Conservative but green independent MP Zali Steggall could break the government’s climate policy deadlock


Kate Crowley, University of Tasmania

When barrister, former world champion alpine skier, and now independent MP Zali Steggall took Tony Abbott’s New South Wales seat of Warringah in the 2019 election, she promised to pressure the government for action on climate change.

She was voicing the heightened concern in Warringah about climate change and the environment, and repudiating the denialism of one-time Prime Minister Abbott, who once described climate change as “absolute crap”.




Read more:
Abbott’s loss in Warringah shows voters rejecting an out-of-touch candidate and a nasty style of politics


On Monday, Steggall released her Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020. It will be presented to the federal House of Representatives on March 23 for a vote.

The bill came just as horrendous flooding hit the east coast of Australia, not quite extinguishing the fires that, nationally, have killed 33 people, burned 11 million hectares of land, and destroyed thousands of homes.

Steggall’s bill outlines ways to bring Australia’s carbon emissions down to zero by 2050. It focuses on climate risks, with adaptation and mitigation measures to secure a more resilient Australia, including establishing an independent climate change commission to advise parliament.

Steggall is a non-aligned, conservative independent. So while the bill isn’t likely to pass – most private members bills don’t – hers is unique in its non-partisan nature. And it could even shift Australia’s stubborn climate change politics through her #ClimateActNow appeal to the public.

What the bill says

The federal government, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in particular, have faltered in leadership and policy in the face of Australia’s recent disasters. He argues the government will not be panicked into stronger climate policy.




Read more:
States shine as federal government flounders this summer – now they should lead on climate change


Last year, the government was re-elected on a platform of supporting an expanded coal industry, promoting regional coal industry jobs, paying polluters to reduce emissions, paying for reduced land clearing, and using carry-over credits to meet its global emissions target.

But Steggall’s bill changes the climate policy conversation entirely. It calls for a detailed risk assessment of the challenges of warming across all sectors, and national plans for adapting to those challenges, while reducing emissions in a transparent and accountable way.

It provides five-year plans to reduce emissions to zero by 2050, linking climate risks and impacts with emissions reduction. The plans are sector-wide, as similar plans are in the UK, with safeguards to ensure equitable transition, and they’ll be revised to adjust emissions reduction targets every five years.

This is a climate policy approach that reflects national and international malaise about Australia’s recent bush fire horrors, and now flooding crisis, because proposing zero emissions by 2050 is what more than 60 countries have already promised.

What’s more, the bill calls for transparent monitoring, reporting and accountability in line with global expectations, by establishing an independent Climate Change Commission. The commission’s role wouldn’t be to develop policy, but to ensure the five-year climate plans are progressing towards their targets.

Non-partisan nature

On the same day as its release, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott put forward her support for a net zero emissions target, saying Zali’s bill offered a sensible climate target the major parties could agree on.

Westacott’s support signals to the Morrison government the business community is looking for more ambitious and targeted climate policy action, anticipating the new jobs that will follow a transition to a low carbon economy.

But the main strength of Zali’s bill is its non-partisan nature. And it’s important for side stepping toxic climate politics and for proposing reasoned, apolitical, tried and tested policy solutions.

The bill is modelled on the David Cameron government’s 2008 Climate Change Act in the UK – legislation from a conservative party. This act sets carbon budgets, which can be controversial, but the UK are successfully reducing emissions.




Read more:
The UK has a national climate change act – why don’t we?


Shifting the climate debate

All it would take for Zali’s bill to pass is for a majority of MPs in the House of Representatives to vote for it, meaning some members of the government would need to use their vote.

If this were to happen, it would be a relief for business and industry, which are looking for certainty; for State and Territories, which are building vibrant renewable energy economies; and for Australians for whom climate change is now a foremost concern.

Although members of parliament are elected to represent their constituents, political allegiance invariably trumps popular will as they vote along party lines.

So Steggall is appealing directly to voters to contact their MP to secure support for her bill, and through her “Climate Act Now” petition.




Read more:
Australia’s bushfire smoke is lapping the globe, and the law is too lame to catch it


If enough constituents do this, the climate debate may shift as a result of Zali’s efforts. Whether or not her legislation is adopted as she has proposed it, it may still open the door to a revised version resolving Australia’s climate policy deadlock.

