IAN DUNLOP. Emergency action on climate change is imperative

Feb 21, 2020

The first Australian National Climate Emergency Summit was in Melbourne Town Hall, 14-15 February 2020 – there will be many more.

 As the immediacy of the bushfires recedes, the focus turns to storms and floods, and Federal Parliament resumes, post-disaster rationalisation is in full swing.

The Prime Minister sort of admits that there might be some link between these disasters and climate change, but not to the extent that might offend the scientifically and economically-challenged experts in the National Party.

Resilience, adaptation and hazard reduction is the name of the game, plus the big catch-all, technological innovation. But any suggestion that we might actually target to do something by a specific time is way beyond the bounds of “political realism”. Certainly not the removal the A$42 billion annual subsidy enjoyed by our fossil fuel industries by the absence of realistic carbon pricing.

Meanwhile business is seizing the initiative: “Something must be done to retain our social licence”. So all those lowest common-denominator organisations who have spent three decades preventing the development of any serious climate change policy, such as the BCA, MCA, APPEA, AIG and many others, have leaped aboard the net zero emissions by 2050 bus.

Which demonstrates yet again the massive failure of leadership and imagination which has characterised the climate change debate since John Howard institutionalised climate denial in 1997.

For the real implications of climate change are still completely ignored. The critical issue today, here and globally, is to stop tipping points being triggered which will push the global climate into irreversible runaway warming.

The only way this can now be done, in the limited time before tipping points trigger, is by emergency action to rapidly reduce emission globally, combined with drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere to a safer level.

Technological innovation, community action to change lifestyles, efficiency improvements and the like are extremely important contributors, but will not be sufficient without rapid emission reduction. In short there are going to be a lot of stranded assets as fossil fuel operations shut down before the end of their normal commercial life. Companies should not be surprised, they have known this for a long time, but chosen to ignore the risk in preference to short-term profitability.

It does require commitment of the world’s big emitters, countries or companies, in their own self-interest, otherwise we face global collapse as climate impact escalates.

It is in Australia’s self-interest, as one of the countries most exposed to climate change and the world’s fourth largest carbon polluter exports included, to take a leadership role. So no more coal, gas or oil, and an all-encompassing commitment to low-carbon alternatives, efficiency improvements, conservation etc, with which we are extremely well endowed.

In the current climate context, the 2050 net-zero emission target is totally unrealistic, and a recipe for disaster. Just kicking the can down the road not quite as hard as before.

Net zero emissions has to happen within the next 10 years, for whilst: “Men Argue, Nature Acts”, as Voltaire put it.

A massive task, but we have no choice. Do we have leaders capable of doing this? Certainly not within the current incumbents, but others are emerging.

The first National Climate Emergency Summit in Australia was held in the Melbourne Town Hall on 14-15th February 2020, with a capacity audience. A Declaration developed during the Summit calls for far faster and more extensive action on climate change, along the above lines, to address the immediate, existential threat that climate change now represents after three decades of predatory delay and inaction.

The Declaration is available athttps://lnkd.in/f6ncS4N for those interested in triggering emergency action now.

During the Summit itself there were wide-ranging discussions on the way forward. Climate risk brings opportunity, and the solutions are there for those with the vision and commitment to take up the challenge.

There will be many more emergency Summits. The voices will get louder and louder until the incumbents either join with us, or get out of the way.

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is co-author of “What Lies Beneath: the understatement of existential climate risk”, and of the Club of Rome’s “Climate Emergency Plan”. He was a co-convenor of the first Australian National Climate Emergency Summit recently held in Melbourne.





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