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.

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Don’t forget our future climate when tightening up building codes



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Australia’s new National Construction Code doesn’t go far enough in preparing our built environment for climate change.
Sergey Molchenko/Shutterstock

Deo Prasad, UNSW

Too often it takes a crisis to trigger changes in legislation and behaviour, when forward thinking, cooperation and future planning could have negated the risk in the first place. Australia’s building and construction industry is under the microscope and changes in the law are in the wind, due to situations that could have been avoided. These include the evacuation of Sydney’s Opal building and the fires in Melbourne’s Lacrosse tower in 2014 and the Neo200 apartment building in February, both of which were fuelled by combustable cladding, as was the 2017 fire in London’s Grenfell Tower that killed 72 people.

The Shergold Weir report made 24 recommendations to improve the National Construction Code to ensure compliance, integrity and more. Commissioned by federal and state building ministers, the report was made public at the Australian Building Ministers Forum in April 2018. But implementation has been too slow to prevent the problems in the Opal and Neo200 apartment buildings. And it included no changes to climate-proof buildings.




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A new National Construction Code comes into effect on May 1. Recent events have, however, exposed inadequate construction standards and increased public pressure for further change. This presents an opportunity to future-proof our cities as well as restore public confidence in our construction industry.

Construction codes were created to eliminate “worse practice”, but we are now in a position to make them “best practice”. Importantly, we must prepare for climate change. Australia is increasingly experiencing more extreme weather patterns, but are we ready?

The legislative overhaul must also include building sustainability and higher performance requirements. A low-to-zero-carbon future must be part of the picture.

Construction code changes are needed urgently, not just for increased safety, but to ensure future urban developments:

  • are ready for higher energy demands to cool and heat buildings
  • are designed to maximise sun and shade at the appropriate times to cool and warm both building and street
  • use materials that reflect heat for hot climates and absorb it for cooler ones
  • maximise insulation to reduce energy use
  • provide enough green space to give shade, produce oxygen and sustain a healthy environment
  • use water features to cool common and public areas
  • install smart technology to monitor and manage buildings and precincts.



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Many leading developers are taking the initiative to ensure projects include high-performance, zero-carbon, highly energy-efficient buildings, with top star ratings, but action needs to be across the board. This can only be done via tough legislation and enforced compliance.

The University of NSW’s Tyree Building is an excellent example of a high-performance building, as is One Central Park, Sydney, which features hanging gardens and an internal water recycling plant. But its most striking feature is its “heliostat”, a large array of mirrors that reflect sunlight to areas that would otherwise be in shadow.

One Central Park.
SAKARET/Shutterstock

Around the world, high-performance buildings are on the increase, such as 313@Somerset in the heart of Singapore, and the Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad – India’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum-rated building. There are many more.

Changing the law

New building standards and compliance are required to ensure high-performance buildings are the norm, not the exception. The construction industry should fulfil a “cradle to cradle” objective for materials. This means accounting for:

  • where materials come from
  • how materials are made
  • safety levels
  • carbon component
  • recyclability at demolition.

Laws covering low-carbon building design are imperative, setting standards for geography, maximising natural light, air flow, insulation and smart technology. Technology can monitor and run a building’s utilities to ensure it’s not only energy-efficient but also delivers a health standard that’s adaptable to the future pressures of climate change.




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Sustainable buildings are achievable now

Current know-how makes all this achievable. Over the past seven years the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living and its industry partners have funded research into most low-to-zero-carbon aspects of the built environment. This has led to many recommendations in reports like Built to Perform, produced by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.

The many research projects include:

  • 17 living laboratories providing cutting-edge data
  • creating low-carbon communities
  • developing tools to measure carbon outputs, from materials to services
  • studying the effects of heatwaves in Western Sydney and ways to cool cities
  • research into low-carbon concrete made of fly ash.

This plethora of data reveals that sustainable cities and precincts are achievable, while providing for a growing communities. Blockchain and solar technology, for example, is now proven for managing a precinct’s energy needs and can help turn energy users into providers.




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Although we are more global than ever, online and social media have in turn made us locally focused. We can know what’s going on in our street at a click and this technology is applicable to the operation of our future, sustainable cities.

