Australia, the climate can’t wait for the next federal election. It’s time to take control



STEVEN SAPHORE/AAP

Tim Flannery, University of Melbourne

It is difficult to know what to do when governments fail us. But there’s no need to wait until the next election to deal with the climate crisis, we can act now.

An overwhelming majority of Australians want action on climate change. And the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows governments can act decisively and effectively on imminent threats. But on climate action, there is a lack of political will.

So in the absence of federal leadership, what should be done? And who must do what?

Those questions are already being answered by state governments, councils, researchers, entrepreneurs and financiers who understand the climate problem. Their actions are slowing our slide to disaster – but they need others to step up.

Scott Morrison holds a lump of coal in QuestionTime
There is an absence of will in federal parliament to deal with climate change.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

States are filling the gap

Among the most important entities in climate action in Australia are the state and territory governments. The ACT was the first to eliminate fossil fuels for electricity generation. Tasmania is on track to be there by 2022, and has now set a 200% renewable energy target by 2040, with the additional clean energy to be used to produce hydrogen.

South Australia is also set to be powered solely by renewables by the 2030s. These jurisdictions show what can be done in Australia if there’s a political will, and successive governments stick with a plan.

Some larger states are catching up fast. New South Wales has recently gone from being one of the worst performers to among the best. The Berejiklian government has a ten-year plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and the first stage prioritises the uptake of electric vehicles. It will change building codes to make it cheaper and easier to install electric charging points, encourage the uptake of electric vehicles by fleets, and change licensing and parking regulations to encourage their uptake.

If the states worked together to pursue the most ambitious targets and programs, Australia could do its bit to solve the climate problem.

Wind farm near the ACT
The ACT now runs on 100% renewable energy.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Going local

Australia’s local councils have become powerhouses of innovative climate solutions. In June 2017 I attended the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership at Parliament House in Canberra. Some 34 mayors and councillors attended, and I listened with interest as one after another described the projects they were working on.

The breadth was astonishing, from promoting bulk buys of solar panels for disadvantaged residents to making low-carbon road surfaces at local plants. Many councils were planting trees, assisting with energy efficiency measures or converting waste to energy. Since that first meeting the Cities Power Partnership has grown hugely. It now includes more than 120 local governments, representing half of all Australians.




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It is not just Australia’s local councils forging ahead with climate action. Individual households lead the world in producing clean energy. More than two million households — 21% of the nation’s total — have now installed solar panels. This, of course, was supported by the federal government’s renewable energy target. But it wouldn’t have happened without Australians paying good money for their rooftop solar panels.

Movements aimed at building momentum will doubtless continue. In September 2019, hundreds of thousands marched during the school climate strikes. The movement grew from a one-person protest by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, which took place just a year earlier. In Australia the crowds were unprecedented, as was their passion.

The demonstrations have had limited impact on the federal government, but people are also organising in different ways. Extinction Rebellion, an group just two years old, is one of the potentially more potent. Its members are committed to breaking the law peacefully. Part of their power lies in the fact that they keep reminding the police, courts and politicians that their actions aim to save everybody’s children, not just their own.

An Extinction Rebellion video calling on leaders to save the future of today’s children.

But what of national politics?

Action by state governments, councils, individuals and groups will be critical to tackling climate change. But that still leaves the problem of federal parliament.

More pro-climate independents in federal parliament would shift our politics in the right direction. At the last election, voters in the northern Sydney seat of Warringah dispensed with incumbent Tony Abbott, in favour of independent candidate Zali Steggall (who won an astonishing 58% of the two-party preferred vote). It shows what’s possible when traditionally conservative voters get sick of being held to ransom by climate deniers in parliament.

But other deniers in the parliamentary party remain influential. Their modus operandi, as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said, is that of terrorists threatening to blow the place up if they don’t get their way.




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Getting more independents into parliament will not be easy. The major political parties, which have many millions of dollars to spend at elections, will fiercely oppose any challengers.

But imagine if the Liberal-Nationals were forced to rid themselves of denialists to head off challenges by independents. What if they could once more implement rational, enduring energy and climate policies? Well, we are at a moment in time where this might be possible.

Membership of both the Labor and Liberal parties has dwindled in recent decades. That means a tiny, self-selected portion of Australia’s population chooses the candidates we vote for.

This has exposed the Liberals, in particular, to hijack by climate deniers – given the small membership numbers, it’s not hard for denialist candidates to win preselection. But if party members let these wreckers run the show, Australia will continue on the path to catastrophe.

Protest signs outside Parliament House in Canberra
More pro-climate independents are needed to help shape national policy.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Time to step up

Australians have become used to living with governments that don’t serve our interests. Many people are rightly cynical and disengaged from politics. And that’s exactly where the climate deniers would like us to be.

