Torres Strait Islanders ask UN to hold Australia to account on climate ‘human rights abuses’


Kristen Lyons, The University of Queensland

Climate change threatens Australia in many different ways, and can devastate rural and urban communities alike. For Torres Strait Islanders, it’s a crisis that’s washing away their homes, infrastructure and even cemeteries.

The failure to take action on this crisis has led a group of Torres Strait Islanders to lodge a climate change case with the United Nations Human Rights Committee against the Australian federal government.

It’s the first time the Australian government has been taken to the UN for their failure to take action on climate change. And its the first time people living on a low lying island have taken action against any government.

This case – and other parallel cases – demonstrate that climate change is “fundamentally a human rights issue”, with First Nations most vulnerable to the brunt of a changing climate.

The group of Torres Strait Islanders lodging this appeal argue that the Australian government has failed to take adequate action on climate change. They allege that the re-elected Coalition government has not only steered Australia off track in meeting globally agreed emissions reductions, but has set us on course for climate catastrophe.

In doing so, Torres Strait Islanders argue that the government has failed to uphold human rights obligations and violated their rights to culture, family and life.

This case is a show of defiance in the face of Australia’s years of political inertia and turmoil over climate change.

It is the first time people living on a low-lying island – acutely vulnerable in the face of rising sea levels – have brought action against a government. But it may also be a sign of things to come, as more small island nations face impending climate change threats.

Breaching multiple human rights obligations

Driving this case is an alliance of eight Torres Strait Islanders, represented by the Torres Strait land and sea council, Gur A Baradharaw Kod, along with a legal team from ClientEarth and 350.org. They argue that their way of life has come under immediate and irreversible threat.

On this basis, they accuse the Australian government of breaching multiple articles of the UN Human Rights Declaration, including the right to culture, the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home, and the right to life.

In the early 1990s, the Torres Strait Islands were at the centre of struggles to secure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights in Australia.

Securing these rights were made possible through the historic Mabo Decision, and these rights remain central to land and human rights debates today as Torres Strait Islanders’ land and seas are threatened by climate change.

Torres Straight Islanders are on the frontlines

Some Torres Strait Islands are less than one metre above sea level and are already affected by climate change.

Rising tides have delivered devastating effects for local communities, including flooding homes, land and cultural sites, with dire flooding in 2018 breaking a sea wall built to protect local communities.

Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. The ancestral lands of these islands are being washed away by sea level rise from climate change.
Shutterstock

Increasing sea temperatures have also affected marine environments, driving coral bleaching and ocean acidification, and disrupting habitat for dugong, salt water crocodiles, and multiple species of turtle.

In the same way settler colonial violence dispossessed First Nations people from their ancestral homelands, climate change presents a real threat of further forced removal of people from their land and seas, alongside destruction of places where deep cultural and spiritual meaning is derived.

Parallel threats across the Pacific

While the Torres Strait appeal to the UN is groundbreaking, the challenges facing Torres Strait Islanders are not unique.

Delegates at the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji last week described climate change as the “single greatest threat” to the region, with sea level rise occurring up to four times the global average in some countries in the Pacific.

Climate change is already causing migration across parts of the Pacific, including relocation of families from the Carteret Islands to Bougainville with support from local grassroots organisation Tulele Peisa.

The Alliance of Small Island States, an intergovernmental organisation, has demanded that signatories to the Paris Agreement, including through the Green Climate Fund, recognise fundamental loss and damages communities are facing, and compensate those affected.

The growing wave of climate litigation

Across the Torres Strait, the Pacific, and other regions on the frontline of climate change, there are a diversity of responses in defence of land and seas. These are often grounded in local and Indigenous knowledge.

They show the resolve of First Nations and local communities, as captured in a message from the Pacific Climate Warriors:

We are not drowning. We are fighting.

There are parallel appeals to the Torres Strait Islanders’ case. Around the world, First Nations people are calling on the UN to hold national governments to account on human rights obligations, including in the context of mining and other developments that drive greenhouse gas emissions.

In Australia, Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners have submitted multiple appeals, including last year alleging government violations of six international human rights obligations in their effort to advance Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine.

There is an array of other climate litigation underway. This includes citizens suing their governments for failing to take action on climate, such as in the Netherlands, where a judge ordered the government to take hefty action to reduce national emissions.

