Research suggests Tony Abbott’s climate views are welcome in the Hunter Valley



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AAP

Vanessa Bowden, University of Newcastle

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott this week drew renewed attention to himself with a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a London-based climate sceptic group, in which he voiced a range of doubts about climate science and policy, and claimed that climate change is “probably doing good”.

The comments might come as no surprise to those familiar with his views. But what’s arguably more surprising is the prevalence of similar opinions among some Australian business leaders.

My research, published this week in the journal Environmental Sociology, features interviews with business leaders in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales – a major coal-producing hub.

It reveals that Abbott’s doubts about the veracity of climate science and its forecast impacts, and his scathing dismissal of those concerned about climate change, have a long history of support among the Hunter Valley’s business leaders.


Read more: A brief history of fossil-fuelled climate denial

Carried out in the lead-up to the implementation of the Gillard Labor government’s price on carbon in 2011, my research sought to understand business leaders’ attitudes to government policies and to climate change more broadly.

I approached 50 chief executives of organisations operating in the Hunter Region, of whom 31 agreed to participate (or had a senior staff member take up the opportunity).

They were asked questions about their views on climate change, how and whether their organisation was responding to the issue, and what they thought about the various political parties’ policies in response to it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, participants’ overwhelming concern was that the economy might decline as a result of climate policies such as pricing carbon.

While some were concerned about climate change, there was almost unanimous opposition to carbon pricing. Given the politics of the time, this too is unremarkable, particularly in light of the success Abbott enjoyed at the 2013 election after pledging to scrap the policy.

What was surprising, however, was the pervasive scepticism among participants about the science of climate change. This is especially the case given that many people now view the debate over whether climate change is happening – and whether it is caused by human activity – as being over.

Moreover, many participants believed that climate scientists were motivated by financial rewards in arguing that climate change is a serious concern.

These beliefs were voiced not only by those in industries like coal, aluminium, and shipping – but echoed by participants from other industries, revealing a deep scepticism of both the discipline and the science of climate change itself.

It is noteworthy that the research was focused on the Hunter Valley and Newcastle, home to the world’s biggest coal port.

Participants also held intensely antagonistic views in relation to the environment movement and the Australian Greens, believing their views were quasi-religious and that they too were self-interested and unrealistic in wanting to tackle climate change.

Striking views

In some ways the extremity of these comments was striking. Although prominent in writings by conservative columnists at the time, the broader debate was much more focused on jobs and the economy.

A small minority of participants did support some type of mechanism to limit greenhouse emissions, and were concerned about the environment.

But more broadly, my research showed that the Hunter Region’s business leaders – whether or not they were directly involved in coal – had taken on board many of the arguments promulgated by the industry in its ultimately successful campaign against carbon pricing in Australia.


Read more: Hashtags v bashtags: a brief history of mining advertisements and their backlashes


These dynamics may have changed a little in recent times, with companies such as AGL and BHP shifting away from coal.

The overall dynamics of the climate politics, however – as revealed in the current stalemate over responding to the Finkel Review – remains out of step with what the climate science is telling us. As, of course, do Abbott’s comments.

The ConversationAbbott’s London speech was interpreted as incendiary, and earned him a sharp rebuke from government colleagues. But when we look at the places where his message might be received more favourably, it becomes apparent there are still pockets of the country where he might expect to find a plentiful and powerful audience.

Vanessa Bowden, Associate Lecture in Social Enquiry, University of Newcastle

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

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After the storm: how political attacks on renewables elevates attention paid to climate change



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AAP/David Mariuz

David Holmes, Monash University

This time last year, Australia was getting over a media storm about renewables, energy policy and climate change. The media storm was caused by a physical storm: a mid-latitude cyclone that hit South Australia on September 29 and set in train a series of events that is still playing itself out.

The events include:

In one sense, the Finkel Review was a response to the government’s concerns about “energy security”. But it also managed to successfully respond to the way energy policy had become a political plaything, as exemplified by the attacks on South Australia.

New research on the media coverage that framed the energy debate that has ensued over the past year reveals some interesting turning points in how Australia’s media report on climate change.

While extreme weather events are the best time to communicate climate change – the additional energy humans are adding to the climate is on full display – the South Australian event was used to attack renewables rather than the carbonisation of the atmosphere. Federal MPs hijacked people’s need to understand the reason for the blackout “by simply swapping climate change with renewables”.

