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Greenhouse gases "threaten Australian way of life"
By Meraiah Foley

Reuters AlertNet

5th July 2004

Australia's easy-going beach lifestyle could be at risk if it fails to take immediate steps to significantly reduce greenhouse gases, which feed global warming, scientists and environmental groups said on Monday.

Australia, already in the grip of a 100-year drought, must slash fossil fuel emissions or face huge agricultural and economic losses, said a report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Insurance Australia Group.

"Our way of life is at risk because Australia is vulnerable to climate change," said the report "Climate Change, Solutions for Australia" released on Monday.

"Everyday things we take for granted, like washing the car, putting petrol in it, and going to the beach won't be so readily available in a future Australia dealing with climate change," the report said.

Agriculture was a cornerstone of the Australian economy and vulnerable to global warming as Australia was one of the driest continents on earth, it said.

The world was already locked into a one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in global temperature, the report said, adding that there was only a five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) difference between modern climates and the Ice Age.

It said Australia had warmed 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1910.

The report said that a rise of even a few degrees in temperature would see increases in agricultural and economic losses in Australia from droughts and bushfires, more damage to homes and businesses caused by extreme weather and new threats to the health of Australians via insect-borne diseases.

"We must recognise that global warming is happening, take control and make decisions that protect our way of life," the report said. "The heat-trapping gases we add to the atmosphere now will still be having a warming effect late this century."

The report called on Australia to reduce greenhouse gases by 60 percent by 2050 to "avoid a high level of climate-change damage" and implement an emissions trading scheme for private industry by 2007 to help businesses meet reduction targets.

Australia, which has one of the highest per capita emissions rates worldwide, has refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty that aims to cut the emission of greenhouse gases. Last month the Australian government issued a multibillion-dollar energy package which protected the country's valuable fossil fuel energy sector.

Energy resources form a major source of Australia's wealth, with energy exports worth over A$24 billion ($17 billion) a year and the sector employing 120,000 people.

The report said bold leadership from Australian politicians and business was needed to avoid major climate-change damage.

"If we do not respond to these challenges, gaps will widen between rich and poor, urban and rural, north and south...Not dealing with these realities could undermine Australian society."