Similarly, a group of 21 children in the United States are pursuing a lawsuit to demand the right to a safe climate.

Given the parlous state of climate politics in Australia, further litigation can be expected. The significance of the current appeal by a group of Torres Strait Islanders lies in its potential to lay bare the adequacy or otherwise of Australia’s response to climate change as a human rights issue.

First Nations people already have a moral authority in defending their human rights in the era of climate change. Over time, they and others, including children, will also test the grounds on which they might have the legal authority to do so.The Conversation

Kristen Lyons, Professor Environment and Development Sociology, The University of Queensland

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

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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 poster is political: how artists are challenging climate change


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

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


2040 was released in Australia on May 22.The Conversation

John Wiseman, Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

El Niño has rapidly become stronger and stranger, according to coral records


Mandy Freund, University of Melbourne; Ben Henley, University of Melbourne; David Karoly, CSIRO; Helen McGregor, University of Wollongong, and Nerilie Abram, Australian National University

The pattern of El Niño has changed dramatically in recent years, according to the first seasonal record distinguishing different types of El Niño events over the last 400 years.

A new category of El Niño has become far more prevalent in the last few decades than at any time in the past four centuries. Over the same period, traditional El Niño events have become more intense.

This new finding will arguably alter our understanding of the El Niño phenomenon. Changes to El Niño will influence patterns of precipitation and temperature extremes in Australia, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

Some climate model studies suggest this recent change in El Niño “flavours” could be due to climate change, but until now, long-term observations were limited.




Read more:
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Our paper, published in Nature Geoscience today, fills this gap using coral records to reconstruct El Niño event types for the past 400 years.

Central Pacific El Niño event frequency relative to Eastern Pacific El Niño event frequency over the past four centuries, expressed as the number of events in 30-year sliding windows.
Author provided

What is El Niño?

El Niño describes an almost year-long warming of the surface ocean in the tropical Pacific. These warming events are so extreme and powerful that their impacts are felt around the globe.

During strong El Niño events, Australia and parts of Asia often receive much less rainfall than during normal years. The opposite applies to the western parts of the Americas, where the stronger rising motion over unusually warm ocean waters often results in heavy rainfall, causing massive floods. At the same time many of the hottest years on record across the globe coincide with El Niño events.

El Niño and its global impacts. Schematic of idealised atmospheric and sea surface temperature conditions during Central (top left) and Eastern Pacific events (top right). Annual global temperature anomalies (lower panel) show the familiar upward trend due to climate change. Many of the hottest years on record coincide with El Niño events.
NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: Global Time Series

The reason for such far-reaching influences on weather is the changes El Niño causes in atmospheric circulation. In normal years, a massive circulation cell, called the Walker circulation, moves air along the equator across the tropical Pacific.




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500 years of drought and flood: trees and corals reveal Australia’s climate history


Warmer waters during El Niño events disrupt or even reverse this circulation pattern. The type of atmospheric disruption and the climate impacts this causes depend in particular on where the warm waters of El Niño are located.

The new ‘flavour’ of El Niño

A new “flavour” of El Niño is now recognised in the tropical Pacific. This type of El Niño is characterised by warm ocean temperatures in the Central Pacific, rather than the more typical warming in the far Eastern Pacific near the South American coast, some 10,000km away.

Although not as strong as the Eastern Pacific version, the Central Pacific El Niño is clearly observed in recent decades, including in 2014-15 and most recently in 2018-19. Over most of the last 400 years, El Niño events happened roughly at the same rate in the Central and Eastern Pacific.

Differences between Central and Eastern Pacific El Niño events and their associated drought impacts.

By the end of the 20th century, though, our research shows a sudden change: a sharp increase of Central Pacific El Niño events becomes evident. At the same time, the number of conventional Eastern Pacific events stayed relatively low, but the three most recent Eastern-type events (in 1982-83, 1997-98 and 2015-16) were unusually strong.

Using coral to unlock the past

Our understanding of the new Central Pacific flavour of El Niño is hindered by the fact that El Niño events happen only every 2-7 years. So during our lifetime we can observe only a handful of events.

This isn’t enough to really understand Central Pacific El Niño, and whether they are becoming more common.

