Their fate isn’t sealed: Pacific nations can survive climate change – if locals take the lead


Rachel Clissold, The University of Queensland; Annah Piggott-McKellar, University of Melbourne; Karen E McNamara, The University of Queensland; Patrick D. Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast; Roselyn Kumar, University of the Sunshine Coast, and Ross Westoby, Griffith University

They contribute only 0.03% of global carbon emissions, but small island developing states, particularly in the Pacific, are at extreme risk to the threats of climate change.

Our study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, provides the first mega-assessment on the progress of community-based adaptation in four Pacific Island countries: the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati and Vanuatu.




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Pacific Island nation communities have always been resilient, surviving on islands in the middle of oceans for more than 3,000 years. We can learn a lot from their adaptation methods, but climate change is an unprecedented challenge.

Effective adaptation is critical for ensuring Pacific Islanders continue living fulfilling lives in their homelands. For Australia’s part, we must ensure we’re supporting their diverse abilities and aspirations.

Short-sighted adaptation responses

Climate change brings wild, fierce and potentially more frequent hazards. In recent months, Cyclone Harold tore a strip through multiple Pacific countries, killing dozens of people, levelling homes and cutting communication lines. It may take Vanuatu a year to recover.

Expert commentary from 2019 highlighted that many adaptation responses in the Pacific have been short-sighted and, at times, even inadequate. The remains of failed seawalls, for example, litter the shorelines of many island countries, yet remain a popular adaptive solution. We cannot afford another few decades of this.




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International climate aid commitments from rich western countries barely scratch the surface of what’s needed, yet it’s likely funding will dry up for regions like the Pacific as governments scramble together money for their own countries’ escalating adaptation costs.

This includes Australia, that has long been, and continues to be, the leading donor to the region. Our government contributed about 40% of total aid between 2011 and 2017 and yet refuses to take meaningful action on climate change.

Understanding what successful adaptation should look like in developing island states is urgent to ensure existing funding creates the best outcomes.

Success stories

Our findings are based on community perspectives. We documented what factors lead to success and failure and what “best practice” might really look like.

We asked locals about the appropriateness, effectiveness, equity, impact and sustainability of the adaptation initiatives, and used this feedback to determine their success.




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The results were mixed. While our success stories illustrate what “best practice” involves, issues still emerged.

Our top two success stories centred on community efforts to protect local marine ecosystems in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu. Nearby communities rely on these ecosystems for food, income and for supporting cultural practice.

One initiative focused on establishing a marine park with protected areas while the other involved training in crown-of-thorns starfish control. As one person told us:

we think it’s great […] we see the results and know it’s our responsibility.

Initiatives that focus on both the community and the ecosystem support self-sufficiency, so the community can maintain the initiatives even after external bodies leave and funding ceases.

Pele Island, Vanuatu. Can you see coral in the water? The community initiative was aiming to protect this coral ecosystem from crown-of-thorns starfish.
Karen McNamara, Author provided

In these two instances, the “community” was expanded to the whole island and to anyone who utilised local ecosystems, such as fishers and tourism operators.

Through this, benefits were accessible to all: “all men, all women, all pikinini [children],” we were told.

Standing the test of time

In Vanuatu, the locals deemed two initiatives on raising climate change awareness as successful, with new scientific knowledge complementing traditional knowledge.

And in the Federated States of Micronesia, locals rated two initiatives on providing tanks for water security highly. This initiative addressed the communities’ primary concerns around clean water, but also had impact beyond merely climate-related vulnerabilities.

This was a relatively simple solution that also improved financial security and minimised pollution because people no longer needed to travel to other islands to buy bottled water.

Aniwa, Vanuatu. A communal building in the village has a noticeboard, put up as part of one of the climate-awareness raising initiatives.
Rachel Clissold, Author provided

But even among success stories, standing the test of time was a challenge.

For example, while these water security initiatives boosted short-term coping capacities, they weren’t flexible for coping with likely future changes in drought severity and duration.




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Adaptation needs better future planning, especially by those who understand local processes best: the community.

Listening to locals

For an adaptation initiative to be successful, our research found it must include:

  1. local approval and ownership

  2. shared access and benefit for community members

  3. integration of local context and livelihoods

  4. big picture thinking and forward planning.

To achieve these, practitioners and researchers need to rethink community-based adaptation as more than being simply “based” in communities where ideas are imposed on them, but rather as something they wholly lead.

Communities must acknowledge and build on their strengths and traditional values, and drive their own adaptation agendas – even if this means questioning well-intentioned foreign agencies.

Being good neighbours

Pacific Islands are not passive, helpless victims, but they’ll still need help to deal with climate change.

Pacific Island leaders need more than kind words from Australian leaders.




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Last year, Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, took to Facebook to remind Australia:

by working closely together, we can turn the tides in this battle – the most urgent crisis facing not only the Pacific, but the world.

Together, we can ensure that we are earthly stewards of Fiji, Australia, and the ocean that unites us.

