While nations play politics, cities and states are taking up the climate challenge


Michael Mintrom, Monash University

Last week, Donald Trump entered the White House Rose Garden and announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In doing so, he fulfilled his campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris deal, a move that calls into question the future of the entire agreement.

In withdrawing, Trump cited the (arguably short-term) sacrifice the agreement requires of the US. This perspective fulfils the famous prediction made by economist Garrett Hardin in the 1960s: the “tragedy of the commons”. Hardin wrote that self-interest drives individuals to exploit collective resources in the short term, even to their long-term detriment.

Hardin and those following him thought the only way to avoid this tragedy was by securing collective agreements. That is why so many people view the Paris Accord as a vital mechanism for addressing climate change. It is also why the US withdrawal is devastating.

But another famous economist, Elinor Ostrom, saw things differently. Writing after the demise of the Kyoto Agreement but before the Paris Accord, Ostrom said that faith in multinational accords to address climate change was misplaced. Ostrom saw the limits of such collective action. Crucially, Ostrom suggested that we should also recognise the potential of localised collective action.

And already there are examples in both the developed and developing world that this is happening right now.

The new global leadership

Ultimately, efforts to reduce global warming are advanced by the pedestrian, daily choices of households, businesses, and sub-national governments. Millions of local choices can have global effects, for good or ill.

It’s clear that Trump is stepping away from global leadership on climate change. But in response, the state governors of Washington, New York and California declared they remain committed to the Paris climate targets. Since then, a further 10 US states have joined the budding Climate Alliance.

In the past two decades, mounting evidence has shown the power of such efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. These efforts have been driven by policy entrepreneurs – people with vision, energy, and the collaborative instincts required to promote collective action. A classic example is provided by the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in 2005 invited mayors from other mega-cities to join him in promoting climate change efforts. That initiative has spurred many more, with transformative effects.

Looking around the world, we can see the diversity of localised initiatives in place to address climate change.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, traffic congestion and pollution are being addressed by providing better public transport options and more bicycle lanes.

In Ethiopia, the Addis Ababa Light Rail Transport Project aims to reduce significantly the greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

In India, Kolkata has implemented the Solid Waste Management Improvement Project, which is reducing the release of methane emissions, while contributing to improved public sanitation.

Across Europe, cities have started emulating meat-free Thursdays, which originated in Ghent, Belgium. Aside from other benefits, reducing meat consumption can reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

In the US, leaders in cities and states have done much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by cars and coal-fired power plants, for example through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Globally, the Carbon Disclosure Project has significantly influenced actions of businesses and governments alike.

Particularly important for smaller developing countries is the Cartegena Dialogue. It creates opportunities for leaders to share strategies for mitigating climate change and – just as urgently, especially for small Pacific nations – adapting to it.

The Paris Accord is a landmark, multilateral initiative. The withdrawal of the US is appalling, and deserves a strong rebuke. But it does not foreshadow the unravelling of multilateral resolve for addressing climate change.

The ConversationThe backslappers in Washington have had their Rose Garden moment. Elsewhere, energetic policy entrepreneurs are mobilising. Grounded in their communities, they are acting to protect the planet for today’s young people, and for those not yet born. That too, is global leadership.

Michael Mintrom, Professor of Public Sector Management, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Winter warmth is in the forecast (but don’t celebrate yet)



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It might feel nippy, but look out for winter heatwaves.
REUTERS/David Gray

Andrew King, University of Melbourne

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued its seasonal forecast for the winter, and it should be a warm one throughout southern Australia and the very tips of the Top End.

After a warm autumn, particularly in the east, this winter is forecast to be warmer and drier than usual – especially over the southern half of the continent.

Warmer-than-average conditions are likely for most of Australia.
Bureau of Meteorology

Not your everyday weather forecast

Seasonal forecasts are very different from your standard weather forecast for the day or week ahead.

Instead of giving exact temperatures or rainfall totals, the bureau provides probabilities of above or below average conditions. So if the bureau says there’s a 70% chance of above-average temperatures, that’s the same as saying there’s a 30% chance it will be below average.

These probabilities are estimated by looking at what’s going on in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as they strongly influence Australia’s weather, and by running a set, or “ensemble”, of forecasts through the bureau’s seasonal forecast model.

A very different winter from last year

Looking back to last year, while most of Australia experienced quite a warm winter, it was also very wet. Nationally, it was the second-wettest winter on record, with the centre and the east of the continent copping the brunt of the rain. Last winter’s weather was driven by very warm seas in the east Indian Ocean, which meant a lot more moisture was available to deliver rainfall across the country.

Last winter was very wet for the east, although dry around Perth.
Bureau of Meteorology

This year we are seeing roughly average temperatures in the Indian Ocean, and a slight El Niño in the Pacific. This increases the likelihood of warmer, drier weather for the winter as a whole.

Winter heatwaves on the way

So can we expect to keep the thick coats in the wardrobe and enjoy some winter warmth? Perhaps.

Of course, winter heatwaves aren’t going to bring 40℃ days to Melbourne and Sydney, but we could get warm spells and temperatures into the low twenties in Sydney or the high teens in Melbourne.

