Call for unified response to record CO2 levels

Professor Brendan Mackey
Professor Brendan Mackey, Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program

by Professor Brendan Mackey, Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program

Record emission levels

With atmospheric carbon dioxide reaching record levels, it’s time to end the climate change wars and promote a National Unity Platform for Climate Change Action.

NASA has reported that on May 9, the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958[1].

The NASA report also noted that before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, global average CO2was about 280 ppm. During the last 800,000 years, CO2 fluctuated between about 180 ppm during ice ages and 280 ppm during interglacial warm periods. Today’s rate of increase is more than 100 times faster than the increase that occurred when the last ice age ended.

Given that fossil fuel emissions will continue to cause climatic disruptions for millennia[2] , we have no choice but to collectively address the twin problems of mitigation emissions to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and adapting to the unavoidable impacts of a rapidly changing climate. However, the climate change problem is of such complexity – reaching into every aspect of our society and economy – that it simple cannot be addressed through conventional means.

No longer a political battleground

The time has passed where the climate change problem can be used a political football to give parties an advantage at election time. The problem demands requires long term systemic changes over decades, which must be done carefully to minimize risks to the economy, and will require constant adjustments to policies and how they are implemented as circumstances change and evidence emerges as to which approaches work and how they can be improved.

The time has come for parties to put aside self-interest and take a fresh approach. We have done this before during WWII when Prime Minister Menzies formed the Advisory War Council which included the Leader and members of the Opposition[3]. While the political parties are currently treating the climate change problem as a war, there is a limit to the usefulness of the war analogy as in this case there is no enemy (or if there is, it is only ourselves we are fighting).

Call for unity

Australia needs a National Unity Platform for Climate Change Action with membership from all political parties, all levels of government, the business sector and civil society. A multi-sector, multi-level approach is essential. State and local governments are critical for both mitigation and adaptation. The demand for innovation will be met from the private enterprise. Local communities are where all policy responses eventually land and are implemented. The traditional role of government will remain, providing appropriate regulatory regimes to safeguard the integrity of policies, actions and associated investments, and ensuring they deliver long-term public good. There will need to be a focus on long term planning, shared goals and staged implementation.

The September Federal election would be an appropriate juncture for an all-party parliamentary declaration of intent to establish, irrespective of who wins government, a National Unity Platform for Climate Change Action.


[2] Archer, D. et al. Atmospheric lifetime of fossil fuel carbon dioxide. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 37, 117—34 (2009).