Climate change: 'We are running out of time'

November 20, 2015
Kiribati President Anote Tong joins in planting mangroves to protect the coastline.

If we needed any further proof that our politicians are "fossil fools", despite recent leadership changes, look no further than the responses made by the Prime Minister and federal resources minister to the call for a moratorium on new coalmines by the President of the Pacific island nation Kiribati, Anote Tong.

Tong, on a visit to Australia, told ABC Radio's Michael Brissenden on November 19 that to avoid a catastrophic sea level rise Australia must take serious action and announce a moratorium on new coalmines. "We are running out of time and I think we need to be focusing on some concrete course of action, and yes, I believe it is reasonable."

Kiribati is not alone in this appeal. In October, a group of 61 prominent people, including the former Governor of the Reserve Bank, published an open letter to French Prime Minister Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, calling on the world's governments to negotiate a global moratorium on new coalmines and coalmine expansions.

Responding to the appeal, Turnbull displayed his loyalty to Australian mining interests by responding that such a moratorium “would make not the blindest bit of difference to global emissions”. Tong retorted that Turnbull "should be talking with the scientists".

Resources minister Josh Frydenberg's position was that if it is in the ground and people want to buy it then he is happy to keep digging it up and exporting it. "Well we're opening new mines where there's the necessary investment because there's global demand for it."

But, according to a report by the Climate Council released in April, to have a 50% chance of meeting the 2°C warming limit, at least 62% of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. Coal is the fossil fuel with the greatest proportion that should not be used: 88% of global reserves must be left unburned.

Further, recent modelling by Climate Interactive predicts that we are heading for an average global temperature rise of up to 3.5°C by 2100, based on the emissions pledges — Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) — submitted in preparation for the Paris climate talks. A "business as usual" approach would result in a 4.5°C warming.

Equally alarming is the wording of the October 30 Berlin Statement by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC), which states that the INDCs "have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7°C by 2100".

According to Joe Romm from Climate Progress, this "very misleading news release ... coupled with an opaque UNFCCC report on those pledges ... has, understandably, left the global media thinking the climate talks in Paris get us much closer to 2°C than they actually do".

These facts might be lost on our politicians but they are looming large for the peoples of the Pacific Islands, as Tong made clear: "And so if we don't do anything, as a global community, if we don't do anything significant, then countries like mine, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, the low lying island countries will be underwater ... I think we've gone much too far and we need to move back from the position where we're at the moment. We're about to go over the edge if we haven't already."

Considering that across the world more than 150 million people live within 1 metre of high tide level, and 250 million live within 5 metres, the impacts will be devastating. Millions of people will be displaced and farming land destroyed. Not only those living on low-lying islands, but millions living around the Nile Delta and in countries such as Bangladesh.

A safe climate is not possible unless we fight for it. To take on the fossil fuel interests, we need a strong climate action movement — one that is independent of the major parties, will not compromise and is an unstoppable force for change.

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