But to effect real change, we must shake free of apathy. New people will have to step up and join those who have been persevering in pushing for climate action for years.

With enough momentum, we can embark on the cure for this most wicked of problems.

This is an edited extract from The Climate Cure: Solving the Climate Emergency in the Era of COVID-19 by Tim Flannery (Text Publishing).




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The Conversation


Tim Flannery, Professorial fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

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

China just stunned the world with its step-up on climate action – and the implications for Australia may be huge



Lukas Coch/AAP

Hao Tan, University of Newcastle; Elizabeth Thurbon, UNSW; John Mathews, Macquarie University, and Sung-Young Kim, Macquarie University

China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the global community recently by committing his country to net-zero emissions by 2060. Prior to this announcement, the prospect of becoming “carbon neutral” barely rated a mention in China’s national policies.

China currently accounts for about 28% of global carbon emissions – double the US contribution and three times the European Union’s. Meeting the pledge will demand a deep transition of not just China’s energy system, but its entire economy.

Importantly, China’s use of coal, oil and gas must be slashed, and its industrial production stripped of emissions. This will affect demand for Australia’s exports in coming decades.

It remains to be seen whether China’s climate promise is genuine, or simply a ploy to win international favour. But it puts pressure on many other nations – not least Australia – to follow.

A man walking against an industrial skyline
It remains to be seen whether China will deliver on its climate pledge.
Da qing/AP

Goodbye, fossil fuels

Coal is currently used to generate about 60% of China’s electricity. Coal must be phased out for China to meet its climate target, unless technologies such as carbon-capture and storage become commercially viable.

Natural gas is increasingly used in China for heating and transport, as an alternative to coal and petrol. To achieve carbon neutrality, China must dramatically reduce its gas use.

Electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles must also come to dominate road transport – currently they account for less than 2% of the total fleet.




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China must also slash the production of carbon-intensive steel, cement and chemicals, unless they can be powered by renewable electricity or zero-emissions hydrogen. One report suggests meeting the target will mean most of China’s steel is produced using recycled steel, in a process powered by renewable electricity.

Modelling in that report suggests China’s use of iron ore – and the coking coal required to process it into steel – will decrease by 75%. The implications for Australia’s mining industry would be huge; around 80% of our iron ore is exported to China.

It is critically important for Australian industries and policymakers to assess the seriousness of China’s pledge and the likelihood it will be delivered. Investment plans for large mining projects should then be reconsidered accordingly.

Conversely, China’s path towards a carbon neutral economy may open up new export opportunities for Australia, such as “green” hydrogen.

A bust road in China
To meet its pledge, China must decarbonise its transport system.
DIEGO AZUBEL/EPA

A renewables revolution

Solar and wind currently account for 10% of China’s total power generation. For China to meet the net-zero goal, renewable energy generation would have to ramp up dramatically. This is needed for two reasons: to replace the lost coal-fired power capacity, and to provide the larger electricity needs of transport and heavy industry.

Two factors are likely to reduce energy demand in China in coming years. First, energy efficiency in the building, transport and manufacturing sectors is likely to improve. Second, the economy is moving away from energy- and pollution-intensive production, towards an economy based on services and digital technologies.

It’s in China’s interests to take greater action on climate change. Developing renewable energy helps China build new “green” export industries, secure its energy supplies and improve air and water quality.

A solar array in China
A transition to renewable energy would improve air pollution in China.
Sam McNeil/AP

The global picture

It’s worth considering what factors may have motivated China’s announcement, beyond the desire to do good for the climate.

In recent years, China has been viewed with increasing hostility on the world stage, especially by Western nations. Some commentators have suggested China’s climate pledge is a bid to improve its global image.

The pledge also gives China the high ground over a major antagonist, the US, which under President Donald Trump has walked away from its international obligations on climate action. China’s pledge follows similar ones by the European Union, New Zealand, California and others. It sets an example for other developing nations to follow, and puts pressure on Australia to do the same.




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The European Union has also been urging China to take stronger climate action. The fact Xi made the net-zero pledge at a United Nations meeting suggests it was largely targeted at an international, rather than Chinese, audience.

However, the international community will judge China’s pledge on how quickly it can implement specific, measurable short- and mid-term targets for net-zero emissions, and whether it has the policies in place to ensure the goal is delivered by 2060.

Much is resting on China’s next Five Year Plan – a policy blueprint created every five years to steer the economy towards various priorities. The latest plan, covering 2021–25, is being developed. It will be examined closely for measures such as phasing out coal and more ambitious targets for renewables.

Also key is whether the recent rebound of China’s carbon emissions – following a fall from 2013 to 2016 – can be reversed.