That’s why we look at corals from the tropical Pacific. The corals started growing decades to centuries before we began routinely measuring the climate with instruments. The corals are an excellent archive of changes in water conditions they experience as they grow, including ocean changes related to El Niño. We combined the information from a network of coral records that preserve seasonal histories.

At a seasonal timescale, we can see the characteristic patterns of past El Niño events in the chemistry of the corals. These patterns tell us which El Niño is which over the last 400 years. It is in this continuous picture of past El Niños obtained from coral archives that we found a clear picture of an unusual recent change in the Pacific’s El Niño flavours.

Underwater drilling of corals off Christmas Island (underwater team: Jennie Mallela, Oscar Branson; surface team: Jessica Hargreaves, Nerilie Abram).
Jason Turl, Nerilie Abram

Why do we care?

This extraordinary change in El Niño behaviour has serious implications for societies and ecosystems around the world. For example, the most recent Eastern-Pacific El Niño event in 2015-2016 triggered disease outbreaks across the globe. With the impacts of climate change continuing to unfold, many of the hottest years on record also coincide with El Niño events.




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Australia moves to El Niño alert and the drought is likely to continue


What’s more, the Pacific Ocean is currently lingering in an El Niño state. With these confounding events, many people around the world are wondering what extreme weather will be inflicted upon them in the months and years to come.

Our new record opens a door to understanding past changes of El Niño, with implications for the future too. Knowing how the different types of El Niño have unfolded in the past will mean we are better able to model, predict and plan for future El Niños and their widespread impacts.The Conversation

Mandy Freund, PhD Researcher, University of Melbourne; Ben Henley, Research Fellow in Climate and Water Resources, University of Melbourne; David Karoly, Leader, NESP Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub, CSIRO; Helen McGregor, ARC Future Fellow, University of Wollongong, and Nerilie Abram, ARC Future Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences; Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Australian National University

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

Shorten distances himself from Green overtures on climate policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has rebuffed overtures by the Greens leader Richard Di Natale to work closely with a Labor government to promote a strong policy on climate.

Shorten accused the Greens of “trailing their coat and saying, ‘Look at me’”.

“The fact of the matter is that if we get elected we’ll be making decisions in a Labor cabinet and the decisions will be made by members of parliament of the Labor party,” Shorten said, in anticipation of Di Natale’s Wednesday address to the National Press Club.

“What we will do is we will implement the policies we’ve put forward,” Shorten said.

In fact a Labor government, which would be in a minority in the Senate, would probably have to negotiate with the Greens to get its climate policy through the Senate.

After the backlash against the formal Labor-Greens alliance under the Gillard government – in which the two parties worked in conjunction on the carbon pricing scheme – Shorten is anxious to keep maximum distance between the ALP and the minor party.

For its part the government paints Labor and the Greens as “joined at the hip”. Scott Morrison said on Wednesday: “We know who holds the chain – if it’s not the Greens it’s the militant unions”.




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In his Press Club appearance Di Natale ran a double line – attacking Labor policies on climate and the environment as inadequate, while stressing the need for co-operation in government.

The Greens were “deeply concerned that Labor has taken a weaker climate policy in 2019 than what they proposed in 2016, which was weaker still than what they took to the 2013 election”.

Di Natale said he was not seeking a formal alliance between the Greens and Labor as in 2010 – rather “we want to work constructively. We want to negotiate”.

He was “not surprised to hear the response from Bill Shorten today […] we hear that time and time again in the lead-up to an election.

“But we need the Greens in the Senate working with the Labor party and other voices to ensure that the policy that’s delivered meets the science and that is up to the challenge of transitioning our economy”.




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A Shorten government “will have two pathways open to them after the election, ” he said.

“They can either pursue a climate and energy policy designed to pass through a divided Coalition party room […] or they can negotiate a comprehensive response, based on science, with the Greens.

“My message to Bill Shorten is that you can’t achieve bipartisanship with the Liberals because they can’t even agree among themselves,” he said.

“The decision for Bill Shorten is whether he follows the take-it-or-leave-it approach of Kevin Rudd in 2009, or negotiates with the Greens, just like Julia Gillard did in 2011, to deliver a climate policy that gives future generations a chance”.

