Why climate should be an election issue

A leaked report found warming would continue for centuries, even if emissions were immediately stopped.

It is 95% certain that human activity is causing climate change, a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says.

The final report has not been released, but a leaked copy of the draft has revealed a stark image of the destructive impact climate change will cause in our lifetimes.

Read the Socialist Alliance’s 10-point climate change plan, a party policy that is based on what the science says is necessary to avoid climate disaster. To achieve this plan, it is necessary to have democratic community control over key industries. Republished here is “Five reasons to nationalise the mines”.

The report predicts that sea levels could rise by five metres by the end of the century, causing highly populated regions in Asia to be subsumed if carbon pollution is not reigned in.

Mother Jones said the report found that ocean acidification is "virtually certain" to rise and “20 percent of the carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere will stay there for an almost unimaginably long time — more than 1,000 years.”

This means warming would continue for centuries, even if emissions were immediately stopped.

Earlier this year, climate scientists announced the hopeful news that the rate of climate change was slowing. However, the new IPCC report says that trend was due to short-term factors and would be only temporary.

IPPC reports are released every seven years. This report uses the strongest language yet to describe the crisis facing the planet, something that is "unprecedented in hundreds to thousands of years."

For such a serious problem, it is remarkable that climate change has barely been discussed as part of the federal election campaign, especially since it was a central issue in the previous federal election.

A survey conducted in August by the Australia Institute has found climate change is one of the top five election issues for young people.

But an article in The Conversation also said that a “recent survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, reveals that in 2007–08, 73% of Australians stated that they were concerned about climate change, but by 2011–12 this had fallen to 57%.”

The Liberal and Labor parties have no climate policy that recognises the scale of the crisis and addresses it effectively. This is not because they do not understand the crisis, but because any meaningful action on climate change would involve phasing out the coal industry — one of the most powerful industries in Australia.

Since the last federal election, Labor and the Greens introduced the carbon price as the key policy to tackle climate change. This has been woefully inadequate. It has not reduced emissions significantly and it passed on billions of dollars in public money to the owners of polluting industries.

Since politicians have reduced the terms of debate around climate change to simply a debate about the carbon tax, along with their refusal to take on the power of the mining industry, it is no wonder many people have become frustrated and switched off when it comes to caring about climate change.

It might seem impossible, but reigning in the power of the fossil fuel industry is the only realistic chance we have to stop the extreme predictions in the IPCC from coming to pass.