President Xi and President Trump
President Xi, left, has taken the high ground over the Trump-led US with its bold climate plan.
AP

Wriggle room

The 2060 commitment is bold, but China may look to leave itself wriggle room in several ways.

First, Xi declared in his speech that China will “aim to” achieve carbon neutrality, leaving open the option his nation may not meet the target.

Second, the Paris Agreement states that developed nations should provide financial resources and technological support to help developing countries reduce their emissions. China may make its delivery of the pledge conditional on this support.

Third, China may seek to game the way carbon neutrality is measured – for example, by insisting it excludes carbon emissions “embodied” in imports and exports. This move is quite likely, given exports account for a significant share of China’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

So for the time being, the world is holding its applause for China’s commitment to carbon neutrality. Like every nation, China will be judged not on its climate promises, but on its delivery.




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The Conversation


Hao Tan, Associate professor, University of Newcastle; Elizabeth Thurbon, Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor in International Relations / International Political Economy, UNSW; John Mathews, Professor Emeritus, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University, and Sung-Young Kim, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Discipline of Politics & International Relations, Macquarie School of Social Sciences, Macquarie University

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

A bit rich: business groups want urgent climate action, after resisting it for 30 years



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Marc Hudson, Keele University

Australia has seen the latest extraordinary twist in its climate soap opera. An alliance of business and environment groups declared the nation is “woefully unprepared” for climate change and urgent action is needed.

And yesterday, Australian Industry Group – one of the alliance members – called on the federal government to spend at least A$3.3 billion on renewable energy over the next decade.




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The alliance, known as the Australian Climate Roundtable, formed in 2015. It comprises ten business and environmental bodies, including the Business Council of Australia, National Farmers Federation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

Last week, the group stated:

There is no systemic government response (federal, state and local) to build resilience to climate risks. Action is piecemeal; uncoordinated; does not engage business, private sector investment, unions, workers in affected industries, community sector and communities; and does not match the scale of the threat climate change represents to the Australian economy, environment and society.

This is ironic, since many of the statement’s signatories spent decades fiercely resisting moves towards sane climate policy. Let’s look back at a few pivotal moments.

Preventing an early carbon tax

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) was a leading player against the Hawke Government’s Ecologically Sustainable Development process, which was initiated to get green groups “in the tent” on environmental policy. The BCA also fought to prevent then environment minister Ros Kelly bring in a carbon tax – one of the ways Australia could have moved to its goal of 20% carbon dioxide reduction by 2005.

And the BCA, alongside the Australian Mining Industry Council (now known as the Minerals Council of Australia), was a main driver in setting up the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (AIGN).




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Don’t let the name fool you – the network co-ordinated the fossil fuel extraction sector and other groups determined to scupper strong climate and energy policy. It made sure Australia made neither strong international commitments to emissions reductions nor passed domestic legislation which would affect the profitable status quo.

Its first major victory was to destroy and prevent a modest carbon tax in 1994-95, proposed by Keating Government environment minister John Faulkner. Profits from the tax would have funded research and development of renewable energy.

Questionable funding and support

The Australian Aluminium Council is also in the roundtable. This organisation used to be the most militant of the “greenhouse mafia
organisations – as dubbed in a 2006 ABC Four Corners investigation.

The council funded and promoted the work of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), whose “MEGABARE” economic model was, at the time, used to generate reports which were a go-to for Liberal and National Party politicians wanting to argue climate action would spell economic catastrophe.

In 1997, the Australian Conservation Foundation (another member of the climate roundtable) complained to the federal parliamentary Ombudsman about fossil fuel groups funding ABARE, saying this gave organisations such as Shell Australia a seat on its board. The ensuing Ombudsman’s report in 1998 largely backed these complaints. ABARE agreed with or considered many of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

Meanwhile, Australian Industry Group was part of the concerted opposition to the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. In response to the July 2008 Green Paper on emissions trading, it complained:

businesses accounting for well over 10% of national production and around one million jobs will be affected by significant cost increases.

Australian economist Ross Garnaut was among many at the time to lambast this complaint, calling it “pervasive vested-interest pressure on the policy process.”




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Back in July 2014, the Business Council of Australia and Innes Willox (head of the Australian Industry Group) both welcomed the outcome of then prime minister Tony Abbott’s policy vandalism: the repeal of the Gillard government’s carbon price. The policy wasn’t perfect, but it was an important step in the right direction.

In doing so, Australia squandered the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower. With its solar, wind and geothermal resources, its scientists and technology base, Australia could have been world-beaters and world-savers. Now, it’s just a quarry with a palpable end of its customer base for thermal coal.

What is to be done?

Given the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the global pandemic and the devastating fires of Black Summer, it would be forgivable to despair.

It shouldn’t have been the case that business groups only acted when the problem became undeniable and started to affect profits.




