Want to act on climate change but not sure how? Tweaking these 3 parts of your life will make the biggest difference


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Andreas Chai, Griffith UniversityLast month’s dire report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have left you feeling overwhelmed, or unsure what to do next. We often hear about ways everyday people can tackle climate change, but which acts will make the biggest difference?

The academic literature tells us three spheres of our lives contribute most to climate change: home energy use, transport, and food consumption. Together, these activities comprise about 85% of a household’s carbon footprint.

As one study showed, by adopting readily available practices, households in developed countries can cut their carbon footprint by 25% with little or no reduction in well-being.

Clearly, national governments must set, and meet, ambitious emissions-reduction targets. But 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to household consumption. So small changes at the household level really can make a world of difference. Here’s a guide to get you on the right path.

climate protest signs
Many people want to act on climate change at a household level, but where’s the best place to start?
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1. Home

Using energy in the home more efficiently is a good way to reduce your impact on the climate. Signing up to so-called “demand response” programs is a relatively new way to do this.

Demand response involves making changes to energy use to reduce stress on the electricity grid during times of high demand. In Australia, this often entails electricity companies offering financial incentives to households so they use less energy at peak times.

For example in Queensland, the state-owned company Energex offers up to A$400 to those who install a “PeakSmart” air conditioner. When the electricity system is under stress, the electricity network will remotely switch the air-conditioner into a lower performance mode.

Energy retailers have also been trialling demand response programs in other states. For example under AGL’s Peak Energy Rewards program, customers can choose to receive an SMS message prompting them to reduce their energy use at peak times. By turning up the temperature on the air conditioning or waiting to do the laundry, people can earn discounts on their energy bills.

Demand response leads to less electricity use and reduces the need for fossil-fuel electricity generation at times of high demand – and so, can cut greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector.

hand holds remote control at air conditioner
Demand response programs encourage people to reduce energy use during peak times.
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2. Transport

If you drive a traditional petrol or diesel vehicle, try to reduce the amount of time your engine idles. Research last year found Australian motorists are likely to idle more than 20% of the time they’re driving. If idling was eliminated from all journeys, the emissions saved would equal that of removing up to 1.6 million cars from the road.

While some idling is unavoidable such as when stopped at traffic lights, drivers can turn their engines off while parked and waiting in their vehicle.

And drive smoothly, not aggressively. Driving with limited acceleration and braking has been found to significantly reduce emissions.

You might be thinking of making your next car an electric vehicle. While the cost of electric vehicles has traditionally been prohibitive for many people, the technology is expected to reach price parity with conventional cars in Australia in the next few years. And these days, you can even get a good second-hand deal.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about whether electric cars are a good choice for the planet. So where does the truth lie?

It’s true that electricity used to charge an electric vehicle’s battery is often sourced from fossil fuels. And energy is still required to make an electric vehicle – in particular, the battery.




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However, last year, research found in 95% of the world, electric vehicles were less emissions-intensive than traditional cars over their full life cycle – even accounting for the current emissions intensity of electricity generation.

If you buy an electric vehicle, it’s important to ensure potential emissions savings are realised. One way of doing this is by recharging during the middle of the day when renewable electricty is most abundant. And don’t forget, as renewable energy forms an ever-increasing share of the electricity mix, the climate benefits of electric vehicles become even greater.

And of course, don’t forget about the obvious low- or zero-emission ways to get around: walking, cycling, catching public transport and car pooling.

family unloads boot of electric car
Second-hand electric cars are a lower-cost option.
Good Car Co

3. Food

Research earlier this year showed food systems are responsible for a third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. And recent studies show even if the world stopped burning fossil fuels immediately, emissions from the global food system could still push global temperatures over the 1.5℃ warming threshold.

Reducing meat consumption is a well-known way to cut your carbon footprint. In fact, recent research from Sweden showed just how high emissions from meat and dairy products are, compared with substitute products. It found:

  • lamb is 25 times more polluting than tofu
  • milk is five times as polluting as oat drink
  • dairy-based cheese is four times as polluting as vegan cheese.



