Monday, June 29, 2015

No time left for piecemeal action on climate, new roundtable warns government

An unprecedented alliance of business, union, environmental, investor and welfare groups has been formed to forge what it sees as urgent common ground on climate policy.

The highly unusual coalition - to be branded the Australian Climate Roundtable - comes as developed nations gear up for the Paris Climate Conference in December where leaders will be under pressure to update their strategies for dealing with climate change.

While Australia’s main political parties support the international goal of limiting climate change to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, the Roundtable warns the objective will require “deep global reductions”.

The high profile members cover some influential employer and industry lobby groups such as the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Aluminium Council, the Energy Supply Association and the Investor Group on Climate Change.

They will be joined by groups at opposite end of the political and economic spectrum - the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), WWF Australia, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Climate Institute.

In a statement, the Roundtable warned that emissions reductions on the necessary scale will require “substantial change “and “present “significant challenges” in Australia and other developed nations.

“We believe Australia should play its fair part in global efforts to avoid the serious economic, social and environmental impacts that unconstrained climate change would have on Australia,” the statement said.

In a warning to the federal government the group said “delayed, unpredictable and piecemeal action will increase the costs and challenges of achieving the goals and maximising the opportunities.

“We also know that policies won’t work if they don’t last and stay on investors’ radars. The foundations of climate policy need broad and durable support, and we all have a role in building it.”

Outlining its goals, the group said the “ideal” climate policy taken to the Paris conference should:

•     be capable of achieving deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions
•     provide confidence that targeted emissions reductions actually occur
•     be based on  the full range of climate risks;
•     be well designed, stable and internationally linked
•     operate at least cost to the domestic economy
•     remain efficient as circumstances change and Australia’s emissions reduction goals evolve

Highlighting the social risks of climate policy and climate change, the Roundtable says climate policy must also:

•     protect the most vulnerable individuals;
•     avoid disproportionate impacts low income households
•     assist communities that are vulnerable to economic shocks or physical risks as a result of climate change or climate policy.

The united agreement from often distant parties on climate policy goals is significant, according to Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott.

“There is now overwhelming common ground on the need for a more certain and meaningful approach to emissions reduction,” Ms Westacott said.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said the principles outlined by the Roundtable will help end the “frustration and disruption” to even changing climate policy.

“The shared recognition that we need to maintain competitiveness while reducing emissions over time is a major advance and a solid platform for future policy stability.”

ACTU president Ged Kearney welcomed the action and said “taking action on climate change, and investing and supporting the local clean energy industry, is vital if Australia is to create and capitalise on the high-skilled innovative clean tech jobs of the future.”

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy described it as  “an unlikely alliance, but we’ve come together because the challenge of tackling global warming is bigger than any of our differences.”

“ Among the things we have in common is a shared goal for Australia to cut its net greenhouse pollution to zero or below.”

The creation of the Roundtable comes after years of debate over climate policy and the government’s repeal of Labor’s controversial carbon tax and emissions trading scheme.

But as preparations are made for the Paris conference, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is under pressure from within the Liberal Party to prevent Australia from signs up to bind emissions targets.

Mr Abbott has been asked by some members to “examine the evidence” on climate change before agreeing to further emissions cuts.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt recently said the government will soon announce its post 2020 target for emissions and that Australia will play “a constructive role” at the Paris conference.

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