Together, we can pass down a planet that our children are proud to inherit.The Conversation

Rachel Clissold, Researcher, The University of Queensland; Annah Piggott-McKellar, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Melbourne; Karen E McNamara, Associate professor, The University of Queensland; Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast; Roselyn Kumar, , University of the Sunshine Coast, and Ross Westoby, Research Fellow, Griffith University

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

Climate Explained: what Earth would be like if we hadn’t pumped greenhouse gases into the atmosphere



OSORIOartist/Shutterstock

Laura Revell, University of Canterbury


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

This week, Climate Explained answers two similar questions.

If humans had not contributed to greenhouses gases in any way at all, what would the global temperature be today, compared to the 1800s before industrialisation?

and

My question is what happens when all the greenhouse gases are eliminated? What keeps the planet from cooling past a point that is good?

Earth’s atmosphere is a remarkably thin layer of gases that sustain life.

The diameter of Earth is 12,742km and the atmosphere is about 100km thick. If you took a model globe and wrapped it up, a single sheet of tissue paper would represent the thickness of the atmosphere.

The gases that make up Earth’s atmosphere are mostly nitrogen and oxygen, and small quantities of trace gases such as argon, neon, helium, the protective ozone layer and various greenhouse gases – so named because they trap heat emitted by Earth.

The most abundant greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere is water vapour – and it is this gas that provides the natural greenhouse effect. Without this and the naturally occurring quantities of other greenhouse gases, Earth would be about 33℃ colder and uninhabitable to life as we know it.

Changing Earth’s atmosphere

Since pre-industrial times, human activities have led to the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from about 280 parts per million (ppm) before the first industrial revolution some 250 years ago, to a new high since records began of just over 417ppm. As a result of continued increases, the global average temperature has climbed by just over 1℃ since pre-industrial times.




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While these long-lived greenhouse gases have raised Earth’s average surface temperature, human activities have altered atmospheric composition in other ways as well. Particulate matter in the atmosphere, such as soot and dust, can cause health problems and degrades air quality in many industrialised and urban regions.

Particulate matter can partially offset greenhouse gas warming, but its climate effects depend on its composition and geographical distribution. Climate in the southern hemisphere has also been affected by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which led to the development of the Antarctic ozone hole.

If people had not altered the composition of the atmosphere at all through emitting greenhouse gases, particulate matter and ozone-destroying CFCs, we would expect the global average temperature today to be similar to the pre-industrial period – although some short-term variation associated with the Sun, volcanic eruptions and internal variability would still have occurred.




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


In a world that is about 1℃ warmer than during pre-industrial times, New Zealand is already facing the environmental and economic costs associated with climate change. The former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, argues that with trillions of dollars being spent around the world in economic stimulus packages following the COVID-19 pandemic, we need strong commitments to a low-carbon future if the world is to limit warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels.

What needs to happen

Greenhouse gases have long lifetimes – about a decade for methane and hundreds to thousands of years for carbon dioxide. We will need to reduce emissions aggressively over a sustained period, until their abundance in the atmosphere starts to decline.

When New Zealand entered the Level 4 coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, almost two weeks passed (the incubation period of the virus) before the number of new cases started to decline. Waiting for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to decrease, even while we reduce emissions, will be similar, except we’ll be waiting for decades.

It is very unlikely that we could ever reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to the point that it becomes dangerous for life as we know it. Doing so would involve overcoming the natural greenhouse effect.

Recent research into greenhouse gas emission scenarios provides guidance on what will need to happen to stabilise Earth’s temperature at 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels. A rapid transition away from fossil fuels toward low-carbon energy is imperative; some form of carbon dioxide capture to remove it from the atmosphere may also be necessary.

Short-term and scattered climate policy will not be sufficient to support the transitions we need, and achieving 1.5℃ will not be possible as long as global inequalities remain high.The Conversation

Laura Revell, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Physics, University of Canterbury

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

If we could design JobKeeper within weeks, we can exit coal by 2030. Here’s how to do it



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John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

As we emerge from the lockdown phase of the pandemic, there are many lessons to learn. One is that when given credible warning of an existential threat, it is better to act early and risk doing too much than to delay acting and face a much bigger and harder to solve problem when the warnings turn out to be correct.

While the pandemic will pass, one way or another, the problem of global heating, and its many consequences, is going to be with us for the rest of our lives, and those of our children and grandchildren.

Already the world has had decades of warnings, and has done little to heed them.

To hold the increase in global temperatures to 2⁰C, the world needs to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 25% over the next decades, and cut them to zero by 2050.




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Current commitments are inadequate to achieve this.

In Australia’s case, the unjustified use of “carryover credits” means the government is actually proposing an increase in emissions over the next decade, with even larger increases likely in the future.

Quite simply, there is no way of prevent catastrophic climate change unless we stop burning coal to generate electricity, and do it sooner rather than later.

We need to switch 20-25,000 jobs

As of 2020, coal-fired electricity generation is the only major use of carbon-based fuels for which we have a well-developed and affordable alternatives.

For most other uses of carbon-based fuels, alternatives rely on using electricity, as in the case of electric vehicles and “green” hydrogen.

