My DA Op Ed column for Tuesday 7 August 2018

by ray goodlass

We need a climate change adaptation plan

As the northern hemisphere endures another summer of extreme heat and resultant bushfires, tropical storms and floods (and the south will follow in our summer) global warming and climate change came to mind.

I have two responses. What are we and the rest of the world doing to combat global warming and halt climate change, and secondly, what are we doing to manage the risks if some degree of climate change isn’t avoided?

That second question becomes increasingly urgent as it becomes clearer and clearer that we are doing precious little to reverse global warming.

Let’s look firstly at the 21st United Nations Paris Agreement, with 196 countries reaching an unprecedented agreement to reduce emissions and slow climate change. The agreement commits a shared effort to keep temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a target of 1.5°C.

However, global efforts to mitigate climate change are tokenistic given the size of the problem. Fossil fuels continue to burn our future; in Australia, over 80 per cent of electricity comes from fossil fuel.

The Turnbull Government is in fact yet to show any real action following the Paris agreement, tokenistic or otherwise, even though it is clear Australia’s climate policy will require a major overhaul if it is to comply with higher emission reduction targets set under the agreement.

We currently employ a ‘direct action’ climate policy centred on the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), which has virtually run out of money. If the Government hopes to reach the Paris target by 2030 it needs to be replaced with something similar to an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Also, with Tony Abbott advocating tearing up the Paris Agreement and with the connivance of the ill-named Monash Group hell-bent on building more coal fired power stations we have even less chance of meeting our Paris commitments, so it’s high time we took a good hard look at that we are doing to manage the risks of climate change.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be fighting tooth and nail to halt global warming, because we certainly should be.  

I was alerted to our lack of preparation by ABC TV News, which reported that the United Kingdom has just published a far-reaching and thoroughly impressive plan to manage risks from climate change.

The UK’s recently released Climate Plan is a strategy to save lives from heat, flood and fire. That’s right, bushfires, even in the UK!

It should be compulsory reading for the Australian Government, because we have no such plan.

Clearly the UK has got the message that current emission reduction efforts are inadequate to prevent coming disasters and priority must be given to protecting the public. They recognise that human health depends on environmental health.

The UK plan means that the Government must publish a climate change risk assessment every five years, based on scientific information from the Climate Change Committee. This assesses the risks for flooding, heat, drought, food, pests and natural capital risks. The adaptation plan also anticipates water shortages for agriculture, energy generation and industry. In response, it plans to increase water supply and drive greater water efficiency.

It also highlights strategies already underway in public services. The National Health Service, for example, plans to embed adaptation into daily practice as early as 2023.

However, despite a sometimes worrying tendency to rather slavishly follow the UK (when we are not following the US) there is no Australian Government adaptation plan to address the health impacts of climate change.

Instead, there are different responses by state and territories public health authorities, all of which are mostly inadequate.

Non-Government organisations (NGO’s) such as the Climate and Health Alliance have detailed what federal, state and local governments must consider when, if ever, they decide to act.

Worryingly there is no national leadership on this issue. Leaders must be able to explain vital policy and carry us, the people, with them. This means explaining the threats to our life-support systems such as stable climate, water, biodiversity and productive land, and what we will do so that these threats can be avoided. It’s time Mr Turnbull got on with it, with other parties calling out his lack of action at every available opportunity.