The budget shows we’re now flying blind on climate change

Source: The Conversation

The word “climate” was conspicuously absent from Joe Hockey’s first budget speech as treasurer. 

It’s not hard to guess why – the full budget sets out major cuts to climate research, and strong moves against renewable energy programs, such as scrapping the Australian Renewable Energy Authority.

Together, these moves send the strong signal that we are weakening our capacities for both climate knowledge and responses to climate change. As a result, we are increasingly flying blind.

Does this reflect a change in the way in which we, as a society, perceive the risks of climate change? It’s an important question, because although political appetites for action may wax and wane, the laws of nature cannot be repealed.

What the science says

Let’s start with the evidence. The scientific community has just released the landmark Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), confirming and extending previous IPCC reports in 2007, 2001, 1996 and 1990.

In snapshot, the findings are that warming and other climate changes have occurred through the 20th century, mainly because of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by human activities; these changes will continue and accelerate with increasing emissions; and major reductions in emissions are needed over coming decades if we are to significantly reduce dangers from global warming and other impacts.

The observational evidence and models are clear and in agreement on these broad conclusions. This is a scientific consensus in the true sense; not the outcome of a vote, but the outcome of an effort to discern how nature works.

This consensus does not mean that “the science is settled” – far from it. There are still many uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge. They can be summarised like this: if the world succeeds in reducing greenhouse gas emissions strongly, then global warming might range from mild to significant, with the best estimate being warming of about 2C. Conversely, if emissions continue to increase with little or no limitation, warming could range from very bad to catastrophic, with the best estimate being more than 4C by 2100, and even more after that.

We all know that in the face of significant risk, fretting about uncertainty is no substitute for action. Indeed, in making difficult decisions about our future as individuals or as a society, uncertainty about the future is our constant companion. In dealing with climate change, the uncertainty band offered by climate science is nowhere near so cripplingly large as to prevent rational choices.

Read the full article on The Conversation


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