Shift in solutions to climate change

Governments should avoid costly subsidies for renewable energy, and businesses ought to invest in limiting the impact of extreme weather events.

Governments should avoid costly subsidies for renewable energy, and businesses ought to invest in limiting the impact of extreme weather events.

Those are the recommendations from two leading analysts with quite different careers.

Admiral Dennis Blair, formerly US director of national intelligence for President Barack Obama and commander of US Pacific forces, said climate change was "becoming a specific issue ... in the security planning of all countries".

Admiral Blair will outline the "future global security agenda" at the National Business Leaders Forum on sustainable development on Thursday in Canberra. He cited the unrest in Syria and Egypt as related to more extreme weather and predicted greater pressure on water resources, including in Asian nations reliant on seasonal flows from the shrinking Himalayan ice cap.

He supports placing a price on carbon but recognises such a policy is unlikely to win backing in the US and faces the threat of being repealed in Australia if the Coalition is elected in September.

"We're just not going to be able to get a big bang solution," Admiral Blair said. "I know of very few businesses who will volunteer to make their products more expensive because of something that might happen in 20 or 30 years."

Meanwhile, Mr Obama is expected to reveal his long-awaited climate change action. Rather than seeking congressional backing for a price on carbon, a battle he lost during his first term, Mr Obama is likely to use regulatory powers to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants, spur renewable energy investments on public lands, and provide incentives to increase energy efficiency, US reports say.

Admiral Blair said if governments are to spend money, it should be on research and development, such as in universities, rather than subsidies for favoured industries.

"It creates bubbles that are unsustainable and when government subsidies are finally pulled out, there's some sort of crash that discredits what otherwise might have been a good idea," he said.

The director of the CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship, Paul Hardisty, said it was up to companies to invest in limiting the effects from the expected increase in wild weather on their businesses.

Mr Hardisty, whose former roles include global director for sustainability at mining services company WorleyParsons, will tell this week's forum in Canberra that there is a "huge upside" in investing in programs with "no regrets" - steps they should take whatever their view on the seriousness of global warming.

Preparing for extreme heat, for instance, can involve simple improvements to insulation and adaptive-cooling systems, resulting in big energy savings, and protecting the health of employees.

Recent floods in Australia have also shown firms that "retrofitting" is a lot more expensive than building-in resilience at the outset, not least because cost pressures are fiercest when firms are trying to recover at the same time.

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