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Getting smart on climate change – Part 1

Photo: Rodney Dekker/OxfamAUS

This is an exciting time to be alive. While the challenges we face from climate change are enormous, so too are the opportunities.

If left unchecked, climate change threatens not just our way of life, but the lives of millions of people living across the Pacific, Asia and beyond. The flipside is that climate change presents us with a tremendous opportunity to reassess our priorities and shape a new, sustainable and more just world.

It also presents Australia with an opportunity to develop new industries and create new jobs. This will secure Australian prosperity for future generations and could help in assisting developing countries, (through a mix of trade, technology transfer and aid) to leapfrog the high polluting development path of the past.

We are currently living at the expense of future generations, so it’s vital the world faces this challenge together.

Australia has been described as a clever country. Our response to climate change will show us if this is still the case.

It’s about the future, both here and abroad
Not only was 2010 the warmest year since records began more than 130 years ago, but 20% of the Earth’s land mass experienced new temperature highs. This contributed to climate-related disasters leading to USD $130 billion in losses, rising food prices and more than a doubling of climate-related deaths in comparison to 2009.

Climate change doesn’t respect borders. The carbon pollution of one country affects us all. Currently, the effects are being felt most dramatically by poor people in developing countries; and they have few resources to adapt.

Of the rich, developed nations, Australia has paid a higher price than most with our 13-year drought, the 2009 bushfires and the severe flooding and cyclone Yasi in north-east Australia in 2011. Where we differ from poor countries is in the drought and fire relief and other social security assistance we have access to.

Left unchecked, however, the number and intensity of natural disasters resulting from climate change – and the resultant costs – are going to skyrocket for us all. And the longer we wait, the costlier it will be.

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“It’s happening”, say climate scientists
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the Earth is warming due to human activity.

The release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is trapping heat on Earth, leading to rising temperatures. This in turn has led to changes in weather patterns, declining biodiversity, rising sea levels – and with it increasing thirst, hunger and displacement of people from their homes and traditional lands.

Being uncertain or sceptical is an understandable first reaction for those learning about climate change. But many climate deniers dress themselves up as sceptics to muddy the water about the science.

Deniers of climate change point to drops in temperature based on a narrow selection of years to refute global warming. By contrast, most scientists acknowledge that for accuracy you need to look at a much longer timeframe. When we do, we see that the earth’s temperature has risen by almost one degree celsius since pre-industrial times, in line with an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a body of more than 2,500 scientific experts from 194 countries – is in agreement; climate change is happening, and it presents us with an enormous challenge which can’t be ignored.

Global impacts rising
Oxfam’s work across almost 100 countries shows that millions are already facing the impacts of climate change. While it’s impossible to attribute individual natural disasters to climate change, the increasing number and scale of these disasters are entirely consistent with the predictions of climate scientists. Events like the 2010 Pakistan floods that displaced 20 million people – almost Australia’s population – and the heat wave and fires in Russia (that has led to a ban on Russian wheat exports) give us a glimpse of what will be “the new norm” if we don’t act soon.

In the Pacific island state of Kiribati, rising sea levels and tidal surges are eroding the coastline, destroying crops and contaminating ground water. “Our efforts to develop are already being undermined by climate change – the cost to future generations will be enormous”, says Pelenise Alofa, Chairperson of the Kiribati Climate Action Network.

Getting smart on climate change
Part 1 | Part 2 >>

How you can get smart