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Somehow we must recapture the energy, determination and even the optimism of the period from 2006 to 2008 when it seemed Australia “got” climate change and the need to take rapid and radical action.

This time, we must do it better. Decision-makers should not look solely to the business sector for guidance on climate policy – the community, and the broader public good, should be at the centre.The Conversation

Marc Hudson, Research Associate in Social Movements, Keele University

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

Australia’s farmers want more climate action – and they’re starting in their own (huge) backyards



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Richard Eckard, University of Melbourne

The National Farmer’s Federation says Australia needs a tougher policy on climate, today calling on the Morrison government to commit to an economy wide target of net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050.

It’s quite reasonable for the farming sector to call for stronger action on climate change. Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to a changing climate, and the sector is on its way to having the technologies to become “carbon neutral”, while maintaining profitability.

Agriculture is a big deal to Australia. Farms comprise 51% of land use in Australia and contributed 11% of all goods and services exports in 2018–19. However, the sector also contributed 14% of national greenhouse gas emissions.

A climate-ready and carbon neutral food production sector is vital to the future of Australia’s food security and economy.

A tractor plowing a field.
Agriculture comprises 51% of Australia’s land use.
Shutterstock

Paris Agreement is driving change

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, 196 countries pledged to reduce their emissions, with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Some 119 of these national commitments include cutting emissions from agriculture, and 61 specifically mentioned livestock emissions.

Emissions from agriculture largely comprise methane (from livestock production), nitrous oxide (from nitrogen in soils) and to a lesser extent, carbon dioxide (from machinery burning fossil fuel, and the use of lime and urea on soils).




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In Australia, emissions from the sector have fallen by 10.8% since 1990, partly as a result of drought and an increasingly variable climate affecting agricultural production (for example, wheat production).

But the National Farmers’ Federation wants the sector to grow to more than A$100 billion in farm gate output by 2030 – far higher than the current trajectory of $84 billion. This implies future growth in emissions if mitigation strategies are not deployed.

Farm machinery spreading fertiliser
Farm machinery spreading fertiliser, which is a major source of agriculture emissions.
Shutterstock

Runs on the board

Players in Australia’s agriculture sector are already showing how net-zero emissions can be achieved.

In 2017, the Australian red meat sector committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. A number of red-meat producers have claimed to have achieved net-zero emissions including Arcadian Organic & Natural’s Meat Company, Five Founders and Flinders + Co.

Our research has shown two livestock properties in Australia – Talaheni and Jigsaw farms – have also achieved carbon neutral production. In both cases, this was mainly achieved through regeneration of soil and tree carbon on their properties, which effectively draws down an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to balance with their farm emissions.




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Other agricultural sectors including dairy, wool and cropping are actively considering their own emission reduction targets.

Carbon neutral wine is being produced, such as by Ross Hill, and Tulloch and Tahbilk.

Most of these examples are based on offsetting farm emissions – through buying carbon credits or regenerating soil and tree carbon – rather than direct reductions in emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide.

But significant options are available, or emerging, to reduce emissions of “enteric” methane – the result of fermentation in the foregut of ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats.

Wine grapes growing on a vine
Some Australian wineries have gone carbon neutral.
Shutterstock

For example, livestock can be fed dietary supplements high in oils and tannins that restrict the microbes that generate methane in the animal’s stomach. Oil and tannins are also a byproduct of agricultural waste products such as grape marc (the solid waste left after grapes are pressed) and have been found to reduce methane emissions by around 20%.

Other promising technologies are about to enter the market. These include 3-NOP and Asparagopsis, which actively inhibit key enzymes in methane generation. Both technologies may reduce methane by up to 80%.

There are also active research programs exploring ways to breed animals that produce less methane, and raise animals that produce negligible methane later in life.

On farms, nitrous oxide is mainly lost through a process called “denitrification”. This is where bacteria convert soil nitrates into nitrogen gases, which then escape from the soil into the atmosphere. Options to significantly reduce these losses are emerging, including efficient nitrogen fertilisers, and balancing the diets of animals.

There is also significant interest in off-grid renewable energy in the agricultural sector. This is due to the falling price of renewable technology, increased retail prices for electricity and the rising cost to farms of getting connected to the grid.

What’s more, the first hydrogen-powered tractors are now available – meaning the days of diesel and petrol consumption on farms could end.

Wind turbine on a farm
Renewable energy on farms can be cheaper and easier than grid connection.
Yegor Aleyev/TASS/Sipa

More work is needed

In this race towards addressing climate change, we must ensure the integrity of carbon neutral claims. This is where standards or protocols are required.

Australian researchers have recently developed a standard for the red meat sector’s carbon neutral target, captured in simple calculators aligned with the Australian national greenhouse gas inventory. This allow farmers to audit their progress towards carbon neutral production.

