Zali Steggall’s new climate change bill comes just as economic sectors step up


Anna Malos, ClimateWorks Australia and Amandine Denis-Ryan, Monash University

Yesterday, Zali Steggall, the independent member for Warringah, introduced her long-awaited climate change bill to the Australian parliament.

Much of the debate around the bill centres on what needs to be done for Australia to reach net zero emissions by 2050. That’s a crucial discussion — but it’s equally vital to recognise what’s already been committed.




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Our project, the Net Zero Momentum Tracker, monitors Australia’s journey towards net zero emissions, tracking climate commitments and progress in key sectors of the economy. This includes superannuation, transport, retail, property and local government, and a forthcoming analysis of the resources sector.

We’ve found progress is, in general, going well. These sectors are increasingly making more climate-active commitments, which means the moment is right for precisely the kind of pivot Steggall’s bill seeks to facilitate.

What the climate change bill proposes

Steggall has garnered huge support outside of politics. In a joint letter this week, more than 100 Australian businesses, industry groups and community organisations endorsed the bill as a critical step in the recovery from the pandemic.

This included Oxfam, the Business Council of Australia, the ACTU, the Australian Medical Association and our organisation, ClimateWorks Australia

Along with the 2050 target, the bill proposes the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission. It also adopts the government’s low emissions technology roadmap and would require the government to introduce risk assessment and adaptation plans.

To reach the 2050 target, the bill calls for a process to review the target every five years, and ensure independent advice on five-yearly emissions budgets.

An emissions budget sets the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted over five-year periods — in line with requirements for the Paris Agreement on climate. This is important because the amount of global warming depends on cumulative emissions, not emissions in any one year.

Tracking the sectors

Australia can no longer consider a commitment to a net zero target as a matter of ideology or a moral gesture. Increasingly, it’s simple economic common sense, especially for investors.

In 2019, Geoff Summerhayes from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority pointed out that climate change now constitutes “a legally foreseeable risk facing many different companies in a range of different industries”. As such, the financial sector has an obligation to act.

In 2020, the level of ambition in the superannuation sector rose considerably, with REST super now joining Cbus, HESTA and UniSuper with net zero pledges.




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Similarly, the recent ANZ announcement of “strong action to support the Paris Agreement” signals that all the major banks and insurers are moving away from thermal coal, as the International Energy Agency declares solar energy to be the cheapest source of electricity in history.

Certainly, some sectors of the Australian economy are moving faster than others. Our analysis of 21 major property companies found 90% had set an emissions reduction target, while nearly a third were already committed to net zero.

The local government sector is equally proactive. Over a third of the largest local governments we assessed (representing a fifth of the Australian population) have committed to reaching zero community emissions by or before 2050.

And more than half are acting to reduce their operational (or direct) emissions by, for instance, installing solar panels and switching their vehicle fleet to electric vehicles.

By contrast, our analysis showed the retail and transport sectors have a long way to go before they’re aligned with net zero.

Asking ‘how’, not ‘why’

Even in a historically difficult sector like resources, progress is being made.

BHP, for instance, now says it can flourish under conditions compatible with the Paris Agreement. Rather than posing a problem for business, action to decarbonise the global economy will, it declares, present “opportunities to invest in commodities such as potash, nickel and copper”, which will “provide a strong foundation” for its business.

This shows when it comes to net zero many of Australia’s biggest companies no longer ask “why”, but instead focus on “how”.

In part, that’s because businesses that don’t change know they increasingly risk isolation.

For example, the International Energy Agency said in its annual report that demand for Australian thermal coal has peaked, and renewables will meet 80% of the world’s energy demands in the coming years.

Japan, South Korea and the European Union have committed to reaching net zero by 2050, and US President-elect Joe Biden says his administration will make the same pledge. China also recently committed to reaching net zero by 2060.




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That means the vast majority of Australia’s exports are going to trading partners who have committed to transform their economies.

This will result in a shift in demand from high-carbon products and services, such as thermal coal, towards zero or near zero carbon alternatives, such as renewable hydrogen.

An opportunity, not a threat

Such a demand also presents extraordinary opportunities. The international transition to cleaner economies is a chance for Australia to become a renewable energy superpower.

After all, Australia possesses the world’s third-largest reserves of lithium and currently produces nine of the ten elements required for lithium-ion batteries.

Likewise, by 2030, Australia could be using renewable electricity and water to produce 500,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually, one of the most important commodities of the transition into a clean economy.

Providing certainty to businesses

In tracking the momentum to net zero, we’ve seen the importance of clear targets in raising ambition, encouraging innovation and fostering the deployment of known solutions quickly and at scale.

And a parliamentary commitment to decarbonisation at the federal level, backed by interim targets set every five years, would provide businesses and the public with the certainty they need to plan.




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Many other countries, such as Britain, already have their own climate change acts. So, too, does the state of Victoria.

