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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Carbon pricing: it’s a proven way to reduce emissions but everyone’s too scared to mention it


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).




Read more:
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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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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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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 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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Australia’s 2017 environment scorecard: like a broken record, high temperatures further stress our ecosystems


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.




Read more:
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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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.




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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.

The terror of climate change is transforming young people’s identity


Blanche Verlie, RMIT University

Today, at least 50 rallies planned across Australia are expected to draw thousands of students who are walking out of school to protest climate change inaction.

These Australian students join children from over 82 countries who are striking to highlight systemic failure to address climate change.




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Climate change: young people striking from school see it for the life-threatening issue it is


But the strikes represent more than frustration and resistance. They are evidence of an even bigger process of transformation. My research investigates how young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.

Canaries in the coalmine

Striking children are experiencing “existential whiplash”, caught between two forces. One is a dominant culture driven by fossil fuel consumption that emphasises individual success, encapsulated by Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s remarks that striking students will never get a “real job”:

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 […] not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.

On the other hand is the mounting evidence that climate change will make parts of the planet inhospitable to human (and other) life, and fundamentally change our way of life in the future.

Children are up to date with the facts: The Earth is currently experiencing its 6th mass extinction; Australia has just had its hottest summer on record; and experts warn we have just 11 years left to ensure we avoid the misery of exceeding 1.5 degrees of planetary warming.




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Meanwhile many Australian adults have been living what sociologist Kari Norgaard terms a “double reality”: explicitly acknowledging that climate change is real, while continuing to live as though it is not. But as climatic changes intensify and interrupt our business-as-usual lifestyles, many more Australians are likely to experience the climate trauma that school strikers are grappling with.

Greta Thunberg’s speech to UN Climate Change COP24 conference.

Climate challenged culture

Confronting the realities of climate change can lead to overwhelming anxiety and grief, and of course, for those of us in high carbon societies, guilt. This can be extremely uncomfortable. These feelings arise partly because climate change challenges our dominant cultural narratives, assumptions and values, and thus, our sense of self and identity. Climate change challenges the beliefs that:

  • humans are, or can be, separate from the non-human world
  • individual humans have significant control over the world and their lives
  • if you work hard, you will have a bright future
  • your elected representatives care about you
  • adults generally have children’s best interests at heart and can or will act in accordance with that
  • if you want to be a “good person” you as an individual can simply choose to act ethically.

Faced with these challenges, it can seem easier in the short term to turn away than to try to respond. But the short term is not an option for young people.

Young people around the world are demanding action.
Gustave Deghilage/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

A sign of the times

Striking students are calling out that simply standing by means being complicit in climate change. The school strikers, and those who support them, are deeply anguished about what a business-as-usual future might hold for them and others.

Striking students’ signs proclaim “no graduation on a dead planet” and “we won’t die of old age, we will die from climate change”. This is not hyperbole but a genuine engagement with what climate change means for their lives, as well as their deaths.

Notably, they are openly discussing and promoting engagement with climate distress as a means of inspiring action. As Greta Thunberg — who started the school strikes for climate — said in January:

I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

They know certain possibilities have already been stolen from them by the older generations. Rather than trying to hold onto dominant cultural narratives about their future, striking students are letting them go and crafting alternatives. They are enduring the pain of the climate crisis, while labouring to generate desirable and possible, though always uncertain, futures.

By connecting with other concerned young people across the world, this movement is creating a more collective and ecologically attuned identity.

They are both more ambitious and humble than our dominant (non)responses to climate change. This is palpable in signs like “Mother Nature does not need us; We need Mother Nature” and “Seas are rising, so are we”.

What will eventually happen – in terms of both cultural and climatic change – is of course, unknowable. But it is promising that children are already forging new identities and cultures that may have a chance of survival on our finite blue planet.




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As adults, we would do well to recognise the necessity of facing up to the most grotesque elements of climate change. Perhaps then we too may step up to the challenge of cultural transformation.The Conversation

Blanche Verlie, Associate Lecturer, RMIT University

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

Australia is counting on cooking the books to meet its climate targets


Alan Pears, RMIT University

A new OECD report has warned that Australia risks falling short of its 2030 emissions target unless it implements “a major effort to move to a low-carbon model”.

This view is consistent both with official government projections released late last year, and independent analysis of Australia’s emissions trajectory. Yet the government still insists we are on track, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison claiming as recently as November that the 2030 target will be reached “in a canter”.

What’s really going on? Does the government have any data or modelling to serve as a basis for Morrison’s confidence? And if so, why doesn’t it tell us?




