22/08/2011 - 13:32

Opinion: Is climate change a charity case?

22/08/2011 - 13:32

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When Australian Climate Commission chief Tim Flannery is asked why Australia should bother doing anything about climate change when the country is responsible for only 1.5 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, his answer is quite simple.

“Do you give to charity?” he asks.

“And if you do, how much do you give to a cause like the famine in Somalia?

“Usually it is $50 or $100. And I say, why would you bother doing that?

“It is like doing our bit for the climate. If you are not going to do your bit in the climate thing, why do you bother giving to charity?

“Everyone works together to solve these problems.”

Professor Flannery raises an interesting point and his argument isn’t made in defence to the all too common question of why Australia should be responsible for some of the global emission mitigation and abatement through policies like the carbon tax when the large emission countries likeIndia and China aren’t doing anything significant.

Rather, Professor Flannery’s defence is in response to the ‘why bother’ questioning in relation to what little Australia can do in the grand global scheme of contributing to climate change abatement.

Of course, he is likening a legislated government policy which forces industry (and eventually individuals) to contribute to the cause of climate change mitigation to the voluntary individual giving to the desperate drought induced circumstances in Somalia, where millions are dying from the worst famine the country has experienced in 60 years.

While you could argue that because one form of contribution is government forced and the other is good-will voluntary action, both are emotive issues and both need attention.

Just because Australia is far removed from the famine in Africa, it doesn’t mean the bloodshed and widespread death and destruction shouldn’t shake all of us into opening our wallets, and just because Australia isn’t emitting as vast quantities of carbon as countries like India and China, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t contribute to mitigating and abating climate change.

And in case you were wondering, Professor Flannery briefly outlined what countries like China and India are doing in terms of climate change policy in his speech at the Energy in WA conference 2011 this week.

“The Chinese have an emissions intensity target, they are determined to meet that. In fact last year they met their target at some economic cost, there was a small increment of GDP loss,” he said.

“That is a significant investment in their future and they are the now the world’s largest producer of wind energy and solar. Things are moving there.”

He said that as far as India goes, the situation is a little murkier and used his experiences with India's largest integrated private power utility Tata Power to illustrate what is happening there.

“They are the only company I know which has a target to become carbon neutral by 2050 and they state that there are 400 million Indians without electricity at present and the use of conventional means to get them electricity simply aren’t feasible in India, the preferred source of electricity they see is going to be stand alone solar or biomass,” Professor Flannery said.

“And of course India has just imposed a carbon tax on all coal.”

“Wherever I look globally I can’t see any evidence of anyone backing away from their commitments. After all a nation is like a person, their reputation is the most important thing, when you set your own targets, it is embarrassing not to meet them.”

Like Professor Flannery said, “everyone works together to solve these problems.”

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