Di Natale would not be drawn on what approach the Greens would take if negotiating climate policy with Labor. “The key part of any negotiation is not to conduct it publicly through the media.”

The Greens leader defended his party against criticism over its refusal to support the Rudd government’s scheme, saying Rudd’s policy “would have locked in failure”.




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Meanwhile a number of independent MPs and candidates have signed a statement initiated by the Australian Conservation Foundation committing, if elected, to work with each other and other parliamentarians to promote initiatives on climate.

“We recognise that to be a true servant of our communities and our national parliament, we must demonstrate and deliver strong leadership on climate change,” they say.

Among the objectives they commit to are:

  • opposing the development of the Adani mine

  • ensuring Kyoto Protocol carryover credits are not used to meet Australia’s 2030 emissions education target

  • developing a roadmap to power Australia from 100% renewable energy, aiming to achieve at least 50% by 2030

  • opposing attempts to commit public money to new or existing coal or other fossil fuel operations, including any government underwriting of coal or gas power plants.

Those signing the statement are Andrew Wilkie, member for Clark; Kerryn Phelps, member for Wentworth; Julia Banks, member for Chisholm who is running as an independent candidate in Flinders; Dr Helen Haines, independent candidate for Indi; Zali Steggall, independent candidate for Warringah; Rob Oakeshott, independent candidate for Cowper, and Oliver Yates, independent candidate for Kooyong.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

In Australia, climate policy battles are endlessly reheated


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


It might feel like the past decade of climate policy wars has led us into uncharted political waters. But the truth is, we’ve been sailing around in circles for much longer than that.

The situation in the late 1990s bore an uncanny resemblance to today: a Liberal-led government; a prime minister who clearly favours economic imperatives over environmental ones; emerging internal splits between hardline Liberal MPs and those keen to see stronger climate action; and a Labor party trying to figure out how ambitious it can be without being labelled as loony tree-huggers.

The striking parallels between now and two decades ago tell us something about what to expect in the months ahead.




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After a brief flirtation with progressive climate policy in the 1990 federal election, the Liberals had, by the final years of the 20th century, become adamant opponents of climate action.

In March 1996, John Howard had come to power just as international climate negotiations were heating up. In his opinion, even signing the United Nations climate convention in Rio in 1992 had been a mistake. He expended considerable effort trying to secure a favourable deal for Australia at the crunch Kyoto negotiations in 1997.

Australia got a very generous deal indeed (and is still talking about banking the credit to count towards its Paris target), and Howard was able to keep a lid on climate concerns until 2006. But it was too little, too late, and in 2007 his party began a six-year exile from government as Rudd, then Gillard, then Rudd took the climate policy helm, with acrimonious results.

When Tony Abbott swept to power in 2013, his first act was to abolish the Labor-appointed Climate Commission, which resurrected itself as the independent Climate Council. Next, he delivered his signature election campaign promise: to axe the hated carbon tax (despite his chief of staff Peta Credlin’s later admission that the tax wasn’t, of course, actually a tax).




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Abbott also reduced the renewable energy target, and sought (unsuccessfully) to keep climate change off the agenda at the 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane.

Abbott and his environment minister Greg Hunt did preside over some policy offerings – most notably the Direct Action platform, with the A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund at its heart, dishing out public money for carbon-reduction projects. The pair also announced an emissions reduction target of 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030, which Australia took as its formal pledge to the crucial 2015 Paris climate talks.

But by the time nations convened in Paris, Malcolm Turnbull was in the hot seat, having toppled Abbott a few months earlier. Many observers hoped he would take strong action on climate; in 2010 he had enthused about the prospect of Australia going carbon-neutral. But the hoped-for successor to the carbon price never materialised, as Turnbull came under sustained attack from detractors within both his own party and the Nationals.

Then, in September 2016, a thunderbolt (or rather, a fateful thunderstorm). South Australia’s entire electricity grid was knocked out by freak weather, plunging the state into blackout, and the state government into a vicious tussle with Canberra. The dispute, embodied by SA Premier Jay Weatherill’s infamous altercation with the federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg, spilled over into a wider ideological conflict about renewable energy.




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A year since the SA blackout, who’s winning the high-wattage power play?