Across the country, all the state and territory governments have made net zero commitments – and our assessment of local governments found many of them to be taking strong stands, too. It’s time for the federal parliament to get on board.The Conversation

Anna Malos, Project Manager, climate and energy policy, ClimateWorks Australia and Amandine Denis-Ryan, Head of National Programs, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

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

How life-cycle assessments can be (mis)used to justify more single-use plastic packaging



Peter Endig via Getty Images

Trisia Farrelly, Massey University; Hannah Blumhardt, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington, and Takunda Y Chitaka, University of the Western Cape

After banning plastic bags last year, New Zealand now proposes to regulate single-use plastic packaging and to ban various hard-to-recycle plastics and single-use plastic items.

These moves come in response to growing public concern about plastics, increasing volumes of plastic in the environment, mounting evidence of negative environmental and health impacts of plastic pollution and the role plastics play in the global climate crisis.

Addressing plastic packaging is key to reversing these negative trends. It accounts for 42% of all non-fibre plastics produced.

But the plastics industry is pushing back. Industry representatives claim efforts to regulate plastic packaging will have negative environmental consequences because plastic is a lightweight material with a lower carbon footprint than alternatives like glass, paper and metal.

These claims are based on what’s known as life-cycle assessment (LCA). It’s a tool used to measure and compare the environmental impact of materials throughout their life, from extraction to disposal.

Industry arguments to justify plastic packaging

LCA has been used to measure the impact of packaging ever since the Coca-Cola Company commissioned the first comprehensive assessment in 1969.

While independent LCA practitioners may adopt rigorous processes, the method is vulnerable to misuse. According to European waste management consultancy Eunomia, it is limited by the questions it seeks to answer:

Ask inappropriate, misleading, narrow or uninformed questions and the process will only provide answers in that vein.

Industry-commissioned life-cycle assessments often frame single-use plastic packaging positively. These claim plastic’s light weight offsets its harmful impacts on people, wildlife and ecosystems. Some studies are even used to justify the continued expansion of plastics production.




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But plastic can come out looking good when certain important factors are overlooked. In theory, LCA considers a product’s whole-of-life environmental impact. In practice, the scope varies as practitioners select system boundaries at their discretion.

Zero Waste Europe has highlighted that life-cycle assessment for food packaging often omits important considerations. These include the potential toxicity of different materials, or the impact of leakage into the environment. Excluding factors like this gives plastics an unjustified advantage.

Plastic bag floating in the ocean
Life-cycle assessment of plastic packaging fails to account for marine pollution.
Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Researchers have acknowledged the method’s critical failure to account for marine pollution. This is now a priority for the research community, but not the plastics industry.

Even questionable LCA studies carry a veneer of authority in the public domain. The packaging industry capitalises on this to distract, delay and derail progressive plastics legislation. Rebutting industry studies that promote the environmental superiority of plastics is difficult because commissioning a robust LCA is costly and time-consuming.




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Life-cycle assessment and packaging policy

LCA appeals to policymakers aspiring to develop evidence-based packaging policy. But if the limitations are not properly acknowledged or understood, policy can reinforce inaccurate industry narratives.

The Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand report, from the office of the prime minister’s chief science adviser, has been influential in plastics policy in New Zealand.

The report dedicates an entire chapter to LCA. It includes case studies that do not actually take a full life-cycle approach from extraction to disposal. It concedes only on the last page that LCA does not account for the environmental, economic or health impacts of plastics that leak into the environment.

The report also erroneously suggests LCA is “an alternative approach” to the zero-waste hierarchy. In fact, the two tools work best together.

The zero-waste hierarchy prioritises strategies to prevent, reduce and reuse packaging. That’s based on the presumption that these approaches have lower life-cycle impacts than recycling and landfilling.

Dispensers for cereals, nuts and grains in zero waste grocery store
New Zealand has a growing number of zero-waste grocers.
Shutterstock/Ugis Riba

One of LCA’s limitations is that practitioners tend to compare materials already available on the predominantly single-use packaging market. However, an LCA guided by the waste hierarchy would include zero-packaging or reusable packaging systems in the mix. Such an assessment would contribute to sustainable packaging policy.

New Zealand already has growing numbers of zero-waste grocers, supplied by local businesses delivering their products in reusable bulk packaging. We have various reuse schemes for takeaways.

New Zealand is also a voluntary signatory to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which includes commitments by businesses and government to increase reusable packaging by 2025.

Prominent organisations, including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, estimate reusables could replace 30% of single-use plastic packaging by 2040. The Pew report states:

A reduction of plastic production — through elimination, the expansion of consumer reuse options, or new delivery models — is the most attractive solution from environmental, economic and social perspectives.

The plastics industry has misused LCA to argue that attempts to reduce plastic pollution will result in bad climate outcomes. But increasingly, life-cycle assessments that compare packaging types across the waste hierarchy are revealing that this trade-off is mostly a single-use packaging problem.

