by Alan Thornhill
Australian scientists are urging the Turnbull government to take a lead at the world climate change talks which open in Paris this week.
The Australian Academy of Science says this – and global co-operation – will be essential if we are to avoid the worst effects of global climate change.
Delegates from more than 190 countries are heading to Paris this week in an attempt to reach an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.
In a statement today, the Academy’s President Professor Andrew Holmes urged world governments to take note of the scientific evidence and the implications of inaction.
“The science is clear, we need to move to net zero carbon emissions by the second half of this century to avoid serious impacts on our health, our economies and on our environment.
“Paris will be a critical turning point along the path to a carbon neutral world,” Professor Holmes said.
“Australia has an important responsibility, as one of the world’s biggest per capita emitters, to show leadership at this important moment in history.
“As the world’s twelfth largest economy, we also have the capacity to do our fair share.
“Australia has some of the best climate scientists in the world and a wealth of expertise in clean energy; we have the opportunity to play a leading role,” Professor Holmes added.
“The national commitments so far are promising and Australia’s own post-2030 targets are an important start but now is not the time for complacency.
“We must understand that the only sustainable long-term goal is net zero-emissions and the risks are too great to keep on our current high emissions path.”
In a submission to the Australian government in May, the Academy recommended cuts in greenhouse gas emissions 30 to 40 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030.
An attempt by Australia to take a lead at the Paris talks would be likely to have high impact.
That’s because of the record of previous Australian leaders, including Tony Abbott, of dismissing climate change science.
The Coalition’s approach to tackling climate change, by subsidising big polluters, in an attempt to persuade them to change their ways, hasn’t impressed climate change scientists either.
Nor has the willingness of government MPs to speak up for the coal lobby in parliament.
by Alan Thornhill
Malcolm Turnbull expects the United Nations conference on climate change to proceed despite this weekend’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
The conference is due to start in Paris on November 30.
Speaking in an ABC television interview early today, the Prime Minister declared that he would attend.
“….if it goes ahead, which I’m sure it will, I will certainly be there, as indeed will other ministers,” Mr Turnbull said.
He also declared that Australians stand solidly with the French in their fight against terrorism.
“To the people of France, I say on behalf of the Australian people: as we have on so many occasions in the past, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you.”
“ Your battle is our battle. “
“Your battle for freedom is our battle for our freedom.”
The attack in Paris was an attack on all humanity.”
“We are in a common cause and we have a single common purpose – to defend our values and our way of life, and to defeat these terrorists and their assault upon us. “
Then he added:“To the Australian people, I can say this: we are a strong nation.”
“We are a united nation.”
“We are the most successful multicultural nation in the world.”
“And we are so because of being united in defence of our values, our values of freedom.”?
“We have strong and capable security services.”
“They keep us safe at home and, so far as they can, when we are abroad.”
However he added:“…there’s no reason to be complacent.”
“But we have every reason to be assured that our nation is safe.”
“We will always be alert to threats as they develop.”
“But we can be assured that our police, our security services, are working hard to keep us safe,” Mr Turnbull said.
by Alan Thornhill
The emperor penguins of Antarctica have their own ways of coping with extreme cold.
One, featured in a current BBC documentary, shows them huddling together in a gradual circular motion.
But is the penguin in the middle getting too hot now,as a result of global warming?
And, if so, is this majestic penguin gradually assuming a role once filled by the humble coal mine canary?
That is warning mankind of the potentially catastrophic consequences of the build up of dangerous gases.
Such as carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.
The South sea islanders the Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten visited last week, left him in no doubt about about their fears on this topic.
They dread the catastrophic inundation of their low-lying island homelands, if the Antarctic ice shelf melts, as global warming advances.
We can expect to hear more from Mr Shorten, on this subject, when Federal Parliament resumes this week.
Surprising as it might well be, all this will have a direct impact on the Federal election, that is to be held in Australia late next year.
That is already reflected, in the current tax debate.
The reasons for that are powerful.
The new government, of whatever colour, will need more revenue, to start curbing still growing deficits.
The Liberals are toying with the idea of increasing the GST, or broadening its base, to achieve that.
And Labor might well re-introduce a carbon tax, if it is elected next year.
So long-suffering Australian voters can expect not one, but two scare campaigns before then.
That is as each side kindly explains the disastrous consequences of accepting the other’s still not fully explained proposals.
All this makes research published by both the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling and the Parliamentary Library very valuable.
What they mean is that, for once, voters will have some useful independent advice, before a controversy that directly affects not only their finances, but the very future of the earth, itself, really gets under way.
The Greens Treasury Spokesman, Adam Bandt, came close to the heart of the matter, when he noted that the Parliamentary Library had reported that both a higher GST and a carbon tax could raise useful amounts of extra revenue.
It found, for example, that raising the GST rate from 10 to 12.5 per cent, might raise an extra $10 to $15 billion a year and
a comparable amount could be expected from re-introduction of a carbon tax at $29 a tonne.
