Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ian Dunlop on the climate change emergency

On Saturday 22 September 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by Australia21 Director Ian Dunlop, on the climate change emergency which is upon us, under the headline Four-degree rise demands 90-degree rethink.

The piece as printed by SMH can be accessed here. As the piece submitted by Ian was edited down to fit it into the available space, we bring you the full text below.

Climate Change – Emergency Leadership Needed Now
Ian Dunlop

The latest evidence on climate change demands a radical reappraisal of our approach.

The Arctic has been warming 2-3 times faster than the rest of the world. In the last few weeks melting of the Arctic sea ice has accelerated dramatically, reducing the area and volume to levels never previously experienced.  Some 80% of the summer sea-ice has been lost since 1979; on current trends the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2015, and ice-free all year by 2030, events which were not expected to occur for another 100 years. More concerning, the Greenland ice sheet this year has seen unprecedented melting and glacial ice calving, adding to a trend which will substantially increase sea level rise.

Beyond the Arctic, the world is in the fifth year of a severe food crisis, largely climate change driven, which is about to become far worse as the full impact of recent extreme drought in the US food bowl works its way through the global food chain, leading to price rises from which Australia will not be immune.  Drought around the Mediterranean contributed to this food crisis, and has played a large part in triggering the Arab Spring, and the Syrian conflicts. Globally, the escalation of extreme weather continues.

Science is clearly linking these events to climate change, with human carbon emissions as the prime cause.

Does any of this matter? Yes – It is the most urgent issue now confronting Australia and the world, for the evidence indicates that climate change has moved into a new and highly dangerous phase. The polar icecaps are one of the vital regulators of global climate; if the ice disappears, the absorption of far more solar radiation accelerates ocean warming, with increasing risk of large-scale release of carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost. This in turn may initiate irreversible runaway warming. Energy, food and water security are also poised on a knife-edge in both the developed and developing worlds

These changes are occurring at the 0.8oC temperature increase, relative to pre-industrial conditions, already experienced, let alone the additional 1.2oC which will probably result from our historic emissions. The “official” target, of limiting temperature increase to no more than 2oC, is way too high.  Current policies, such as our Clean Energy Future package, are far worse and would result in a 4oC plus temperature increase. Official panaceas, such as carbon capture and storage, are not working.

Australian political and business leaders glibly talk about adapting to a 4oC world with little idea of what it means – which is a world of 1 billion people rather than the current 7 billion, with Australia being severely affected.  Not much fun for the 6 billion departing.

To paraphrase Churchill: “--- the era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. We are now in an age of consequences”. We know how to establish a genuine low-carbon economy, which would stave off the worst impacts of climate change, but we have left it too late for gradual implementation. It has to be set up at emergency speed, akin to the mobilization of economies on a war-footing pre-WW2.

Yet we hear nothing of this from the political, business or NGO institutions who should be leading our response. Why so?

Financial incentives are the main culprit, in particular the bonus culture which has spread through Australian business since the early 1990s.  Recently there has been some recognition that this might be a problem. The Chairman of Rio Tinto acknowledged that “the spiral in executive remuneration over the last two decades, simply cannot continue”, and chief executives are graciously deciding to forgo their annual bonuses in the light of adverse corporate performance.  Very worthy, but the damage caused by this culture is far more insidious than a debate about quantum. It threatens the very foundations of democratic society.

The bonus mentality inevitably led to short-termism – few directors or executives are prepared to give serious attention to long-term issues such as climate change when their rewards are based almost entirely on short-term performance. As Upton Sinclair put it: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it”.

Many privately agree that climate change needs far more urgent action that we are seeing, but few are prepared to speak out for fear of derailing “business-as-usual”. This is a fundamental failure of governance – directors have a fiduciary responsibility to objectively assess the critical risks to which their companies are exposed, and take action to ensure these risks are adequately managed.  But if they acknowledge climate change as a serious risk, they are bound to act, which requires a radical redirection of Australian business away from our addiction to high-carbon coal and gas, our most powerful vested interests losing out in the process.  Better then to stick to absolute denial, irrespective of the consequences.

This flows through to politicians, NGOs and the bureaucracy, who are subjected to immense pressure from the corporate sector not to rock the  “business-as-usual” boat.  The chorus is picked up with vehemence by a compliant media and shock jocks, the result being politically expedient and contradictory climate policy, which is building into a disaster for the Australian community.