These alternatives are helpful only if the electricity that powers them is coal-free.




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But in Australia, any move to break with thermal coal runs up against the claim that jobs in coal mining and coal-fired power are essential for workers and for communities.

It is a claim I examine in a new report published by the Australia Institute entitled Getting off coal: Economic and social policies to manage the phase-out of thermal coal in Australia.

It finds that a transition from thermal coal mining could be managed fairly, without significant job losses and while protecting coal-dependent regions.

25,000 is not a big number

Contrary to widespread perceptions, thermal coal mining is not a major employer, and most workers in the industry are not miners in the ordinary understanding of the term.

According to the latest Labour Force Survey, in February 2020 coal mining employed about 43 300 people, down from a peak of 60 000 in 2012.

Since Australia’s coal output is roughly evenly divided between coking and thermal coal, it seems likely that about 20-25,000 are employed producing the thermal coal that is used for heating and electricity generation.

This compares with a Bureau of Statistics estimate of about 26,850 in renewable energy. A successful transition to a decarbonised electricity sector would require at least a doubling of the current growth rate of renewables, implying more than 26 000 new jobs.

Many of the jobs are transferable

Many of the people employed in coal mining in February 2020 were not miners in the ordinary sense of the term. About 14% worked in white collar (managerial, professional and clerical) jobs.

A large portion of the remainder, such as carpenters, truck drivers and labourers, worked in trades not tied to mining.

The exception is the category known as Drillers, Miners and Shot Firers, which accounts for about 20% of total mining employment. If the same proportion applies in coal mining, there would be around 5,000 specialist drillers, miners and shot firers in producing thermal coal.

A transition program for these workers could be funded for less than the government’s recently announced HomeBuilder.

The wages high, but the conditions are bad

Advocates of coal mining point out that coal mining generally pays higher wages than other industries, including the renewable energy industry. This partly reflects high levels of unionisation, which could be encouraged more broadly.

More significant is probably its reliance on socially destructive fly-in, fly-out working arrangements, which necessitate high wages to offset family separations.

An indication that the wages earned by workers in the mining industry represent
compensation for poor conditions can be derived from evidence on workforce turnover.

The mining industry is characterised by annual turnover of 20% to 30%, substantially higher than that for the labour market as a whole.

And much of the employment isn’t local

Largely because of fly-in, fly-out, the number of communities that depend on coal as the primary source of their local employment is small.

Moreover, in many cases, these communities, such as those of the Bowen Basin, are well endowed with solar and wind resources.

With appropriate planning (instead of the current chaos in electricity policy) these communities could be given priority in the development of utility-scale solar and wind generation, along with the necessary transmission links.

The result might be be a net gain in local employment.




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On Monday the Minerals Council of Australia announced a Climate Action Plan, proclaiming the need for action to reduce the risks of human-induced climate change and expressing support for “world-wide decarbonisation”.

What it did not do was suggest that the 25,000 or so Australians who work in coal mining could be switched to other industries.

That has been the conventional wisdom for some time – that a switch of 25,000 jobs from one industry to another would be too much for Australia to handle.

Yet when the coronavirus hit, we shut down industries employing three million Australians overnight, and dealt with the economic consequences impressively.

We have demonstrated our capacity to do the same for the much more dangerous, if less immediate, risk of catastrophic climate change.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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

How to cut your fuel bill, clear the air and reduce emissions: stop engine idling



shutterstock.

Robin Smit, University of Technology Sydney and Clare Walter, The University of Queensland

The transport sector is Australia’s second-largest polluter, pumping out almost 20% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. But everyday drivers can make a difference.

In particular, the amount of time you let your car engine idle can have a significant impact on emissions and local air quality. Engine idling is when the car engine is running while the vehicle is stationary, such as at a red light.

Opting for a bike is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Shutterstock

A new Transport Energy/Emission Research report found in normal traffic conditions, Australians likely idle more than 20% of their drive time.

This contributes 1% to 8% of total carbon dioxide emissions over the journey, depending on the vehicle type. To put that into perspective, removing idling from the journey would be like removing up to 1.6 million cars from the road.




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Excessive idling (idling for longer than five minutes) could increase this contribution further, particularly for trucks and buses. When you also consider how extensive idling may create pollution hot spots around schools, this isn’t something to take lightly.

Pollution hot spots

Reducing idling doesn’t just lower your carbon footprint, it can also lower your fuel costs up to 10% or more.

Drivers simply have to turn their engines off while parked and wait in their vehicle. Perhaps crack open a window to maintain comfortable conditions, rather than switching on the air conditioner.

Some idling is unavoidable such as waiting for a traffic light or driving in congested conditions, but other idling is unnecessary, such as while parked.




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When many cars are idling in the same location, it can create poor local air quality. For example, idling has been identified overseas as a significant factor in higher pollution levels in and around schools. That’s because parents or school buses don’t turn off their engines when they drop off their kids or wait for them outside.

