Australia to attend climate summit empty-handed despite UN pleas to ‘come with a plan’



The Port Kembla industrial area in NSW. Industry emissions can be cut by improving efficiency, shifting to electricity and closing old plants.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Climate action will be on the world stage again at a meeting of world leaders in New York on September 23. The United Nations has convened the event and urged countries to “come with a plan” for ambitious emissions reduction.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the meeting because he says global efforts to tackle climate change are running off-track. He wants leaders to present concrete, realistic pathways to strengthen their existing national emissions pledges and move towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Australia is not expected to propose any significant new actions or goals. Prime Minister Scott Morrison – in the US at the time to visit President Donald Trump – will not attend the summit. Foreign Minister Marise Payne will attend, and is likely to have to fend off heavy criticism over Australia’s slow progress on climate action.

Australia: procrastinator or paragon?

Australia has gained an international reputation as a climate action laggard – plagued by political acrimony over climate change, offering few policies to reduce emissions and embroiled in diplomatic rifts with our Pacific neighbours over, among other things, support for coal.

For many afar, it is difficult to understand the policy vacuum in a country so vulnerable to climate change.

In turn, the federal government points out that Australia is one of the few countries that has fully met its emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto protocol period to 2020, and says that it expects to meet the 2030 Paris emissions targets.

An island in the low-lying Pacific nation of Tuvalu, which is threatened by inundation from rising seas.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Come with a plan, and make it good

The landmark Paris agreement includes a global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Countries set so-called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) outlining an emissions reduction target and how they will get there.




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Why declaring a national climate emergency would neither be realistic or effective


Australia set a target to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the Paris treaty, the national pledges should be reviewed and strengthened every five years.

The UN convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their NDCs. The new pledges should be in line with a 45% cut to global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Australia’s emissions are rising

Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are about 12% lower than in 2005, the base year for the Paris target. But since 2013 they have steadily risen, and are continuing to rise.

In the electricity sector, recent declines in coal-fired power and increases in renewables are reducing carbon output. But those savings are being negated by rises in the gas industry and from transport.

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, past and projected. Data drawn from Department of the Environment and Energy report titled ‘Australia’s emissions projections 2018’
Department of the Environment and Energy

Nevertheless, the Australian government is loudly confident of reaching the Paris target – including by using a large amount of accumulated credits from the Kyoto Protocol period. On average, Australia stayed below the Kyoto emissions budgets from 2008 to 2020, and the plan is to count this “carry-over” against an expected overshoot in the period to 2030.

This may be compatible with the Paris Agreement rule book. But it would receive scorn from countries that care about climate commitments. The Kyoto targets were not in line with the ambition now spelled out in the Paris agreement, and Australia’s Kyoto targets are seen by many countries as lax.

We could do so much better

With meaningful policy effort, Australia could meet the Paris target without resorting to Kyoto credits, and possibly meet a much more ambitious target. This would set us up better for deeper cuts down the road.

Rapid and large emissions reductions could be made in the electricity sector – especially if the investment boom in renewables of the last two years were to continue. However the latest indications are that renewables investment is tailing off.

The transition to renewables is transforming the electricity sector. Pictured: a high voltage electricity transmission tower in central Brisbane.
Darren England/AAP

Large improvements can readily be made in transport by shifting to electric vehicles and improving the rather dismal fuel efficiency of conventional cars still sold in Australia. Gas and coal use in industry can be cut by improving efficiency and shifting to electricity, and by phasing out some old energy-hungry and often uneconomic plants like aluminium smelters.

The gas industry can do better through improved management of leaks and reduced venting of methane; we can also improve agricultural practices and land management.




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The transition in the energy sector will definitely happen, based on the cost advantage of renewables, unless governments actively stand in the way. The question is how quickly and smoothly it will happen.

The advantages of the renewables transition extend beyond our shores. Solar and wind energy could be converted to carbon-free hydrogen and other zero-emissions fuels at massive scale and then exported. Electricity could also be sent through undersea cables to Asia.

This is shaping up as a real possibility, depending on technology costs and whether the world kicks the fossil fuel habit.

Outside electricity generation, policy measures are needed to achieve, or at least encourage, these changes. A price on carbon like many countries now have, would do a very good job, combined with the right regulation and public investment.

Cattle stir up dust on a property outside Condobolin in NSW’s central west. Most of the nation is currently gripped by drought.
Dean Lewins/AAP

2050: defining a strategy

Limiting the risk of catastrophic climate change demands that global emissions fall rapidly in coming decades. Keeping temperature rise to 2°C or less means reducing emissions to net-zero.

Australia will be expected to table strategies to get to net-zero by 2050 next year, at the UN’s climate COP, or “conference of the parties”. That process should be a chance for Australian governments, industry and civil society to put heads together about how this could work.