Ethically and morally indefensible it may be, but that is what a deregulated market has delivered, and why it is so dangerous for the health of democracy.

Adversarial politics and corporate myopia are incapable of addressing life-threatening issues such as climate change.  It is time for the community to go around these barriers and demand leadership prepared to take emergency action, before the poisoned chalice we are passing to our grandchildren becomes even more toxic.

Ian Dunlop is an independent commentator, Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development, Director of Australia21, and a Member of the Club of Rome.  He chaired the Australian Coal Association 1987-88, the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading 1998-2000 and was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors 1997-2001.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Senate Resolution on Australi21 Drugs Report

Below is an extract from the Senate Hansard for Tuesday 12 September:

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (16:28): I move:

That the Senate –

(a) notes the report titled Alternatives to Prohibition – Illicit Drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, released by Australia21 on 9 September 2012; and

(b) acknowledges that evidence-based approaches are needed in minimising the harms of drug use and appreciates the work Australia21 is doing to inform the debate on this important issue.

Question agreed to.

This represents important progress. The motion was carried on the voices, which means that none of the major parties opposed it, so now we have on the record a Senate motion supporting evidence based approaches to harm minimisation, and an acknowledgement that we are making a constructive contribution to public understanding of the issue.

Monday, September 10, 2012

“Lancet” editor on second report on illicit drugs

Below is the text of an opinion piece by Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, which appeared today Monday 10 September 2012 in The Sydney Morning Herald (see the it on the SMH website here). It is an edited version of remarks made by Dr Horton in launching Australia21’s second report on illicit drugs, Alternatives to Prohibition: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians.

Drug use is an issue for society, not the criminal justice system:

Last week, my 11-year-old daughter started senior school in London. In some ways, it was her initiation into the foothills of adolescence. She is a smart and sensible girl. But I know there are illicit drugs used at her school.

I also have to recognise some troubling truths. I know that when the best scientific evidence in the world is brought together, as was done earlier this year by researchers Louisa Degenhardt and Wayne Hall, it shows about one in 20 people aged 15 to 64 have used an illicit drug in the past year.

So what do I hope for my daughter? I hope she won't get drawn into drug use, of course. I hope she won't be that one out of 20. But hope isn't good enough.

When it comes to illicit drugs, we need intelligent policies. Intelligent policies need good data and reliable evidence drawn from carefully conducted research studies. We would never knowingly allow a medicine to be prescribed without good evidence about its safety and effectiveness. Yet we seem to be happy to let our policies around drugs be shaped by ignorance and prejudice.

A report launched in Adelaide yesterday by Australia21, Alternatives to Prohibition, is subtitled Illicit drugs: how we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians. It sets out the lessons learnt about the failed war on drugs from other countries, especially Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal. Those lessons should send an electric shock to wake Australian politicians from their comatose response to one of the most important social emergencies facing this country.

Drug use is often linked with poor school performance, early school leaving, behavioural disorders, social and family disadvantage, parental substance use and mental ill-health. And yet Australia sees drug use, as does much of the rest of the world, led by the US, as an issue for law enforcement agencies.

But the evidence tells us that until we see drug use as an issue for society, and not one for our criminal justice system, we will be condemned to worsening, not improving, the lives of those who come into contact with drugs.

Why is criminalisation not the answer? There is just no reliable evidence that tougher criminal sanctions deter drug use or offending. On the contrary, criminalisation worsens the health and wellbeing of drug users, increases risk behaviours, drives the spread of HIV, encourages other crime and discourages people who use drugs from seeking treatment.

There is good evidence that the use of illicit drugs is increasing. Is harsher and more intensive criminalisation - arresting young people, locking them up, in some countries even executing them - the answer? No. So far, politicians and policymakers have tended to resist changes to drug policies. They believe the public would never accept it. I don't accept that cynical view. I believe the public would begin to shift its opinion if people knew the full facts.

Prohibition is not the only means available to us. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest alternative strategies that will have a much greater dividend for those who take drugs, as well as for the society we share. The sad fact is that in the world of policy making around drug use, evidence hasn't counted for much.

So let me return to my daughter. The wrong approach would be to threaten her with criminal prosecution. The right approach is to ensure that all the conditions that might lead her towards drugs - what her parents do, the stability of her family life, her school, her friends, and her general health - are such that she will not be tempted into a destructive addiction.