With tempers fraying on all sides, and still no economy-wide emissions policy in place, business began to agitate for increasingly elusive investment certainty (although they had played dead or applauded when Gillard’s carbon price was under attack).

In an era of policy on the run, things accelerated to a sprinter’s pace. Frydenberg suggested an emissions intensity scheme might be looked at. Forty-eight hours later it was dead and buried.

Turnbull commissioned Chief Scientist Alan Finkel to produce a report, which included the recommendation for a Clean Energy Target, prompting it to be vetoed in short order by the government’s backbench.

Within three months Frydenberg hurriedly put together the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), which focused on both reliability and emissions reduction in the electricity sector. The policy gained support from exhausted business and NGOs, but not from the Monash Forum of Tony Abbott and cohorts, who preferred the sound of state-funded coal instead. And then, in August 2018, the NEG was torpedoed, along with Turnbull’s premiership.

The next man to move into the Lodge, Scott Morrison, was previously best known in climate circles for waving a lump of coal (kindly provided, with lacquer to prevent smudging, by the Minerals Council of Australia) in parliament.




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The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Morrison’s problems haven’t eased. His energy minister Angus Taylor and environment minister Melissa Price have each come under attack for their apparent lack of climate policy ambition, and Barnaby Joyce and a select few fellow Nationals recently endangered the fragile truce over not mentioning the coal.

Meanwhile, Labor, with one eye on the Green vote and another on Liberal voters appalled by the lack of action on climate change, are trying to slip between Scylla and Charybdis.

Shorten’s offering

While Labor has decided not to make use of a Kyoto-era loophole (taking credit for reduced land-clearing), its newly released climate policy platform makes no mention of keeping fossil fuels in the ground, dodges the thorny issue of the Adani coalmine, and has almost nothing to say on how to pay the now-inevitable costs of climate adaptation.

What will the minor parties say? Labor’s policy is nowhere near enough to placate the Greens’ leadership, but then the goal for Labor is of course to peel away the Greens support – or at least reduce the haemorrhaging, while perhaps picking up the votes of disillusioned Liberals.

Overall, as Nicky Ison has already pointed out on The Conversation, Labor has missed an “opportunity to put Australians’ health and well-being at the centre of the climate crisis and redress historical injustices by actively supporting Aboriginal and other vulnerable communities like Borroloola to benefit from climate action”.




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Labor’s climate policy: a decent menu, but missing the main course


And so the prevailing political winds have blown us more or less back to where we were in 1997: the Liberals fighting among themselves, business despairing, and Labor being cautious.

But in another sense, of course, our situation is far worse. Not only has a culture war broken out, but the four hottest years in the world have happened in the past five, the Great Barrier Reef is suffering, and the Bureau of Meteorology’s purple will be getting more of a workout.

We’ve spent two decades digging a deeper hole for ourselves. It’s still not clear when or how we can climb out.The Conversation

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

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

Shorten’s climate policy would hit more big polluters harder and set electric car target


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Shorten government would add about 100 high polluters to those subject to an emissions cap, and drastically slash the present cap’s level, under the opposition’s climate policy released on Monday.

Labor would aim for a new threshold under a revamp of the existing safeguards mechanism of 25,000 tonnes of direct carbon dioxide pollution annually, which would be phased in after consultation with industry.

This would be a major reduction from the current cap of 100,000 tonnes. About 140 to 160 polluters come under the existing cap.

The safeguards mechanism was established by the Coalition government to cap pollution for the biggest polluters by setting limits or “baselines” for facilities covered. But Labor says it has been ineffective.

On transport, the policy sets an ambitious target of having electric vehicles form 50% of new car sales by 2030. The government fleet would have an electric vehicle target of 50% of new purchases and leases of passenger vehicles by 2025.

The climate change policy covers industry, transport and agriculture, with the proposed measures for the electricity sector, including an in-principle commitment to a national energy guarantee (NEG) and subsidies for batteries, already announced.

The agriculture sector would not be covered by the expanded safeguards policy.

The government’s emissions reduction fund – recently allocated a further A$2 billion over a decade and renamed – would be scrapped if Labor wins the May election.

The climate policy is the third of three key policy announcements the opposition wanted to make before the election is called, likely next weekend. The others were the wages policy and the announcement of the start date – January 1 – for the proposed crackdown on negative gearing.