Policymakers should take life-cycle assessment beyond its industry-imposed straitjacket and allow it to inform zero-packaging and reusable packaging system design. Doing so could help New Zealand reduce plastic pollution, negative health impacts and greenhouse gas emissions.The Conversation

Trisia Farrelly, Senior Lecturer, Massey University; Hannah Blumhardt, Senior Associate at the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington, and Takunda Y Chitaka, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of the Western Cape

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

3 billion animals were in the bushfires’ path. Here’s what the royal commission said (and should’ve said) about them


Ashleigh Best, University of Melbourne; Christine Parker, University of Melbourne, and Lee Godden, University of Melbourne

The Black Summer bushfires were devastating for wildlife, with an estimated three billion wild animals killed, injured or displaced. This staggering figure does not include the tens of thousands of farm animals who also perished.

The bushfire royal commission’s final report, released on October 30, recognised the gravity of the fires’ extraordinary toll on animals.




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It recommended governments improve wildlife rescue arrangements, develop better systems for understanding biodiversity and clarify evacuation options for domestic animals.

While these changes are welcome and necessary, they’re not sufficient. Minimising such catastrophic impacts on wildlife and livestock also means reducing their exposure to these hazards in the first place. And unless we develop more proactive strategies to protect threatened species from disasters, they’ll only become more imperilled.

What the royal commission recommended

The royal commission recognised the need for wildlife rescuers to have swift and safe access to fire grounds.

In the immediate aftermath of the bushfires, some emergency services personnel were confused about the roles and responsibilities of wildlife rescuers. This caused delays in rescue operations.

To address this issue, the royal commission sensibly suggested all state and territory governments integrate wildlife rescue functions into their general disaster planning frameworks. This would improve coordination between different response agencies.




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Another issue raised by the commission was that Australia does not have a comprehensive, central source of information about its native flora and fauna. This is, in part, because species listing processes are fragmented across different jurisdictions.

For example, a marsupial, the white-footed dunnart, is listed as vulnerable in NSW, but is not on the federal government’s list of threatened species.

To better manage and protect wild animals, governments need more complete information on, for example, their range and population, and how climate change threatens them.

As a result, the royal commission recommended governments collect and share more accurate information so disaster response and recovery efforts for wildlife could be more targeted, timely and effective.

A wildlife rescuer holds a koala with burnt feet in a burnt forest
Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk takes a koala to safety on Kangaroo Island.
AAP Image/David Mariuz

Helping animals help themselves

While promising, the measures listed in the royal commission’s final report will only tweak a management system for wildlife already under stress. Current legal frameworks for protecting threatened species are reactive. By the time governments intervene, species have often already reached a turning point.

Governments must act to allow wild animals the best possible chances of escaping and recovering on their own.

This means prioritising the protection and restoration of habitat that allows animals to get to safety. As a World Wildlife Fund report explains, an animal’s ability to flee the fires and find safe, unburnt habitat — such as mesic (moist) refuges in gullies or near waterways — directly influenced their chances of survival.




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Wildlife corridors also assist wild animals to survive and recover from disasters. These connect areas of habitat, providing fast moving species with safe routes along which they can flee from hazards.

And these corridors help slow moving species, such as koalas, to move across affected landscapes after fires. This prevents them from becoming isolated, and enables access to food and water.

Hazard reduction activities, such as removing dry vegetation that fuels fires, were also a focus for the royal commission. These can coexist with habitat conservation when undertaken in ecologically-sensitive ways.

As the commission recognised, Indigenous land and fire management practices are informed by intimate knowledge of plants, animals and landscapes. These practices should be integrated into habitat protection policies in consultation with First Nations land managers.

The commission also suggested natural hazards, such as fire, be counted as a “key threatening process” under national environment law. But it should be further amended to protect vulnerable species under threat from future stressors, such as disasters.




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Governments also need to provide more funding to monitor compliance with this law. Another new World Wildlife Fund report warns that unless it is properly enforced, a further 37 million native animals could be displaced or killed as a result of habitat destruction this decade.

And, as we saw last summer, single bushfire events can push some populations much closer to extinction. For example, the fires destroyed a large portion of the already endangered glossy black-cockatoo’s remaining habitat.

What about pets and farm animals?

Pets and farm animals featured in the commission’s recommendations too.

During the bushfires, certain evacuation centres didn’t cater for these animals. This meant some evacuees chose not to use these facilities because they couldn’t take their animals with them.

To guide the community in future disasters, the commission said plans should clearly identify whether or not evacuation centres can accommodate people with animals.




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Evacuation planning is crucial to effective disaster response. However, it is unfortunately not always feasible to move large groups of livestock off properties at short notice.

For this reason, governments should help landholders to mitigate the risks hazards pose to their herds and flocks. Researchers are already starting to do this by investigating the parts of properties that were burnt during the bushfires. This will help farmers identify the safest paddocks for their animals in future fire seasons.

Disasters are only expected to become more intense and extreme as the climate changes. And if we’re to give our pets, livestock and unique wildlife the best chance at surviving, it’s not enough only to have sound disaster response. Governments must preemptively address the underlying sources of animals’ vulnerability to hazards.




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The Conversation


Ashleigh Best, PhD Candidate and Teaching Fellow, University of Melbourne; Christine Parker, Professor of Law, University of Melbourne, and Lee Godden, Director, Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

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