Corporate leaders in a climate of disbelief  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

PAddy Manning at the SMH has an article on a recent speech by Ian Dunlop at the Australian Institute of Company Directors - Corporate leaders in a climate of disbelief. Dunlop also has an interview at 2SER.

Scepticism hung heavy in the air. At a packed Australian Institute of Company Directors lunch on climate change, the institute's former chief executive, Ian Dunlop - a petroleum engineer who was a Shell executive and now is the deputy convener of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil - rose to put a question to keynote speaker, David Mortimer, the chairman of Leighton Holdings, the world's biggest contract coalminer.

In full, Dunlop's question ran for three minutes: ''The temperature increase we've seen so far is about 0.8 degrees Celsius. We've already seen a clear trend in extreme weather events related to just that increase. We probably have locked in already a temperature increase of around 2.4 degrees. If we were to follow the path that you're suggesting in terms of continued fossil fuel usage to 2030, the likely outcome will be a temperature increase somewhere between 4 and 6 degrees. That probably means world population drops to a carrying capacity of somewhere around a billion people (you can argue 1 to 2 billion).

''My problem with your outline of what the board does at Leighton is that I don't see, in terms of the long-term or medium-term objectives that you've raised, anywhere a question of leadership from the board in trying to get across to governments and the community, the seriousness of the problem we are dealing with.

''It is much more serious than anybody's admitting officially. Any big company that's following the science would know this full well. We complain about lack of certainty. We complain about proliferation of different sorts of legislation and regulation around the country.

''But for the last 15 years senior business people in this country have not been prepared to get out publicly and lay it on the line that this is a serious issue, and it's one where we want leadership and we want genuine results.

''It's too hard a problem really for the political system to deal with. We've set up a system that's incapable of actually handling issues which are long-term. The business community should be the ones taking the lead, because they're the ones who are going to have to solve it in the end. I just wonder whether there's not a whole arena in there which we are completely missing, which is that chairmen and chief executives of major corporations should be getting out there and demanding of government, that they start to treat this thing in a completely different context from the way we've been treating it, and we want completely different solutions coming through, because we're trying to solve at the moment the wrong problem, with the wrong solutions.

''Where is the leadership from senior corporate business people in this country? Where is it going to come from? Because if we don't get it fairly soon, we can't solve this. The problem is that what we do today manifests itself in terms of extreme weather on a continuing basis from now on, but we won't see the full impact for 20 or 30 years' time.''

Clang! Mortimer, who had been arguing, among other things, for a consumption-based rather than production-based carbon tax, answered that his take on the outlook for fossil fuel use was based on World Economic Forum statistics - which he accepted were probably realistic - and proceeded to fob the question off.

Dunlop's question drew on science from Europe's best climate research centres - including the Tyndall Centre in Britain and the Potsdam Institute in Germany - and you could have heard a pin drop as he asked it. But my bet is most of the audience that day thought he was being alarmist.

Which shows how loose the ''climate sceptic'' handle really is. Sceptical of what? That climate change is happening? That we are the main cause? Or that billions could die this century as a result?

Some scepticism sounds pretty reasonable. The president of the Business Council, Graham Bradley - the chairman of the developer Stockland, HSBC Australia and the coalminer Anglo American Australia - doubts the increased value and incidence of extreme weather-related insurance claims provides evidence of an increase in the incidence or severity of extreme weather events. Higher population, asset values and insurance coverage all mean a given weather event has more impact nowadays.

Other scepticism seems outlandish. In an interview published online by Australian Mining this week the coal and iron ore miner Gina Rinehart argued Australians were ''not swayed by the global warming fear campaign''. She told the magazine: ''I have never met a geologist or leading scientist who believes adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will have any significant effect on climate change.''

What seems likely is that Australian business leaders, on average, are just as sceptical as everyone else, and right now the sceptics are fighting back. According to a Newspoll this week, 78 per cent of Australians believe climate change is happening and 72 per cent believe humans are partly or entirely the cause. That suggests roughly 28 per cent of the population, or 6.3 million people, see no problem.

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