However it also found significant differences.
The GST proposal, for example, could be expected to add $31 a week to the bills low to moderate income families must pay each week.
However a carbon tax, at that rate, which would raise a comparable amount of revenue, would cost the average family a lot less than that.
Just under $11 a week, in fact.
Our Emperor penguins might well be be expected to solidly back the carbon tax proposal over the higher GST, if they could vote.
After all, there was clear evidence that, in its first outing, that the carbon tax was having at least some impact on Australia’s pollution levels, though not enough.
The Coalition also insists that its policies of paying big polluters to stop are working.
But statistical support, for that claim, has been scarce.
Not enough to set Happy Feet dancing in Antarctica, anyway.
by Alan Thornhill
Some of Australia’s best scientists say the nation’s economic prospects are bright.
But they also caution that our prosperity in future will depend on the choices we make now.
This advice is offered in the Australian National Outlook report which the CSIRO published today.
Standing back from their test tubes for a moment, these scientists warned bluntly that Australia’s future will be shaped by innovation and technology uptake and the choices we make as a society will be paramount.
They are proud of their report, describing it as “, is the most comprehensive quantitative analysis yet of the interactions between economic growth, water-energy-food use, environmental outcomes and living standards in Australia.”
CSIRO Executive Director Dr Alex Wonhas said the report focuses on the ‘physical economy’ that contributes to about 75 per cent of natural resource use and produces about 25 per cent of Australia’s GDP.
“The National Outlook is a first attempt to understand and analyse the connections in Australia’s physical environment many decades into the future,” Dr Wonhas said.
“It has a particular focus on understanding two aspects: The ‘water- energy-food nexus’ and the prospects for Australia’s materials- and energy-intensive industries.”
National Outlook finds a number of key insights and potential opportunities across the Australian economy.? ?“For example, we find strong growth prospects for Australia’s agri-food production, which are forecast to increase at least 50 per cent by 2050, provided long term productivity improvements can be maintained in line with historical rates,” Dr Wonhas said.
So are we to do?
Dr Wonhas says:”“There’s a ….possibility of a win-win for farmers with potential growth in agri-food exports and new income sources for rural landholders through carbon farming on less productive land.”
What about water?
The report acknowledges that demand for water will grow with population.
But it adds:“Despite projections of a doubling of our water use, Australia could meet this growth as well as enhance urban water security and avoid increased environmental pressures through increased water recycling, desalination and integrated catchment management.”
It says too, that energy and other resources could remain a pillar of the Australian economy well into the future.
And it says our energy intensive industries could be well positioned to continue to grow, even in scenarios where the world is taking global action to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions.
“The key to this success will be innovation and application of smart technologies,” Dr Wonhas said.
“We hope the National Outlook will help Australia chart its future in an increasingly complex and interconnected world,” he added
The National Outlook explores over 20 possible futures for Australia out to 2050 against the backdrop of the past 40 years.??The work was undertaken by a team of 40 CSIRO experts and university collaborators, and draws extensively on observed data and analysis.
It utilises a world-class suite of nine linked models, includes input from more than 80 experts and stakeholders from over ten organisations and has undergone rigorous international peer review.
National Outlook is underpinned by more than 10 journal papers including a Nature paper published today. The report is available at www.CSIRO.au/national outlook
by Alan Thornhill
A senior Labor MP, Anthony Albanese, says he expected the “honeymoon” that the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is enjoying in the polls.
The latest – a Morgan poll – published today confirmed that the Coalition is well ahead of Labor, with 56-44 per cent lead on a two party preferred split.
This trend has also been evident in other recent public opinion polls.
It would give the government an easy victory in an early election, if one were held now.
That is a major reversal.
Labor had been consistently ahead in the polls, until Mr Turnbull successfully challenged Mr Abbott for Liberal leadership last month, defeating him 54-44 in the subsequent party room ballot.
But Mr Albanese said Australians are just pleased that the previous unpopular Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has gone.
With a Federal election due next year – or early in 2017 – the Coalition’s resurgence in the polls has left some Labor people wondering if the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, really is the right person for the job.
However Mr Albanese, who stood against Mr Shorten in the most recent ballot for Labor leadership, said he is certain that there will not be a fresh challenge to Mr Shorten.
Speaking on ABC radio, Mr Albanese said people would soon realise that although there had been a change of leadership, the government is still working on its old inadequate policies.
“I think what people are interested in is policy solutions for Australia,” Mr Albanese said.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s conservative Federal government still sees a future for coal.
Josh Frydenberg’s assertion at the weekend that there is “a strong moral case for the development of the Adani coal mine, which is slated to become Australia’s biggest, illustrates this.
It was even clearer with the recently deposed Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. who made no secret of his belief that coal was a gift to mankind.
In his own often repeated words, the “gift of cheap power.”
