February 9, 2009

More Trouble in Australia

With those ridiculously high temperatures in southern Australia having spawned that country's worst and deadliest brush fires ever, we're starting to see one of the first cases where public sentiment links natural disasters to government action on climate change. Australia, like the US, is coming off its long conservative hangover. Besides being one of the founding members of the George W. Bush fan club, former PM John Howard is a well-known climate skeptic. He pulled Australia out of the Kyoto Accords and, though he proposed a cap-and-trade system, wanted to avoid an actual mandated emissions cap. His successor, Kevin Rudd, is much more aggressive in his climate stance, but even so only supports a 5% cut in emissions by 2020 (unless a climate treaty forces additional cuts).

But with Australia wracked by long term drought, record heat and massive infernos, the calls for action are growing louder. Australia is an outlier in every sense of the word - geographically and ecologically. It's basically a desert continent that is barely habitable in the best of circumstances - unlike in the US, regional climate issues mirror national ones. It's understandable then that Australians might start connecting some dots for themselves. Obviously, you can't take a single set of weather events or natural disasters and pin it on climate change. But as the Green Party spokesperson said as the heat, drought and fires rage on, "we Australians have looked our own future in the face." And who wants a future like that?

As an Asian-Pacific democracy and despite the fact that it's responsible for only a modest 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Australia could do worse than to take their Green Party's advice to lead by example through steeper cuts. If nothing else, it would be a further means of bringing China and India along on the emissions cutting path - probably the only hope for keeping Australia's fiery future permanently at bay

Photo courtesy Reuters

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