just months before a general election, they could register a substantial protest vote against the government or any other candidates that don’t understand the magnitude and urgency of the climate change challenge,” Hewson says.

“Is it going to take a drubbing in a byelection to get them to do something on climate?”

Back to Australia’s emissions output: the first three months of the year saw the highest levels of carbon pollution since 2011, with a continuation of the trend of upward annual emissions since 2013.

In the year to March 2018, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1.3 per cent – totalling 529.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – according to the Department of Environment and Energy.

Yet, incredibly, Environment Minister Melissa Price said the government “was committed to the Paris Agreement [to rein in emissions] and takes its international obligations seriously”.

Price – who comes from a legal background in the mining industry – did a grand job of cherry picking, saying per-capita emission levels were now 36 per cent below 1990 levels (a time that per capita levels in 1990 were sky high).

“The latest report on Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory clearly shows Australia is on track to beat its 2020 emissions target,” she says.

The response by climate change expert and ANU associate professor Hugh Saddler’s on the minister’s speculative claim makes for a good read.