Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President and climate change campaigner, was in Melbourne on Monday for the launch of the new think tank Safe Climate Australia and to help train 300 people from 19 nations to address and encourage their leaders on the issue of climate change. Gore’s visit also coincides with Australia’s first ever Youth Climate Summit which hopes to mobilize a new generation of climate change activists. Speaking before a group of 1,000 Australian business leaders, Gore praised the Rudd government for pushing forward with emissions trading legislation ahead of the climate change conference held in Copenhagen this December.
Safe Climate Australia is a new environmental think tank composed of scientists, business and civic leaders and is modeled on a similar project in the United States called Repower America. The group demands that emergency action must be taken in order to address global warming and plans to help Australia move away from emissions-heavy coal towards a zero-carbon economy. Gore stated that the mounting environmental challenges in the world require immediate action.
According to the SCA organizer, Brendan Condon, the SCA hopes to develop a blueprint for the transition of all major sectors of the Australian economy to net zero carbon with a draft expected in 12 months.”This is a massive body of work that will include collating all relevant scientific research, developing systems architecture, scenario planning, emission reduction and sequestration strategies.”
While Gore praised the work of Rudd and the progress that the United States and Australia have made toward making climate change a higher priority, Gore mentioned that he would have written stronger emissions targets than currently proposed in Australia’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) bill. “It’s not what I would have written, I would have written it as a stronger bill, but I’m realistic about what can be accomplished in the political system as it is,” Gore said.
Rudd’s proposed legislation has also been attacked by green groups who claim that the emissions targets are too weak. Currently, the emissions trading legislation commits to an emissions reduction target of 60% by 2050 and interim targets of between 5-25% by 2020. Rudd hopes to push the trading bill through parliament in August, four months ahead of the Copenhagen conference.
While Prime Minister Rudd’s legislation has come under fire, Gore still remains encouraged by the progress made by the Rudd government. “I am sincerely convinced that the right way forward is to get to the maximum that the political system will allow us to accomplish and begin the change, and then, as we gain experience with it, toughen it, strengthen it, make it better based on experience as business and industry learn how to adjust.”
Scientists warn that Australia can be vulnerable to damage caused by warming temperatures such as more severe storms and droughts as well as rising sea levels. Gore sited the record temperatures and brutal wildfires this past February in parts of Victoria that took the lives of 173 people as evidence that the planet has a “fever” brought on by climate change. “The odds have been shifted so heavily that fires that used to be manageable now threaten to spin out of control and wreak damages that are far beyond what was experienced in the past. This crisis is gaining momentum and the reason why is not that complicated.”
At the climate change talks in Copenhagen later this year, governments will meet in order to negotiate an international environmental agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. While an agreement between leaders will be difficult, Gore remains optimistic. Gore stated before reporters, “One of the barriers in the Kyoto process was that the United States and Australia did not provide the kind of leadership necessary…Now with new leadership in both the United States and Australia our two countries are providing leadership. When that leadership is most needed is in the run up to Copenhagen, it can make a huge difference.” One of Rudd’s first acts as Australian Prime Minister was to sign Australia on to the Kyoto Protocol and both Australia and the United States have been active in the negotiation process leading up to Copenhagen in December.