Adios Cancun, G'day Climate Action


With evidence of an international commitment to emissions reductions targets emerging from COP16, the focus for Australian climate policy must return to domestic action before the next meeting in Durban in 2011.

There is plenty of room for improvement. The good news is that we can do much to reduce our emissions in Australia in ways that will save us money and will position us more competitively in the emerging green economy.

It’s a shame this kind of positive climate policy narrative is so frequently ignored. The psychologists will tell you that getting action on climate change is no longer about communicating the science but rather what we can do about it.

In other words, the fear message is getting through — and it’s time to change tack.

Recent research (pdf) from the University California, Berkeley demonstrates that, in addition to communicating the risks indicated by current climate science, it is vital to also communicate the available solutions. Otherwise, the psychologists and sociologists concluded, the risks conflict with people’s view of a "just world" and can lead to cognitive "discounting" of the threat in order to retain their belief in a stable and orderly world.

Sound familiar? Well, who wouldn’t want to discount the threat of climate catastrophe — I know I do, but unfortunately that won’t make it go away. We’ve tried that as a global community for the last couple of decades and sure enough, we’re tracking worst case scenarios. So looking away won’t do it. But getting started on implementing the many available solutions will.

Shifting from fear to hope is an important new narrative for climate policy in Australia. Unfortunately it’s not yet widely employed by government or the business community, but it’s one that not only tells the true story of what action on climate change will cost — given that we know early action will costs much, much, less than ad hoc adaptation and emergency responses — but also offers a way to garner community support.

There is plenty of good news about how Australia can tackle climate change and in doing so, contribute to a strong and effective global agreement.

But Australia cannot have any credibility in global discussions if it takes no effective action itself. Effective international action depends on emission reductions being undertaken by industrialised nations, not just promised. It is the implementation of effective policies to reduce each nation’s emissions that is the key to international agreements, not the other way around.

Our new national narrative should include the story on how our abundant natural resources can continue to dominate Australia’s future. We can avoid the trap of becoming a two speed economy if we choose to diversify through capitalising on this continent’s vast renewable energy resources and the opportunities they afford for a secure future.

Reports (pdf) indicate there is huge potential for the creation of jobs as we improve energy efficiency in our buildings and transport as well as constructing and operating new renewable energy infrastructure. Further studies (pdf) suggest that a failure to engage with new global markets being created by action on climate change means that Australia will miss out on important new economic opportunities.

The current conversation about a carbon price is just one example of a missed opportunity to talk about the benefits of climate action. The federal government is failing to clearly prosecute the case for making clean energy cheaper by creating a financial incentive for investing in emissions abatement. As well as reducing our emissions profile, this will create many more jobs than are currently available in the fossil fuel sector — jobs that are not only safer for workers but that will contribute to cleaner air and healthier communities.

In light of yet another global climate change meeting without a clear outcome, it is time to focus on what needs to be done, rather than what we wish others to do. There is a positive story about action on climate change; the public wants to hear it and it’s time we heard our political leaders tell it — giving us good news for a change.

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