Parked you car? Turn off the engine.
Shutterstock

Even small reductions in vehicle emissions can have health benefits, such as reducing asthma, allergies and systemic inflammation in Australian children. In 2019, Australian researchers identified that even small increases of exposure to vehicle pollution were associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma and reduced lung function.

Anti-idling campaigns make a difference

Overseas studies show anti-idling campaigns and driver education can help improve air quality around schools, with busses and passenger cars switching off their engines more frequently.

In the US and Canada, local and state governments have enacted voluntary or mandatory anti-idling legislation, to address complaints and reduce fuel use, emissions and noise.

The results have been promising. In California, a range of measures – including anti-idling policies – aimed at reducing school children’s exposure to vehicle emissions were linked to the development of larger, healthier lungs in children.




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But in Australia, we identified almost no anti-idling initiatives or idle reduction legislation, despite calls for them in 2017.

However, “eco-driving”, as well as a promising new campaign called “Idle Off” is poised to roll out to secondary school students in Australia.

What about commercial vehicles?

Commercial vehicles can idle for long periods of time. In the US, typical long-haul trucks idle an estimated 1,800 hours per year when parked at truck stops, although a significant range of between 1,000 and 2,500 hours per year has also been reported.




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Fleet operators and logistics companies are therefore in a good position to roll out idle reduction initiatives and save on operating (fuel) costs while reducing emissions.

In fact, fleet operators overseas have actively sought to reduce idling emissions. This is not surprising as fuel costs are the second-largest expense for fleets, behind driver wages, typically accounting for 20% of a trucking fleet’s total operating costs.

The transport sector contributes 18.8% of Australia’s total emissions.
Shutterstock

Various technologies are available overseas that reduce idling emissions, such as stop-start systems, anti-idling devices (trucks) and battery electric vehicles.

But unlike other developed countries, Australia doesn’t have fuel efficiency or carbon dioxide emission standards. This means vehicle manufacturers have no incentive to include idle reduction technologies (or other fuel-saving technologies) in vehicles sold in Australia.

For example, the use of stop-start systems is rapidly growing overseas, but it’s unclear how many stop-start systems are used in new Australian cars.

Emission reduction technologies also come with extra costs for the vehicle manufacturer, making them less appealing, although cost benefits of reduced fuel use would pass on to consumers. This situation probably won’t change unless mandatory emission standards are implemented.

In any case, it’s easy for drivers to simply turn the key and shut down the engine when suitable. Reducing idling doesn’t require technologies.

Reducing your carbon footprint

If reducing emissions or saving money at the fuel bowser is not enough incentive, then perhaps, in time, exposing children to unnecessary idling emissions will be regarded in the same socially unacceptable light as smoking around children.




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And of course, there are other measures to reduce your transport carbon footprint. Drive a smaller car, and avoid diesel cars. Despite their reputation, Australian diesel cars emit, on average, about 10% more carbon dioxide per kilometre than petrol cars.

Or better yet, where possible, dust off that push bike, or walk.The Conversation

Robin Smit, Adjunct associate professor, University of Technology Sydney and Clare Walter, PhD Candidate, Honorary Research Fellow, Advocacy Consultant., The University of Queensland

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

Australia’s devotion to coal has come at a huge cost. We need the government to change course, urgently



AAP/Lukas Coch

Judith Brett, La Trobe University

Because we are rich in coal and gas, Australia has been plagued with two decades of wars over climate policy. The wars have claimed three prime ministers: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull. They have also, in the words of journalist Alan Kohler,

ruined Australia’s ability to conduct any kind of sensible discussion about economic policy and to achieve consensus on anything.

The response to the pandemic shows that consensus and effective, evidence-based policy are not impossible for Australia’s politicians. Faced with a crisis of life and death, they can put aside ideology and stare down vested interests.

The optimists among us hope they can do this with the life and death crises humanity is facing as the planet heats, and that the terrible fires last summer will have convinced our leaders climate change is real, and effective action urgent. So far, the calls for urgent action are louder from business than from political leaders. Innes Willox, the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, has linked restoring growth after the pandemic to the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The federal government, by contrast, is championing gas as a “transition fuel” between coal and renewables. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s handpicked chair of the National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission, Nev Power, has strong links to the gas industry.

Calling gas a “transition fuel” at least admits the need for a transition. But gas also contributes to the planet’s heating, and the federal government has no plausible plan to meet Australia’s Paris target, nor to ramp it up, which must be done for a safe future.




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The grip that coal and gas has on our political elites goes back to the 1960s, when minerals replaced wool as the mainstay of our commodity exports. Iron ore and coal led the way.

About the same time, mining’s social licence was being challenged by Indigenous Australians, who objected to mining on their traditional lands, and by environmentalists concerned about mining’s destructive impact on natural habitats. The miners’ response was a concerted public relations campaign to align their interests with the national interest by convincing Australians their prosperity depended on mining and should not be curtailed.

In this, the miners have been spectacularly successful. First, in the 1980s, they stymied the implementation of the Hawke Labor government’s plan for uniform land rights legislation, which would include protection of sacred sites, the right to royalties and a veto over mining on Indigenous land.

