by Alex M.
On Sunday 2 November the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Synthesis report, synthesising the work of various working groups connected with the body.
The report is the culmination of the collective work of hundreds of scientists. Reports from the IPCC are usually not happy reading and this one is no exception.
At the very least, if there is not a sustained reduction in carbon emissions coupled with a rapid shift to renewable sources of energy, then humanity is in for some very difficult times in the coming decades.
Amongst other things, the report stressed that governments must act now to deal with the impacts of climate change: ‘Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.’
Greenhouse gas emissions, the report found were at an 800,000-year high which were already having discernible impacts. Climate change in urban areas will lead to increased risk of ‘heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise and storm surges.’
It needs to be borne in mind that this litany of woes will have consequences for all of the world’s people. The scale of the problem is such that governments must take serious steps to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Australian scientists understand the problem
Dr John Church from the University of Tasmania, a CSIRO researcher whose area of expertise takes in rising sea levels, affirmed the key message of the report - that global warming was ‘unequivocal’.
For Church, who was involved in producing the Synthesis report, the impacts of global warming can be readily seen in such things as the increased numbers of heatwaves, bushfires, floods as well as ocean acidity and coral bleaching. Church also believes that these highly visible signs will impel governments to act: ‘What's going to win this argument is the observable impacts; Hurricane Sandy in the US had a huge impact in changing people's mind …The same will occur around the world over time and has already occurred to some extent.’
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology researcher, Dr Scott Power warned that high greenhouse gas emissions required ‘substantial and sustained reductions’ in order to lessen the negative consequences of climate change. The current situation requires the reduction of these emissions by 20% to 40% within the next 30 years, underpinned by a turn to sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar energy.
Abbott’s government chooses to ignore the problem
Carbon capture and storage, which has not been successfully accomplished on a commercial scale yet, has been the salve for the consciences of those promoting fossil fuel energy sources.
It is instructive that the Commonwealth government has cut almost half a billion dollars from research into carbon capture and storage (CCS). The IPCC claims that the successful development of CCS is crucial if coal continues to be used as an energy source.
Abbott of course has openly shown what he thinks about the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and the imperative of phasing out fossil fuel based energy sources by proclaiming that coal is the ‘foundation of our [Australia’s] prosperity’.
What is more, such reliance on coal is not going to be challenged: ‘For now and for the foreseeable future, the foundation of Australia’s energy needs will be coal. The foundation of the world’s energy needs will be coal.’
Corporate interests dictate ineffectual government response
Whilst climate change scepticism is a badge of honour for many on the right such as Abbott and his ilk, their scepticism is based on their servitude to particular class interests.
In Australia, the mining, extractive and fossil fuel industry sectors exert a powerful influence over the mainstream political parties (aside perhaps from the Greens) and thus dictate government policy.
This explains the foolish and recalcitrant approach to the critical problem of global climate change by the current Australian government. Class interests prevail even whilst Rome burns.