Tuesday, 24 September 2013

19/9 LATELINE Tim Flannery Interview

Tim Flannery Interview

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 19/09/2013
Reporter: Tony Jones
The former head of the Climate Commission, Tim Flannery, discusses the Commission's role and why the government has decided to abolish it.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: The former Chief Climate Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery, joins us now from our Melbourne studio. 

Thanks for being there.


TONY JONES: Now, you must have known this was coming. Does that make it any easier when the axe falls?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, we have known it's coming for several months and I must give the minister his due. He called me personally and let me know in a timely matter what was happening and that's always good.

TONY JONES: Ya. But does it make it any easier when the axe falls? I mean, even though you knew it was coming, it must hurt.

TIM FLANNERY: Yeah, it does hurt, but it does make it easier to know early exactly what's going on, I think.

TONY JONES: Now you've described the Climate Commission as an apolitical source of facts on climate change. Can there really be any such thing when the science of climate change itself has become so politicised?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, Tony, it's become politicised in this country, but there is a scientific consensus out there and there is a peer-reviewed literature which has been carefully gone over and fact checked and that's what we use as the basis of our work on climate science. When you get to economics, what we did was take the majority view, the overwhelming majority view by world economists on the big picture issues. And of course when it comes to international action, there are facts on the ground there that we reported on as well.

TONY JONES: What does it tell you that the new government doesn't want to have this facility available to them?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, you'd have to ask the Government that. For me, I think there was a - there is a critically important role in keeping the public informed about this complex policy area, because if you don't do that, you won't get good decision-making in the longer-term.

TONY JONES: Just going back to this whole issue of the politicisation of the debate. It has been in a way dominated by political extremes. Even today on the one side you've got David Suzuki calling Tony Abbott's promise to ditch the carbon tax crazy and absolutely suicidal. On the other side you've got sceptics arguing that the global warming movement faces its end days because of a leaked draft of the next IPCC report in a British tabloid newspaper. What is going on with this debate that makes it so prone to extreme arguments?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, it's not like this everywhere, Tony, I'd hasten to just add. Europe is not like this, China's not like this. Australia and the US, it's become highly polarised because I think there are huge vested interests in the fossil fuel area. But there is still - the facts are there, they need to be explained to the public. The extremes at both ends, people need to listen to with scepticism. But it's very, very important that we do get a well-informed public. I keep coming back to that point, Tony, because despite the extremes, despite the polarisation, the political polarisation, there are facts on the ground. Australians are feeling them now as our climate starts to change and they need to understand what's happening.

TONY JONES: The problem is the facts are constantly disputed. For example, The Mail on Sunday headline - that was the British tabloid - says, "The world's top scientists confess global warming is just one quarter of what we thought and computers got the effects of greenhouse gases wrong." And you've just heard our own report of a version of the - of a leaked copy of the same ICC report, evidently. It seems to be a classic case of how you can take the same document, or evidently, and have two different sets of facts come out and be reported in different parts of the media. How does that happen?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, it's very good warning to people not to take supposed leaked documents seriously. This document's coming out in a week or so. We'll see the IPCC report then. It can be properly analysed and properly explained. All too often we're seeing the sceptical end or the end that wants to - the end of the debate that want to see climate - the climate risk downgraded taking these supposed leaked reports and making of it whatever they want. And we won't comment on them at the Commission and most climate scientists won't comment on this sorta stuff. They'll tell you just to wait till you've actually got the report in your hand.

TONY JONES: In your press conference today you said that climate change is a threat that can be overcome. So let me ask you this: can it be overcome by the Direct Action policies which the new government is planning to put in place to reach their limited objectives?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, that's yet to be seen. I'm not - I don't think anyone could tell us that at the moment.

TONY JONES: But isn't that precisely the kind of science that the Commission was meant to be advising on?

TIM FLANNERY: Well, we know so little about this policy at the moment and we have stayed away from politics. We won't comment on policy because that just draws you straight into this political debate and dilutes the authority of your voice when it comes to the facts of climate change. What we try to do is give people the information so they can make up their own minds on this, and that's important.

TONY JONES: OK. But it must be said that you were one of the earliest advocates of the potential for soil carbon techniques as a way of holding carbon in the soil rather than letting it go into the atmosphere. Now the global accounting rules have changed, this does seem to open the way for a substantial use of this technique in the Direct Action policy that Greg Hunt is putting forward. Would you acknowledge that?

TIM FLANNERY: Yeah, look, it's possible. Let's see what happens. Let's see what transpires. Could I say, Tony, before I was the Chief Climate Commissioner, I expressed my own views and some of those have been debated back and forth over time, but when you're working with a team of experts, as we have with the Climate Commission, you can be absolutely rigorous, you can have direct access to the best information and I think quite frankly it's a better model.

TONY JONES: Yep, on the surface there is consensus between both sides of the mainstream of politics in Australia that climate change is real and both of them actually have a consensus target of five per cent emissions reduction by 2020. Does that mean, do you believe, that both sides now respect the science?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, I think that you've gotta look at the policies and then look at the teams. At a policy level, both sides abide by that five per cent reduction target, both of them are standing by the renewable energy target, but there are elements in those parties that will disagree with that. Whether they will win the upper hand in the longer term, who can say? But at the moment, judging by the policies, those two very important elements in Australia's climate response are bipartisan in nature.

TONY JONES: And do you think that either side has the policies in place which would actually enable larger cuts down the track?

TIM FLANNERY: Yes, I think so. I think we've learnt a huge amount over the last couple of years about how you reduce emissions cost effectively. We've seen Australia's emissions from the electricity sector reduce by nearly nine per cent in just a year and that is huge.

TONY JONES: Finally, Tim Flannery, you've suffered public abuse and ridicule from some quarters for taking on this role and I've got to ask you this: was it worth?

TIM FLANNERY: Blood oath it was worth it, mate. You know, it's like a game of rugby, you know. You know you've got to cross that try line with the ball no matter what's thrown at you, and for us that's staying below two degrees. It is making sure that my children and your children and even the sceptics' children have a decent quality of life into the future and that's important.

TONY JONES: Do you worry at all that the role, being so public in such a politicised debate, has damaged your own reputation?

TIM FLANNERY: There's always a cost to anything you do. In trying make a difference, sure, you're gonna make a lot of enemies. So, Tony, that's just part of it and you live with that. But I'm convinced I'm right and I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't.

TONY JONES: I imagine from what you're saying that if you were given - given what you know now as to how the whole thing would unfold, you'd actually do it again, would you?

TIM FLANNERY: Oh, yeah, for sure. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't.

TONY JONES: Tim Flannery, we'll have to leave you there. Thanks very much for coming in to join us tonight.

TIM FLANNERY: Thanks, Tony.

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