Just two days after I got on my soapbox about carbon and Australia's abject failure so far to reduce its emissions, the Australia Climate Commission published a report, The Critical Decade: Climate science, risks and responses. The full report runs to 70 pages, but to get the gist, read climatecommission.
Not surprisingly, the report has received a lot of media attention and triggered a lot of fatuous political posturing. Both the Government and the Opposition say the report backs up their policy: Prime Minister Julia Gillard believes the report reinforces her intention to introduce carbon pricing next year; and Coalition leader Tony Abbott takes a handful of words out of context to claim support for the Coalition's plan for 'direct action' to deal with emissions by storing carbon in soil and planting trees.
Although the report is in favour of carbon pricing to deter the use of fossil fuels, it's main thrust is decarbonisation by means of major and immediate investment in renewable energy sources. The Commission is all for putting carbon back into the soil, but insists that major energy consumers must use alternatives to fossil fuels, while Mr Abbott's plan proposes only 'mid-scale' and 'micro' renewable energy projects.
Inevitably in a country where the climate debate is often disappointingly simplistic, the climate-sceptics came out with all guns blazing. The Opposition's greatest embarrassment on this topic, Nick Minchin, declared that the members of the Commission were 'a select group of known alarmists who seek to exaggerate the dangers of global warming'. (To put him in context, this is a man who during the 1990s denied the addictiveness of nicotine and the harmfulness of passive smoking.) The Commission's membership consists of academics, scientists, an economist and a senior business executive. Most of them have received international acclaim. Even if you don't accept their collective credentials, they are backed by a Science Advisory Panel*.
On Friday Julia Gillard and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh will travel to Gladstone to launch work on a $16 billion liquefied natural gas project on Curtis Island. No doubt they will laud the number of construction jobs (more than 5,000) and long-term positions (1,000) and the $9 billion in export revenues this project will generate. By 2015, when it comes into operation, it will more than likely make Australia the second-largest LNG exporter in the world and consolidate its attractiveness as an 'investment destination'. While the Prime Minister's press office states that LNG has an important role to play in 'the global transition towards a cleaner energy future', it fails to elucidate how much, if any, of the coal seam gas coming from the Surat and Bowen basins in Southeast Queensland will actually facilitate Australia's own transition. Neither does it acknowledge the growing disconcertion about the exploitation of coal seam gas in every state of this nation and many countries across the globe.
Today the Queensland government's Environment Minister Kate Jones announced that the state's so-called summer of natural disasters caused more than $20 million worth of damage to national parks and state forests. This meant the full or partial closure of more than half Queensland's protected areas. But, after sterling efforts by local rangers, more than 100 parks have now reopened. This is, of course, of crucial importance to getting the state's tourism industry back on track.
Meanwhile, a huge monitoring exercise of the Great Barrier Reef is being conducted, with almost half a million square kilometres to be inspected. A key area of study by government, the marine authority and the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is the effect of vastly increased runoff on salinity and the amount of sediment (and therefore light) in the ocean, with the subsequent impact on the health of corals and sea grasses. The signs so far are that damage to the Great Barrier Reef has been less than had been feared. The risk to the Reef from rising ocean temperatures is far greater, however.
* consisting of Professor Matt England, expert in global ocean circulation; Professor David Karoly, expert in climate variability; Professor Andy Pitman, climate modeller; Professor Neville Smith of the Bureau of Meteorology; Professor Tony McMichael, authority on the impact of climate change on human health and the environment; Dr Helen Cleugh, expert on the carbon, water and energy cycles in Australian ecosystems; Dr Lisa Alexander, with expertise on extreme climate events; Professor Brendan Mackey, expert on forests and climate; and Professor Neville Nicholls, authority on the impact of changes in climate and weather on agriculture, human health and ecosystems