But if the worst happened, if she did one day use drugs, I'd want to protect her from harm, not see her branded a criminal. This principle, harm reduction, is one of the most important ideas in public health. It underpins everything we do.

Coming from Britain, which has repeatedly failed to address drug use rationally and with compassion, I welcome Australia21's efforts. The report recommends a national drug summit next year. Even more importantly, it recommends young people be included in the debate about drug policy.

This enlightened and evidence-driven report deserves not only our unreserved admiration, but also our urgent attention.

Dr Richard Horton is editor-in-chief of The Lancet. This is an edited version of a speech he gave in Adelaide yesterday.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Update on launch of report on illicit drugs

In Media Alert: Launch of Second Report on Illicit Drugs we advised that our second report would be launched by The Hon. John Hill, the South Australian Minister for Health and Ageing.

Mr Hill is now unable to attend the launch and the document will be launched instead by Dr Richard Horton, editor of the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Media Alert: Launch of Second Report on Illicit Drugs

Following is the text of a media alert issued by Australia21 today, notifying the launch of Australia21’s second report on illicit drugs, to be launched at Adelaide Convention Centre by the Hon. John Hill, South Australian Minister for Health and Ageing.

What:       Launch of Australia21 report: Alternatives to prohibition. Illicit drugs: How we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians.

Where:     Preceding 2012 Population Health Congress, Adelaide Convention Centre, Floor 1, Room 10

When:      12.00 noon Sunday 9 September, 2012

Who:         John Hill, SA Minister for Health and Ageing will launch the report. Several authors and participants will be available to comment:
- Paul Barratt AO
- Dr Alex Wodak AM
- Professor Bob Douglas AO
- Ms Lisa Pryor.

Contacts:   Dr Alex Wodak 0416 143 823,   02 9360 7453
 Lyn Stephens, 02 6288 0823 or 0408 651 563 for an embargoed copy.

Australia needs to consider international evidence in its response to illicit drugs, according to an expert roundtable conducted by Australia21 in July. The roundtable examined outcomes of illicit drug policy in Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands made major changes, all within the existing international treaties, and increased emphasis on health and social interventions. All gained benefits without increasing drug use. Sweden maintains a strong emphasis on the criminal justice system and reports low levels of drug use but a much higher drug related death rate than the Netherlands and Portugal, with drug related deaths in Sweden increasing.

The Australia21 report, derived from the roundtable, argues that this and other evidence should inform a national conversation on new, more effective responses to illicit drugs here.

·     Former AFP Commissioner, Mick Palmer, said: “Australian police are now better trained, generally better equipped and resourced and more operationally effective that at any time in our history, but, on any objective assessment policing of the illicit drug market has had only marginal impact on the profitability of the drug trade or the availability of illicit drugs.”

·     Lisa Pryor – journalist, law graduate, medical student, mother and roundtable participant – said “In the current environment it is difficult to seek help from the authorities, particularly police, without making things worse. As a parent, one of the things I like about the Portuguese system is that I would feel more confident dobbing drug addicted kids in to the police, confident that the outcome would be help rather than jail.”

·     Paul Barratt AO, Chair of Australia 21, said “Australia's drug policy is not working and that we need to start discussing other options. The meeting agreed on the need for a national summit on our response to drugs and a referral of the cost effectiveness of drug law enforcement to the Australian Productivity Commission.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The War on Drugs – Time for a Truce?

This afternoon Wednesday 5 September there will be a panel discussion at the Law Institute of Victoria
on the subject, The War on Drugs –time for a truce?

The members of the panel will be:
-   Graham Ashton, AM, Victoria Police
-   Paul Barratt AO, Australia 21
-  Dr Alex Wodak AM, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney (also of Australia 21)
-  Greg Barns, Victorian Bar.

The moderator will be Damien Carrick of ABC Radio National’s Law Report, and part of the discussion will be put to air in due course.

The discussion will be held in the Law Institute of Victoria Lecture Theatre, 470 Bourke Street, Melbourne.

Launch of Second Report on Illicit Drugs

Australia21 will be launching its Second Report on Illicit Drugs at midday next Sunday 9 September, at the Adelaide Convention Centre, on the eve of the 2012 Population Health Congress, which will be held at the Centre from 10-12 September. The Report focuses on what Australia can learn from the experiences of three countries (Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands) which have liberalised their drug regimes in some way, and one country (Sweden) which has followed a strict law enforcement policy.