Skip to content

The ‘Ultimate Millennium Bug’ Fuels Climate Fight

“If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow, the average temperature of the planet’s not going to drop for several hundred years, perhaps over 1000 years.”

TONY Abbott has leapt on a declaration by Tim Flannery – Julia Gillard’s hand-picked salesman for action on climate change – that emissions abatement is a 1000-year proposition to renew his attacks on Labor’s proposed carbon tax.

And Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has distanced himself from Professor Flannery’s concession last week that even if all carbon emissions stopped today, it would take 1000 years for the atmosphere’s average temperatures to drop. While Professor Flannery, a paleontologist who is also the Prime Minister’s chief climate change commissioner, has expanded on his comments to insist the need for action in climate is urgent, his admission in a radio interview on Friday has compromised Labor’s sales pitch on its carbon tax.

In the radio interview, Professor Flannery said: “If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow, the average temperature of the planet’s not going to drop for several hundred years, perhaps over 1000 years.”

In a letter to the editor of The Australian, submitted on Sunday, he expanded on the comments, saying his observation was not “an argument for complacency”. But yesterday, as the role of the carbon tax in Labor’s massive loss in the NSW election dominated federal political exchanges, Mr Abbott quoted Professor Flannery as he ridiculed the tax as “the ultimate millennium bug”.

“It will not make a difference for 1000 years,” the Opposition Leader told parliament. “So this is a government which is proposing to put at risk our manufacturing industry, to penalise struggling families, to make a tough situation worse for millions of households right around Australia. And for what? To make not a scrap of difference to the environment any time in the next 1000 years.”

Mr Combet said through a spokeswoman that the Gillard government believed in the science of climate change and was determined to act.

Asked whether Mr Combet backed Professor Flannery’s comment, the spokeswoman said: “Professor Flannery is an independent person who leads an independent commission.”

In his letter to The Australian, Professor Flannery wrote that if all major emitters adopted a similar level of effort to reach a 5 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, and continued to “decarbonise” after that date, the global temperature rise would be capped at 2C later this century and that temperatures would begin to drop by the end of the century.

“What we do in this decade will be crucial in determining whether we have a world we can live in at the end of the century.”

Yesterday, Professor Flannery said he feared Mr Abbott had “quite wilfully misrepresented” his statements by failing to mention the letter. “I am extremely disappointed with the Leader of the Opposition,” he told The Australian. “It is not responsible to delay action – that would cause future action to be more expensive. If nobody acts, we are in danger of seeing temperatures spiralling out of control . . . it is urgent we act this decade to lower emissions or we risk temperatures rising 4C this century.”

He said both sides of politics had only eight years and nine months to deliver on the bipartisan commitment to lower Australia’s carbon emissions to 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. This would require “calm deliberation of the best measures of achieving the best outcome for our country”.

The debate came as the Prime Minister and Mr Abbott traded blows over the NSW election result. Ms Gillard said Labor’s stunning collapse in the NSW poll had nothing to do with her plan for action on climate change. Voters had decided long ago to oust Labor, she said, and could easily separate state and federal issues.

Full story