Amongst the continuing gloomly financial news this week, we were reminded that the impact of climate change is unaffected by the short term prospects of the global economy. Professor Chris Field, speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago, claimed future temperatures “will be beyond anything” previously predicted. “We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we’ve considered seriously in climate policy,” he said. Professor Field said his 2007 report, which predicted temperature rises between 1 deg.C and 6 deg.C over the next century, seriously underestimated the scale of the problem.
But the recession is having quite an affect on the response.
In Australia, after the Garnaut report, the government Green Paper and very recently the White Paper on the final design of the emissions trading system, the government has asked the parliamentary Economics Committee to “inquire into the choice of emissions trading as the central policy to reduce Australia’s carbon pollution”. This in the same month Melbourne saw record high temperatures, that I as a native of that city, never even imagined were possible. Whilst enquiry is the natural course of government, coming so late in the process will be unsettling for the markets that are already starting to form around the prospect of allowance trade in Australia. Unease, delay and caution in the face of recession are not what we need.
On the other side of the Pacific, again triggered by the recession, a massive stimulus plan has been approved by the House and Senate in Washington and now awaits the President’s signature. Within it are billions for renewable energy, carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency measures such as home insulation. This is all good, but where is the broader plan within which this sits and the emissions trading system to drive future deployment after the initial boost from the stimulus. In reality, it could still be three or four years away – and that will just be for the start-up phase. I alluded to the framework back in January and whilst I welcome the energy components of the stimulus package, the encompassing framework is really a necessity.
So, a mixed week for government staring down the twin barrels of climate change and recession. Whilst stabilising our economies remains an essential priority, a laser like focus on energy and climate change is an absolute necessity.