Ten steps to stop climate change

November 8, 2008

The latest reports by climate scientists, which reveal that global warming is taking place at a faster pace then first thought, indicate that the Socialist Alliance climate change charter, produced for last year's federal election, is now out of date.

It happens to be an emergency: climate action now outlined the most radical plan of attack against global warming of any Australian political party.

In the lead up to its sixth national conference, to be held on December 5-7 in Geelong, the Socialist Alliance is reviewing its position on targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Following the conference, we will produce a new, full-length version of the climate change charter.

What will be the in Rudd government's White Paper, due out by the end of the year, on measures to fight global warming propose?

The signs are not good. If it follows Professor Ross Garnaut's recommendations for medium-term cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the goal will be reductions of just 5% by 2020 if there is no comprehensive international agreement on emissions reductions, or reductions of 10% if there is an agreement.

At the Bali climate summit in December, 2007, many Western countries expressed support for goals of 25-40% reductions — a "first stage" target that aims to stabilise carbon in the atmosphere at 550 parts per million (ppm).

However, even that goal falls far short of what is needed. A team headed by NASA's James Hansen, arguably the world's pre-eminent climate scientist, recently concluded that a 550ppm atmospheric carbon concentration would likely result in an average global temperature increase of about 6°C.

That temperature change would mean countless species would become extinct, while remaining populations would be rendered unstable. Billions of human beings are likely to perish in such circumstances, with broad areas of fertile lowland swamped by rising sea levels and widespread desertification. The result for humanity would most likely mean the end of civilisation.

To prevent such a catastrophe, there must be determined action to cut atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from its present level of 390ppm to no more than 350ppm. To restore the Arctic sea ice to its area in the middle of last century, the target would have to be as low as 325ppm.

The climate scientists say we have just 10 years to make the economic, infrastructural and industrial changes required to achieve these massive cuts to our emissions.

The Rudd government's proposed emissions trading system, which relies on private market forces, cannot achieve the changes necessary within 10 years. This scheme, and the Garnaut proposals, fail to urgently and comprehensively respond to the challenge of rapid climate change.

It's time for people to unite and fight for real policy change. The only force capable of changing government policy is the climate change movement itself — by organising, protesting, and spreading awareness of the gravity of the global warming crisis.

The Socialist Alliance will help strengthen the movement that can make that happen. We offer the following 10-point plan as the minimum needed to meet the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

Bringing greenhouse gas emissions under control will require deep changes and immense effort at every level — international, national and local. It requires the equivalent of a war-time effort to transform the economy and industry.

1. Implement immediate emission reduction targets with the aim being to reduce net emissions to zero as soon as practicable. The goal should be to achieve 95% of power from renewable sources by 2020, with a 90% cut in overall emissions by 2030. Introduce annual reduction targets.

2. Initiate further international treaty negotiations aimed at getting all countries to agree to a global target of 90% emissions reductions on 1990 levels by 2030.

3. Start the transition to a zero-waste economy. Engage workers in industry, with technical experts, to redesign their products and jobs sustainably.

4. Require the fitting of all feasible energy-efficiency measures to existing houses and subsidise owner-occupiers for the costs.

5. Bring all power industries under public ownership and democratic control. Begin phasing out coal mining and coal-fired power stations immediately. Provide guaranteed jobs and retraining on full pay for coalmining and power-station communities, with new sustainable industries being built in their areas and paid redundancies offered.

6. Bring the whole car industry under public control. Re-tool this industry to manufacture wind turbines, public transport vehicles, solar hot water and solar photo-voltaic cells. Subsidise the conversion of private cars to electric power.

7. Accelerate the construction of wind farms in suitable areas. Boost research into all renewable energy sources. Build pilot solar-thermal and geothermal plants now. Create localised power grids.

8. End logging in old-growth forests. Begin an urgent program of re-forestation, and protection of biodiversity to provide increased carbon sinks.

9. End industrial farming based on fertilisers, pesticides and fuel sourced from petroleum. Restrict farming areas to ensure that riverine, forest and other indigenous ecosystems return to healthy states. Encourage new farming practices including organic and urban farming.

10. Make all urban and regional public transport free and upgrade services to enable all urban residents to use it for all their regular commuting. Nationalise and upgrade interstate train and ferry services, to provide real alternatives to air travel. Rail freight must be prioritised. Ensure transport services are integrated.

[Readers of Green Left Weekly are invited to contribute their comments on the 10 points above by going to .]

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