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The government’s emission projections report actually presents three scenarios: the “baseline” projection, which forecasts that emissions will rise by 3% by 2030, plus two other scenarios in which economic growth (and thus demand for fossil fuel consumption) is higher or lower than the baseline.

Range of scenarios for Australian emissions. Vertical axis represents greenhouse emissions measured in millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Australian Emissions Projection Report, Figure 15

As the graph shows, all three of these scenarios would see Australia miss its 26-28% emissions reduction target by a wide margin. So why claim that our emissions are on track? The answer, as is so often the case with emissions targets, lies in the fine print.

The government is indeed poised to deliver on the “letter of the law” of its Paris commitment if two things play out. First, if it claims credit from overdelivering on Australia’s 2010 and 2020 commitments. And second, if the “low demand” scenario is the one that eventuates.

To reach our Paris target, the government estimates that we will need to reduce emissions by the equivalent of 697 million tonnes of carbon dioxide before 2030. It also calculates that the overdelivery on previous climate targets already represents a saving of 367Mt, and that low economic demand would save a further 571Mt. That adds up to 938Mt of emissions reductions, outperforming the target by 35% – a canter that would barely work up a sweat.

How would this scenario actually eventuate?

Let’s leave aside the technical question of whether it’s legitimate to count past performance towards future emissions targets, and focus for now on how the low-demand economic scenario might become reality.

The government’s report contains no discussion on the basis of the “low demand” scenario. But history suggests the annual baseline estimates of 2030 emissions have overestimated future emissions, with revisions downwards over time. For example, the 2018 projection for 2030 emissions is 28% lower than the 2012 projection for the same date (see figure 2 here).

In the real world, meanwhile, change is evident. Households and businesses are installing solar panels, not least to guard against high power bills. Businesses are signing power purchase agreements with renewable energy suppliers for much the same reason. State and local governments are pursuing increasingly ambitious clean energy and climate policies. Some energy-intensive industries may be driven offshore by our high gas prices.

New technology such as electric vehicles, ongoing improvement in energy efficiency, and emerging business models that break the power of big energy companies are transforming our economy. Investment in low-emission public transport infrastructure means its share of travel will increase. Farmers are cutting methane emissions by installing biogas production equipment.

Other studies also support the idea that Australia may indeed outperform its baseline emission scenario. ANU researchers recently predicted that “emissions in the electricity sector will decline by more than 26% in 2020-21, and will meet Australia’s entire Paris target of 26% reduction across all sectors of the economy (not just “electricity’s fair share”) in 2024-25”.

The government’s baseline electricity scenario uses the Australian Electricity Market Operator’s “neutral” scenario. But AEMO’s “weak” scenario would see 2030 demand in the National Electricity Market 18% lower than the neutral scenario (see figure 13 here).

Of course, many of these changes are happening in spite of the government’s policy settings, rather than because of them. Still, a win’s a win!

Emissions in context

But is hitting the target in purely technical terms really a win? In truth, it would fall far short of what is really necessary and responsible.

This is partly because of the plan to use prior credit for previous emissions targets to help get us across the line for 2030. This may be allowed under the international rules. But we would be leveraging extremely weak earlier commitments.

For example, Australia’s 2010 Kyoto Protocol target of an 8% increase in emissions was laughably weak in comparison with the developed world average target of a 5% cut. Our 2020 5% reduction target is also well below the aspirations of most other countries. What’s more, several major nations have declared that they will exclude past “overachievements” from their 2020 commitments.

The government has obfuscated the issue further by deliberately conflating our electricity emission reductions target, which will be easily met, with our overall economy-wide target, which presents a much tougher challenge.

There’s more. Australia’s Paris pledge to reduce emissions from 2005 levels by 26-28% between 2021 and 2030 is inconsistent with our global responsibilities and with climate science. The target was agreed to by the then prime minister Tony Abbott in 2015 as the minimum needed to look credible. But as the Climate Change Authority pointed out, a 2030 target of 40-60% below 2000 levels is more scientifically responsible.




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Australia’s 2030 climate target puts us in the race, but at the back


What is Australia’s “fair share” of the heavy lifting needed to stay below 2℃ of global warming, as agreed in Paris? If all humans were entitled to release the same greenhouse emissions by 2050, the average would be around 2 tonnes of CO₂ per person in 2050. In 2018, the average Australian was responsible for 21.5 tonnes.

There is plenty of heavy lifting still to do, and no point in pretending otherwise. The government must publish its data and modelling in full if its canter claims are to have any credibility.The Conversation

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

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