This is an almost impossible task, but Zali will likely build support as she did in seeking her election in Warringah, by staying focused, by meeting as many people as possible, and by staying true to her ideas.


Correction: an earlier version of this article used an incorrect hashtag, #ClimateActionNow. It also stated the matter would go to a “conscience vote” in parliament, rather than just a vote. This has been amended.The Conversation

Kate Crowley, Associate Professor, Public and Environmental Policy, University of Tasmania

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

States shine as federal government flounders this summer – now they should lead on climate change



AAP/Bianca de Marchi

Jennifer Menzies, Griffith University

The recent federal government response to the bushfire crisis and the “sports rorts” affair are symptomatic of a deeper political malaise – role confusion.

Since the roles and responsibilities of the federal government have become untethered from Australia’s Constitution through a range of High Court decisions, there are no principles to guide what is a meaningful role for the Commonwealth. This means it dips into areas that are the responsibility of the states.

Funding local sports clubs, for example, replicates existing state and local government programs. But it has become a key campaign tool for the federal Coalition government to be “seen” to be relevant to issues affecting local communities.

The Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements have given Australia a framework for a world-class response to natural disasters. With four categories of assistance, the federal government provides funding for relief and recovery. This summer, after being accused of being to slow to respond, the Commonwealth is forging a new role for itself by deploying the Australian Defence Force. Again, it wants to be “seen” to be responsive.

This role instability means the federal government campaigns on issues under the jurisdictional control of the states and territories. When the prime minister changes, so do the areas of the federal government’s interest. The Commonwealth’s approach to managing the relationship with the states and territories is unstable and can veer from the cooperative to the coercive, from benign neglect to micro-managing program outcomes.




Read more:
State governments are vital for Australian democracy: here’s why


The culture of the federal government stands for the political culture in Australia. This is underpinned through most political commentary being generated by journalists based in Parliament House in Canberra. They promote a world view forged by constant interaction with federal ministers and senior bureaucrats.

Yet the political culture in Canberra is not the same as the political culture within state governments. While the federal government can cherry-pick when and what issues to become involved in, the states keep all the big service-delivery systems in Australia ticking over. They keep building hospitals, managing law and order, educating children, building and operating infrastructure and managing population and natural resources.

There are a number of reasons why state governments have created a more effective platform to deliver on their responsibilities.

The past couple of decades has seen the rise of managerialist, non-ideological and pragmatic premiers. These leaders have become more sophisticated in how they approach issues. They are genuinely responsive to the community through mechanisms like community cabinets held regularly in regional towns and ministerial consultative and advisory committees.

State leaders are comfortable with and have initiated accountability regimes (still lacking federally) and have become experienced crisis managers who are willing to lead in such a situation. Because service delivery requires them to be less ideological and more pragmatic, they are not riven by the kind of ideological fervour that prevents the federal government from acting on issues such as climate change.

Finally, with Queensland adopting fixed four-year parliamentary terms, the federal government is now the only jurisdiction with an erratic election timetable called by the prime minister for political advantage. Four-year terms allow for the business of government to progress in an orderly manner and through the parliament. It brings a steadiness and certainty missing from the more febrile arrangements in place federally.




Read more:
Securing Australia’s future: governance and state-federal relations


The states bring stability and ballast to our federation. Since commissioning the original Garnaut report in 2007 they have acted to address the challenge of climate change. They have implemented mitigation and adaptation policies. They do this because they are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as extended droughts, coastal erosion, inundation and natural disasters. All have the target of zero emissions by 2050.

While the federal government struggles to find a meaningful role for itself in the 21st century, there is greater scope to harness the stability the states provide. A collective agreement between the states on emission targets is a good starting point. If all states and territories agreed on an approach, Australia would have a national plan without the need for federal government involvement.

As we enter another week of parliamentary theatrics, perhaps the time has come to turn to the workhorse of the federation for action on climate change – the states.The Conversation

Jennifer Menzies, Principal Research Fellow, Policy Innovation Hub, Griffith University

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

Curious Kids: is the sky blue on other planets?



