A diabolical problem and a saving grace.Climate change is a diabolical policy problem. It is harder than any other issue of high importance that has come before our polity in living memory. Climate change presents a new kind of challenge. It is uncertain in its form and extent, rather than drawn in clear lines. It is insidious rather than (as yet) directly confrontational. It is long term rather than immediate, in both its impacts and its remedies. Any effective remedies lie beyond any act of national will, requiring international cooperation of unprecedented dimension and complexity. While an effective response to the challenge would play out over many decades, it must take shape and be put in place over the next few years. Without such action, if the mainstream science is broadly right, the Review’s assessment of likely growth in global greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of effective mitigation tells us that the risks of dangerous climate change, already significant, will soon have risen to dangerously high levels.
Observation of daily debate and media discussion in Australia and elsewhere suggests that this issue might be too hard for rational policy making. It is too complex. The special interests are too numerous, powerful and intense. The time frames within which effects become evident are too long, and the time frames within which action must be effected too short.
But there is a saving grace that may make all the difference. This is an issue in which a high proportion of Australians are deeply interested. A high proportion of Australians say that they are prepared to pay for mitigation in higher goods and services prices. Most of them say that they are prepared to pay even if Australia is acting independently of other countries. There is a much stronger base of support for reform and change on this issue than on any other big question of structural change in recent decades, including trade, tax and public business ownership reform. People in other countries, to varying degrees, seem to share Australians’ interest in and preparedness to take action on global warming.
Public attitudes in Australia and in other countries create the possibility of major reform on emissions reductions, despite the inherent difficulty of the policy problem.
This report aims to nurture the chance that Australia and the world will manage to develop a position that strikes a good balance between the costs of dangerous climate change and the costs of mitigation. It does this by examining approaches to mitigation in one country within a framework which, if followed elsewhere, would add up to a solution. The Review recognises that other approaches may also add up to a solution. If others were also to develop proposals that add up to a solution to the problem that would provide the basis for the type of realistic discussion across the international community that will be essential if a basis is to be found for effective global action.