Greenhouse emissions

21 August, 2012 — The Climate Commission has found that countries which control a whopping 90 per cent of the world’s economy have committed to reducing greenhouse gases and have programs in place to achieve this, in a badly needed boost to climate change campaigners and the sustainability industry.

The commission’s third major report, The Critical Decade: International action, on climate change was released early on Tuesday morning and contains a comprehensive analysis of the global response to climate change and how Australia compares to the rest of the world.

Key findings are:

  • The world is moving to tackle climate change. More needs to be done but momentum is growing
  • Australia is a major player and is important in shaping the global response.
  • Australia already has the technologies needed to tackle climate change
  • It is in Australia’s national interest to tackle climate change
  • This is the critical decade

The report found there was global agreement that, to lessen the risks to the economy, environment and society, the amount of greenhouse gases produced must be substantially reduced. This would require a transition away from relying on fossil fuels, like coal and oil, to cleaner forms of energy.

“Ninety countries representing 90 per cent of the global economy have committed to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and have programs in place to achieve this,” the report said.

“These countries include our trading partners, our competitors and our neighbours, including the world’s largest economies, the United States and China. Every major economy is tackling climate change. Countries are using a mix of regulation, carbon pricing, renewable energy targets and investment.

“Climate change is a global problem but the world isn’t waiting for a global treaty. Instead, success will depend on the sum total of national efforts: that is, what countries are actually doing to limit their emissions.”

The report also said that Australia was the 15th largest emitter of greenhouse gas emmissions, more than about 180 other countries. It was also the largest emitter per person of any country in the developed world.

“Australia belongs to a group of 20 carbon heavyweights – 20 countries that contribute 75 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“These countries are the most influential and will shape the global response to climate change. Australia’s influence abroad will depend on how effectively we implement solutions at home.

“Failure to meet our international commitment would damage our international reputation and the global effort to tackle climate change.”

The report said using energy more efficiently could make a huge contribution to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

“The International Energy Agency found energy efficiency could technically deliver 65 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to 2035. Global investment in renewable power and fuels has increased sixfold since 2004 and was $257 billion in 2011. Renewables are already a significant source of energy in some countries. Meanwhile the costs of many technologies are falling rapidly.”

The report also found there was bipartisan recognition that protecting Australia’s prosperity required Australia to contribute to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

“The world is changing and Australia needs to be prepared if our economy, society and environment are to prosper in future. This involves making investments now in order to reap increasing benefits in future. The global pressure to reduce emissions is only likely to increase as the climate shifts and global action accelerates,” the report said.

“Australia is a world leader in some areas of clean technology research and development, with immense resources in sun, wind and other renewable energy. As the world moves, opportunities open for Australian business.”

Finally, the report revealed this was the “critical decade”.

“This decade must set us up to turn our path around from high emissions to nearly zero emissions by 2050.

“While strong progress is being made, global temperatures are rising rapidly and sea-level rise is tracking to near the highest levels scientists expect. There is evidence that recent extreme weather is linked to climate change. This underlines the urgency of strong Australian and global action.

“Australia’s actions are a vital contribution to the global effort to combat climate change.”

In their preface, chief commissioner Professor Tim Flannery and commissioners Roger Beale and Gerry Hueston said the Climate Commission brought together internationally renowned climate scientists, as well as policy and business leaders, to provide an independent and reliable source of information about climate change to the Australian public.

Advice for the report was presented byHoward Bamsey (United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney), Dr Frank Jotzo (Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University), Professor Stephen Howes (Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University) and Erwin Jackson, (The Climate Institute).

Meanwhile, former United States vice president Al Gore also spoke, via video, at the Climate Commission’s launch, acknowledging Australia’s “historic” commitment to solving the climate crisis.

“The report comes at a crucial time and carries with it an important message; we must act collectively to solve the climate crisis and we must act now,” he said.

“The consequences of the climate crisis, of course, are already visible all around the world and some of the worst, unfortunately, can be seen in Australia over the last few years.

“From South Korea to the European Union, to Mexico and elsewhere, some of the world’s most important economies are now taking important steps to reduce their emissions and many more countries will make similar commitments soon.”