In Australia, unlike other common law countries, the Crown owns the minerals, so the veto would have given Indigenous owners more rights than freehold owners. Miners launched a furious public campaign centred on the argument that Indigenous Australians should not have special rights.

A decade later, after the High Court determined in the Mabo and Wik judgements that forms of native title had survived European settlement, the miners fought again to make sure the resulting legislation did not include any veto over mining; and it didn’t.

Second, they have delayed effective government action on climate change. At the end of the century, as pressure mounted for a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, Australia’s coal producers organised to prevent the federal government from signing international agreements to reduce carbon emissions. Their core argument was that mining underpinned Australia’s wealth, but they also spread scepticism about climate change amongst conservative elites, turning it into an identity marker for the Australian right.

Under John Howard, fossil fuel advocates gained extraordinary access to government decision-making on climate and energy policy. This access was not given to environmental non-government organisations (NGOs) or climate scientists. So much for balance.

The power of the fossil fuel lobby was weaker after Howard lost the 2007 election. Later, it was unable to prevent the Gillard government from implementing a price on carbon and establishing a series of agencies to advance action on climate change.

But with Tony Abbott as prime minister, the industry’s power was back. Scepticism about climate science spread to science and expertise generally, undermining the federal government’s commitment to innovation and research. The fossil fuel lobby is not solely to blame for the Coalition’s philistinism under Abbott, but it bears some responsibility for its self-interested spreading of climate scepticism.




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The mining lobby’s third success has been to capture the National Party and turn it into the party of coal and coal seam gas, even when extracting these destroys the good agricultural land on which our food security depends. This is an astonishing achievement.

In March 2019, on Network 10’s The Project, Waleed Aly asked Nationals leader Michael McCormack

Could you name a single, big policy area where the Nats have sided with the interests of farmers over the interests of miners when they come into conflict?

Off the top of his head, McCormack could not name one. Mining has so successfully aligned itself with perceptions of the national interest that the National Party now champions the jobs of miners more energetically than the livelihoods of the farmers it once regarded as the heart of the nation.

The biggest lesson from the pandemic is that governments are our risk managers of last resort. Ours, both state and federal, have been prepared to inflict massive economic pain on businesses and individuals to protect our health, and we are grateful.

As we face the much larger but more slow-moving crisis of the heating planet, governments must stare down the fossil fuel industry and its supporters, for all our sakes, even if this inflicts on them some economic pain.

If they can do it for the pandemic, they can do it for climate change.

Judith Brett’s Quarterly Essay, The Coal Curse, is out today.The Conversation

Judith Brett, Emeritus Professor of Politics, La Trobe University

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

The number of climate deniers in Australia is more than double the global average, new survey finds



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Caroline Fisher, University of Canberra and Sora Park, University of Canberra

Australian news consumers are far more likely to believe climate change is “not at all” serious compared to news users in other countries. That’s according to new research that surveyed 2,131 Australians about their news consumption in relation to climate change.

The Digital News Report: Australia 2020 was conducted by the University of Canberra at the end of the severe bushfire season during January 17 and February 8, 2020.




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It also found the level of climate change concern varies considerably depending on age, gender, education, place of residence, political orientation and the type of news consumed.

Young people are much more concerned than older generations, women are more concerned than men, and city-dwellers think it’s more serious than news consumers in regional and rural Australia.

15% don’t pay attention to climate change news

More than half (58%) of respondents say they consider climate change to be a very or extremely serious problem, 21% consider it somewhat serious, 10% consider it to be not very and 8% not at all serious.

Out of the 40 countries in the survey, Australia’s 8% of “deniers” is more than double the global average of 3%. We’re beaten only by the US (12%) and Sweden (9%).

While most Australian news consumers think climate change is an extremely or very serious problem (58%), this is still lower than the global average of 69%. Only ten countries in the survey are less concerned than we are.

Strident critics in commercial media

There’s a strong connection between the brands people use and whether they think climate change is serious.

More than one-third (35%) of people who listen to commercial AM radio (such as 2GB, 2UE, 3AW) or watch Sky News consider climate change to be “not at all” or “not very” serious, followed by Fox News consumers (32%).

This is perhaps not surprising when some of the most strident critics of climate change science can be found on commercial AM radio, Sky and Fox News.

Among online brands, those who have the highest concern about climate change are readers of The Conversation (94%) and The Guardian Australia (93%), which reflects their audiences are more likely left-leaning and younger.




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More than half of Australians get their information about climate change from traditional news sources (TV 28%, online 17%, radio 5%, newspapers 4%).

However, 15% of Australians say they don’t pay any attention to news about climate change. This lack of interest is double the global average of 7%. Given climate change impacts everyone, this lack of engagement is troubling and reflects the difficulty in Australia to gain political momentum for action.

The polarised nature of the debate

The data show older generations are much less interested in news about climate change than news in general, and younger people are much more interested in news about climate change than other news.




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News consumers in regional Australia are also less likely to pay attention to news about climate change. One fifth (21%) of regional news consumers say they aren’t interested in climate change information compared to only 11% of their city counterparts.

