As part of the @WePublicHealth citizen journalism project this week, Fiona Armstrong of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) has been tweeting on climate and health issues.
I have been supporting Fiona though research and background information, some of which I have written up on this blog.
Climate change has been described by the Lancet as the ""the biggest global health threat of the 21st century".
As the election campaign enters its last days, the Liberal National Party (LNP) has failed to meet this challenge.
Several health peak bodies have rated the political parties on their health policies. The LNP scores low in many areas, particularly health promotion and prevention, rural health, mental health, and climate and health. A summary of results can be found at Croakey election wrap
While ratings by CAHA on climate and health found that LNP policy is lacking in most areas, it is Tony Abbott's statement that the LNP will not be bound by Australia's 5% emissions reduction target that raises particular concern.
In their place the LNP is offering a Direct Action policy. However independent reviews have found that Direct Action is unlikely to meet the 5% target without substantially more funding.
When asked whether he would guarantee additional funding to meet the target, Mr Abbott said he would not.
Until now, the 5% emissions reduction by 2020 has been supported by both sides of Parliament. It is Australia's minimal target to meet our share of global responsibilities under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under this framework, countries adopted targets aiming to keep global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade or less.
Australia also proposed, if there was significant global action, to raise its target to 15% or 25% by 2020.
The Australian Climate Change Authority (CCA) is currently reviewing the target and will produce an interim report in October and a final recommendation in February 2014. The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is also due to report in October, and this report will influence our targets.
Many organisations that have made submissions to the CCA review have argued that:
- the 2 degree centigrade rise is already too risky for the environment, biodiversity and human health, and we should be aiming for 1.5 degrees or less, if this is still possible
Even at 1.5 degrees C, there will be an increased burden of death and disease from famine, malnutrition and extreme weather events. The World Wildlife Fund states that a 1.5 degree C rise will also lead to the loss of 25% of existing animal and plant species.
- Australia can and should commit to a greater emissions reduction target by 2020 (most have suggested a target in the range of 25-40%)
- delaying action will make it more difficult and more expensive
For the LNP to abandon the 5% target at this time, when two major authorities - one Australian and one international - are due to report in a few weeks, is extraordinary. Regardless on anyone's personal views on climate change, the great weight of scientific opinion is telling us that it poses risks to current and future generations.
To abandon what is, at best, a minimal target, in such a way, and at such a time, is a failure in the duty of care our elected representatives owe us all.
(Note: I have updated this post a few times to correct errors and include links. Original errors were 'challenges' instead of threats in the Lancet quote, and 'Clean Energy Foundation' instead of Clean Energy Finance Corporation' - sorry it's been a busy week)
Australian Government Climate Change Authority Caps and Targets Review Issues Paper April 2013
Submissions to the review by:
Clean Energy Council
Australian Conservation Foundation
Sustainable Engineering Association
Climate and Health Alliance
The Climate Institute
Friends of the Earth
Peter Christoff (Monash Sustainability Institute)
Sustainable Business Association
World Wildlife Fund
Taylor L 'Climate change: Tony Abbott says Direct Action needs no modelling' The Guardian 5 September 2013