Technology has moved a long way from the days when changing the diet of livestock was the only option to reduce farm emissions. However significant research is still required to achieve a 100% carbon neutral agriculture sector – and this requires the Australian government to co-invest with agriculture industries.

And in the long term, we must ensure measures to reduce emissions from farming also meet targets for productivity, biodiversity and climate resilience.




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The Conversation


Richard Eckard, Professor & Director, Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre, University of Melbourne

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.

The good, the bad and the ugly: the nations leading and failing on climate action



Children play near a coal-fired power plant in the town of Obilic, Kosovo, in November 2018.
EPA/Valdrin Xhemaj

Bill Hare, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

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

It is almost five years since the landmark Paris deal was struck. Nearly 200 countries agreed to work towards limiting global warming to 1.5℃, beyond which the planet is expected to slide irreversibly towards devastating climate change impacts.

But few nations are on track to reaching this goal. Right now, we’re heading to warming above 3℃ by 2100 – and this will have catastrophic consequences for the planet.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called a major climate summit in New York on September 23, where countries are expected to announce more ambitious climate targets than they set in Paris, and solid plans to achieve them.

Ahead of the summit, let’s take stock of the world’s best and worst performers when it comes to tackling the climate emergency.

A man standing near a wind farm near Urumuqi, China.
Qilai Shen/EPA

Australia is keeping poor company

The Climate Action Tracker is an independent scientific analysis produced by two research organisations tracking climate action since 2009. It monitors 32 countries, accounting for more than 80% of global emissions.

We looked in detail at who has made the most progress since 2015, and who has done the least. Australia sits firmly in the group of governments we labelled as actually delaying global climate action, alongside the United States (which under President Donald Trump has walked away from the Paris agreement altogether).

Other countries delaying global climate action with highly insufficient targets and no progress since 2015 are the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia.

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

Today, Australia’s emissions are at a seven-year high, and continue to rise. The government’s commitment to fossil fuels remains unwavering – from coal projects such as Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine in Queensland to huge new gas projects.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, providing 29% of coal’s global trade, and last year also became the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. Its exported fossil fuel emissions currently represent around 3.6% of global emissions.

The surprising success stories

Ethiopia, Morocco and India top the list of countries doing the most to tackle climate change. In total, eight international jurisdictions have made good progress since 2015, including the European Union, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, and Argentina (although they still have a lot of work ahead to meet the 1.5℃ goal).

While India still relies on coal, its renewables industry is making huge leaps forward, with investments in renewable energy topping fossil fuel investments. The country is expected to over-achieve its Paris Agreement target.

Lightning in the night sky over the Odervorland wind farm near Sieversdorf, Germany.
Patrick Pleul/DPA

So what are they doing right? Costa Rica’s national decarbonisation plan covers the entire economy, including electrifying the public transport system, and huge energy efficiency measures in the industry, transport and buildings sectors. Costa Rica has also put a moratorium on new oil production.

The EU is set to overachieve its 2030 target of reducing emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and is in the process of considering an increase in this to at least 50%. It has recently increased its renewable energy and energy efficiency goals, and is sorting out its emissions trading scheme, with prices of emission units increasing.




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This, together with past investments in renewable energy, have helped to achieve a 15% reduction in German electricity sector emissions in the first half of 2019. Whilst Germany has missed its 2020 targets, it has begun a process to phase out coal no later than 2038 – still a number of years too late for a Paris-compatible pathway.

Quitting coal is key

An increasing number of countries are adopting net zero emissions targets, many of them in the European Union, and some outside. Some, like the UK, have dumped coal, and are well on the way to achieving those targets.

A global phase-out of coal for electricity is the single most important step toward achieving the 1.5℃ warming limit. At the latest, this should be achieved by 2050 globally, by 2030 in the OECD and 2040 in China and other Asian countries.

There are some signs of optimism here. On one estimate, the number of coal projects in the pipeline shrunk by nearly 70% between 2015 and 2018, and investors are increasingly wary of the technology. Yet coal is still set to boom in Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and Turkey.

Under current polities, the world is set for more than 3°C of warming by 2100.
Climate Action Tracker



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The gloves are off: ‘predatory’ climate deniers are a threat to our children


In 2018, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions reached a historic high. While coal reversed its recent decline, emissions from natural gas surged by 4.6%.

Renewable energy is the key to unlocking rapid decarbonisation. It already supplies more than 26% of global electricity generation and its costs are dropping rapidly. To accelerate this fundamental transition, more governments need to adopt and improve policies that enable renewable technologies to be rolled out faster. This would contribute to low-carbon economic development and job creation.

Don’t forget about trees

Nowhere is the alarming rate of global deforestation more obvious than in Brazil, now in the middle of a record fire season. It adds to damage wrought by President Jair Bolsonaro who has weakened his country’s institutional framework preventing forest loss.