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In Australia, the range of meat alternatives is growing quickly. In just one example, Sydney-based All G Foods is developing plant-based mince, sausages, chicken and bacon, as well as “cow-free” dairy products. Helped along by $5 million in federal government funding, the company’s first product launches this month.

Another food that promises to help cut your carbon footprint is seaweed. Australia is only just catching on to the benefits of commercial seaweed production, which can be grown with few environmental costs.

Australia’s first factory manufacturing food-grade seaweed products opened in New South Wales last year. It has the capacity to put seaweed into pastas, and even muesli!

seaweed in ocean
Commercial production of seaweed, a sustainable food source, is ramping up.
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Reduce, reuse, inspire

Reducing your climate footprint is not just about buying “green” stuff: it’s also about avoiding consumption in the first place. So try to buy less – and if you can’t avoid it, try and buy second-hand.

You never know, you might start a revolution. Evidence suggests people who observe their peers undertaking environmentally friendly behaviour often adopt similar actions.




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‘Do-gooders’, conservatives and reluctant recyclers: how personal morals can be harnessed for climate action


The Conversation


Andreas Chai, Associate Professor, Griffith University

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

‘Do-gooders’, conservatives and reluctant recyclers: how personal morals can be harnessed for climate action


Jacqueline Lau, James Cook University; Andrew Song, University of Technology Sydney, and Jessica Blythe, Brock UniversityThere’s no shortage of evidence pointing to the need to act urgently on climate change. Most recently, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed Earth has warmed 1.09℃ since pre-industrial times and many changes, such as sea-level rise and glacier melt, cannot be stopped.

Clearly, emissions reduction efforts to date have fallen abysmally short. But why, when the argument in favour of climate action is so compelling?

Decisions about climate change require judging what’s important, and how the world should be now and in future. Therefore, climate change decisions are inherently moral. The rule applies whether the decision is being made by an individual deciding what food to eat, or national governments setting goals at international climate negotiations.

Our research reviewed the most recent literature across the social and behavioural sciences to better understand the moral dimensions of climate decisions. We found some moral values, such as fairness, motivate action. Others, such as economic liberty, stoke inaction.

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Those who prioritise economic liberty may be less willing to take climate action.
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Morals as climate motivators

Our research uncovered a large body of research confirming people’s moral values are connected to their willingness to act on climate change.

Moral values are the yardstick through which we understand things to be right or wrong, good or bad. We develop personal moral values through our families in childhood and our social and cultural context.

But which moral values best motivate personal actions? Our research documents a study in the United States, which found the values of compassion and fairness were a strong predictor of someone’s willingness to act on climate change.

According to moral foundations theory, the value of compassion relates to humans’ evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel and dislike the pain of others.

Fairness relates to the evolutionary process of “reciprocal altruism”. This describes a situation whereby an organism acts in a way that temporarily disadvantages itself while benefiting another, based on an expectation that the altruism will be reciprocated at a later time.




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Conversely, a study in Australia found people who put a lower value on fairness, compared to either the maintenance of social order or the right to economic freedom, were more likely to be sceptical about climate change.

People may also use moral “disengagement” to justify, and assuage guilt over, their own climate inaction. In other words, they convince themselves that ethical standards do not apply in a particular context.

For example, a longitudinal study of 1,355 Australians showed over time, people who became more morally disengaged became more sceptical about climate change, were less likely to feel responsible and were less likely to act.

Our research found the moral values driving efforts to reduce emissions (mitigation) were different to those driving climate change adaptation.

Research in the United Kingdom showed people emphasised the values of responsibility and respect for authorities, country and nature, when talking about mitigation. When evaluating adaptation options, they emphasised moral values such as protection from harm and fair distribution of economic costs.

people on crowd hold signs
Moral reasoning helps shape climate beliefs, including climate scepticism.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Framing climate decisions

How government and private climate decisions are framed and communicated affects who they resonate with, and whether they’re seen as legitimate.