The opposition has committed itself to a 45% economy-wide reduction in emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2030, compared with the government’s commitment to a reduction of 26-28%.

Labor’s policy confirms that it would not use Australia’s credits from the expiring Kyoto Protocol to help meet its Paris target, saying this course is “fake action on climate change”. Bill Shorten said on Sunday: “It’s only the Australian Liberal Party and the Ukraine proposing to use these carryover credits that I am aware of.”

Labor says it would “work in partnership with business to help bring down pollution.”

“Labor’s approach isn’t about punishing polluters. It’s about partnering with industry to find real, practical solutions to cut pollution, in a way that protects and grows industry and jobs.”

“There will be no carbon tax, carbon pricing mechanism, or government revenue,” Labor says.

“Rather, Labor will reduce pollution from the biggest industrial polluters by extending the existing pollution cap implemented by Malcolm Turnbull.”

“Pollution caps will be reduced over time and Labor will make it easier for businesses to meet these caps by allowing for industrial and international offsets.”

The expanded scheme’s new threshold would capture an estimated 250 of the biggest industrial polluters – 0.01% of all businesses.

Businesses would be able to earn credits for “overachievement” – reducing pollution below their baselines. They could sell these credits or use them to meet their future cap.

“Tailored” treatment would be provided to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries (EITEs) such as steel, aluminium and cement. There would be a A$300 million Strategic Industries Reserve Fund “to support these industries in finding solutions to cut pollution and remain competitive”.

A Shorten government would consult with industry and experts on baselines for individual entities and the timing of reduction.

It would also put in place “a well-functioning offset market and reinvigorate the land offset market”.

“Currently, a facility that emits more than its baseline must offset excess emissions by purchasing offsets, primarily from the land sector. But currently businesses cannot access international offsets, or offsets from the electricity sector.

“Labor will make it easier for covered businesses to meet any offset obligations, not only by allowing for the creation and sale of offsets if emissions fall below baselines, but also through the purchase of international offsets and potentially offsets from the electricity sector.

“We will also boost offset supply through revitalising the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) – including reforms to strengthen the integrity of the CFI, and increasing land and other sector abatement opportunities.

“This will include exploring the establishment of ‘premium’ land sector credits to provide substantial environmental, biodiversity and other co-benefits, establishing a Carbon Assessment Standard to boost the bankability of offset projects, and re-vitalising offset methodology research and development with an additional A$40 million in funding over four years.

“Labor’s plan will help industry reduce pollution at least cost, and give traditional owners, farmers, the forestry industry and traditional owners new opportunities to earn income.”

On transport – which accounts for nearly 20% of Australia’s emissions – Labor says Australia is now last among western countries for electric vehicle uptake.

“Setting a national target will deliver more affordable electric vehicles into the Australian market and drive the switch to electric vehicles, reducing their cost, creating thousands of jobs and cutting pollution.”

Businesses would get an upfront tax deduction to buy electric vehicles, as part of the ALP’s announced Australian Investment Guarantee.

One aspect of moving quickly to government electric vehicle fleets would be that it would develop a secondhand market, Labor says.

“Labor will also work with industry to introduce vehicle emissions standards, to save Australian motorists hundreds of dollars each year at the bowser while driving down pollution on our roads.

“Australia is now one of the only developed nations without vehicle emissions standards in place. As a result, motorists will pay as much as A$500 each year more at the bowser than they should be, as well as seeing pollution on our roads skyrocket.

“Labor will consult on the timeline and coverage of vehicle emission standards to ensure consumers are made significantly better off, and aim to phase-in standards of 105g CO₂/km for light vehicles, which is consistent with Climate Change Authority advice.”

These standards would be in line with those in the United States but less stringent than those in the European Union.

“These standards will be applied to car retailers to meet average emissions standards, rather than imposing blanket mandatory standards on manufacturers.

“This will allow retailers to meet the standards by offsetting high emissions car sales with low or zero emissions car sales – such as electric vehicles.”



Emily Nunell/Michael Hopkin/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

UPDATE: Reaction

The government has reacted predictably to the Labor climate plan, branding it a “new tax”, ahead of what will be a major Coalition scare campaign in the election.

