Sea Rises Threaten Australian Homes: Govt Report

REPRINT from Reuters …  “on a pledge to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and introduce a sweeping carbon-trade system to help curb carbon emissions.

Date: 19-Nov-09
Country: AUSTRALIA
Author: Ron Popeski

SYDNEY – Nearly a quarter of a million homes along Australia’s coastline could be submerged by 2100 unless action is taken to stop sea levels rising, a government report said on Saturday.

Debate on climate change — and a government proposal to introduce a carbon trading scheme — are the very focal point of political debate, with parliament due to reopen on Monday.

With Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labour Party far ahead in polls and the conservative opposition divided on the issue before next month’s Copenhagen climate conference, ministers are seeking passage of the legislation to guard against an early election.

Minister for Climate Change Penny Wong presented the report, entitled “Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coasts,” saying 157,000 to 247,000 residential buildings would be at risk if no action were taken and sea levels rose by 1.1 meters (3 ft 7 in).

“The science tells us our climate is changing faster than first projected and the impacts are likely to be more severe as sea-level rises and extreme storms and floods become more frequent,” Wong said.

She said the report underscored the need to reduce carbon pollution, “which is why we are determined to pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It also shows that Australia must plan to adapt to the climate change we can’t avoid.”

Wong also announced the creation of a seven-member council to examine the effect of rising sea levels on coastal regions.

Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, produces about 1.5 percent of global emissions and is one of the world’s highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.

CLUES ABOUT AN EARLY ELECTION

The new session of parliament will give clues to whether Rudd will want an early election next year, with no indication that laws on carbon trading and plans to split phone company Telstra Corp. will win approval.

The carbon-trade laws were defeated a first time in August, but Rudd wants the plan passed before the Copenhagen talks. A second defeat would give the prime minister the right to call an early election, although he has discounted that option.

Will Steffen, executive director of the Climate Institute at the Australian National University, said the predictions in the report were believable, though not all experts agree.

“In some important areas, the climate science relating to sea level has become clearer in the last few years,” he said.

“Most importantly, the most recent evidence suggests that a sea-level rise of around a meter by 2100, compared to 1990, is a distinct possibility. Risk assessments would be prudent to take this new science into account.”

The Australian Greens, who holds key Senate seats, dismissed the legislative proposals as inadequate and said the government was “intent on increasing the burning and export of coal and the logging and burning of our native forests for decades to come…”

Rudd came to power in 2007 on a pledge to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and introduce a sweeping carbon-trade system to help curb carbon emissions.

Under the proposed scheme, trading would start in July 2011, requiring businesses to secure a permit for every tonne of carbon they emit and providing incentives for reductions.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull wants a deal on the laws to head off the threat of an early election. But his party’s leader in the Senate last week said most party members did not believe in human-induced climate change and several opposition backbenchers say they will not vote for any scheme.

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