Climate-change activist Tim Flannery is considering giving back his Australian-of-the-Year award because of the Howard Government’s position on global warming.

Flannery said this morning that he believed the award should remain apolitical, but this put him in a difficult position because the Labor Party’s program on global warming was “much more in line with what needs to be done” than that of the Government.

Flannery said that when the two main political parties were taking such different approaches on climate change he was not sure how he could avoid politicising the award. “I am treading a very difficult line” he said. “It may be impossible to continue as things are.”

Flannery was speaking at the annual Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Communicator of the Year Award presentation in Melbourne.

Flannery won the Communicator award, and received a standing ovation from the audience, which included Flannery’s fellow speaker, Liberal Senator Judith Troeth, and leading lights of the public relations industry, including Telstra’s chief spin doctor, Phil Burgess.

Flannery rejected the Prime Minister Howard’s statement that climate change was not the overriding moral challenge of our times, and also said that the current water crisis in Australia’s capitals and the Murray-Darling Basin was the result of not only the drought but also climate change.

“The emissions that have resulted from cooking our breakfast this morning will still be in the atmosphere blighting the lives of our grandchildren and their children. This is an issue of intergenerational equity,” he said.

Scientific studies conducted in the last six months suggested the water supply issue was related to climate change because the soil was now warmer, meaning that less rainfall found its way to rivers and streams, he said. Rainfall in the Murray-Darling Basin had been average over the last four months, yet much less water was finding its way into the system than would have previously been the case. This was part of a global pattern of wetlands drying up.

Flannery said the rest of his year would be spent in putting “key questions” to both sides of politics. These questions were: where do you believe the threshold of dangerous climate change lies, how will your program keep us away from that threshold, and how are we going to engage with the global community.

Flannery said Australia’s failure to ratify the Kyoto treaty was being used by China as an excuse for its failure to act. Kyoto was the only mechanism available for global cooperation, he said. “Sign up to it and you can make it what you want it to be.”