Scott Morrison said the opposition leader “does not have a plan, he just has another tax.

“What we’ve got here is a ‘re-Rudd’ of a failed policy that costs jobs, that costs businesses, that will cost Australians at least $9,000 a year, with the reckless targets that Bill Shorten will make law.”

On electric cars, Morrison said Shorten needed to explain how in 10 years he would take them from 0.2% of the market to 50% – because if he didn’t achieve his “reckless target […] he has to come back and get that money off you”.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Shorten policy “would be a wrecking ball in the economy.

“It would raise the price of electricity and the price of gas and the price of food and the price of cars. Labor needs to come clean on the detail – not just the mechanism, which we know is the carbon tax.”

The Business Council of Australia welcomed the further details Labor had provided but said there were unanswered questions including “what mechanism will drive and manage the transition to lower-emissions generation in the electricity sector?”

“It remains unclear how abatement will be delivered in the electricity sector and how the various announcements made today will contribute to an economy-wide emissions reduction target,” the BCA said.

It said it had strongly supported the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) and called on the ALP, if elected, “to commit to working with the states and territories to implement the scheme as a credible, market-based mechanism to drive abatement and investment in the electricity sector.”

The Labor party has supported in principle a NEG – the plan the Coalition dumped because of an internal split over it.

The Australian Conservation Foundation gave Labor’s policy a qualified tick, describing it as “a serious policy response to the existential threat of global warming that recognises pollution must be cut across all industry sectors.”

“Labor’s climate change plan does address many of the important challenges Australia has in transforming into a zero-pollution economy,” the ACF said.

But “unfortunately, sections of Labor’s policy platform contain significant wriggle room that big polluters may seek to exploit.

“If it wins government Labor must quickly harden the detail around its policies and resist attempts of industry lobby groups like the Minerals Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Automobile Association to weaken climate action.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Labor’s climate policy: a decent menu, but missing the main course


Nicky Ison, University of Technology Sydney

The federal Labor Party this week released the details of its keenly awaited climate policy package.

With a commitment to cutting climate pollution by 45% on 2005 levels by 2030, compared with the Coalition’s 26-28% target, there was never a doubt that Labor’s policy agenda was going to be more ambitious than the government’s.




Read more:
Shorten’s climate policy would hit more big polluters harder and set electric car target


But what exactly does it include, how does it stack up against the scientific imperatives, and what’s missing?

By offering a broad platform, Labor has moved away from a single economy-wide policy solution to climate change, such as a carbon price or emissions trading scheme. Instead, it has opted for a sector-by-sector approach.

This is smart politics and policy. By developing a climate plan for each major sector – industry, electricity, transport, and agriculture and land – it is possible to modernise each sector in a bespoke way, thus driving more innovation and job creation while also cutting carbon pollution.


Emily Nunell/Michael Hopkin/The Conversation

Industry

Labor has taken the politically safe option of expanding the Coalition’s “safeguard mechanism” to lower industrial greenhouse emissions. Under this scheme, big emitters are required to keep their emissions below a prescribed “baseline” level, or to buy offsets if they exceed it.

Labor has lowered the threshold for the scheme, meaning it will now cover all businesses that emit more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year (the cutoff is currently 100,000 tonnes). From there, all of these companies will have to lower their emissions by 45% by 2030 on 2005 levels.

Some details are still to be determined, including the precise trajectories of emissions reductions, the use of offsets (which while welcomed by industry, is considered by many people to be highly problematic), and the treatment of emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries such as aluminium and cement. As with all complex policies, the devil will be in the detail.

Labor’s policy also includes a “Strategic Industries Reserve Fund”, which would support non-commercial technical innovations to help energy-intensive industries reduce their pollution. The world has already seen significant technical advances, from electrification of gas furnaces, to new cement blends.

But few have been developed, trialled or adopted by Australian industry, and they are not yet as cheap as deploying renewables or energy-efficiency solutions in the electricity sector. The new fund would therefore potentially help drive down emissions in the longer term by opening up access to technologies that are not yet cost-competitive.

