Climate scientists are clear when they say that large cuts in human caused greenhouse gas emissions are needed to slow climate change. But there are two popular assumptions in Australia, probably replicated in other countries, that are preventing these large cuts from happening.
The first assumption is that government should take most of the responsibility for greenhouse gas abatement. This is well summarised by Stephen Lunn, social affairs commentator, who writes in the Weekend Australian, 20 December 2008, that “Most… accept human activity is changing the climate. And most see it as the Government’s role to find a way forward”.
The second assumption is that cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are bad for the economy. The Rudd government has commited to reduce Australia’s emissions by only 5% by 2020. This is much lower than the 25% to 40% the United Nations Framework Convention and Climate Change said the world needed in Bali twelve months ago. The rationale is that larger cuts would be bad for the economy, especially if other countries don’t follow suit.
Furthermore the governments carbon pollution reduction scheme has reinforced the belief that it’s the government who should take full responsibility, by providing compensation to households whose energy costs may go up, and free emissions permits to many major polluters.
These two assumptions are probably commonly held by most people around the world.
Lets say Barak Obama takes a strong lead on climate change. He slashes US greenhouse gas emissions, and demonstrates that human development is possible without loss of American jobs or quality of life. He will have discredited the belief that cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are bad for the economy. And other governments are likely to follow. We may well just get the emissions reductions the scientists say are needed. Many people are hoping for this.
On the other hand if most individuals, families, and businesses around the world change their mindset and take responsibility for the emissions resulting from their decisions we are also pretty likely to get large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
But as long as our leaders believe cutting greenhouse gas emissions is bad for the economy, and as long as we continue to say it’s the government’s responsibility to do something, then dangerous climate change is inevitable.