Research suggests climate change could be made morally relevant to more people if official climate decisions appealed to moral values associated with right-wing political leanings.

A US study found liberals interpreted climate change in moral terms related to harm and care, while conservatives did not. But when researchers reframed pro-environmental messages in terms of moral values that resonated with conservatives, such as defending the purity of nature, differences in the environmental attitudes of both groups narrowed.

Indeed, research shows moral reframing can change pro-environmental behaviours of different political groups, including recycling habits.

In the US, people were found to recycle more after the practice was reframed in moral terms that resonated with their political ideology. For conservatives, the messages appealed to their sense of civic duty and respect for authority. For liberals, the messages emphasised recycling as an act of fairness, care and reducing harm to others.




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person opens lid of recycling bin
Reframing of messages can help encourage habits such as recycling.
James Ross/AAP

When moralising backfires

Clearly, morals are central to decision-making about the environment. In some cases, this can extend to people adopting – or being seen to adopt – a social identity with moral associations such as “zero-wasters”, “voluntary simplifiers” and cyclists.

People may take on these identities overtly, such as by posting about their actions on social media. In other cases, a practice someone adopts, such as cycling to work, can be construed by others as a moral action.

Being seen to hold a social identity based on a set of morals may actually have unintended effects. Research has found so-called “do-gooders” can be perceived by others as irritating rather than inspiring. They may also trigger feelings of inadequacy in others who, as a self-defense mechanism, might then dismiss the sustainable choices of the “do-gooder”.

For example, sociologists have theorised that some non-vegans avoid eating a more plant-based diet because they don’t want to be associated with the social identity of veganism.

It makes sense, then, that gentle encouragement such as “meat-free Mondays” is likely more effective at reducing meat consumption than encouraging people to “go vegan” and eliminate meat altogether.

Looking ahead

Personal climate decisions come with a host of moral values and quandaries. Understanding and navigating this moral dimension will be critical in the years ahead.

When making climate-related decisions, governments should consider the moral values of citizens. This can be achieved through procedures like deliberative democracy and citizen’s forums, in which everyday people are given the chance to discuss and debate the issues, and communicate to government what matters most to them.




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This is the most sobering report card yet on climate change and Earth’s future. Here’s what you need to know


The Conversation


Jacqueline Lau, Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Andrew Song, Lecturer / ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow (DECRA), University of Technology Sydney, and Jessica Blythe, Assistant Professor, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Brock University

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

Tasmania’s reached net-zero emissions and 100% renewables – but climate action doesn’t stop there


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Rupert Posner, ClimateWorks Australia and Simon Graham, ClimateWorks AustraliaGetting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% renewable energy might seem the end game for climate action. But what if, like Tasmania, you’ve already ticked both those goals off your list?

Net-zero means emissions are still being generated, but they’re offset by the same amount elsewhere. Tasmania reached net-zero in 2015, because its vast forests and other natural landscapes absorb and store more carbon each year than the state emits.

And in November last year, Tasmania became fully powered by renewable electricity, thanks to the island state’s wind and hydro-electricity projects.

The big question for Tasmania now is: what comes next? Rather than considering the job done, it should seize opportunities including more renewable energy, net-zero industrial exports and forest preservation – and show the world what the other side of net-zero should look like.

electricity transmission lines
Hydro-electric power and wind energy mean Tasmania runs on 100% renewable energy.
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A good start

The Tasmanian experience shows emissions reduction is more straightforward in some places than others.

The state’s high rainfall and mountainous topography mean it has abundant hydro-electric resources. And the state’s windy north is well suited to wind energy projects.

What’s more, almost half the state’s 6.81 million hectares comprises forest, which acts as a giant carbon “sink” that sucks up dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere.

Given Tasmania’s natural assets, it makes sense for the state to go further on climate action, even if its goals have been met.