In 2018, Brazil recorded the world’s highest loss of tropical primary rainforest of any country – 1.3 million hectares – largely in the Amazon. The deforestation reached 7,900 square km in 2018, a 72% increase from the historic low in 2012.

Fire fighting efforts this month in an indigenous reserve in Humaita, in Brazil’s Amazon forest.
FERNANDO BIZERRA/EPA

The past few weeks have shown us what 1℃ of global warming means. Hurricane Dorian, fuelled by high sea-surface temperatures, wiped out the northern Bahamas. Temperatures in the 40s set records across Europe. And in Queensland, the earliest fire season on record destroyed homes and razed rainforests.

The predicted 3℃ of warming by 2100 will bring a lot worse: widespread crop failures, dead coral reefs, more extreme heat waves and major threats to water supply and human health.

The world can avoid this, but time is running out.The Conversation

Bill Hare, Director, Climate Analytics, Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University (Perth), Visiting scientist, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

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

2040: hope and action in the climate crisis



Optimism is an essential part of our climate solution.
GoodThing Productions

John Wiseman, University of Melbourne

It was framed as “the climate election”, but last week Australia returned a government with climate policies that make the task of building a zero-emissions, safe climate Australia even harder.

This result comes at a time when international studies are raising the real and imminent spectre of a mass extinction crisis and many communities are already struggling with the consequences of the climate emergency now unfolding around us.

Amid the growing strength of movements like Extinction Rebellion and climate activist Greta Thunberg’s advice to “act as you would in a crisis”, Australian film-maker Damon Gameau’s new climate change solutions film 2040 focuses on highlighting the huge range of climate action opportunities being explored and accelerated, not just in Australia but around the world.




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Why art has a part to play in tackling climate change


Structured as a visual letter to Gameau’s four-year-old daughter, 2040 takes us on an engaging, upbeat journey, introducing us to a wide array of climate and energy solutions already underway. The film then fast-forwards 20 years to help us imagine how a zero-emissions world might unfold.

2040 is a letter to Damon Gameau’s four-year-old daughter.
GoodThing Productions

The film and accompanying book showcase a rich tapestry of climate action stories from around the world, from renewable energy microgrids in Bangladesh, to autonomous electric vehicles in Singapore and regenerative agriculture in Shepparton, Victoria.

Economist Kate Raworth speaks eloquently about the urgent need for a new “doughnut economics” approach, which grows jobs and health and well-being rather than consumerism, pollution and inequality.

Paul Hawken, founder of the Drawdown project reminds us we already have the tools required to build a just and resilient zero-carbon economy. Our key task now is to mobilise the resources and harness the creativity required to bring this work to scale at emergency speed.

Importantly, the 2040 project also includes the Whats Your 2040 website, where audiences can explore their own personal climate action plans.

I have had the privilege to contribute ideas and advice to the 2040 film project, drawing on research I’ve undertaken over the last ten years on strategies for accelerating the creation of post-carbon economies. Its also been exciting to see such enthusiasm and determination from audiences watching 2040, particularly among students and young people.

From fear to hope and action

While 2040 doesn’t avoid hard truths about the rapidly escalating risks and dangers of the climate emergency, Gameau has made a clear choice to focus his narrative of “fact based dreaming” on stories of hope and action rather than just chaos and catastrophe.

The goal is to offer viewers a refreshing and energising change from yet more images of burning forests and melting glaciers.

Of course, some will also bear in mind the cautionary warning of Greta Thunberg:

I don’t want you to be hopeful…I want you to feel the fear I feel every day…I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is.

US author Rebecca Solnit provides another valuable perspective. “Hope”, she argues “is not about what we expect. It’s an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world. Hope is not a door but a sense that there might be a door.”

In my work with climate scientists, activists and policy makers over the last ten years I’ve had many challenging conversations about finding the right balance between fear and hope; threat and opportunity; naive optimism and paralysing despair.

Emergency response

One useful source of wisdom in navigating this tension is research on effective and timely responses to more immediate natural disasters, like fast-moving storms, floods and fires.

Successfully dealing with an emergency requires recognising that decisive action is urgently necessary, possible in the time available, and desirable. Broken down, this means understanding:

  1. the emergency is real and heading our way, but
  2. there is a clear course of action that will significantly reduce the danger, and
  3. the benefits of decisive collective action clearly outweigh the costs and risks of inaction.

There is certainly no shortage of scientific and experiential evidence about the scale and speed of the climate emergency which has now arrived at our door. But the case for radical hope, defiant courage and decisive collective action also continues to strengthen.

We can see this in the remarkable rise and global impact of the School Climate Strike, Green New Deal, Extinction Rebellion, and fossil fuel divestment initiatives like Market Forces.