We have the data, expertise, tools and knowledge to make safe, low-to-zero-carbon cities part of our future. But there’s much work to do. We still need to implement this knowledge, use the tools, change behaviour and instil 100% trust in the design and construction process. There’s no time to waste.The Conversation

Deo Prasad, Scientia Professor and CEO, Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, UNSW

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

Climate change forced these Fijian communities to move – and with 80 more at risk, here’s what they learned


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Many houses were flattened after Tropical Cyclone Evan, leading to the partial relocation of the Fijian viillage Denimanu.
Rowena Harbridge/AusAID, CC BY-SA

Annah Piggott-McKellar, The University of Queensland; Karen Elizabeth McNamara, The University of Queensland, and Patrick D. Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast

The original Fijian village of Vunidogoloa is abandoned. Houses, now dilapidated, remain overgrown with vegetation. Remnants of an old seawall built to protect the village is a stark reminder of what climate change can do to a community’s home.

Vunidogoloa is one of four Fijian communities that have been forced to relocate from the effects of climate change. And more than 80 communities have been earmarked by the Fiji government for potential future relocation.




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Low lying coastal communities like these are especially vulnerable to threats of sea-level rise, inundation of tides, increased intensity of storm surges and coastal erosion. Extreme, sudden weather events such as cyclones can also force communities to move, particularly in the tropics.

But relocating communities involves much more than simply rebuilding houses in a safer location.

It involves providing the right conditions for people to rebuild the lives they knew, such as equitable access to resources and services, social capital and community infrastructure.

Our research documents the experiences and outcomes of relocation for two of these Fijian communities – Vunidogoloa and Denimanu.

The relocated villages

My colleagues and I visited Vunidogoloa and Denimanu, villages in Fiji’s Northern Islands, at the end of 2017 and spoke to village leaders and community members to learn how they felt about the relocation process.

All 153 residents of Vunidogoloa and roughly half of the 170 people in Denimanu moved away from their climate ravaged homes.

Map of Fiji showing the two case study sites.
Author provided

Flooding in Vunidogoloa

Vunidogoloa is a classic example of the slow creep of climate change. For a number of decades the residents have fought coastal flooding, salt-water intrusion and shoreline erosion. The village leaders approached the Fijian government, asking to be relocated to safer ground.

The relocation was originally set for 2012 but, after delays, the entire village moved roughly 1.5 kilometres inland two years later. This is often recognised as the first ever village in Fiji to relocate from climate change.

The new village relocation site of Vunidogoloa.

Cyclone in Denimanu

In contrast to Vunidogoloa, Denimanu experienced sudden onset effects of climate change.

While the village had been experiencing encroaching shorelines for years, it was Tropical Cyclone Evan, which hit in 2012 destroying 19 houses closest to the shoreline, that prompted relocation.




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These homes were rebuilt roughly 500 metres from the original site on a hill slope. With the remaining houses still standing on the original site, the village was only partially moved.

The new village relocation site of Denimanu.
Author provided

Was relocation a success?

The relocation was a success in Vunidogoloa, and residents said they now feel much safer from climate change hazards. One villager told us:

We were so fearful because of the tides living at the old site. We were happy to move away from that fear.

But in Denimanu, where the relocated villagers live on a slope, fears of coastal threats have now been replaced by a fear of potential landslides. This is especially concerning as the village’s primary school was recently destroyed by a nearby landslide.

A relocated Denimanu local said:

We were delighted with the move to the new houses, but we were still worried about the landslide because the houses were on the hill and we know this place.

The landslide that destroyed the primary school in Denimanu village.

Ultimately, residents in both villages were happy with many aspects of the relocation process.

For example, they were provided solar power, rainwater tanks, and household facilities that weren’t available in the original villages. Vunidogoloa also received pineapple plants, cattle, and fish ponds, which have helped reestablish their livelihoods.

But it’s not all good news. While new housing was built for the community, they were built to a poor standard, with leaking through the doors and walls, especially in periods of high rainfall. Fiji is located in the tropics, so these infrastructure problems are likely to get worse.




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And moving the Vunidogoloa villagers away from the ocean might damage their livelihoods, as fishing is one of their dominant sources of food. The ocean also provides an important spiritual connection for local people.