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The Tasmanian government has gone some way to recognising this, by legislating a target of 200% renewable electricity by 2040.

Under the target, Tasmania would produce twice its current electricity needs and export the surplus. It would be delivered to the mainland via the proposed A$3.5 billion Marinus Link cable to be built between Tasmania and Victoria. The 1,500 megawatt cable would bolster the existing 500 megawatt Basslink cable.

But Tasmania’s climate action should not stop there.

artist impression of marinus link
The Marinus Link would provide a second electricity connection from Tasmania to the mainland.
http://www.marinuslink.com.au

Other opportunities await

Tasmania can use its abundant renewable electricity to decarbonise existing industrial areas. It can also create new, greener industrial precincts – clusters of manufacturers powered by renewable electricity and other zero-emissions fuels such as green hydrogen.

Zero-emission hydrogen, aluminium and other goods produced in these precincts will become increasingly sought after by countries and other states with their own net-zero commitments.




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Tasmania’s vast forests could be an additional source of economic value if they were preserved and expanded, rather than logged. As well as supporting tourism, preserving forests could enable Tasmania to sell carbon credits to other jurisdictions and businesses seeking to offset their emissions, such as through the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund.

The ocean surrounding Tasmania also presents net-zero economic opportunities. For example, local company Sea Forest is developing a seaweed product to be added to the feed of livestock, dramatically reducing the methane they emit.

logs on a truck
Retaining, rather than logging, Tasmania’s forests presents an economic opportunity.
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Concrete targets are needed

The Tasmanian government has commissioned a review of its climate change legislation, and is also revising its climate change action plan.

These updates give Tasmania a chance to be a global model for a post-net-zero world. But without firm action, Tasmania risks sliding backwards.

While having reached net-zero, the state has not legislated or set a requirement to maintain it. The state’s current legislated emission target is a 60% reduction by 2050 on 1990 levels – which, hypothetically, means Tasmania could increase its emissions in future.




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Also, despite reaching net-zero emissions, Tasmania still emits more than 8.36 million tonnes of CO₂ each year from sources such as transport, natural gas use, industry and agriculture. Tasmania’s emissions from all sectors other than electricity and land use have increased by 4.5% since 2005.

Without a net-zero target set in law – and a plan to stay there – these emissions could overtake those drawn down by Tasmania’s forests. In fact, a background paper prepared for the Tasmanian government shows the state’s emissions may rise in the coming years and stay “positive” until 2040 or later.

The legislation update should also include a process to set emissions targets for each sector of the economy, as Victoria has done. It should also set ambitious targets for “negative” emissions – which means sequestering more CO₂ than is emitted.

Industrial plant billowing smoke
Tasmania must cut emissions from industry and other sectors.
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Action on all fronts

Under the Paris Agreement, the world is pursuing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5℃ this century. For Australia to be in line with this goal, it must reach net-zero by the mid-2030s.

Meeting this momentous task requires action on all fronts, in all jurisdictions. Bigger states and territories are aiming for substantial emissions reductions this decade. Tasmania must at least keep its emissions net-negative, and decrease them further.

Tasmania has a golden opportunity. With the right policies, the state can solidify its climate credentials and create a much-needed economic boost as the world transitions to a low-carbon future.The Conversation

Rupert Posner, Systems Lead – Sustainable Economies, ClimateWorks Australia and Simon Graham, Senior Analyst, ClimateWorks Australia

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

3 reasons meeting climate targets and dumping Kyoto credits won’t salvage Australia’s international reputation


Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Today, the Morrison government released updated projections of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which indicate Australia is on track to meet 2030 Paris targets without using “carryover” credits earned from the Kyoto Protocol period.

Australia’s plan to use Kyoto carryover credits to meet Paris targets have long been contentious. The government claims that because emissions fell by more than Australia had committed to under the Kyoto Protocol, they should be allowed to carry these “credits” forward to the Paris agreement. Yet legal experts and other governments have suggested there’s no basis for applying these to the Paris agreement, which is a separate agreement.

