Prominent Australians call for climate change to be put on G20 Agenda

No planet B (Greg McNevin)

The Coalition government is coming under increasing pressure for its abandonment of meaningful climate action, with an open letter from 12 eminent medical and health scientists – including one Nobel Laureate and several Australians of the year – urging Prime Minister Abbott to include climate change on the agenda for this year’s G20 meeting.

The Government claims it takes the science seriously, but its roll back of carbon pricing, support for coal mining, attacks on renewable energy and so far steadfast refusal to put climate on the G20 agenda at a crucial point in history demonstrate that it does not.

“The G20 countries are the world’s most important economies. They account for the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the G20 gets its house in order, the world can be saved. If not, the G20 will wreck the world, pure and simple. Brisbane is therefore crucial. The prospects are not bright. The Australian Government claims it is driven by science, but it seems to us on the outside that it is driven by mining interests, or by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, the world’s number one anti-science propagandist.” Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs.

Global warming threatens the health of populations everywhere, and its adverse impacts are already evident in many regions of the world – including Australia. We already face a future of intensifying heatwaves, floods, fires and the spread of disease-bearing mosquitoes; as well as reduced food yields from drought, ocean acidification and much more.

“We urge you to include human-induced climate change and its serious health consequences on the agenda for this year’s G20 meeting. The world community looks to high-income countries for a strong lead. [I]f Australia passes up opportunities for new energy technologies and efficiencies, we will forfeit gains in long-term economic security and fail to contribute fairly to reducing worldwide risks to human health.” Reads the open letter.

China is making headlines for its “war on pollution” and moves to end its reliance on coal, but fossil fuel use in Australia is also dangerous, with more people killed each year by our dirty air than are on our roads. More and more experts are coming forward to emphasise how acting sooner rather than later to clean up our dirty economy is the best way to protect human health, the environment, and our economy, and we already have a wealth of affordable tools in which to do it. As Jeffrey Sachs notes:

“At this stage of history, humanity is at a crossroads, with the future course of our own choosing. We have the technical means to solve our national and global problems — to banish poverty, fight disease, protect the environment, and train the illiterate and unskilled. But we can and will do so only if we care enough to mount the effort.”

Mounting that effort means embracing inevitable change, not fighting the future. Particularly when embracing change protects one of, if not the most important of Australia’s industries – agriculture.

One would think the National Party element of the Coalition would be supportive of the call made in the open letter, given agricultural giant Olam International has just pointed out that climate change is ‘absolutely a reality’ that Australian producers need to take seriously.

Chief executive Sunny Verghese had this to say:

“It is absolutely a reality that climate change is going to significantly impact agriculture. My view is that there is no point if I’ve generated half-a-billion after tax earnings, but I’ve depleted $200 million of natural capital from the environment. Because then I’ve got to question myself, what is the point of all this overwhelming effort if at the end of the day you’ve really depleted the natural capital and left a huge bill to pay for future generations?”

If Government support continues for the coal mining industry operating in Australia (not Australia’s coal mining industry – given it’s 80%+ foreign owned), then we will be left with a very big debt of health, environmental and economic impacts indeed. This is why climate change needs to be on the G20 agenda: so this illogical support can be put in proper context.

The Abbott government’s desire to keep climate change separated from economic growth discussion is as misguided as it is delusional. Both issues are intimately and inextricably linked.

Future economic growth is entirely dependent on the global response to climate change, and keeping global warming to the 2DegC “guardrail” is absolutely integral to how the world conquers future economic challenges.

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