Mr Frydenberg hasn’t been silent on the subject, either.
Only last month in Melbourne, at an Interenationnal Conference on Coal Science and Technology, he said the resource sector, in which the coal industry plays a major role, has done much for Australia’s prosperity.
“The massive $400 billion investment in the Australian resources industry driven by the decade long super-cycle over the period from 2003 to 2014 has expanded our economy and lifted the average Australian household’s weekly income by $100 per week, ” Mr Frydenberg said.
The investment phase of that boom is now clearly over.
But the Federal Resources Minister was right when he said:
“We are now in the third phase of the boom, which is seeing significant increases in export volumes, and Australians are continuing to benefit.
Higher volumes, yes,
But at a much reduced price.
Yet there has been little sign, so far, of the Federal government taking a prudent look at an Australia, in the future, in which coal has a much smaller role in financing the nation’s financial stability.
Critics might even accuse is of leaning on this industry, for every piece of political support it can extract, while that is still possible.
The Greens, certainly, came close to doing so at the weekend, in their assessment of Mr Frydenberg’s stance.
The Queensland Green Senator, Larissa Waters, isn’t holding back.
She described Mr Frydenberg’s claim that exporting coal is “moral” as “deranged.”
So what was behind it?
The idea that Australia could help supply cheap power to poor people in India had a lot to do with it.
“Minister Frydenberg’s claim on Insiders today that there is a strong moral case for the Adani coal mine to relieve energy poverty in India is a sick joke,” Senator Waters said.
She ridiculed Mr Frydenberg’s claim, saying four of every five people who live without electricity in India are not connected to an electricity grid.
So they can’t access coal-fired power.
“Building electricity grids is slow and expensive and the much cheaper, healthier solution is localised renewable energy,” she added.
Senator Waters sees the situation quite differently.
“There’s a strong moral case for Australia to help develop the renewable energy technology that will safely provide people in developing countries with power,” she says.
Because she believes there is a better path.
“Burning coal causes local health impacts, with millions of premature deaths from air pollution a year, and pollutes local water supplies, “ she said.
“Of course, the biggest problem it creates is global warming, which is devastating the poorest countries the most.
“The Indian Energy Minister has repeatedly stated that India will end coal imports in the next few years and India is working to double its clean energy by 2022,” she added.
“Claiming there’s a moral case for coal exports confirms yet again how out of touch the Coalition is with the rest of the world,” Senator Waters said.
Mr Abbott once dismissed concern over global warming as “absolute crap.”
The Liberals don’t do that, anymore.
But there are still concerns that some, at least, are not giving the challenge of global warming sufficient weight.
by Alan Thornhill
We’re buying more new motor vehicles – and trying to squeeze them onto already overcrowded roads and parking lots.
The Bureau of Statistics reported today that new vehicle sales rose by 5.5 per cent in September to a level 7.7 per cent above those of the same month last year.
The biggest rise in September this year was in sales of sports utility vehicles.
The Bureau also reported that there were an estimated 17.7 million vehicles registered in Australia in October 2014.
That was an increase of some 1.1 million vehicles since the Bureau’s previous survey, which covered the 12 months to the end of June 2012.
It also estimated that those vehicles travelled 244,369 million kilometres in the 12 months to the end of October last year.
It said personal and other use accounted for 56.6 per cent of this travel.
by Alan Thornhill
The party’s over.
Unions, employers and community groups have had a long, hard look at the risky economic circumstances Australia now faces, as the mining investment boom fades.
That was evident, above all, at the economic mini-summit Malcolm Turnbull called in Canberra yesterday.
All present accepted that the path of consensus and innovation that the new Prime Minister is suggesting might be worth trying, after all.
That spirit, faintly evident in the days leading up to the meeting, strengthened during the three hours the participants spent in the Cabinet room, assessing their options.
The results won’t be immediate, or dramatic.
Tax reform is back on the table.
Employers will be less vocal, in their campaign for cuts to Sunday penalty rates.
But how do the participants, themselves, see what has happened?
Some tax concessions which favour the rich – and sometimes distort markets – are to be reviewed.
Jennifer Westacott, the Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia said: “there was a very, very strong agreement that concessions needed to be looked at.”
A statement that would once have raised eyebrows.
But she didn’t stop there.
“I think the more important discussion we’ve had today though is what is the nature of work … and how you get a collaborative framework for lifting productivity and opportunity,” Ms Westacott added.
The ACTU, secretary Dave Oliver revealed the summit had been his first meeting with an Australian Prime Minister since the last Federal elections.
And the ACTU President, Ged Kearney, described it as “absolutely a step forward.”
The three hour meeting, itself, was of course just the first step in what is likely to be a long process of hard bargaining.
But,with positive assessments like these emerging from it, there is now a real chance that the same spirit will take hold in the broader community.
And that would be a very big achievement, indeed.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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