However, the research shows that, ironically, MPs who invited us to “look over here” at the recalcitrant renewables – and not at climate-change-fuelled super-storms – managed to make climate change reappear.

The study searched for all Australian newspaper articles that mentioned either a storm or a cyclone in relation to South Australia that had been published in the ten days either side of the event. This returned 591 articles. Most of the relevant articles were published after the storm, with warnings of the cyclone beforehand.

Some of the standout findings include:

  • 51% of articles were about the power outage and 38% were about renewables, but 12% of all articles connected these two.

  • 20% of articles focused on the event being politicised by politicians.

  • 9% of articles raised climate change as a force in the event and the blackouts.

  • 10% of articles blamed the blackouts on renewables.

  • Of all of the articles linking power outages to renewables 46% were published in News Corp and 14% were published in Fairfax.

  • Narratives that typically substituted any possibility of a link to climate change, included the “unstoppable power of nature” (18%), failure of planning (5.25%), and triumph of humanity (5.6%).

Only 9% of articles discussed climate change. Of these, 73% presented climate change positively, 21% were neutral, and 6% negative. But, for the most part, climate change was linked to the conversation around renewables: there was a 74% overlap. 36% of articles discussing climate change linked it to the intensification of extreme weather events.

There was also a strong correlation between the positive and negative discussion of climate change and the ownership of newspapers.

The starkest contrast was between the two largest Australian newspaper groups. Of all the sampled articles that mentioned climate change, News Corp was the only group to has a negative stance on climate change (at 50% of articles), but still with 38% positive. Fairfax was 90% positive and 10% neutral about climate change.

Positive/negative stance of articles covering climate change by percentage.

Given that more than half of all articles discussed power outages, the cyclone in a sense competed with renewables as a news item. Both have a bearing on power supply and distribution. But, ironically, it was renewables that put climate change on the news agenda – not the cyclone.

Of the articles discussing renewables, 67% were positive about renewables with only 33% “negative” and blaming them for the power outages.

In this way, the negative frame that politicians put on renewable energy may have sparked debate that was used to highlight the positives of renewable energy and what’s driving it: reduced emissions.

But perhaps the most interesting finding is the backlash by news media against MPs’ attempts to politicise renewables.

19.63% of all articles in the sample had called out (mainly federal) MPs for politicising the issue and using South Australians’ misfortune as a political opportunity. This in turn was related to the fact that, of all the articles discussing renewables, 67% were positive about renewables with only 33% supporting MPs’ attempts to blame them for the power outages.

In this way, while many MPs had put renewables on the agenda by denigrating them, most journalists were eager to cover the positive side of renewables.

Nevertheless, the way MPs sought to dominate the news agenda over the storm did take away from discussion of climate science and the causes of the cyclone. Less than 4% of articles referred to extreme weather intensifying as a trend.

This is problematic. It means that, with a few exceptions, Australia’s climate scientists are not able to engage with the public in key periods after extreme weather events.

When MPs, with co-ordinated media campaigns, enjoy monopoly holdings in the attention economy of news cycles, science communication and the stories of climate that could be told are often relegated to other media.


The ConversationWith thanks to Tahnee Burgess for research assistance on this article.

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

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

Tony Abbott, once the ‘climate weathervane’, has long since rusted stuck


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Tonight former Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be in London to give a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, titled “Daring to Doubt”, in which he will reportedly argue that climate policy is “shutting down industries”. (It’s not clear if he’s bought carbon offsets for the 10 tonnes of carbon that a return flight to the UK will release into the atmosphere.)

Whatever talking points and soundbites he presents will inevitably be interpreted as yet another salvo in the Coalition’s ferocious and interminable war over energy and climate policy.


Read more: Two new books show there’s still no goodbye to messy climate politics


The venue is the same one where Abbott’s mentor John Howard U-turned on his earlier climate policy U-turn. In a 2013 speech, Howard disparagingly declared that “one religion is enough”, despite having belatedly pledged in 2006 to introduce an emissions trading scheme, only to lose to Kevin Rudd the following year.

Who are the GWPF anyway?

