The choice not to put climate change on the agenda has found the country facing increasing criticism. In an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott a group of 12 of Australia’s leading medical scientists – including Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty – called on the country to take a “strong lead” in reducing carbon emissions, or risk a major impact on public health. “Adverse health outcomes related to climate change are already evident in many region of the world,” it reads. “By mid-century series health risks are likely to be widespread, particularly in vulnerable communities”.
The scientists cite a large number of health risks posed by climate change, including heatwaves, flooding, water shortages, food security risks and the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes. The scientists warn “the issue warrants urgent consideration at the G20 meeting”, and that the “health of present and future generation is at risk”. In an interview this week, prominent economist Jeffrey Sachs joined the chorus of those calling for the G20 to address climate change, warning that accounting for “the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions” the G20 has a vital role to play and must “get its house in order”.
Australia claims to take the science of climate change seriously, but in July, the country became the first country to repeal a price on carbon emissions, while the government is also looking to scrap the country’s two key clean energy bodies and is reviewing its 20% renewable energy target. The country currently has no policy to reduce carbon emissions, with the Coalition’s preferred replacement for carbon pricing, the Direct Action climate plan, facing severe opposition in the country’s Senate. Several independent analyses have cast doubt on whether the plan could meet the country’s target of a 5% reduction in emissions by 2020.
In contrast to Australia, other major economies have also shown a strong commitment to climate change in recent weeks. The US has announced plans to cut carbon pollution from power plants, while China has suggested it could announce a peak year for carbon emissions in the first half of 2015. In Europe, France has become the latest country to ratify climate change legislation, setting legally binding targets for emissions reductions and renewable energy using. Meanwhile, German chancellor Angela Merkel has promised German and EU leadership on climate over the next 12 months, including a $1 billion pledge to the UN Green Climate Fund. India has also agreed to play a proactive role in the climate negotiations and to bring more renewables into its energy mix.
With the threat of climate change growing across the world, solutions that are ready and available, and with growing calls for governments to act, the world is at a crucial point in history. Ban Ki-Moon’s Climate Leaders Summit in New York in September, the UN climate talks in Lima in December and the Paris summit in 2015 are all crucial moments for world leaders to position themselves “on the right side of history”, and the G20 meeting will provide another important opportunity for heavy emitters and high-income nations to show they are ready to commit to strong climate action and lead the way to Paris 2015.
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