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The year 2050 is beyond the horizon of most corporate interests vested in existing assets, and it allows greater emphasis on long term opportunities than on short term adjustments. This should encourage a more open discussion than the often acrimonious debates about 2030 emissions targets and short-term policies.

Australia should show the world it can imagine a zero-emissions future, and hatch the beginnings of a plan for it. It would help position the nation’s resources industries for the future and help with our international reputation.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Bushwalking and bowls in schools: we need to teach kids activities they’ll go on to enjoy



Schools could use bushwalking as an activity and link it to lessons in other subjects such as geography and science.
Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Vaughan Cruickshank, University of Tasmania; Brendon Hyndman, Charles Sturt University, and Shane Pill, Flinders University

Physical education is one of the most popular subjects for children in their early school years. Yet by secondary school less favourable attitudes towards what’s known in the Australian school curriculum as Health and Physical Education (HPE) can start to creep in.

By adulthood, the mention of HPE brings on both pleasant (for those who enjoyed HPE at school or completed HPE activities well) and unpleasant memories (those who suffered embarrassment, bullying or injuries).




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These attitudes towards HPE are important as early life experiences can be linked to our health later on. Adults with positive memories of HPE are more likely to be physically active throughout their lives.

That’s why we need to get students hooked on a range of activities they don’t give up on and can enjoy doing for many years after they leave school.

Exercise for our health

One of the major focuses of any HPE program in schools is to develop movement skills and physical activity in young people. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says physical activity is vital to improve mental, social and physical health, as well as preventing diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Lifestyle diseases are likely to be an increasing problem in Australia due to the projected increase in the percentage of the population aged 65 years and over.

For this reason, a high-quality HPE program early on at school that provides opportunities for students to experience a range of activities they can engage in later in life is important.

This can prepare students for the skills needed for lifelong engagement in physical activity and to lead active and healthy lives.

Our activities change as we age

The activities with the highest participation by Australians of different age groups are shown in the table below. These findings show some obvious differences between age groups.

The Conversation/Authors.
Clearinghouse for Sport, CC BY-ND

School-aged students participate in more team-based activities. Often these involve physical contact and/or require speed and agility. Participation rates in these activities decrease substantially after the age of 35.

Playing soccer is popular among the 5 to 11 age group, but participation falls as people get older.
Flickr/, CC BY-NC-ND

Australians aged 65 and over mainly participate in less intense aerobic activities. Seven of the top 10 (walking, golf, cycling, bowls, yoga, bush walking and pilates) activities for the 65-plus age group do not even make the top 10 for school-aged Australians.

Giving students increased access to these activities might assist schools in meeting UNESCO’s challenge to help young people develop lifelong participation in physical activity.

Teach them healthy habits when they’re young

Some school HPE and outdoor education programs are likely to include a few of these activities listed for the adult age groups.

But the crowded curriculum and specific HPE time allocations can be a problem. Teachers often don’t have time to cover these activities in enough detail to really hook students in. That means students don’t get to the point where they want to make these activities a permanent part of their movement tool kit.

Busy schools should consider integrating aerobic activities into other subject areas. For example, an excursion to a local park or reserve for bushwalking or orienteering could be linked with geography and science. It could also help inspire writing tasks in English or measurement tasks in maths.

Teachers could be encouraged to use class breaks for short yoga sessions. Yoga and pilates could be offered at lunchtime, either with a teacher, posters and signs, or via an app projected on a screen.

Doing a web search for your location and activities (for example, “golf/bowls/bushwalking clubs near me”) will help schools find nearby clubs to connect students with. Schools could invite club staff or volunteers to come to talk to the students and run practical sessions.

Being aware of local recreational clubs and organisations and the opportunities they provide (such as barefoot bowls nights), as well as websites where they can get more information (bushwalking trails), will make it easier for students to engage with these activities.

Barefoot bowls appeals to many different age groups.
Flickr/Josh McGuiness, CC BY-NC-ND

Engaged students are active and healthy for life

So we need to make sure students are provided with enough choice in activities.




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Improved choice for students within HPE programs allows them to discover activities that provide appropriate levels of challenge for them to be able to overcome and achieve for overall enjoyment.

Evidence suggests that providing such a mastery climate in school HPE and junior sport can help students feel high levels of competence in their physical abilities. This then assists with students’ individual motivations to be physically active.The Conversation

Teach children to enjoy yoga at an early age and it will stay with them as they age.
Flickr/Mike Bull, CC BY-NC

Vaughan Cruickshank, Program Director – Health and Physical Education, Maths/Science, Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania; Brendon Hyndman, Senior Lecturer & Course Director of Postgraduate Studies in Education, Charles Sturt University, and Shane Pill, Associate Professor in Physical Education and Sport, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why declaring a national climate emergency would neither be realistic or effective



The Greens and independent MPs are pushing for Australia to declare a national ‘climate emergency’, in line with several other nations.
Darren England/AAP

David Holmes, Monash University

Predictably, both major political parties are resisting calls this week for a parliamentary conscience vote to declare a climate emergency in Australia.