The Global Warming Policy Foundation was set up in 2009 by Nigel Lawson, who in the 1980s served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (the UK equivalent of treasurer) in Margaret Thatcher’s government, but is arguably more famous these days as Nigella’s dad.

The foundation was founded just days after the first so-called “Climategate” emails were leaked. But after complaints, in 2014 the UK Charity Commission rejected the notion that the organisation provides an educational resource, concluding that:

The [GWPF] website could not be regarded as a comprehensive and structured educational resource sufficient to demonstrate public benefit. In areas of controversy, education requires balance and neutrality with sufficient weight given to competing arguments.

Ahead of the Commission’s report, the Global Warming Policy Forum was born as the organisation’s campaigning arm, free from the regulations that govern charities.

Despite its loud demands for crystal-clear transparency about climate science, and its repeated claims that scientists are swayed by big fat grants, the GWPF is oddly cagey about its own funding. In a 2012 BBC Radio programme, Lawson said he relied on friends who “tend to be richer than the average person and much more intelligent than the average person”. An investigation by the website DeSmog has dug up some more information.

More recently the GWP Forum has been in the news because it appointed a pro-Brexit oil company boss to its board and because in August Lawson appeared on BBC Radio to attack Al Gore, accusing the Nobel prizewinning climate activist of peddling “the same old claptrap” and adding: “People often fail to change and he says he hasn’t changed, he’s like the man who goes around saying ‘the end of the world is nigh’ with a big placard”.


Read more: A brief history of Al Gore’s climate missions to Australia


Lawson wasn’t done. He also claimed that “according to the official figures, during this past 10 years, if anything, mean global temperature, average world temperature, has slightly declined”.

Factcheckers were quick off the mark, and the BBC was chided by, among others, Professor Brian Cox (a year on from bringing his graph to Q&A to try to educate the British-Australian politician Malcolm Roberts).

Days later Lawson admitted that his figures were not from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but from a meteorologist who works for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank founded by Charles Koch.

Abbott the weathervane

Anyway, back to Abbott. Digging around in the archives throws up some amusing surprises about him, as befits a man who has been making headline since 1977. In 1994 an environmental campaign to recreate Tasmania’s Lake Pedder found an unusual ally in the newly minted Member for Warringah, who wrote an article in The Australian that plaintively asked:

If we can renovate old houses and old cars, rejuvenate works of art, recreate forgotten languages and restore degraded bushland, why can’t we rehabilitate the site of a redundant dam?

Abbott seems not to have been particularly exercised by climate policy during the first decade of his parliamentary career. But once the issue hit the top of the political agenda, Abbott was – in his own words to Malcolm Turnbull – “a bit of a weathervane”.

He helped convince Howard to agree to some sort of ETS proposal during the ultimately futile bid to fend off Kevin Rudd in 2007. In July 2009, in a front-page story in The Australian headed “Abbott – we have to vote for ETS”, he was quoted as saying:

The [Rudd] government’s emissions trading scheme is the perfect political response to the public’s fears. It’s a plausible means to limit carbon emissions that doesn’t impose any obvious costs on voters.

However, by September 2009, with Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership on the rocks (remember Godwin Grech?), Abbott made a fateful trip to Beaufort in rural Victoria, and discovered that the room loved him saying “climate change is absolute crap”. The weathervane had made an abrupt about-face.

As Paul Kelly notes in his 2014 opus Triumph and Demise, then-Senator Nick Minchin was crucial in convincing Abbott that there was no serious electoral price to be paid in opposing Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Turnbull was on the ropes, and Abbott won the leadership ballot by one vote. As David Marr recounts, the party was almost as stunned as the nation. “God Almighty,” one of the Liberals cried in the party room that day. “What have we done?”

The ensuing years need no extended recap, though two points are worth mentioning. The first is the admission by Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin that the “carbon tax” that was going to be the end of the world… wasn’t a carbon tax.

The second is that former environment minister Greg Hunt recently rebutted the claim that backbenchers prevented further cuts to the Renewable Energy Target under Abbott’s prime ministership.

Backed into a corner

The upshot is that Abbott has, as Philip Coorey recently observed, totally painted himself into a corner on energy and renewables.

Mind you, it may not matter that much to him, given that his apparent aim is not to “do a Rudd” and return to the helm, but simply to drive a wrecking ball through Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership – with climate and energy policy as collateral damage.


Read more: Coal and the Coalition: the policy knot that still won’t untie


As Abbott accepts another pat on the back from a roomful of climate deniers in London, we may wonder how long business interests in Australia will tolerate his wrecking, undermining and sniping. There is bewilderment and dismay at the destabilising effect on policy.

Among the business lobby, BHP has evidently forced the departure of Brendan Pearson as head of the Minerals Council in protest at the council’s similarly backward stance. That much is within their gift. But with regard to the Coalition government, those businesses can do little but despair at the handful of recalcitrant MPs who have nominated climate policy as the ditch in which they will die, in service of the culture war.

The ConversationThe hot air just doesn’t seem to be letting up, any more than our hot summers will in the future.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

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

The reality of living with 50℃ temperatures in our major cities



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Sydney is facing 50℃ summer days by 2040, new research says.
Andy/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Liz Hanna, Australian National University

Australia is hot. But future extreme hot weather will be worse still, with new research predicting that Sydney and Melbourne are on course for 50℃ summer days by the 2040s if high greenhouse emissions continue. That means that places such as Perth, Adelaide and various regional towns could conceivably hit that mark even sooner.

This trend is worrying, but not particularly surprising given the fact that Australia is setting hot weather records at 12 times the pace of cold ones. But it does call for an urgent response.

Most of us are used to hot weather, but temperatures of 50℃ present unprecedented challenges to our health, work, transport habits, leisure and exercise.


Read more: Health Check: how to exercise safely in the heat


Humans have an upper limit to heat tolerance, beyond which we suffer heat stress and even death. Death rates do climb on extremely cold days, but increase much more steeply on extremely hot ones. While cold weather can be tackled with warm clothes, avoiding heat stress requires access to fans or air conditioning, which is not always available.

The death rate in heat ramps up more rapidly than in cold.
Data from Li et al., Sci. Rep. (2016); Baccini et al., Epidemiol. (2008); McMichael et al., Int. J. Epidemiol. (2008), Author provided

Even with air conditioning, simply staying indoors is not necessarily an option. People must venture outside to commute and shop. Many essential services have to be done in the open air, such as essential services and maintaining public infrastructure.

Roughly 80% of the energy produced during muscular activity is heat, which must be dissipated to the environment, largely through perspiration. This process is far less effective in hot and humid conditions, and as a result the body’s core temperature begins to climb.

We can cope with increased temperatures for short periods – up to about half an hour – particularly those people who are fit, well hydrated and used to hot conditions. But if body temperature breaches 40-42℃ for an extended time, heat stress and death are likely. In hot enough weather, even going for a walk can be deadly.

Air conditioning may not save lives

We expect air conditioning to take the strain, but may not realise just how much strain is involved. Shade temperatures of 50℃ mean that direct sunlight can raise the temperature to 60℃ or 70℃. Bringing that back to a comfortable 22℃ or even a warm 27℃ is not always possible and requires a lot of energy – putting serious strain on the electricity grid.

Electricity transmission systems are inherently vulnerable to extreme heat. This means they can potentially fail simply due to the weather, let alone the increased demand on the grid from power consumers.

Power cuts can cause chaos, including the disruption to traffic signals on roads that may already be made less safe as their surfaces soften in the heat. Interruptions to essential services such as power and transport hamper access to lifesaving health care.

Myopic planning

It’s a dangerous game to use past extremes as a benchmark when planning for the future. The new research shows that our climate future will be very different from the past.

Melbourne’s 2014 heatwave triggered a surge in demand for ambulances that greatly exceeded the number available. Many of those in distress waited hours for help, and the death toll was estimated at 203.

Just last month, parts of New South Wales and Victoria experienced temperatures 16 degrees warmer than the September average, and 2017 is tracking as the world’s second-warmest year on record.

Preparing ourselves

Last year, the Australian Summit on Extreme Heat and Health warned that the health sector is underprepared to face existing heat extremes.

The health sector is concerned about Australia’s slow progress and is responding with the launch of a national strategy for climate, health and well-being. Reinstating climate and health research, health workforce training and health promotion are key recommendations.

There is much more to be done, and the prospect of major cities sweltering through 50℃ days escalates the urgency.