Unlike Earth’s atmosphere, Jupiter’s ‘sky’ hosts magnificent shades of orange, white, brown and blue.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt, CC BY-SA

Jake Clark, University of Southern Queensland


Is the sky blue on other planets, like on Earth? What is an atmosphere, and do other planets have one? – Charlie, age 10



G’day Charlie, and thank you so much for your incredibly curious question.

Before I get too excited talking about the atmospheres of other planets, first we have to talk about what an atmosphere actually is.

Earth’s atmosphere is split into different layers.
ESA

The atmosphere is normally the outermost layer of a planet. On rocky worlds like Earth it is usually the lightest and thinnest layer.

The thing that makes an atmosphere an atmosphere is what it’s made of. It’s not made up of big lumps of rocks or huge swirling oceans; it is made up of gases.

What’s in an atmosphere?

Atmospheres can contain a wide variety of gases. Most of Earth’s atmosphere is a gas called nitrogen that doesn’t really react with anything. There’s also a fair bit of oxygen, which is what we need to breathe. There are also two other important gases called argon and carbon dioxide, and tiny amounts of lots of other ones.

The mix of gases is what gives a planet’s atmosphere its colour.




Read more:
Curious Kids: Why is the sky blue and where does it start?


Earth’s atmosphere is made up of gases that tend to bounce blue light in all directions (known as “scattering”) but let most other colours of light straight through. This scattered light is what gives Earth’s atmosphere its blue colour.

Do other planets have blue atmospheres? Some of them sure do!

The blue “haze” surrounding Earth in space is caused by the scattering of light from Earth’s atmosphere.

Other worlds

The atmospheres of the two ice giants in our solar system, Neptune and Uranus, are both beautiful shades of blue.

However, these atmospheres are a different blue than ours. It’s caused by the huge amounts of a gas called methane swirling around.

(Side note: methane is also the main component of farts. That’s right, there’s a layer of farts on Uranus.)

The atmosphere of Uranus (left) is slightly greener than Neptune’s (right).
NASA / JPL-Caltech / Björn Jónsson

Jupiter and Saturn, however, have completely different-coloured atmospheres.

Ice crystals made of a chemical called ammonia in Saturn’s upper atmosphere make it a pale shade of yellow.

Uranus’ atmosphere also contains some ammonia, which makes the planet a slightly greener shade than the deep blue we see on Neptune.

Jupiter’s atmosphere has distinctive brown and orange bands, thanks to gases that may contain the elements phosphorus and sulfur, and possibly even more complicated chemicals called hydrocarbons.**

The Juno spacecraft flying past Jupiter in 2017.

In some extreme cases, the entire planet might just be a huge atmosphere with no rocky surface at all. Astronomers and planetary scientists like myself are still trying to work out whether Jupiter and Saturn have rocky surfaces, deep down in their atmosphere, or whether they’re both simply huge balls of gas.

The Cassini spacecraft took this cracking image of Saturn back in 2010.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

However, there are some planets that have no atmosphere at all! The Sun’s closest and smallest neighbour, Mercury, is one example. Its surface is exposed to the vastness of space.

Beyond our solar system

So far I’ve been talking about the atmospheres of planets in our Solar system. But what about planets in other planetary systems, orbiting other stars?

Well, astronomers have been detecting the atmospheres of these planets (which we call “exoplanets”) for the past 20 years! It wasn’t until last year, however, that astronomers managed to detect the atmosphere of a rocky exoplanet. The planet is called LHS 3844b and it’s so far away that the light takes almost 50 years to reach us!

LHS 3844b weighs twice as much as Earth, and we astronomers thought it would have a pretty thick atmosphere. But, to our surprise, it has little to no atmosphere at all! So it might be more like Mercury than Earth.

Animation showing an artist’s impression on what LHS 3844b’s surface may look like.

We still have a lot to learn about far-off planets and discovering one with an Earth-like atmosphere that’s ripe for life is still many years away.

Maybe, Charlie, you could be the first astronomer to detect an Earth-like atmosphere on another world!The Conversation

Jake Clark, PhD Candidate, University of Southern Queensland

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