Given this survey was conducted during the bushfire season that hit regional and rural Australia hardest, these findings appear surprising at first glance.

But it’s possible the results simply reflect the ageing nature of regional and rural communities and a tendency toward more conservative politics. The report shows 27% of regional and rural news consumers identify as right-wing compared to 23% of city news consumers.

And the data clearly reflect the polarised nature of the debate around climate change and the connection between political orientation, news brands and concern about the issue. It found right-wing news consumers are more likely to ignore news about climate change than left-wing, and they’re less likely to think reporting of the issue is accurate.

Regardless of political orientation, only 36% of news consumers think climate change reporting is accurate. This indicates low levels of trust in climate change reporting and is in stark contrast with trust in COVID-19 reporting, which was much higher at 53%.

The findings also point to a significant section of the community that simply don’t pay attention to the issue, despite the calamitous bushfires.

This presents a real challenge to news organisations. They must find ways of telling the climate change story to engage the 15% of people who aren’t interested, but are still feeling its effects.

19% want news confirming their worldview

Other key findings in the Digital News Report: Australia 2020 include:

  • the majority of Australian news consumers will miss their local news services if they shut down: 76% would miss their local newspaper, 79% local TV news, 81% local radio news service and 74% would miss local online news offerings

  • more than half (54%) of news consumers say they prefer impartial news, but 19% want news that confirms their worldview

  • two-thirds (62%) of news consumers say independent journalism is important for society to function properly

  • around half (54%) think journalists should report false statements from politicians and about one-quarter don’t

  • news consumption and news sharing have increased since 2019, but interest in news has declined

  • only 14% continue to pay for online news, but more are subscribing rather than making one-off donations

  • TV is still the main source of news for Australians but continues to fall.

The ‘COVID-trust-bump’

In many ways these findings, including those on climate change reporting, reflect wider trends. Our interest in general news has been falling, along with our trust.

This changed suddenly with COVID-19 when we saw a big rise in coverage specifically about the pandemic. Suddenly, the news was relevant to everyone, not just a few.

We suspect that key to the “COVID-trust-bump” was the news media adopting a more constructive approach to reporting on this issue. Much of the sensationalism, conflict and partisanship that drives news – particularly climate change news – was muted and instead important health information from authoritative sources guided the coverage.

This desire for impartial and independent news is reflected in the new report. The challenge is getting people to pay for it.The Conversation

Caroline Fisher, Co-author of the Digital News Report: Australia 2020, Deputy Director of the News and Media Research Centre, and Assistant Professor of Journalism, University of Canberra and Sora Park, Lead Author of Digital News Report: Australia 2020, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Arts & Design, University of Canberra

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

Pass the shiraz, please: how Australia’s wine industry can adapt to climate change



Victor Fraile/Reuters

Gabi Mocatta, University of Tasmania; Rebecca Harris, University of Tasmania, and Tomas Remenyi, University of Tasmania

Many Australians enjoy a glass of homegrown wine, and A$2.78 billion worth is exported each year. But hotter, drier conditions under climate change means there are big changes ahead for our wine producers.

As climate scientists and science communicators, we’ve been working closely with the wine industry to understand the changing conditions for producing quality wine in Australia.




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We created a world-first atlas to help secure Australia’s wine future. Released today, Australia’s Wine Future: A Climate Atlas shows that all 71 wine regions in Australia must adapt to hotter conditions.

Cool wine regions such as Tasmania, for example, will become warmer. This means growers in that state now producing pinot noir and chardonnay may have to transition to varieties suited to warmer conditions, such as shiraz.

Australian wine regions will become hotter under climate change.
AAP

Hotter, drier conditions

Our research, commissioned by Wine Australia, is the culmination of four years of work. We used CSIRO’s regional climate model to give very localised information on heat and cold extremes, temperature, rainfall and evaporation over the next 80 years.

The research assumed a high carbon emissions scenario to 2100, in line with Earth’s current trajectory.

From 2020, the changes projected by the climate models are more influenced by climate change than natural variability.

Temperatures across all wine regions of Australia will increase by about 3℃ by 2100. Aridity, which takes into account rainfall and evaporation, is also projected to increase in most Australian wine regions. Less frost and more intense heatwaves are expected in many areas.




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By 2100, growing conditions on Tasmania’s east coast, for example, will look like those currently found in the Coonawarra region of South Australia – a hotter and drier region where very different wines are produced.

That means it may get harder to grow cool-climate styles of varieties such as chardonnay and pinot noir.

Some regions will experience more change than others. For example, the Alpine Valleys region on the western slopes of the Victorian Alps, and Pemberton in southwest Western Australia, will both become much drier and hotter, influencing the varietals that are most successfully grown.

A map showing current average growing season temperature across Australia’s 71 wine regions.
Authors provided

Other regions, such as the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, will not dry out as much. But a combination of humidity and higher temperatures will expose vineyard workers in those regions to heat risk on 40-60 days a year – most of summer – by 2100. That figure is currently about 10 days a year, up from 5 days historically.