Read more: Climate policy needs a new lens: health and well-being


Two key messages arise from this. The first is that Australia urgently needs to adapt to the extra warming. Heat-wise communities (or “heat-safe communities” in some states) – where people understand the risks, protect themselves and look after each other – are vital to limit harm from heat exposure. The health sector must have the resources to respond to those who succumb. Research, training and health promotion are central.

The second message is that nations across the world need to improve their efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, so as to meet the Paris climate goal of holding global warming to 1.5℃.

The ConversationIf we can do that, we can stave off some of the worst impacts. We have been warned.

Liz Hanna, Honorary Senior Fellow, Australian National University

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

Europe will benefit hugely from keeping global warming to 1.5°C


Andrew King, University of Melbourne

From heatwaves to intense rainfall and severe cold weather, Europe experiences its fair share of weather extremes.

In an open access study, published in Environmental Research Letters, David Karoly and I have found that without limiting global warming, Europe is likely to see even more severe heat, less frequent extreme cold, and more intense rain events.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 aims to limit the global temperature increase to “well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃”, so as to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.


Read more: What is a pre-industrial climate and why does it matter?


Our analysis compares temperature and rainfall extremes under the 1.5℃ and 2℃ levels of global warming, with these same events in the current climate (with global warming of just over 1℃) and a pre-industrial climate.

Hotter, and more frequent, heat extremes

As the world warms up, so does Europe, although more in the Mediterranean and the east and less over Scandinavia and the British Isles.

We studied changes in a few different heat events, including hot summers like the record of 2003 in Central Europe. A blocking high pressure pattern led to persistent sunny hot weather across much of the continent, which dried out the region and enhanced the heat. Temperature records tumbled across the continent, with new national records for daily maximum temperatures in France, the UK and other countries. Previous work has already found a clear human fingerprint in both the event itself and the excess deaths associated with the heat.

Our study projects hot summers like 2003 will become more frequent at 1.5℃ and 2℃ of global warming. At 2℃ of global warming, Central European hot summers like 2003 would very likely occur in most years.

Hot European summers like 2003 become more frequent at higher levels of global warming. Bars show best estimates of the chance of an event per year, with the black lines showing 90% confidence intervals.
Author provided

We also find an increasing likelihood of events like the recent record hot year in Europe in 2016 and the record hot year in Central England in 2014 under the Paris Agreement’s targeted levels of global warming.

… But fewer, and less intense, cold extremes

The December of 2010 was exceptionally cold across the British Isles, as a lack of weather systems crossing the Atlantic allowed air from the north and the east to frequently cross the region. There was a new cold temperature record for Northern Ireland and persistent cold weather across the UK and Ireland, with long runs of sub-zero days. Heavy snowfall caused widespread disruption for days at a time.

A snowy scene at Worcester Cathedral in December 2010.
David King

Our analysis finds that such a cold December was already very unlikely to occur in the current climate, and would be extremely unlikely under either 1.5℃ or 2℃ of global warming. Future cold weather events would still be associated with similar weather patterns, but the background warming in the climate system would make them less intense than in the world of today or under pre-industrial conditions.

When it rains, it pours

We also studied extreme rain events, in particular the heavy rain that led to large-scale flooding in England and Wales in May, June and July of 2007. Low pressure systems passed over the British Isles almost continually for that three-month period, so the rain was falling on already saturated ground. On July 19 and 20 more than 100mm of rain fell on a broad swathe of the English Midlands. This record-breaking rainfall resulted in some of the worst floods in British history.

The River Teme near Worcester, England in flood in July 2007.
David King

Extended rainy periods like May-July 2007 are very rare, and not projected to become more frequent at 1.5℃ or 2℃ of global warming.

However, extreme rainfall days like we saw during that period are projected to become both more frequent and more intense in a warmer world. In a 2℃ world we would expect very heavy rain days to be at least 70% more frequent than in the current climate over the UK and Ireland.

Clear benefits to keeping a lid on global warming

Many of the most costly extreme weather events in Europe, in particular extreme heat and intense rainfall events, are projected to become more common, even at the relatively low levels of global warming that are being targeted under the Paris Agreement.

