The Liberal candidate in Wentworth, Dave Sharma, has called for
Australia to do more on the international stage to address climate change, declaring this is “where our efforts can have the biggest impact”.
These efforts should include trying to turn around the United States’ decision to leave the Paris agreement, Sharma told the Coalition for Conservation on Tuesday night.
As Scott Morrison this week has sought to boost his government’s
credentials on the climate issue, Sharma said a small improvement in the emissions trajectories of large emitters such as China would have much greater impact than anything Australia could itself do.
Australia produced only 1.3% of global CO2 emissions. “This is not an argument for doing nothing. We need to be credible in our own efforts to reduce our emissions. But it does make clear that Australia cannot solve climate change by ourselves,” he said.
“This [international effort] is where Australia should be more ambitious and invest greater effort. In the diplomacy and the negotiations to ensure all countries keep their Paris commitments. In helping to raise the level of ambition over time, as technology allows.
“And in persuading countries that have pulled out of the Paris
agreement – including the United States – to come back in.
“This is where we should be investing additional effort, and where I believe my own experience in multilateral negotiations could help us,” said Sharma, a former diplomat.
Sharma, who last year lost in the Wentworth byelection to independent Kerryn Phelps, is running again in Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat. The Liberals believe they have some hope of regaining the seat, on the assumption the savage protest vote against the ousting of the former prime minister is likely to have diminished.
Climate change was an important issue in the byelection campaign, and Sharma presents as one of the more progressive voices in the party on it.
This week Morrison announced initiatives including A$2 billion over a decade to extend the emissions reduction fund that Tony Abbott established, now rebadged as the Climate Solutions Fund, $1.38 billion towards building the Snowy 2.0 scheme, and support for a new interconnector between Tasmania and the mainland.
Sharma said: “We need to be serious and credible in addressing the risk posed by climate change, and for that we – and I mean the whole world here – need to be lowering our emissions and reducing our carbon footprint”.
“We are in the midst right now of a technology-driven energy transition.
“From centralised, fossil-fuel based power generation, with a ‘dumb’ one-way grid.
“To a more decentralised network, with greater renewables generation, backed by storage, and a ‘smart’ two-way grid where households are both consumers and suppliers of power.
“This transition is being driven by market forces, competitive
pressures, consumer and corporate behaviour, and capital markets.”
Coal would continue to have a role during this transition. Sharma said. “But market forces are pushing coal out of the energy mix,” and not just in Australia.
“In Australia, new coal-fired power generation simply cannot compete with the cost of renewables plus storage.
“And – whether people like it or not – carbon risk is real and is already being factored in by banks, investors and the markets. Glencore’s announcement last week is illustrative.”
But if coal was closed down with haste, power bills would go up and the lights would go out, he said.
“A steady transition to greater renewable energy sources is feasible and practical — but an overnight switch is not”.
The energy markets were headed in the right direction, Sharma said.
“If we work with the grain of market forces, help smooth out the
necessary transition, and ensure clear signals are sent to investors, then we can meet our Paris emissions reduction targets in the electricity sector without having an impact on price or reliability”.
Almost half of Australia’s packaging waste is not being recovered for recycling, according to the first comprehensive study to track the fate of used packaging materials.
Overall, 56% of packaging was recovered for recycling in 2017-18, according to our study, carried out at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures and published by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, a not-for-profit group that aims to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and is leading the effort to implement the National Packaging Targets.
Only 32% of plastic packaging was recovered for recycling, whereas the figure for paper and cardboard was 72%.
Used packaging materials such as glass, paper, metal and plastic make up 15% of all recyclable waste generated in Australia, according to our calculations based on available government data. By taking a snapshot of our current performance in recovering these materials, we can identify which areas are most in need of attention. This will help us work towards a “circular economy” approach in which packaging materials are reclaimed, reused and recycled, rather than thrown away.
Explainer: what is the circular economy?
The chart below shows that the most significant losses to landfill happen before waste is collected for sorting. Households and businesses are still throwing recyclable packaging, approximately 32% of total packaging consumed, into red bins instead of into recycling.
The 56% recovery figure includes packaging material recovered for export, as well as materials that are currently stockpiled. This includes glass which is not currently in high demand for local manufacturing.
Waste exported overseas represents a significant proportion – about 34% – of total packaging waste recovered. Evidently, there is a clear opportunity to improve local waste management practices and grow local demand for products that contain recycled materials. This would help make Australia’s packaging system more resilient to fluctuations in global markets.
The biggest recent market shock was the recycling crisis sparked by China’s decision to limit the imports of large amounts of recyclable materials.
In April last year, state and federal environment ministers and local governments reacted to that crisis with the launch of the National Packaging Targets. This included a pledge to pursue circular economy principles.
In practice, this means avoiding packaging waste, improving local recovery of recyclables, and increasing the demand for products that contain recycled materials. Already we have seen major brands such as Unilever commit to using at least 25% locally sourced recycled plastic in packaging such as shampoo bottles. This is a big step in the right direction, and aligns with the trending global agenda to eliminate plastic pollution.
However, developing a circular economy for packaging in Australia requires coordinated action across the whole supply chain. This includes manufacturers, brand owners, consumers, and the resource recovery sector.
Better source separation is important and this requires consumer education and awareness raising, as well as smarter design of packaging to make it easier to recycle. These strategies are already supported by the new Australasian Recycling Label, which could potentially be mandated for all types of packaging.
A further consequence of better source separation is a reduction in the contamination of the collected materials. This would improve the efficiency of the material recovery facilities (MRFs) that sort the mixed recyclables into separate streams for reprocessing.
What we also need is more and better data on packaging consumption and recycling infrastructure capabilities. Some future actions are clear, such as addressing problematic plastic packaging. Others decisions that might involve broad systemic interventions need more information about the best way to encourage packaging circularity. Key to success will be the willingness of all stakeholders to develop a collective, consistent and proactive approach to information sharing and problem solving.
This article was coauthored by Brooke Donnelly, chief executive of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation.
Ben Madden, Senior Research Consultant at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney and Nick Florin, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney