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Peter Garrett

05 April 2005
Peter Garrett

Peter Garrett, is a politician, activist, singer and former president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. Here he talks to The Climate Group about climate change and emissions reduction in the Australian context.

How will climate change impact on the Australasian continent?

Climate change will have a significant impact on the environment and on social well-being if the current projections continue through this century. In particular, Australia, because of its ancient geography, soil profile and distinctive weather patterns, is more adversely affected by climate variability than some other continents. Our leading scientific research organisation, the CSIRO, postulates that we will certainly see climate change causing increased droughts in some regions and greater transportation of air-borne diseases, particularly dengue fever, which is expected to move further south into the country, and is a significant health risk for Australians. There are a range of associated impacts related to increasing temperatures which affect both evaporation rates and river systems, which are already over stressed, and these will hit farming communities and the health of crop lands. And of course there is the potential for further coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. The list will continue ever onwards - climate change will have significant impacts on Australia.

You've said previously that people want solutions on environmental issues; do you feel that there are solutions out there to tackle climate change?

Look, very clearly there are things that need to be done urgently in relation to climate change, and of those the most obvious is to have an enforceable and equitable arrangement delivering deep cuts in emissions into the middle of the century. The great difficulty with climate change is that its time-scale is longer than many of the issues that people have to deal with in their daily lives, so the responsibility on governments in particular, but also on corporates and other institutions that endure from generation to generation, is to ensure that climate change is treated as a serious issue. It will clearly require an equitable and transparently regulated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions - world wide. It will also require a significant investment in alternative and renewable energies; a significant investment in energy efficiency and a significant change in our culture and the way in which we live - how we move ourselves around, the way in which we farm and how we organise our communities. And in some ways it's the ultimate environmental issue because it will force us to finally recognise that we are all global citizens.

You talk about the responsibility of government and businesses. How much responsibility do you think is on the shoulders of the individual to take action on this issue?

Climate change is such a huge issue that it requires strong, concerted, consistent and enduring action by governments. Not only to set in place both the regulatory framework and pricing signals to enable climate change measures to be undertaken, but also to provide the political and the social structures and encouragements necessary for people to be able to - within the spheres of their own lives - take actions as well. It's absolutely not acceptable for people to argue that, if we are going to do anything about climate change at all, well, the responsibility lies solely with the individual. The forces that are in play on climate change essentially revolve around the generation of power, the transportation of goods and services and people, and the sorts of materials that we use to fuel the whole of our civilisation. And as a consequence it's really in the hands of both governments at the National and the International level.

Do you think that the message on climate change - the urgent need for action - is properly communicated and understood by the public, both in Australia and abroad?

Well I don't know about abroad, but I think that in Australia, if you'd asked me that question even 18 months or two years ago, I may have said no. Now I think I would say that, whilst we still need to have a clearer articulation as to what the real science or the agreed science of climate change is, the population is much more alert to climate change, greenhouse gasses, global warming - whichever of these expressions you want to pick up on, than they were. And this is clearly shown in a recent, quite thorough poll by the Lowy Institute, which identified that for the majority of Australians their concern about global warming is greater than their concern about terrorism. And given that there's been probably a ten-fold amount of information about terrorism through the media than there has about climate change; I think that's quite an interesting statistic.

What individuals and organisations do you think are taking a real leadership stance on the issue in Australia?

Conservation organisations have been talking about climate change for some time, and when I was President of the Australian Conservation Foundation in the 90's we had identified climate change, even previous to that point in time, as being a very important political issue and environmental issue. We lobbied for governments to take that into account and other conservation organisations have done the same thing.

Within Australia, the attitude of our Federal Government has been essentially to mirror the positioning of the US Government, so we sought not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, we've sought not to consider the establishment of nationally driven carbon trading schemes, nor to send signals into the market place which would encourage renewables and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recently though, our State Governments have discussed instigating a carbon trading scheme - the details are still to be decided - and that's an encouraging sign. And we have also had the development of a number of think-tanks and campaigning organisations, including the taskforce that Prime Minister Blair established, some of them involving renewable energy associations, who are starting to speak out and become active. Climate change is also clearly a matter of huge interest and concern for the scientific community. Once you start to look into the guts of climate change you find that just about every scientific institution in the world is conducting research on the issue. I believe that the quantum of our knowledge will increase considerably in the coming years and that scientists will continue to be amongst the brave voices speaking out.

The views presented in the Viewpoint Series are not necessarily representative of the views of The Climate Group.

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