Do we have to suffer trauma before we take action on climate change?
29 January 2013
The extreme weather events Australia is currently facing bring in to dramatic focus the fine line between complacency and disaster. We cannot afford to ignore climate change, and our role in that change, any longer. Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate change, since there is no clear leadership on this issue coming from the Federal and State governments and, hence, governance of climate change mitigation and adaptation is severely lacking. A recent study in the UK has shown how the inconsistent and confusing discourse between politicians, scientists and the media is creating increasing uncertainty in the public domain as to whether climate change should be taken seriously. If anything, the situation is worse in Australia.
We are rapidly reaching the point of no return, when the greenhouse effect tips us over into an era where climate change is self-fulfilling. The current level of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere is close to 400 ppm. Many scientists believe that if we want to preserve our planet as similar to the one we have adapted to as a species, then this level needs to be closer to 350 ppm. Meanwhile, we continue to spew out millions of tonnes of CO2 per year into that same atmosphere, so even mitigating climate change seems to be beyond us.
What is needed in Australia is more certainty in its carbon policy. Doubts about whether or not there will be a price on carbon by 2020 need to be put to rest. With certainty, comes action. Now that Australia is linked to the EU’s emission trading scheme, a bold move and one that could herald the eventual formation of a global trading system, Australian and European leaders need to show strength in bringing about significant emission reductions. Much more needs to be done on energy efficiency and incumbent, large energy users need to adopt cleaner, more efficient processes or be forced out by those who do. And whether Australia adopts nuclear power needs to be decided upon sooner rather than later.
We need to take effective action now to adapt to climate change. History shows that effective policies are only made after a traumatic event; witness Japan in its reconstruction after the tsunami, or Christchurch. We need to ensure that we do not have to go through trauma to adapt to climate changes. We need effective policies now to enable local governments and communities to take appropriate actions, in relation to bolstering the resilience of their infrastructure networks, employment base, education levels, resource management and biodiversity, and for businesses to develop new business models and sustainable practices.
Professor Stefaan Simons, BSc (hons), PhD, CEng FIChemE
Professor Simons, CEng FIChemE, is Professor of Chemical Engineering at University College London (UCL), Director of the International Energy Policy Institute and Director of the Centre for CO2 Technology, a multidisciplinary research Centre, founded in 1998, focused on the development of innovative low carbon technologies.
Since 1994 Professor Simons has been working with universities in Kazakhstan, developing modern chemical engineering degree curricula, and, as the first Dean of Engineering, was responsible for founding the School of Engineering at Nazarbayev University, the new international university in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital city.
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