More frequent heat extremes expected as the globe warms up. Best estimates of the likelihood of extreme events are shown (with 90% confidence intervals in parentheses). T means average temperature and R means total rainfall. TXx and TNn mean the hottest daily maximum and coldest daily minimum, respectively, while Rx1day means the wettest single day.
Author provided

The worst impacts of these events can be avoided through improving the planning and responses for such events, whether it is increasing support for the elderly in France during summer heatwaves or improving flood protection on major rivers in Britain.

However, limiting global warming to 1.5℃, rather than 2℃ or more, would reduce the frequency with which these extreme event responses would need to be implemented.

The ConversationPut simply, to prevent a more extreme future for Europe’s weather, we need to keep the lid on global warming.

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

How TV weather presenters can improve public understanding of climate change



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David Holmes, Monash University

A recent Monash University study of TV weather presenters has found a strong interest from free-to-air presenters in including climate change information in their bulletins.

The strongest trends in the survey, which had a 46% response rate, included:

  • 97% of respondents thought climate change is happening;

  • 97% of respondents believed viewers had either “strong trust” or “moderate trust” in them as a reliable source of weather information;

  • 91% of respondents were comfortable with presenting local historical climate statistics, and just under 70% were comfortable with future local climate projections; and

  • 97% of respondents thought their audiences would be interested in learning about the impacts of climate change.

According to several analyses of where Australians get their news, in the age of ubiquitous social media TV is still the single largest news source.

And when one considers that social media and now apps are increasingly used as the interface for sharing professional content from news organisations – which includes TV news – the reach of TV content is not about to be challenged anytime soon.

The combined audience for primetime free-to-air TV in the five capital city markets alone is a weekly average of nearly 3 million viewers. This does not include those using catch-up on portable devices, and those watching the same news within the pay TV audience. And there are those who are getting many of the same news highlights and clips through their Facebook feeds and app-based push media.

Yet the ever-more oligopolistic TV industry in Australia is very small. And professional weather presenters are a rather exclusive group: there are only 75 such presenters in Australia.

It is because of this, rather than in spite of it, that weather presenters are able to command quite a large following. And they are highly promoted by the networks themselves – on freeway billboards and station advertising. This promotion makes weather presenters among the most trusted media personalities, while simultaneously presenting information that is regarded as apolitical.

At the same time, Australians have a keen interest in talking about weather. It tends to unite us.

These three factors – trust, the impartial nature of weather, and Australian’s enthusiasm for the weather – puts TV presenters in an ideal position to present climate information. Such has been the experience in the US, where the Centre for Climate Change Communication together with Climate Matters have partnered with more than 350 TV weathercasters to present simple, easy-to-process factual climate information.

In the US it is about mainstreaming climate information as factual content delivered by trusted sources. The Climate Matters program found TV audiences value climate information the more locally based it was.

Monash’s Climate Change Communication Research Hub is conducting research as a precondition to establishing such a program in Australia. The next step is to survey the audiences of the free-to-air TV markets in the capital city markets to evaluate Australians’ appetite for creating a short climate segment alongside the weather on at least a weekly basis.

As in the US, TV audiences are noticing more and more extreme weather and want to understand what is causing it, and what to expect in the future.

The Climate Change Communication Research Hub is also involved in creating “climate communications packages” that can be tested with audiences. These are largely based on calendar and anniversary dates, and show long-term trends using these dates as datapoints.

The calendar dates could be sporting dates, or how climate can be understood in relation to a collection of years based on a specific date, or the start of a season for fire or cyclones. There has been so much extreme weather in recent years that there are plenty of anniversaries.

Let’s take November 21, 2016 – the most severe thunderstorm asthma event ever to impact Melbourne. It saw 8,500 presentations to hospital emergency departments and nine tragic deaths.

There is no reason why this event can’t be covered this year in the context of climate as a community service message. As explained in the US program, just a small increase in higher average spring temperatures leads to the production of a higher count of more potent pollen. Also, as more energy is fed into the destructive power of storm systems, the prospect of breaking up pollen and distributing it efficiently throughout population centres is heightened.

The need to be better prepared for thunderstorms in spring is thus greater, even for those who have never had asthma before.

For its data, the Climate Change Communication Research Hub will be relying on the information from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, but will call on the assistance of a wide range of organisations such as the SES, state fire services, and health authorities in conducting its research.

