17 July 2016

Emergency action is only sane response to escalating climate impacts

Climate emergenecy statement published in "The Age" 23 June 2016. Click to enlarge.

by David Spratt

In 2010, Malcolm Turnbull said: "Our efforts to deal with climate change have been betrayed by a lack of leadership, a political cowardice, the like of which I have never seen...". Nothing has changed. Turnbull has betrayed his own words.

Australians understand an emergency: a situation of threat or escalating threat with severe consequences for life and property that requires urgent preventive intervention.
Our climate is getting hotter and more extreme, with sea level rises already in the system set to inundate our coastlines. A hotter climate will undermine global food and water security, and challenge how and where we live and work unless we take big steps right now.

We are out of time for slow, gradualist policy. The emergency action call is increasingly being taken up by leading scientists and responsible leaders around the world as extreme events escalate. “This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency action," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon almost a decade ago.

More than 20 prominent Australians supported a statement published in The Age on 23 June (pictured above) saying it was time to declare a climate emergency.

“We are in a kind of climate emergency now… It is becoming more and more urgent. Time has almost run out to get emissions down. That’s the real emergency," says Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of Potsdam University.

The future of human civilisation, and the survival of the precious ecosystems on which we depend, now hang in the balance.

We have experienced the hottest year on record in 2015, and an alarming global temperature spike of more than 1.5°C of warming in February 2016. Our Great Barrier Reef. Western Australia's kelp forest, tropical mangrove systems and the ancient Tasmanian forests are being destroyed by global warming.

It is clear that the current warming of just one degree Celsius is not safe and already dangerous. For example, a one-metre sea-level rise which is currently in the system would inundate 15-17% of the land area of Bangladesh, wipe out nearly 40% of the Mekong Delta, flood one-fourth of the Nile Delta and depopulate many small-island states.

One degree Celsius is and will have would have devastating impacts on sea levels, food security, the polar icecaps, and extreme events unless we can reduce the current level of greenhouse gases back to a safe level.  Two degrees of warming would be very dangerous.

Climate policy is not providing a secure future for Australians. The implications of rising sea levels and drowning and failed states are underestimated. Declaring a climate emergency and initiating a society-wide mobilisation unprecedented in peacetime to make action on global warming the nation’s highest-level priority, and internationally, is now necessary.

We are out of time. In a similar manner to facing a large threat such as fire, flood and storm or military threat, we now need to "throw everything" we can at the climate problem, with emergency-scale and speed of action to decarbonise the Australian economy.  This means:
  •  An immediate ban on new coal and gas developments, and a full plan for fast coal closures.
  • An emergency-speed transition to zero emissions including for greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, and an all-sector national energy efficiency plan.  
  • Find the ways to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases back to a safe level.
  • Strong public leadership and honesty about the problem and the path to solving it.
We are doing too little, too late. As a society we need to step up. We need courage rather than procrastination from our aspiring leaders.