Our Common Cause: Dealing with the global warming challenge

August 9, 2008

How do we act on the need for urgent action to solve the climate change challenge?

The Socialist Alliance's national environment committee recently discussed our response to the draft Garnaut report and the Rudd government's Green Paper. We noted the responses from a number of trade unions to climate change as they consider how a carbon trading scheme might impact on workers' jobs. This is especially relevant for those unions in industries that emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases.

We're now recommending a change in our position on greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Currently, we call for a 60% reduction in total emissions by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels) and a 90% reduction by 2030. These targets were based on assumptions in the 2006 Stern Review, namely that the upper limit of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations should be 450 parts per million (ppm). This corresponds to a probability of a 2°C increase in average global temperatures.

However, Socialist Alliance members active in the climate change movement are convinced on the basis of the latest global warming science that these targets, already the most far-reaching of any Australian political party, are inadequate.

The second edition of our popular Climate Change charter, It happens to be an emergency, will contain a goal of immediate and urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, with the aim of achieving a fall in emissions as soon as possible. The final goal must be to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations to 300ppm — the only level at which we can be sure of stopping runaway global warming.

The new edition of It happens to be an emergency will also explain how the federal Rudd government's proposed emissions trading scheme is a completely inadequate response. The first draft of our updated position will soon be available for comment at <"http://www.greenleft.wikispaces.com">.

Socialist Alliance will also make a submission to the Rudd government's Green Paper. While we don't expect to be able to counteract the massive pressure from the resource industry for concessions, we felt it was important to take part in a process, along with many local climate change groups, to advocate for more fundamental policy shifts. We need greenhouse emissions to start to fall immediately and sharply, and this requires a halt to plans for new coal mines, massive public spending on renewable energy, more public transport instead of new freeways, and an end to the logging of old growth forests.

However, without action even the best policies are ineffective. Therefore, we are supporting a range of actions on climate change, beginning with the torch relay and September 21 Canberra protest initiated by GetUp.

We are also supporting the call for a week of climate action beginning September 21, issued by the network of environment groups, which organised the successful July 5 Climate Emergency rally in Melbourne (the call was endorsed unanimously by participants at the final session of the August 2 Melbourne Climate Justice seminar).

"Coal, Uranium, Forests — keep them in the ground! Renewables Now!" was our initial attempt to find an effective slogan to best convey our position. But that's likely to be improved with input from a vibrant and creatively minded movement!

Any political party that wants to be taken seriously must have a policy on energy and resources, and on fuel prices — something dramatised by recent protests by long-distance owner-drivers in road transport. How do we phase out society's dependence on hydrocarbons without having the economic cost of this diminish the quality of working people's lives and of their communities?

A draft energy policy will be discussed in the lead-up to our sixth national conference where it will be put to the vote. The policy will outline our position on the complex and contentious issues of carbon trading, carbon taxes and carbon rationing. (We will also be producing a special issue of Alliance Voices with background information on these issues.) The draft energy policy will also be made available for comment on our Wiki site.

For those interested in taking part in our discussions about climate change policy and building the movement, you can join the Socialist Alliance's environment Yahoo e-group by sending an email to saenvironment-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.au.

[David White is the Socialist Alliance national environment coordinator.]

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