The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the most rigorous scientific processes of modern times. In the synthesis report released today in Valencia, Spain, it has reasserts the undeniable evidence that the earth is warming rapidly due the rise of anthropogenic generated greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. These changes are being driven by the burning of fossil fuels and the massive destruction of nature landscapes such as forests.

The changes that we are seeing are unprecedented in the last several million years. Events thought to be unlikely, such as the breakup of the polar and Greenland ice sheets are now happening. The report indicates that natural ecosystems are changing rapidly, water availability is diminishing and that impacts on food supply for many countries will continue to grow. This report is yet another wake-up call to the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change.

Coral reefs are indicative of the changes that are occurring in natural ecosystems. Worldwide coral reefs are responsible for supporting the subsistence food supply for it leased 100 million people. It coral reefs disappear, as the IPCC report warns, there would be catastrophic consequences for many societies throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. For Australia, a loss of coral reefs would have serious economic consequences for boom economy states like Queensland. At present, the second-largest industry in Queensland is the tourist industry generated by the beauty and ecologically pristine nature of the Great Barrier Reef. Without the Great Barrier Reef, this $6 billion per year industry would dwindle.

The IPCC synthesis report also provides the very strong case that the consequences for human societies everywhere will be catastrophic if we don’t act right now. Decisive, non-partisan action is required. This action must listen to the science and the seriousness of the problem. It must act on that science. Anything less is foolhardy.

Without acting right now we will miss the only opportunity to act. Strong leadership is required that sets clear targets that must reduce our emissions to less than 10% within the next three decades. We have not seen that leadership in Australia or elsewhere as yet. Currently, with Australia’s leading the world as the highest emitters of CO2 per person, changing our current disastrous track will require some strong and clever decisions. Given this and the fact that we are wealthy as a nation, we should be leading the world rather than dragging our feet.

While both sides of politics in the recent electoral debates have recognized the issue of climate change as being important, both sides have been reluctant to specify the action that they will take to reduce emissions over the next few decades. This is unfortunate given that we need strong leadership not only to adapt to climate change (which is where most of the money has gone so far) and also to specify strong emission reduction targets that are commensurate with the scale of this global emergency. This decade may be among the last in which we can choose between a future during which humans to continue to prosper in many regions, versus one in which we will continually struggle to survive as the climate becomes more and more hostile, and beyond our control.

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