The impacts of climate change are set to rise, especially if global action to halt greenhouse gas emissions stagnates. More vulnerable communities will need to move away from their current homes.

While relocating communities to safer, less exposed areas is one option to help people manage climate hazards, it’s not a viable solution for all those affected.

Our research shows relocation must be done in a manner that accounts for the rebuilding of local livelihoods, with sustainable adaptation solutions that put local priorities at the centre of this process.

And we need them before more coastal villages are impacted by both slow and sudden onset climate impacts, putting more people in danger.The Conversation

Annah Piggott-McKellar, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Karen Elizabeth McNamara, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland, and Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

Climate change is hitting hard across New Zealand, official report finds



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Finance minister Grant Robertson (left) and climate minister James Shaw address school children during a climate protest, promising that New Zealand will introduce zero carbon legislation this year.
AAP/Boris Jancic, CC BY-ND

Robert McLachlan, Massey University

The major focus on climate change in Environment Aotearoa 2019, a stocktake on New Zealand’s environment released today, is a welcome change.

The report describes an environment that faces serious pressures, including species at risk of extinction, polluted rivers and streams, the loss of productive land as cities expand, and climate change.

On climate change, the report is more detailed and hard-hitting than past reports have been.




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New Zealand’s global share of emissions

New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are high internationally. In 2015, New Zealanders produced 17.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases (measured as carbon dioxide equivalent) per person, 33% higher than the average of 13.2 tonnes from industrialised countries.

In the latest figures from 2017, gross emissions rose 2.2% from 2016 and remain 23% above 1990 levels. The immediate causes are clearly stated: high emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture and sharply rising emissions of carbon dioxide from transport.

The report is silent on the root causes of rising emissions, including ineffective government action and community attitudes that rank climate change as a relatively low priority. Instead it states:

Our high per-person emissions are reversible if we adopt policies, technologies, or other means that reduce our production of greenhouse gases.

But this obscures the story of 30 years of policy work on climate change and 11 years trying to make New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme work.




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An earlier report on climate change did not foresee the flood of vehicles entering the country. This has now given New Zealand the highest rate of vehicle ownership in the OECD. New Zealand has 4.36 million vehicles, up half a million since 2015, but lacks the regulations found in many other countries, such as CO₂-linked registration fees and fuel efficiency standards. With a flood of cheap, high-emission used imports, it is no surprise that New Zealand’s transport emissions continue to rise.

Known unknowns

A key function of this latest report is to identify knowledge gaps. An important one for New Zealand is the relative strengths of different carbon sources and sinks, for example by different types of vegetation, soils and agricultural practices.

As emphasised recently by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, New Zealand is still focusing too much on plantation forestry as a short-term fix for our emissions problem. It is a risk because it creates a carbon liability for the future, as well as exposure to diseases and fires. Its true environmental impact is not well understood.




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The section on current climate impacts could not be more clear.

Climate change is already affecting Aotearoa New Zealand. Changes include alteration to temperature, precipitation patterns, sea-level rise, ocean acidity, wind, and sunshine.

New Zealand’s temperature has increased by 1ºC since 1909. While this is close to the global average, it is less than the global land average which has increased by 1.4ºC. New Zealand is protected to some degree by the Southern Ocean.

Warm days have increased and frosts decreased. Soils have dried, glaciers have melted, sea levels have been rising, the oceans have warmed and acidified, and sunshine hours have increased. No surprises so far. Climate science predicts an increase in extreme rainfall events, but this has not yet been detected statistically. At one-third of the measured sites, extreme wind has decreased, whereas an overall increase in wind is expected.

New Zealand not immune to climate change

If anything, the section on current impacts is too conservative. The data stops in 2016 before the epic years of 2017 and 2018, which saw many extreme weather events of all types. These were linked in part to El Niño, which raises global temperatures, and in part to an extreme Southern Annular Mode, an indicator whose strengthening is itself linked to climate change.




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Few New Zealanders will forget the sequence of ex-tropical cyclones, 1-in-100-year floods, the sight of the Southern Alps without snow or the Port Hills on fire.

The report’s final section covers future impacts in the most forceful official statement seen yet. It lays out a blizzard of impacts in all areas of the environment, country, economy and infrastructure, including coastal flooding, erosion, tsunami risk, liquefaction risk and saltwater intrusion.