It’s also worth noting that the seasonal forecast only looks at whether we’re going to have temperatures above or below average. It’s harder to predict whether we will see bursts of heat, or if the weather will consistently be a little bit warmer than normal through much of the season.

We’ve seen an increase in heatwaves in late autumn and winter in Australia over the past few decades. Notably, in May 2014 Sydney and large areas of southeast Australia had much-warmer-than-average conditions. A study found that this heat event was made at least 20 times more likely by the human influence on the climate.

We’re also seeing trends towards less frequent cold conditions in winter, with frosts becoming much rarer over a substantial part of Australia. Most of Australia is also experiencing fewer cold days. These trends are in line with what we expect from climate change, and are projected to continue.

Australia’s experiencing fewer frosty nights than it used to.
Bureau of Meteorology

While winter warmth can be pleasant for most of us, it can also cause plenty of problems. Warmer and drier winters can worsen drought – an effect we saw during the Millennium Drought in southeast Australia – by increasing evaporation and reducing soil moisture.

The ConversationSo while many of us in the south will gladly welcome a warm winter, it’s not good news for everyone. If warm and dry conditions were to persist into spring and summer – which is a distinct possibility with an El Niño watch in place – that would pose even more problems in terms of bushfire prevention, among other hazards.

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We can’t recycle our way to ‘zero waste’



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Recycling should be seen as a last defence against landfill.
Lance/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Jenni Downes, University of Technology Sydney

In the wake of the final episode of the ABC’s War on Waste, in which a dismayed Craig Reucassel canvasses Australia’s rubbish-related sins, the idea of “zero waste” is pretty hot right now.

The City of Sydney’s Zero Waste campaign.
City of Sydney

But often when we hear of zero waste movements, or civic and corporate zero waste commitments, they are actually “zero waste to landfill” campaigns. They’re not aiming for zero waste to be produced, just for all waste to be managed somehow – usually, relying heavily on recycling.

In fact most of us have probably said, or at least heard, the statement: “It’s not waste – it gets recycled!” or for food, “it goes to compost!”

Certainly it’s old news to the waste recovery industry that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. High-quality, well-sorted waste isn’t just usable, it’s desirable – either for recycling or conversion into fuel.

The Australian recycling industry is doing a good job of repurposing most of our collected recyclable material. This contributes to developing circular economy, in which recycled waste displaces virgin material in production.

But, like many words, there’s a crucial difference between the common and technical definition of waste. Conversationally, “waste” is understood as something unwanted or unusable, that has no value. In technical terms, it’s a classification of a resource or product at a certain point in its value chain.

It might seem like a pedantic distinction. But language shapes our understanding and behaviour, and our conception of what is possible and important.

Albert Shamess, Vancouver’s director of waste management said recently, “we can’t recycle our way to zero waste”. It goes to the heart of the question: is waste still waste if it gets recycled?

The standard waste hierarchy generally demarcates between waste avoidance and waste management, with recycling squarely in the waste management zone. In this sense, recycling is something we do to waste, not a way to avoid it.

The ‘waste hierarchy’ prioritises actions by those with the greatest environmental benefit.
UTS: Institute for Sustainable Futures

These days, recycling is standard practice in most Australian households and in general is fairly simple. It’s not that hard to place an item in a recycling bin instead of the rubbish when they’re side by side in the kitchen (or in an office, or public space).

But recycling sits fairly low down the waste hierarchy. When we say “it’s not waste if it gets recycled”, it makes it easier to avoid more important actions with greater potential impact.

Similarly, when zero waste commitments are defined as “not going to landfill”, it’s too easy for companies or cities to set a diversion target and focus on recycling and recovery, rather than setting targets for the more complicated task of waste minimisation.

But while recycling (and recovery) is a great last line of defence, it’s nowhere near as effective as avoiding the waste in the first place.

Why is recycling low on the waste hierarchy?

The waste hierarchy prioritises actions based on how much they benefit the environment. Recycling is certainly magnitudes better than landfill, because it replaces virgin materials in the manufacturing process. For example, recycling aluminium is 95% more efficient than using virgin aluminium, recycling plastic is 85% more efficient, paper 50%, and glass 40%.

But the recycling process still consumes energy (and other resources), and costs money. And for many materials, particularly plastic and to some extent paper, recycling is also a downgrading process.

These materials can only be recycled a certain number of times before they degrade beyond all use, and generally then end up in landfill. At this point, they can’t be recovered for waste to energy.

On the other hand, if we could reduce the amount of material that needs to be recycled, or better yet, the amount that needs to be produced in the first place, these costs would disappear altogether. Better consumer choices can play a role, but more significant are improved resource management and smarter product design.

In our transition to a circular economy, the way we characterise things may shift to emphasise the that objects have value beyond the end of their intended life. But it’s essential we still call a spade a spade.

The ConversationRegardless of whether something is “waste” if it gets recycled, recycling (and recovery) needs to be seen as what is is – a last line of defence. Minimising waste is more important than managing it, and we need to keep our focus there.

Jenni Downes, Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.