Grape vines are very adaptable and can be grown in a variety of conditions, such as arid parts of southern Europe. So while adaptations will be needed, our projections indicate all of Australia’s current wine regions will be suitable for producing wine out to 2100.

Lessons for change

Australia’s natural climate variability means wine growers are already adept at responding to change. And there is much scope to adapt to future climate change.

In some areas, this will mean planting vines at higher altitudes, or on south facing slopes, to avoid excessive heat. In future, many wine regions will also shift to growing different grape varieties. Viticultural practices may change, such as training vines so leaves shade grapes from heat. Growers may increase mulching to retain soil moisture, and areas that currently practice dryland farming may need to start irrigating.

The atlas enables climate information and adaptation decisions to be shared across regions. Growers can look to their peers in regions currently experiencing the conditions they will see in future, both in Australia and overseas, to learn how wines are produced there.

If our wine industry adapts to climate change, Australians can continue to enjoy homegrown wine.
James Gourley/AAP

Industries need not die on the vine

Agriculture industries such as wine growing are not the only ones that need fine-scale climate information to manage their climate risk. Forestry, water management, electricity generation, insurance, tourism, emergency management authorities and Defence also need such climate modelling, specific to their operations, to better prepare for the future.

The world has already heated 1℃ above the pre-industrial average. Global temperatures will continue to rise for decades, even if goals under the Paris climate agreement are met.

If Earth’s temperature rise is kept below 1.5℃ or even 2℃ this century, many of the changes projected in the atlas could be minimised, or avoided altogether.

Australia’s wine industry contributes A$45 billion to our economy and supports about 163,000 jobs. Decisions taken now on climate resilience will dictate the future of this critical sector.




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The Conversation


Gabi Mocatta, Research Fellow in Climate Change Communication, Climate Futures Programme, University of Tasmania; Rebecca Harris, Senior lecturer, Manager, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, and Tomas Remenyi, Climate Research Fellow, Climate Futures Programme, University of Tasmania

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

Putting stimulus spending to the test: 4 ways a smart government can create jobs and cut emissions



Flickr/Greenfleet Australia

Thomas Longden, Australian National University; Frank Jotzo, Australian National University, and Zeba Anjum, Australian National University

The COVID-19 recession is coming, and federal and state governments are expected to spend more money to stimulate economic growth. Done well, this can make Australia’s economy more productive, improve quality of life and help the low-carbon transition.

In a paper released today, we’ve developed criteria to help get this investment right. The idea is to stimulate the economy in a way that creates lasting economic value, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and brings broader social benefits.

An Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) outlook report released this week predicts an economic slump this year in Australia and globally.

Governments will be called on to invest. In this article, we investigate how stimulus spending on infrastructure can simultaneously achieve environmental, economic and social goals.

Stimulus spending can help the economy, the environment and the community.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Best practice

Europe has already embraced a “green stimulus”. For example, Germany plans to spend almost one-third of its €130 billion stimulus package on renewable power, public transport, building renovations and developing the hydrogen and electric car industries.

In response to the pandemic, New South Wales and Victoria produced criteria for priority stimulus projects which include environmental considerations.

Whether the federal government will follow suit is unclear.




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Most federal stimulus spending has been on short-term JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, plus the HomeBuilder scheme that will largely benefit the construction industry and those who can afford home improvements.

So how should governments decide what to prioritise in a COVID-19 stimulus package?

Our criteria

We developed a set of criteria to guide stimulus spending. We did this by comparing ten proposals and studies, including current proposals by international organisations and think tanks, and research papers on fiscal stimulus spending after the 2008 global financial crisis. Synthesising this work, we identified nine criteria and assessment factors, shown below.

Before the pandemic hit, Infrastructure Australia and other organisations had already identified projects and programs that were strong candidates for further funding.

We applied our criteria to a range of program/project categories to compare how well they perform in terms of achieving economic, social and environmental goals. We did not assess particular programs and projects.

The four most promising categories for public investment are shown in this table, and further analysed below.

1. Renewable energy and transmission

The electricity system of the future will be based on wind and solar power – now the cheapest way of producing energy from new installations. Australia’s renewables investment boom may be tailing off, and governments could step in.

The Australian Energy Market Operator, in its 2018 Integrated System Plan, assessed 34 candidate sites for Renewable Energy Zones – which are places with great wind and solar potential, suitable land and access to the grid.




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The NSW government has committed to three such zones. These could be fast-tracked, and other states could do the same.

Investment in power transmission lines is needed to better connect these zones to the grid. It’s clear where they should go. Governments could shortcut the normally lengthy approval, planning and commercial processes to get these projects started while the economy is weak.

Now is a good time for governments to invest in large-scale renewable energy.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

2. Energy efficiency in buildings

There’s a strong economic, social and environmental case for investment in retrofitting public buildings to improve their energy efficiency. Schools, hospitals and social housing are good candidates.

Building improvement programs are quick to start up, opportunities exist everywhere and they provide local jobs and business support. And better energy efficiency means lower energy bills, as well as reduced carbon emissions.