In February 2018, the hub will hold a workshop with TV weather presenters as part of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society conference. At the conference the planning for the project will be introduced, with a pilot to be conducted on one media market to be rolled out to multiple markets in the second year.

The ConversationThe program is not intended to raise the level of concern about climate change, but public understanding of it. As survey after survey shows, Australians are already concerned about climate change. But more information is needed about local and regional impacts that will help people make informed choices about mitigation, adaptation and how to plan their lives – beyond tomorrow’s weather.

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

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

Can two clean energy targets break the deadlock of energy and climate policy?



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Climate policy has become bogged down in the debate over a clean energy target.
Shutterstock

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

Malcolm Turnbull’s government has been wrestling with the prospect of a clean energy target ever since Chief Scientist Alan Finkel recommended it in his review of Australia’s energy system. But economist Ross Garnaut has proposed a path out of the political quagmire: two clean energy targets instead of one.

Garnaut’s proposal is essentially a flexible emissions target that can be adapted to conditions in the electricity market. If electricity prices fail to fall as expected, a more lenient emissions trajectory would likely be pursued.

This proposal is an exercise in political pragmatism. If it can reassure both those who fear that rapid decarbonisation will increase energy prices, and those who argue we must reduce emissions at all costs, it represents a substantial improvement over the current state of deadlock.


Ross Garnaut/Yann Robiou DuPont, Author provided

Will two targets increase investor certainty?

At a recent Melbourne Economic Forum, Finkel pointed out that investors do not require absolute certainty to invest. After all, it is for accepting risks that they earn returns. If there was no risk to accept there would be no legitimate right to a return.

But Finkel also pointed out that investors value policy certainty and predictability. Without it, they require more handsome returns to compensate for the higher policy risks they have to absorb.


Read more: Turnbull is pursuing ‘energy certainty’ but what does that actually mean?


At first sight, having two possible emissions targets introduces yet another uncertainty (the emissions trajectory). But is that really the case? The industry is keenly aware of the political pressures that affect emissions reduction policy. If heavy reductions cause prices to rise further, there will be pressure to soften the trajectory.

Garnaut’s suggested approach anticipates this political reality and codifies it in a mechanism to determine how emissions trajectories will adjust to future prices. Contrary to first impressions, it increases policy certainty by providing clarity on how emissions policy should respond to conditions in the electricity market. This will promote the sort of policy certainty that the Finkel Review has sought to engender.

Could policymakers accept it?

Speaking of political realities, could this double target possibly accrue bipartisan support in a hopelessly divided parliament? Given Tony Abbott’s recent threat to cross the floor to vote against a clean energy target (bringing an unknown number of friends with him), the Coalition government has a strong incentive to find a compromise that both major parties can live with.


Read more: Abbott’s disruption is raising the question: where will it end?


Turnbull and his energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, who we understand are keen to see Finkel’s proposals taken up, could do worse than put this new idea on the table. They have to negotiate with parliamentary colleagues whose primary concern is the impact of household electricity bills on voters, as well as those who won’t accept winding back our emissions targets.

Reassuringly, the government can point to some precedent. Garnaut’s proposal is novel in Australia’s climate policy debate, but is reasonably similar to excise taxes on fuel, which in some countries vary as a function of fuel prices. If fuel prices decline, excise taxes rise, and vice versa. In this way, governments can achieve policy objectives while protecting consumers from the price impacts of those objectives.

The devil’s in the detail

Of course, even without the various ideologies and vested interests in this debate, many details would remain to be worked out. How should baseline prices be established? What is the hurdle to justify a more rapid carbon-reduction trajectory? What if prices tick up again, after a more rapid decarbonisation trajectory has been adopted? And what if prices don’t decline from current levels: are we locking ourselves into a low-carbon-reduction trajectory?

These issues will need to be worked through progressively, but there is no obvious flaw that should deter further consideration. The fundamental idea is attractive, and it looks capable of ameliorating concerns that rapid cuts in emissions will lock in higher electricity prices.

The ConversationFor mine, I would not be at all surprised if prices decline sharply as we begin to decarbonise, such is the staggering rate of technology development and cost reductions in renewable energy. But I may of course be wrong. Garnaut’s proposal provides a mechanism to protect consumers if this turns out to be the case.

Bruce Mountain, Director, Carbon and Energy Markets., Victoria University

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