All the small people I know — and by that I mean under the age of seven — have trouble sleeping the night before their birthdays. Many of them don’t want to go to sleep after it ends, too. Birthdays mean so much to children; and then we get older and the fact that we have been alive one more whole year seems to become less miraculous and more mundane.
Yesterday was the first birthday of the Rudd Government — one year since what many have described as the world’s first "climate election". It was an election in which the Government was given a clear mandate to take strong action on climate change. For people my age — who had spent their entire adulthood under John Howard’s rule — it was an election that promised to bring change of a type we had never witnessed before.
I couldn’t sleep on Sunday night, and I am finding it ever more difficult to do so as we get closer to the Government’s announcement on targets. As the hangover wears off from its birthday celebrations, I want this Government to decide not to create a real-life nightmare for all the kids of the future.
What did you do to celebrate the Government’s first birthday? I baked cupcakes — 172 of them, two for each Labor MP. One of them had a picture of the Earth, the other the words "The Icing is Melting!" The cupcakes were hand-delivered to MPs in Parliament House by a team of five young people from different member and partner organisations of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
The "melting" cupcakes, delivered alongside a statement from young Australian award winners, were a gentle reminder that if the Government doesn’t get its act together on climate change, the planet will keep baking and affect our entire lives.
If you’ll allow me to continue with the cupcakes metaphor for a moment: the Government is in a sticky situation on climate change right now.
The Prime Minister’s own climate change advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, found (and said in an excellent interview with Tony Jones on Lateline last week) that to strike a global deal that saves the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Murray Darling Basin, means at least a 25 per cent cut in carbon pollution of 2000 levels by 2020.
Garnaut said he didn’t believe that international politics could currently achieve such a deal, which would require stabilisation at 450 parts per million of carbon — but there are two clear counters to that argument.
Firstly, the international politics have changed since Garnaut’s report: Barack Obama’s election has momentous consequences for the international climate negotiations. He has already committed to an 80 per cent cut in carbon pollution by 2050 — putting Rudd’s 60 per cent by 2050 to shame — and he’s committed to creating 5 million new green jobs for America. His statement on 18 November at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Global Climate Summit included this powerful statement:
"Few challenges facing America, and the world, are more urgent than combating climate change. Many of you are working to confront this challenge …. but too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office."
And secondly, we know that even though one economics professor might think it’s politically impossible to get a strong global deal to save the planet, we have to demand the impossible to avoid the unimaginable.
Luckily, we know that we have a choice, and that acting to set strong targets now will create new investments, new green jobs, new economic opportunities for our generation — and at the same time, protect our future.
The past year of the Rudd Government has seen too many missed opportunities to start implementing the millions of solutions we have at our fingertips to reduce carbon pollution.
The Government continues to support the coal industry to the tune of billions of dollars through subsidies, direct grants, and political cover in the guise of so-called "clean coal". Yet just last week, Australia’s only commercial-scale solar panel plant announced it would close, losing 200 Australian jobs. I have seen so many of my friends working in the renewable energy field move to China, California, Germany, and Spain because of the simple lack of Government support for the industry of the future: renewable energy.
The debate in Canberra this week is about carbon pollution reduction targets. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition hopes that our cupcake delivery yesterday — including my appearance on Channel 7’s Morning Show with Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and our "melting" cupcakes — will influence the terms of that debate.
We know that, as Professor Garnaut found, the absolute minimum target we need to be aiming for by 2020 is a 25 per cent cut, if we want a global deal to save Australia’s natural icons. But most scientists are saying — and have been for a while now — that much more is needed: we need to be aiming for a 40 per cent to 50 per cent cut in carbon pollution.
We know we can do it. We have the solutions — just take a look outside at the sun and wind. Although Australia is currently behind where it should be, largely due to the pressure from the coal industry, the Rudd Government has enough time left in its term to catch up.
Next year, on the Government’s second birthday, let’s celebrate the decision we hope they’ll be making this week or next: to start capitalising on the opportunities inherent in our environment and to lay the foundation for a future economic boom by pursuing a strong sustainable economy.
A year ago Rudd was elected on a promise to take strong action to address climate change. He moved quickly to ratify Kyoto. To set strong targets at least within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s range of 25 to 40 per cent would be the icing on the cake.
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