By Professor Brendan Mackey, from the Griffith Climate Change Response Program – Director’s Blog
This Thursday evening (14 March) at Griffith University’s EcoCentre , Nathan Campus, Professor Will Steffen is giving the next presentation in our public seminar series. His recently released Climate Commission Report “The Angry Summer”(ref 1) received widespread media coverage, including internationally where the Guardian(ref 2) quoted the report’s conclusion that “Australia’s angry summer shows that climate change is already adversely affecting Australians. The significant impacts of extreme weather on people, property, communities and the environment highlight the serious consequences of failing to adequately address climate change.” Professor Steffen’s report also argued that “It is highly likely that extreme hot weather will become even more frequent and severe in Australia and around the globe over the coming decades. The decisions we make this decade will largely determine the severity of climate change and its influence on extreme events for our grandchildren”.
It is getting harder to deny that the climate is changing. But, most Australian’s have accepted this fact, as recent research by Griffith’s Professor Joe Reser showed(ref 3). Despite what you might think from listening to some politicians, media outlets and commentators, only about 7% of Australians can be considered “climate change sceptics”. It is intriguing then to consider why this general acceptance of what the science is telling us is not translating into clear and strong political will. Despite the angry summer (which continues in Melbourne as I write), the punters seem strangely complacent. One reason might be that while Australians accept human forced climate change is happening, they have yet to be convinced that it is something that must be addressed now.
Perhaps we need to hear more from sectors for whom climate change brings increasing risks to the cost of capital, investments and infrastructure? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the lack of certainty in Australia’s climate change mitigation policy affects the cost of capital for energy and other major new capital intensive projects. Certainly the insurance industry is starting to take notice. In 2012, insurance regulators in California, New York and Washington required insurers that write in excess of $300 million in direct written premiums, and are licensed to operate in any of the three states, to disclose their climate-related risks(ref 4).
Global and national security voices also need to be heard. At the UN Security Council 6587th Meeting (2011), Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General stated that “Make no mistake… climate change not only exacerbates threats to peace and security, it is a threat to international peace and security”. His comments were supported by Susan Rice (then US Ambassador to the UN) that “Climate change has very real implications for international peace and security” and those of Peter Wittig (Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN) – “Most national security establishments considered global warming as among the biggest security challenges of the century”(ref 5).
Certainly a positively engaged media helps stimulate more constructive public debate. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the New York Times has been taking a much stronger climate change line. Its Editorial of 10 March “When to Say No” opens with this blunt assertion: “The State Department’s latest environmental assessment of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline makes no recommendation about whether President Obama should approve it. Here is ours. He should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem”(ref 6).
What of Australian insurers, bankers, defence experts and media outlets – perhaps it’s time the Australian public heard more from them on climate change risks?
1 Will Steffen (2013) The Angry Summer. Climate Commission, http://climatecommission.gov.au/report/the-angry-summer/
3 Reser, J.P., Bradley, G.L., Glendon, A.I., Ellul, M.C. & Callaghan, R. (2012) Public risk perceptions, understandings and responses to climate change in Australia and Great Britain. Gold Coast, Qld: National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, http://www.nccarf.edu.au/publications/public-risk-perceptions-final
4 Sharlene Leurig and Dr. Andrew Dlugolecki (2013) Insurance Climate Risk Disclosure Survey:2012 Findings &Recommendations. CERES, http://www.ceres.org/resources/reports/naic-report/view
6 Editorial, New York Times, 10 March 2013, When to Say No, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/opinion/when-to-say-no-to-the-keystone-xl.html?hp
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