Tim Flannery: we have to stop our emissions (transcript)

MediaTim Flannery: we have to stop our emissions (audio)

transcribed by Katherine Baldwin

Andi Hazelwood: This is Andi Hazelwood from Global Public Media on the fourth of October, 2007, and I'm speaking with Dr. Tim Flannery, author of "The Weather Makers" and one of Australia's top scientists addressing climate change. Dr. Flannery, thank you very much for your time today.

Dr. Tim Flannery: It's a pleasure, thank you.

Andi Hazelwood: In today's "Melbourne Age" newspaper, you commented on the CSIROs alarming report on climate change, saying that Australia will need to cease greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels altogether within the next forty years. Does that mean we need to stop using fossil fuels?

Dr. Tim Flannery: At least stop using them in the way we use them now. Of course we may be able to move to some clean-coal technology, that sequesters the pollution, but we have to stop our emissions from fossil fuels by about 2050. That's very clear from the science now.

Andi Hazelwood: Given our current water and food crisis, do we even have forty years?

Dr. Tim Flannery: Well, no one can predict the future. All we can do is work on probability; now, we stand at high risk at the moment of triggering dangerous climate change with some very unwelcome consequences for water and food, but those risks are not inevitable. So what we have to do now is just work as quickly as we can to reduce that risk profile, and that's what reducing our emissions is all about.

Andi Hazelwood: If we were to undertake a huge climate mitigation program tomorrow, could the problem be reversed?

Dr. Tim Flannery: It certainly could. Our tropical forests can draw down the standing stock of pollution from the atmosphere at the rate of about 5% per anum, if we really work hard on that, so within twenty years we could be pulling down 5%. Agricultural technology, such as [****1:31] could be pulling down another 5% in twenty years' time. That's 10% of the standing stock per year gone down; along with a very aggressive emissions reductions program and we could have this problem substantially abated by 2050.

Andi Hazelwood: So if you were Prime Minister, those are the types of things that you would put into place to face the issues that we're dealing with right now.

Dr. Tim Flannery: Yeah, exactly. Just as important as all of that is getting a global agreement in place, because it's not just what Australia does, it's the whole world. We're one of two countries that haven't ratified the Kyoto protocol. We really need to ratify and convince the Americans, or do our best to do so, that they need ratify too. Then the whole world can move together; 'cause China's already said that they'll get behind any agreed emissions targets and programs that the developed world puts together.

Andi Hazelwood: Now you've spoken of carbon taxes, what are your thoughts on mandating carbon rationing to reduce consumption.

Dr. Tim Flannery: I think rationing's perhaps a bit extreme at the moment. I'm fairly sure that we can do this with a carbon-trading scheme, with the price of carbon on the order of $70 Australian per ton of pollutant that would make most of the other renewable, cleaner energy sources competitive, and would also allow some of the new agricultural technologies to come into play.

Andi Hazelwood: Should communities also be looking to re-localize, rather than relying on importing and exporting?

Dr. Tim Flannery: I think that's probably part of the response, and not only that but within large communities, like cities, we need to develop distributed power grids. So a localized form of power generation whether it be wind or solar or biomass contributing. And of course those communities, as you say, that are further out, localizing so we can reduce the food miles component of everything that we transport.

Andi Hazelwood: Today you would probably say that there is no doubt that drought is very closely related to climate change, is that true?

Dr. Tim Flannery: Yes, that's right. The pattern that we're seeing now in the weather in Australia is very much the pattern was predicted by computer models as much as a decade ago.

Andi Hazelwood: Should Australia be preparing for permanent drought conditions?

Dr. Tim Flannery: Well, it's the new climate. We will have to get by with less water. The CSIRO's telling us that. We're seeing it now, in the evidence before our eyes in our rivers and creeks, and of course the computer models in the global models have been predicting just this now for some years. I think all evidence says that this is our new climate and we have to get by with less water than we've ever had before.

Andi Hazelwood: Even with the issues that we're already facing due to climate change, Bjorn Lomborg's very popular new book tells us that it's not all that bad. Will this actually damage your efforts at all?

Dr. Tim Flannery: It could, because Bjorn Lomborg is telling very much a half-truth there. He's taking, really, the lower end of the risk profile, and saying that’s what we're facing. In fact, there is a broad band of probabilities, and here in Australia, we're seeing events at the very upper end of that band. I'm not comfortable that we're not facing quite significant change in the future. Lonborg's a, he's a statistician, he should know that, he should know how the numbers work, and I think he's deliberately misleading us in his new book Cool It.

Andi Hazelwood: Is there anything that you'd like to add?

Dr. Tim Flannery: I guess I'd say to people not to panic, we just have to get very determined with this, and we have to make sure that we get on the right trajectory sooner rather than later.

Andi Hazelwood: Dr. Tim Flannery, thank you for your time.

Dr. Tim Flannery: Thank you.

Andi Hazelwood: This is Andi Hazelwood for Global Public Media.

MediaTim Flannery: we have to stop our emissions (audio)