The new modelling is good news for the Morrison government, which has been under increasing domestic and international pressure over its climate policy. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison is likely to announce this development proudly at the virtual Pacific Islands Forum on Friday night.

So are the latest projections enough to salvage Australia’s reputation on this issue? That appears unlikely.

Dumping credits

Under the Paris Agreement, Australia committed to reducing emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030. This target has been widely criticised for years for being too meagre, but previous modelling had suggested even meeting this target was unlikely unless carryover credits were used.




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The latest modelling suggests if the recently-announced technology roadmap — a policy which will support new and emerging clean energy technologies — is taken into account, then Australia would beat its 2030 target by 145 million tonnes. In other words, by 2030 Australia could be 29% under 2005 levels, without using carryover credits.

Morrison had flagged he would announce that Australia will dump the Kyoto credits at a global leaders’ climate summit at the weekend. However, it’s unlikely he’ll be given a speaking slot by the hosts, a reflection of his failure to make meaningful climate commitments. This is why he’ll probably make the announcement to Pacific leaders tomorrow night instead.

But even if Morrison announces he’ll scrap the controversial carryovers tomorrow, our international counterparts will still regard Australia as a climate change laggard. There are three big reasons why.

1. Our Paris target is still unambitious

A reduction of 26-28% by 2030 from 2005 levels is well below the commitments of other countries under the Paris Agreement. And under the Paris Agreement, states were encouraged to ratchet up their commitments to emissions over time.

Yet unlike other countries, Australia has not made any indication of a plan to outline a more ambitious contribution ahead of the CoP26 meeting in Glasgow next year.




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It’s also worth recalling Australia’s 2005 baseline is a comparatively easy starting point. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia was one of only two developed countries allowed to increase its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2008-12.

This means most other developed countries had already reduced emissions in sectors where it was easiest for them to do so — the “low hanging fruit”. This makes further commitments under Paris more challenging for those countries than Australia.

2. Improved projections are no thanks to federal policy

If we don’t have to use Kyoto carry-over credits to meet Paris targets, it may be despite — rather than because — of federal government policy.

Simply put, much of the decline in (projected) emissions can be attributed to the actions of state governments, which have more actively supported the renewable energy sector.

Wind turbines against a sunet
The revision in the 2020 projections partly reflects new measures to speed up development and deployment of low emissions technologies in the recent budget.
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By contrast (and despite claims to the contrary) the government continues to commit billions of dollars to subsidising the fossil fuel industry. Yet there are clear indications of a declining future market for coal in particular.




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While the technology investment roadmap, a federal policy, may serve to further drive down emissions, this is still far from clear.

3. There’s still no commitment to a net zero emissions timetable

The European Union has had a long-standing commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. More recently it has been joined by other major emitters in Japan and South Korea, while emissions giant China has committed to net zero emissions by 2060.

US President-elect Joe Biden has also committed the US to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and to return the US to the Paris agreement.

And yet, the Morrison government continues to baulk at setting a net zero emissions timetable, preferring to describe this as a general ambition rather than endorse a specific target or date.




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The response from the Pacific will be telling

Australia consistently ranks among the worst performers internationally on the Climate Change Performance Index, and there are indications already that other states will actively pressure Australia on climate ambition and action in the lead up to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26).

Combined with steadily growing domestic pressure to act on climate change and weakening financial prospects for Australia’s coal exports, international pressure may contribute to a perfect storm for the Morrison government on climate policy.

The response Morrison receives at the virtual Pacific Islands Forum to this position will be telling.




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The region has long been deeply critical of Australia’s climate policy, and is at the frontlines of climate change impacts such as sea level rises, natural disasters and ocean acidification.

While Morrison may avoid the same diplomatic fallout from the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum on this issue, he’s unlikely to find an audience wholly convinced Australia now recognises the scale of the threat climate change poses.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

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.
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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.