2040 trawls the world for innovative solutions to climate problems.
GoodThing Productions

This challenge is also being taken up by some sections of the business world. (See, for example, Ross Garnaut’s recent lecture series outlining Australia’s great potential as a renewable energy superpower.)

Ideas like this are particularly important in developing a convincing and compelling narrative about a future post-fossil fuel economy that creates high-quality secure jobs and leaves no Australian worker or community behind.




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The poster is political: how artists are challenging climate change


The election outcome is clearly a significant setback for those who had hoped that there might now be clearer air for a more mature conversation in Australia about the necessity, urgency and desirability of accelerating the transition to a just and resilient zero-carbon economy.

None of us know exactly how our journey into a harsh climate future will evolve. We can however be sure that the journey will be far tougher if we close our eyes and fail to act with honesty and imagination; wisdom and courage. 2040 makes an important contribution to this urgent and essential work.


2040 was released in Australia on May 22.The Conversation

John Wiseman, Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

Australia’s 2018 environmental scorecard: a dreadful year that demands action


Albert Van Dijk, Australian National University

Environmental news is rarely good. But even by those low standards, 2018 was especially bad. That is the main conclusion from Australia’s Environment in 2018, the latest in an annual series of environmental condition reports, released today.

Every year, we analyse vast amounts of measurements from satellites and on-ground stations using algorithms and prediction models on a supercomputer. These volumes of data are turned into regional summary accounts that can be explored on our Australian Environment Explorer website. We interpret these data, along with other information from national and international reports, to assess how our environment is tracking.

A bad year

Whereas 2017 was already quite bad, 2018 saw many indicators dip even further into the red.




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Temperatures went up again, rainfall declined further, and the destruction of vegetation and ecosystems by drought, fire and land clearing continued. Soil moisture, rivers and wetlands all declined, and vegetation growth was poor.

In short, our environment took a beating in 2018, and that was even before the oppressive heatwaves, bushfires and Darling River fish kills of January 2019.

Indicators of Australia’s environment in 2018 compared with the previous year. Similar to national economic indicators, they provide a summary but also hide regional variations, complex interactions and long-term context.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

The combined pressures from habitat destruction, climate change, and invasive pests and diseases are taking their toll on our unique plants and animals. Another 54 species were added to the official list of threatened species, which now stands at 1,775. That is 47% more than 18 years ago and puts Australia among the world’s worst performers in biodiversity protection. On the upside, the number of predator-proof islands or fenced-off reserves in Australia reached 188 in 2018, covering close to 2,500 square kilometres. They offer good prospects of saving at least 13 mammal species from extinction.

Globally, the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere accelerated again after slowing down in 2017. Global air and ocean temperatures remained high, sea levels increased further, and even the ozone hole grew again, after shrinking during the previous two years.

Sea surface temperatures around Australia did not increase in 2018, but they nevertheless were well above long-term averages. Surveys of the Great Barrier Reef showed further declining health across the entire reef. An exceptional heatwave in late 2018 in Far North Queensland raised fears for yet another bout of coral bleaching, but this was averted when sudden massive downpours cooled surface waters.

The hot conditions did cause much damage to wildlife and vegetation, however, with spectacled flying foxes dropping dead from trees and fire ravaging what was once a tropical rainforest.

While previous environmental scorecards showed a mixed bag of regional impacts, 2018 was a poor year in all states and territories. Particularly badly hit was New South Wales, where after a second year of very poor rainfall, ecosystems and communities reached crisis point. Least affected was southern Western Australia, which enjoyed relatively cool and wet conditions.

Environmental Condition Score in 2018 by state and territory, based on a combination of seven indicators. The large number is the score for 2017, the smaller number the change from the previous year.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

It was a poor year for nature and farmers alike, with growing conditions in grazing, irrigated agriculture and dryland cropping each declining by 17-20% at a national scale. The only upside was improved cropping conditions in WA, which mitigated the 34% decline elsewhere.

A bad start to 2019

Although it is too early for a full picture, the first months of 2019 continued as badly as 2018 ended. The 2018-19 summer broke heat records across the country by large margins, bushfires raged through Tasmania’s forests, and a sudden turn in the hot weather killed scores of fish in the Darling River. The monsoon in northern Australia did not come until late January, the latest in decades, but then dumped a huge amount of rain on northern Queensland, flooding vast swathes of land.




Read more:
The Darling River is simply not supposed to dry out, even in drought


It would be comforting to believe that our environment merely waxes and wanes with rainfall, and is resilient to yearly variations. To some extent, this is true. The current year may still turn wet and improve conditions, although a developing El Niño makes this less likely.

