When I travelled to Kyoto in 1997 to take part in the UN Climate Change Convention, my hopes were high that negotiations informed by science would result in global action.
Fifteen years later, the resulting climate treaty that was intended to cut emissions - the Kyoto Protocol – has been extended just before it expired, while total emissions of greenhouse gases rise faster than ever.
Perversely, the consequences of catastrophic climate change are so unimaginable they inspire denial, and so far away as to give the impression there’s no urgency. In Tasmania, we’re not immune.
The waters off Tasmania are already a global hotspot for warming sea temperatures. Ice at both poles is disappearing more rapidly than expected. The earth itself is melting, as thawing permafrost releases more methane than predicted. The world as we know it will be transformed within a couple of generations.
But a ghastly silence about global warming has fallen upon our decision-makers and elected representatives.
For the first time in years, not one Australian Minister represented our country in the most recent round of climate change negotiations in Qatar.
And all the haggling is over a treaty that has failed to regulate the emissions of our fossil-fuelled economy, in order to keep our greenhouse planet liveable. When introduced, the aim of the Kyoto Protocol was to deliver a 5 percent reduction on 1990 levels. So far, emissions have increased by 58 percent, and the treaty has been extended until 2020.
When confronted by a global problem like runaway climate change, Tasmania can seem a safe bolthole to bunker down in, too small to impact on world affairs.
In fact, there are more than sixty nations less populous than our island home, so neither size or proximity should hinder our voice from being strong in this most important of public discussions.
Tasmania has a legislated target to reduce the State’s greenhouse emissions to at least 60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. In 2010, we were already halfway there, and with the introduction of a carbon price, Tasmania should be on track to meet the 2050 target.
But we have the ability – and the self-interest – to be much more ambitious. In our own backyard, Hobart has much to lose from climate chaos.
Life in Hobart this century is likely to be defined by fire, through its catastrophic threat to life and property. We live on an explosive tinderbox, strung with bushland detonators, and climate change will light the fuse.
Whether emissions continue to rise or eventually stabilise, Hobart’s climate future will see higher temperatures, heavier rainfalls interspersed by longer dry periods, and greater extremes. In terms of fire, that means more fuel loads in dry hot conditions.
Our exposure to wildfire is terrifying. The boundary between bushland and suburbs surrounding Hobart stretches for more than 50 kilometres – and that doesn’t include Glenorchy or Kingsborough. Like every summer, this is the last line of defence against fire.
During hot dry conditions in February with continuous winds from the north-west, bushfires are already impossible to contain. Where suburbs meet the bush – not just in Hobart, but throughout Tasmania – will be an increasingly desperate battleground in the coming decades.
However, we don’t have to follow a process where we experience a terrible crisis, before denial ends and we finally enter a ‘rapid response’ phase on climate change. We can still turn this around by facing reality - if we’re serious about limiting temperature increases to two degrees, we have to end our use of fossil fuels within a few decades.
That’s part of my vision in running for election as a Greens MP to represent Denison in the House of Representatives – to challenge the status quo, and jump tracks to a more secure future.
Tasmanians can be proud that two of its own – Senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne - played a pivotal role in Australia finally adopting a comprehensive climate change policy package this year.
Their leadership for sustainability is sorely needed in a perverse world. The Labor Party ends solar energy rebates for households early while shielding the coal seam gas industry from its liabilities for methane emissions. The Liberal and National parties are building an entire electoral strategy on trashing the only serious policy Australia has to deal with climate change.
Even Denison’s current MP, Andrew Wilkie, representing an electorate with possibly the world’s highest density of climate scientists, was mute in Parliament this year about the introduction of the historic Clean Energy Bill.
The Greens are the only Parliamentary party in Australia with the independence and vision to call for an end to the reign of Old King Coal. With a stronger team in the House of Reps and the Senate, we will continue to fight for policies that wean us off our addiction to fossil fuels. Join me in tackling this challenge head on.
*Anna Reynolds is one of Australia’s climate change pioneers. She established the Climate Action Network Australia in 1997, bringing together the major environment organisations on climate change for the first time. She is the Greens candidate for the Federal seat of Denison.