<a href="https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Obama and climate change: lessons for Australia

President Obama

President Barack Obama

Credit: The White House

- Advertisement -

Just compare what Australia is doing, or not doing, about climate change, with what's happening in other countries. We should hang our heads in shame.

True, there are signs that Australia has turned a corner with our Prime Minister to chair a committee specifically designed to tackle climate change. The committee aims to finalize a consensus policy that will have direct input from business. That will include a price on carbon within the next 15 months without being bound by previous policies including the Greens’ ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Membership of the committee is restricted to members of parliament. It will be chaired by Gillard and will include Treasurer Wayne Swan, Climate change minister Greg Combet and Greens leader Bob Brown and Greens Senator Christine Milne. It will have some business input from Port Jackson partners director Rod Sims and KPMG healthcare business leader Patricia Faulkner as well as Climate Institute executive director Will Steffen.

But there’s a long way to go. Australia's emissions are just a fraction of what the rest of the world emits. But we are the worst climate change polluters per head, thanks to an energy-intensive lifestyle that relies on power from cheap coal and relatively cheap fuel (at least by global standards) for cars and trucks. Convincing voters to change lifestyles and pay more for electricity and fuel is going to be difficult.

Compare the government’s struggles with that of US president Barack Obama. In the latest edition of Rolling Stone, Obama says he is committed to reducing emissions by 17 per cent (compare that to the 10 per cent proposed by Australian government climate change advisor Ross Garnaut). “What I would agree with is that climate change has the potential to have devastating effects on people around the globe, and we've got to do something about it,’’ Obama said. “In order to do something about it, we're going to have to mobilize domestically, and we're going to have to mobilize internationally. During the past two years, we've not made as much progress as I wanted to make when I was sworn into office … One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our overreliance on fossil fuels. We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we're going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it's good for our national security, and, ultimately, it's good for our environment … Is it enough? Absolutely not. The progress that we're making on renewable energy, the progress that we're making on retrofitting buildings and making sure that we are reducing electricity use — all those things, cumulatively, if we stay on it over the next several years, will allow us to meet the target that I set, which would be around a 17 per cent reduction in our greenhouse gases. But we're going to have to do a lot more than that.”

Why can’t Australian political leaders talk like that? That’s the kind of leadership required to get people to change their lifestyles, something that’s badly needed in Australia.

And then compare that to reports that Scotland has announced it plans to source 80 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy. Again, that will create a change in lifestyles. Australia can learn a few lessons here.

BHP Billiton’s call for a carbon price, and the close election result that has forced the government to join forces with the Greens and rural independents, have put climate change back on the agenda. But compared to the rest of the world, the wheels in Australia are grinding very slowly. Leadership on climate change is coming from other countries.