2017: It’s time to re-set the clock on climate change

MEDIA RELEASE: Tasmania’s professional advisory body on climate change has described 2016 as a massive wake-up call, and warned that it’s time to reset the clock on climate action in 2017.

Diesel generators brought in to prop up Tasmania’s power system during 2016 (ABC photo)

“The last year has burned climate change risks into the public’s consciousness like never before,” said Philip Harrington, Co-Convenor of Climate Tasmania. “Our policy makers need to make 2017 the year to re-set the clock on the state’s climate change strategies, to protect Tasmania from further economic harm.”

“So many extreme climate events impacted on Tasmania’s economic well-being in 2016: unprecedented drought and floods, a critical and costly energy crisis, devastating wildfire harm in the world heritage habitats, significant loss of fisheries output, damage to our road and rail networks, and invaluable agricultural soils swept away.”

Mr Harrington said that the prevailing attitude amongst decision makers – that Tasmania is a low-risk part of the world and could therefore take a softly, softly approach to climate change – has been shown up as poor risk management.

“Climate change presents huge economic risks for this state. Our economy is driven by land-based industries, tourism, fishing, aquaculture and hydropower – 2016 has reminded us that all of these industries and jobs are vulnerable to climate change.”

Last year the Hodgeman Government announced a delay in the finalisation of its draft Climate Change Action Plan 2016 – 2021. This comes after the previous two Tasmanian Governments managed to delay finalising their climate action plans until just prior to elections, leading to a ‘chuck it out and start again’ approach by the incoming government. As a result, the state has never had an effective climate strategy in place and implemented.

Ironically, the latest delay was justified by the State’s energy crisis, when the drought that triggered that event is precisely the kind of extreme weather event that is becoming more common and more severe because of climate change. The Interim Report of the Tasmanian Energy Security Taskforce – released just prior to Christmas – acknowledges climate change and a long-term reduction in rainfall over the last 40 years in Tasmania, but argues that ‘seasonal and inter- annual rainfall variability’ will pose bigger risks than climate change. It also calls for more fossil fuel based power development, and fails to call for a ramp up in new renewable energy.

“Our collective head is in the sand”, said Mr Harrington. “With so much at stake, this is one of those threshold moments when decision makers need to put aside their political differences and act in the public interest, with a genuinely non-partisan approach. We need stakeholders from all sectors, including the community, to come together to find the best possible pathways to manage Tasmania’s tremendous natural assets and diverse economy, in the face of unprecedented and growing climate challenges.”

Mr Harrington said Climate Tasmania is writing to all three political leaders in the Tasmanian parliament urging a fresh dialogue and development of processes that will lift climate change from a status of complacency to one that goes to the heart of Tasmania’s future economic and social well-being.

For a national summary of Australian weather phenomena in 2016 see here and here.

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