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One existing program is showing the way. Under the Queensland government’s Advancing Clean Energy Schools program, which involves solar installation and energy-saving measures, 80 state schools have been brought forward to the project’s first phase as part of COVID-19 stimulus.

A focus on public buildings will bring long-lasting benefits to the community, including low-income households. This would bring far greater public benefit than programs such as HomeBuilder.

3. Environmental improvements

Stimulus initiatives also provide an opportunity to boost our response to last summer’s bushfires. While the federal government has announced A$150 million of funding for recovery projects and conservation, more could be done.

The ACT has shown how. As part of COVID-19 stimulus, 26 people who’d recently lost their jobs were employed to help nature reserves recover after the fires. Such programs could be greatly scaled up.

In New Zealand, the government is spending NZ$1.1 billion on creating 11,000 “nature jobs” across a range of regional environmental projects.

In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern’s government has created
Daniel Hicks/AAP

4. Transport projects

Several transport projects on the Infrastructure Australia priority list are well developed, and some could be fast-tracked.

Smaller, local projects such as building or refurbishing footpaths and cycle paths, and improving existing transport infrastructure, can be easily achieved. The NSW government is already encouraging councils to undertake such projects.

Sound analysis and transparency is needed

Our analysis is illustrative only. A full analysis needs to consider the specifics of each project or program. It must also consider the goals and needs in particular regions or sectors – including speed of implementation, ensuring employment opportunities are spread equally, and social and environmental priorities.

This is the job of governments and agencies. It should be done diligently and transparently. Australian governments should lay out which objectives their stimulus investments are pursuing, the expected benefits, and why one investment option is chosen over another.

This should improve public confidence, and taxpayers’ acceptance of stimulus measures. This is good practice for governments to follow at any time. It’s even more important when they’re spending billions at the drop of a hat.The Conversation

Thomas Longden, Research Fellow, Crawford School, Australian National University; Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University, and Zeba Anjum, PhD student, Australian National University

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

Climate explained: does your driving speed make any difference to your car’s emissions?



SP Photo/Shutterstock

Ralph Sims, Massey University


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Does reducing speed reduce emissions from the average car?

Every car has an optimal speed range that results in minimum fuel consumption, but this range differs between vehicle types, design and age.

Typically it looks like this graph below: fuel consumption rises from about 80km/h, partly because air resistance increases.


Author provided

But speed is only one factor. No matter what car you are driving, you can reduce fuel consumption (and therefore emissions) by driving more smoothly.

This includes anticipating corners and avoiding sudden braking, taking the foot off the accelerator just before reaching the peak of a hill and cruising over it, and removing roof racks or bull bars and heavier items from inside when they are not needed to make the car lighter and more streamlined.




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Driving wisely

In New Zealand, EnergyWise rallies used to be run over a 1200km course around the North Island. They were designed to demonstrate how much fuel could be saved through good driving habits.

The competing drivers had to reach each destination within a certain time period. Cruising too slowly at 60-70km/h on straight roads in a 100km/h zone just to save fuel was not an option (also because driving too slowly on open roads can contribute to accidents).

The optimum average speed (for both professional and average drivers) was typically around 80km/h. The key to saving fuel was driving smoothly.

In the first rally in 2002, the Massey University entry was a brand new diesel-fuelled Volkswagen Golf (kindly loaned by VW NZ), running on 100% biodiesel made from waste animal fat (as Z Energy has been producing).

A car running on fossil diesel emits about 2.7kg of carbon dioxide per litre and a petrol car produces 2.3kg per litre. Using biofuels to displace diesel or petrol can reduce emissions by up to 90% per kilometre if the biofuel is made from animal fat from a meat works. The amount varies depending on the source of the biofuel (sugarcane, wheat, oilseed rape). And of course it would be unacceptable if biofuel crops were replacing food crops or forests.

Regardless of the car, drivers can reduce fuel consumption by 15-20% by improving driving habits alone – reducing emissions and saving money at the same time.




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Fuel efficiency

When you are thinking of replacing your car, taking into account fuel efficiency is another important way to save on fuel costs and reduce emissions.

Many countries, including the US, Japan, China and nations within the European Union, have had fuel efficiency standards for more than a decade. This has driven car manufacturers to design ever more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Most light-duty vehicles sold globally are subject to these standards. But Australia and New Zealand have both dragged the chain in this regard, partly because most vehicles are imported.




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New Zealand also remains hesitant about introducing a “feebate” scheme, which proposes a fee on imported high-emission cars to make imported hybrids, electric cars and other efficient vehicles cheaper with a subsidy.

In New Zealand, driving an electric car results in low emissions because electricity generation is 85% renewable. In Australia, which still relies on coal-fired power, electric cars are responsible for higher emissions unless they are recharged through a local renewable electricity supply.

Fuel and electricity prices will inevitably rise. But whether we drive a petrol or electric car, we can all shield ourselves from some of those future price rises by driving more efficiently and less speedily.




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The Conversation


Ralph Sims, Professor, School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University

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