The resistance is unsurprising because both the Coalition and Labor are still captive to the fossil fuel industry. Both fear alienating voters who believe that a mining job is somehow worth far more than a renewables job, though this is perhaps more true for Labor than the LNP.

A majority of Australians accept that climate change is happening, although, like the minister for natural disasters, David Littleproud, a surprising number don’t necessarily believe it is caused by humans. Moreover, when climate change is made an economic issue, many voters are less likely to support tougher action if they perceive this is going to impact on their cost of living.

Despite the fact he lost his own seat in the recent federal election, former PM Tony Abbott said the Coalition’s overall victory made this point abundantly clear.

Where climate change is a moral issue, we Liberals do it tough. But where climate change is an economic issue […] tonight shows we do very, very well.




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Climate change vs the economy

There is no better illustration of Abbott’s zealous observation than in Queensland during the 2019 election.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown, believing he could turn the controversial Adani coal mine into another Franklin River dam, led a convoy of climate activists through Queensland towns. But pushing climate change as a moral issue became an insult to the coal communities there.

Bob Brown’s anti-Adani protests didn’t play well in some Queensland communities.
Rohan Thomson/AAP

Labor also talked tough on climate change, with former leader Bill Shorten declaring in the final week of the May campaign:

It is not the Australian way to avoid and duck the hard fights. We will take this [climate change] emergency seriously.

At the same time, Labor vacillated over Adani. The party’s prevarication over climate led to much confusion, and when the votes were counted, it did not win a seat north of metro Brisbane.




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Fast-forward to today, and the painful loss of the election has ensured that Labor isn’t taking any chances on coal.

In fact, shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong didn’t hesitate last month when she said,

coal remains an important industry for Australia and it remains part of the global energy mix.

And Labor may now be preparing to walk away from its ambitious climate target of cutting emissions by 45% by 2030, in favour of a focus on a net-zero pollution target for 2050.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale accused Labor of “caving in to the coal, oil and gas lobby” if it abandons its 2030 emissions reduction target, and added,

Labor will have lost whatever remaining credibility it has on the climate crisis.

The politics of a national emergency

In many city councils and certain electorates across Australia, declaring a climate emergency has been a clever strategy both for political consumption and to mobilise behavioural change on a local scale.

But on a national scale, where climate change is so heavily politicised, the declaration of a climate change emergency would be an unmitigated disaster for the major parties, and for the cause of effectively communicating climate change.

This is not to say that climate change isn’t anything short of an emergency. It absolutely is.




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The monstrous amounts of energy going into the oceans right now guarantees continued global warming that is fast heading towards the equivalent of the climatic violence of the Eemian period of 118,000 years ago.

And among the countless tipping points we are seeing unfold before us, the shock of a premature fire season in NSW and Queensland, with winter barely over, is just one way in which climate change is having an impact at a local level.

In some ways, there is no better time to raise awareness of climate change than during extreme weather events, as people are looking for explanations as to why they are occurring and how they can be so severe.

But to declare a national climate emergency, pushed so strongly by the Greens and independents, is not only politically difficult in Australia at the moment, it is also a hopeless communications strategy.

Communicating a climate emergency

Here are six reasons why declaring a climate emergency is so deeply problematic.

1) Without bipartisan support, which is likely to be the case, it will further entrench the politicisation of climate change in Australia. Australians are already divided on anthropogenic climate change, and are increasingly afflicted by issue fatigue. This is precisely because climate change is thrashed about as a political issue (which turns on opinion) rather than a matter of physics (which turns on facts).

2) If such a conscience vote fails in parliament, it will marginalise any well-intentioned instigators as a partisan minority.

3) If ever such a conscience vote succeeded, it would merely come to serve as a symbolic cover for inaction in the face of steadily rising emissions.

4) Without meaningful decarbonisation policies, such a declaration would become a twisted apologia for such inaction, as long as political parties are able to spin national accounting carbon emissions figures.

5) Recent research by the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub found that the term “climate emergency” didn’t resonate with Australians as much as other phrases, such as climate change, global warming, extreme weather, climate crisis, and complex weather. Only 6.93% of Brisbane respondents and 4.03% of Melbourne respondents preferred “climate emergency” to the other terms.

6) By far the most overwhelming problem with such a declaration is that politicians are the least trusted sources of information on climate change.

To regain trust on climate change, politicians need to lead with genuinely effective policies and decisions, rather than the foil of a hollow sentiment that has no legal or economic status.

In the meantime, there needs to be better public understanding of the science behind climate change, delivered by trusted sources, that allows people to come to terms with the true urgency of the crisis.The Conversation

David Holmes, Director, Climate Change Communication Research Hub, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.