Electricity

Labor announced its electricity policy in November 2018, and nothing has changed since. It primarily includes a commitment to adopting the Coalition’s now-abandoned National Energy Guarantee and providing an extra A$10 billion to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Other commitments include plans for energy efficiency, hydrogen power, support for community energy, and establishment of a Just Transition Authority. These are worthwhile next steps, but much more needs to be done to replace Australia’s ageing coal-fired power stations with clean, renewable energy.




Read more:
Labor’s policy can smooth the energy transition, but much more will be needed to tackle emissions


Transport

Labor’s transport plans offer a clear chance to deliver economic benefits alongside emissions reductions. It has pledged to introduce vehicle emissions standards equivalent to those in the United States (which are not as strict as those in the European Union).

Australia is the only OECD country that does not have vehicle emissions standards, leaving manufacturers free to dump old, gas-guzzling models on the Australian market. Labor calculates that this costs Australian households an extra A$500 per year in fuel costs, compared with other countries.

Alongside this is also a 50% target for electric vehicles (EVs), requirements for new EV charging infrastructure, and tax breaks for businesses that buy EVs. These are sensible first steps towards driving down transport emissions, which are rising rapidly. Indeed, they are the very least a government should be doing, which makes the fact that after six years in government the Coalition won’t have a plan for electric vehicles until mid-2020 very concerning.




Read more:
Labor’s plan for transport emissions is long on ambition but short on details


Agriculture and land

Agriculture is the most difficult of all sectors in which to reduce emissions; it is therefore unsurprising that the lightest-touch policy approach is in this sector. Federal Labor will want to take advantage of all the departmental support it can to properly tackle this tough nut.

What it has done is commit to two main policies: strengthening the Carbon Farming Initiative, and ensuring that Queensland’s land clearing laws are applied across the country. The land clearing laws particularly will help reverse the current widespread land clearing occurring in New South Wales, in response to the state government weakening these laws. And comes in stark contrast to the federal government’s proposal to pay farmers not to chop down trees.

Carbon accounting

The final prong in Labor’s climate strategy is to rule out any creative accounting tricks. The Coalition government is proposing to use carryover Kyoto credits that are a result of the Howard government negotiating a “good deal” for Australia in 1997. Labor has ruled out using these loopholes as part of meeting Australia’s international commitments and has also promised to do more to help our Pacific neighbours. This support may be little help, however, if Labor doesn’t strengthen its support for holding global warming to 1.5℃.

What’s left out?

This package is a solid, technocratic basis for tackling Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions. Unfortunately, there remain some glaring omissions.

The biggest omission is the lack of a plan to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Fossil fuels, particularly the mining and export of coal are Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change. Yet the ALP’s policy contains only two mentions of coal, nothing on coal exports, and no mention of gas. Labor is evidently still sitting on the fence on the future of the controversial Adani coalmine, and on the question of fossil fuel subsidies more generally.

While it might be politically convenient to let the Coalition tear itself apart over coal, the scientific reality is that to have a hope of limiting warming to 1.5℃, Australia needs to rapidly move away from coal both domestically and for exports. This is not something Labor will be able to ignore for long.

There was also no mention of the need to adapt to existing climate change. Given the recent tribulations of Townsville, the Murray-Darling Basin, and drought-stricken farmers, this should surely be a crucial point of emphasis.




Read more:
Townsville floods show cities that don’t adapt to risks face disaster


The policy is also missing the human face of climate change. Labor is choosing to frame climate as an economic and environmental issue. It is both of those things, but it is also a social justice issue. Indeed, those most affected by climate change are some of Australia’s (and the world’s) most disadvantaged people. For instance, the Aboriginal community of Borroloola in the Northern Territory, who are currently fighting fracking on their land, were recently evacuated due to Cyclone Trevor.

Yesterday’s policy announcement was a missed opportunity to put Australians’ health and well-being at the centre of the climate crisis and redress historical injustices by actively supporting Aboriginal and other vulnerable communities like Borroloola to benefit from climate action.

The lack of focus on health is doubly puzzling, given that Labor already announced a Climate and Health Strategy in late 2017, and could easily have drawn attention to it here.

While there is no doubt that Labor is far ahead of the Coalition on climate change, this package is far from what the science (and schoolchildren!) are telling us is needed.

As bushfires, floods, droughts and protests are all set to continue, don’t expect this issue to go away after the federal election.The Conversation

Nicky Ison, Research Associate, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

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