Guiding light for climate change

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Friday, 23 February, 2007



As the debate over global warming heats up, the World Wide Fund for Nature is encouraging Sydneysiders to turn their lights off for one hour on 31 March 2007 at 7.30 pm. Earth Hour is Australia's largest climate change initiative and the first major step towards reducing the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

Greg Bourne, CEO of WWF-Australia, says that the purpose of Earth Hour is to show the rest of Sydney, Australia and the world that many people want to do something about climate change.

"Everyone doing a little, in this particular case turning off lights, can send a message to the world that Australians are prepared to drive ahead and combat climate change," he says.

"What we are finding is that a combination of individuals and businesses, both small and large, are jumping on board with great enthusiasm. People want to do something about climate change but don't know what. It's very much to do with recognising that we have to take action."

Bourne believes that the symbolic act of turning off lights will galvanise more people into becoming innovative about how to solve the problem of global warming.

"Earth Hour is about making simple changes that collectively will make the 5% difference to cut emissions," he says. "Sydney cutting its carbon dioxide pollution by 5% in one year is achievable and lends itself to our overall vision; that every major city around the world endeavours to achieve the same target."

Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore MP, has urged all city businesses, workers and residents to support Earth Hour.

"The three CBDs of Sydney, North Sydney and Parramatta make up Australia's largest business district, covering 30% of the country's office space," she says, adding that Australia's commercial business sector is responsible for around 10% of national greenhouse gas emissions.

"All commercial businesses and their workers should join the community in supporting Earth Hour," she says. "Leading businesses have joined the 3CBD's Greenhouse Initiative, run by the City of Sydney, with North Sydney and Parramatta City Council, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and complement Earth Hour to help reduce global warming."

Future challenges

Bourne spent many years working around the globe for petroleum giant BP before taking up the position of CEO of WWF-Australia in October 2004.He argues that what we are seeing at the moment is the realm of risk where there is probability and impact effect.

"We are at that point where you could begin to start calculating what would happen 'if'. The Stern Report points to this being the most urgent thing we have ever had to tackle as a world together."

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change was released in October 2006. Its main conclusions were that 1% of global GDP is required to be invested a year in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, and that failure to do so could risk global GDP being up to 20% lower than it otherwise might be.

"If you look at the main underlying drive at the moment you would have to say population growths past and present, together with the attendance on wealth growth, have created the most disruptive influences on the environment. Clearly we are growing in wealth throughout the world, but to the point where we are consuming more than our planet can support."

Bourne confidently suggests that China and India have much vaster renewable energy targets than Australia.

"Trying to strive for overall resource efficiency and minimise waste is absolutely imperative to China sustaining its GDP growth per annum even as it tries to decouple from material growth, which will take a while," he says.

"Working with China and India as they bring millions out of poverty is really important to WWF but at the same time we need to look at the protection of habitat and species in both countries."

Australia moving forward

According to Bourne, the current debate on climate change is demonstrating that people in Australia are getting ahead of the government in their beliefs that something needs to be done.

"What we are seeing from the Howard government is a high-speed catch-up process. But it's only high-speed catch-up in rhetoric, therefore no one should believe in any of the promises," he says.

"Look at the Howard government's stand on Kyoto for example. Many other countries have moved further and faster in terms of manufacturing, but in Australia we are hurting ourselves by not moving fast enough. So to my mind that argument against signing the Kyoto agreement is hollow.

"At the moment we tend to think of maximising the economic return and minimising the social and environmental loss. This is the wrong way round, we have to start thinking about making it net positive in each of those three dimensions.

"I believe that necessity is the mother of invention, but insulating Australian business from climate change, like emissions trading levies, is a very, very short-sighted way of doing things. Australia needs to become more and more inventive as the world moves towards carbon constraints."

"The underlying belief from the government at the moment is that we are alright and this is a bit of a bogeyman. The people of Australia and in many other parts of the world are saying 'Hang on, this is really serious and we want our leaders from state, local and federal as well as businesses to show some leadership on this.'

"If turning off your lights sends a symbolic signal that people want leadership on this issue then that becomes very, very important and that is what Earth Hour is all about."

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