Last night's City Talk, "The Politics of Climate Change", gave us much to think about as momentum builds toward a new global climate agreement in Paris.
Connie Hedegaard, chair of the OECD Round Table for Sustainability, delivered a keynote speech that gave us much hope for what can be achieved in Paris. We were then joined in discussion by Mark Butler MP, Shadow Minister for the Environment, Senator Larissa Waters, co-deputy leaders of the Australian Greens and Dr John Hewson, former leader of the Liberal Party.
Connie Hedegaard's extraordinary CV includes Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and the European Commissioner for Action on Climate Action - so she was ideally placed to talk to us about the prospects for the Paris summit.
Connie told the packed crowd at Town Hall that there is no reason to postpone action and instead we should be giving businesses and communities the predictability of a gradual transition to a low carbon economy.
She also said we should be open about the fact that addressing climate change won't be cost-free. But that cost will be far less than inaction and presents the question to those who acknowledge that climate change is real and we have a responsibility to act for the next generations: How much should we be spending to try to save the planet?
NASA animation of temperature data from 1880-2011.
What we need, Connie argued, is a paradigm shift. The market is perfectly capable of acting in short term interests, which means it falls to politicians to act for the long term. Such long term planning may include pricing externalities like pollution to signal to the market there is a need to innovate and transform.
There was cause for hope in her speech. 2014 was the hottest year on record, but it was also the first year we stabilised global emissions, while seeing a global increase of GDP of 3%. And it was the first year we installed more new global energy capacity from renewables than fossil fuel. We can't always see that transition is occurring while we're in the middle of change, but Paris presents a real opportunity for us to build momentum and progress effective global climate action.
I was also pleased to hear from Connie about the Danish experience. With bipartisan support, Denmark transitioned its economy from reliance on oil and gas to become a great exporter of renewable energy.
Unfortunately, in Australia we have not had the level of political leadership needed to address climate change. The Federal Government has announced a target of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030 on 2005 levels, putting us at the back of the pack.
We can and must do more. If the world is to prevent dangerous climate change, this is the critical decade. Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed if we are to limit global temperature increases to less than the two degrees science tells us we must to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.
Australia emits more greenhouse gases per capita than any other developed nation and stronger targets are a key part of encouraging other nations to do more.
It is incumbent on us to take the initiative to demand our political leaders set climate targets and take action to ensure we are not the generation that leaves future generations to deal with runaway climate change.
Watch Connie's address and the rest of the City Talk here: http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/council/news-and-updates/global-issues-ideas-and-conversations/city-talks/the-politics-of-climate-change-towards-the-paris-climate-conference-2015