However, while we are good at acknowledging rapid changes, we are terrible at recognising slow, long-term ones. Underlying the yearly variations in weather is an unmistakable pattern of environmental decline that threatens our future.

What can we do about it?

Global warming is already with us, and strong action is required to avoid an even more dire future of rolling heatwaves and year-round bushfires. But while global climate change requires global action, there is a lot we can and have to do ourselves.




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Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there)


Australia is one of the world’s most wasteful societies, and there are many opportunities to clean up our act. Achieving progress is not hard, and despite shrill protests from vested interests and the ideologically blind, taking action will not take away our prosperity. Home solar systems and more efficient transport can in fact save money. Our country has huge opportunities for renewable energy, which can potentially create thousands of jobs. Together, we can indeed reduce emissions “in a canter” – all it takes is some clear national leadership.

The ongoing destruction of natural vegetation is as damaging as it is unnecessary, and stopping it will bring a raft of benefits. Our rivers and wetlands are more than just a source of cheap irrigation for big businesses. With more effort, we can save many species from extinction. Our farmers play a vital role in caring for our country, and we need to support them better in doing so.




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To reduce fire risk and meet climate targets, over 300 scientists call for stronger land clearing laws


Our environment is our life support. It provides us our place to live, our food, health, livelihoods, culture and identity. To protect it is to protect ourselves.


This article was coauthored by Shoshana Rapley, an ANU honours student and research assistant in the Fenner School of Environment and Society.The Conversation

Albert Van Dijk, Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

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

Students striking for climate action are showing the exact skills employers look for


Karena Menzie-Ballantyne, CQUniversity Australia

On March 15 2019 thousands of students across Australia will skip school and join the global strike for climate action. This is the second time students have taken to the streets to demand more government action on climate change. Last time they did so, in November 2018, the federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, told them:

The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like, up in a line asking for a handout, not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.

Politicians are up in arms about tomorrow’s protest too. New South Wales is just over a week away from a state election where climate change is a key issue. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has slammed as “appalling” comments made by Opposition Leader Michael Daley in support of the strike.

Such attitudes do worse than just dismissing the students’ voices and their message of urgency. They fly in the face of international research and the aims of Australia’s own curriculum.

By seeking to understand a global issue such as climate change, taking action and clearly articulating their perspective, the students are demonstrating the skills, values and attitudes the curriculum states should constitute the aim of education. These are also the attributes employers look for.

Confident individuals, informed citizens

The Australian curriculum is based on the Melbourne Declaration on Goals for Young Australians, signed in 2008 by all state and territory ministers. Its second goal is to graduate students who are “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”.

To help achieve this, the Australian curriculum includes a civics and citizenship strand in its humanities and social science subject. This encourages an inquiry-based approach, presenting students with multiple perspectives and empowering them to reach their own conclusions.




Read more:
The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians: what it is and why it needs updating


The curriculum also has three cross-curriculum priorities, which address contemporary issues such as sustainability, and seven general capabilities. The Australian curriculum shape paper describes the general capabilities as “21st-century skills”, designed to foster critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and personal and social capability.

A 2014 review of the Australian curriculum concluded with overwhelming support to not only keep but further develop general capabilities that reflect 21st-century skills.

Canavan’s dole-queue comments also contradict research that identifies these general capabilities, sometimes described as “soft skills”, as the desired graduate attributes sought by employers in Australia and across the world. These skills are also acknowledged as equipping students for contemporary, transitory career patterns that require high levels of communication, mobility and critical and ethical thinking.

Addressing global sustainability goals

When the students marched in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said they should be doing “more learning in schools and less activism”. But international research clearly shows that, by preparing for and participating in this strike, students are learning the skills of active citizenship, which they will carry into their adult life.

They are learning how to be the type of citizen we need to achieve the global sustainability goals. They are learning how to work together to effect change.




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Australian students joining the movement, started by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, also reflects research showing young people have no faith in politicians and the political system. This is why they are taking direct, grassroots approaches to political, social and environmental issues.

The students’ website, rallying the support of their peers, explains their reasoning for walking out of their classrooms:

In Australia, education is viewed as immensely important, and a key way to make a difference in the world. But simply going to school isn’t doing anything about climate change. And it doesn’t seem that our politicians are doing anything.

By making this choice, students are demonstrating their worldview and understanding of contemporary global issues, their ability to think critically and examine problems, to manage complexity, to communicate and work effectively with others, as well as values and attitudes that focus on the common good beyond their own self-interest. And they are taking action.

In other words, they are displaying all the elements of global competence, as identified by UNESCO and the OECD. In doing so they are fulfilling the Melbourne Declaration’s goal and acting as “active and informed citizens” of both their local and global communities.The Conversation

Karena Menzie-Ballantyne, Lecturer in Education, CQUniversity Australia

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