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The Critical Decade - The time for adaption is now
28 June 2013
David Travers, Chief Executive of University College London, Australia, speaks at CEDA Climate Change Update on 27 June 2013.
Good afternoon. I want to challenge this supposition: ‘The Time for Action is Now’.
I’m a realist and a pragmatist, so I want us to consider in fact the statement is: ‘the time for adaption is now’.
We live in a world which is very different from the one my great, great grandfathers knew when they arrived in the Mid North from Europe and started farming wine grapes and sheep in and around the Clare Valley in the late 1800s.
Even 100 years ago, in 1913, when my great grandfather acquired land near Cleve, on Eyre Peninsula the land was covered with Mallee trees. It was harsh – and farmers adapted.
While that land remains in the family, I took us back to Clare and vineyards – dry grown shiraz, in the 1990s – this year harvest was 27 February. The earliest harvest date I’ve seen – with the exception of the disastrous heat wave of 2008.
For those who know anything about grapes, when you are picking premium shiraz in February and Riesling weeks later, something strange is going on. But this year the quality was stunning.
I accept the view from the majority of climate scientists, including Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science at UCL and an adviser to Al Gore, that:
1. the world is warming;
2. It’s mostly due to us; and
3. it’s not a good thing.
But what frustrates me is that while there’s a huge focus on the problem there is not a commensurate focus on the solution. At least not realistic and pragmatic solutions.
Unless we are prepared to move back to caves and burn candles (adding levels of personal CO2) I don’t accept the view that Australia could be completely powered by renewable energy.
It’s hopelessly unrealistic and impractical. And try telling the millions of Chinese who each year emerge from poverty that they can’t aspire to a western lifestyle of iPhones, HD TVs, grid connected electricity and their own car.
So we need economic and politically practical solutions running in parallel with the continued science of identification of climate issues.
Last December UCL launched a research project here in Adelaide ‘Impacts of Climate Policies on South Australia’ and there is significant evidence coming out of this research, being led by Dr Darien Simon, that South Australia is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change.
Vulnerable in areas where changing climate will impact on agricultural and mining employment, health and well-being, environmental bio-diversity and energy security.
While the UCL research is looking at practical solutions, I personally want to throw three out today, as part of the discussion. I’ve chosen one from each of policy, technology, and management
1. MANAGEMENT: I’m also Chairman of Sundrop Farms and we have patents pending over a R&D facility near Port Augusta. We are desalinating seawater (evaporation) using CSP and irrigating horticulture crops hydroponically in a 2000m2 greenhouse.
We are in the latter stages of a $100m capital raise to finance a 20ha commercial greenhouse but while we make progress on technology and policy, financial risk, capital management and government bureaucracy do not account for risk management.
Entrepreneurs (and debt and equity holders) should enjoy greater rewards, such as taxation and risk cover, for supporting emerging technologies.
2. TECHNOLOGY: We have needed a serious conversation about reducing our reliance on dirty brown coal fired electricity generation for at least a decade. We’re past the need for serious conversation, we now need serious action. Nuclear energy must form part of the future solution, but gas and renewables must play a part in this transition, so politicians need to get serious, show some courage and take responsibility for leading this debate, not shutting it down.
3. POLICY: I groan when I hear governments throughout Australia talk about us being the ‘food bowl of Asia’ and adding value to our food resources. Particularly after a senseless and knee-jerk political reaction forcing a ban on live cattle exports to the Indonesia.
The ‘food bowl’ is a simplistic but naïve political tag line. What are their ideas – a giant canning factory for Virgina tomatoes or Riverland peaches?
The debate lacks real ideas.
The focus should be more upstream – where Australia has its natural advantages. Manufacturing is more than building cars and cans – there should be far more support for plant functional genome, GMO, nano manipulation of seeds, nano-technology for interactive agricultural chemicals, or chemical release packaging. But of course GMO is banned in South Australia thanks to the GM Crop Management Act 2004.
When my great grandfather cleared land with a bull and dray 100 years ago he could never have imagined a single century later we would be using satellite imagery, GPS coordinates for precision and growing canola with 350mm of rainfall.
We need more of that spirit.