All aspects of life in New Zealand will be impacted.

The way forward

The uncertainties are clear. We don’t have a clear idea of the rate of future emissions, or the impacts under different emission scenarios. Some of the most important impacts, such as sea-level rise, are also the most uncertain. The report notes that information on cumulative and cascading impacts is limited. Climate change has the capacity to undermine environmental efforts elsewhere.

Polls show a rising awareness of climate change and a hunger for stronger action. The Zero Carbon bill is expected to go to select committee before June, but even when passed, emissions will not start falling until the mid-2020s, with the heavy lifting left to the 2040s and future emission reductions technologies.

A recent report on New Zealand’s transition to a low-emission economy outlines many more immediate actions. Let’s hope that this report, along with the public pressure from the School Strike 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion movements, give the government the courage to act decisively.The Conversation

Robert McLachlan, Professor in Applied Mathematics, Massey University

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

Why climate change will dull autumn leaf displays



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Autumnal displays may be dimmed in the future.
Shutterstock

Matthew Brookhouse, Australian National University

Every autumn we are treated to one of nature’s finest seasonal annual transitions: leaf colour change and fall.

Most of the autumn leaf-shedding trees in Australia are not native, and some are declared weeds. Nevertheless, Australia has a spectacular display of trees, from the buttery tresses of Ginkgo biloba to the translucent oaks, elms and maples.

Autumn colour changes are celebrated worldwide and, when the time is right, autumn leaves reconnect us to nature, driving “leaf-peeping” tourist economies worldwide.

However, recent temperature trends and extremes have changed the growing conditions experienced by trees and are placing autumn displays, such as Canberra’s, at risk.

Autumn leaf colour changes and fall are affected by summer temperatures.
Shutterstock

This year, Canberra, like the rest of Australia, endured its hottest summer on record. In NSW and the ACT, the mean temperature in January was 6°C warmer than the long-term average. So far, autumn is following suit.

These extremes can interrupt the ideal synchronisation of seasonal changes in temperature and day length, subduing leaf colours.

In addition, hotter summer temperatures scorch leaves and, when combined with this and the previous years’ low autumn rainfall, cause trees to shed leaves prematurely, dulling their autumn leaf displays.




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The subtlety of change

We learnt in childhood autumn colour change follows the arrival of cooler temperatures. Later we learnt the specifics: seasonal changes in day length and temperature drive the depletion of green chlorophyll in leaves. Temperature can also affect the rate at which it fades.

In the absence of chlorophyll, yellows and oranges generated by antioxidants in the leaf (carotenoids) as well as red through to purples pigments (anthocyanins), synthesised from stored sugars, emerge. Temperature plays a role here too – intensifying colours as overnight temperatures fall.

We’ve also come to understand the role of a leaf’s environment. Anthocyanin production is affected by light intensity, which explains why sunny autumns produce such rich colours and why the canopies of our favourite trees blush red at their edges while glowing golden in their interior.

However, early signs show this year’s autumn tones will be muted. After the record-breaking heat of summer and prolonged heat of March, many trees are shrouded in scorched, faded canopies. The ground is littered with blackened leaves.

Of course, we’ve seen it before.

During the Millennium Drought, urban trees sporadically shed their leaves often without a hint of colour change. Fortunately, that was reversed at the drought’s end.

But we’re kidding ourselves if we believe this last summer was normal or recent temperature trends are just natural variability. If this is a sign of seasons future, we need to prepare to lose some of autumn’s beauty.




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Lost synchronicity

Long-term and experimental data show that the sensitivity of autumn colour change to warmer temperatures varies widely between species. While large-scale meta-analyses point to a delay in the arrival of autumn colours of one day per degree of warming, individual genera may be far more sensitve. Colour change in Fagus is delayed by 6-8 days per degree.

Warming temperatures, then, mean the cohesive leaf-colour changes we’re accustomed to will break down at landscape scales.

In addition, as warm weather extends the growing season and deep-rooted trees deplete soil moisture reservoirs, individual trees are driven by stress rather than seasonal temperature change and cut their losses. They shed leaves at the peripheries of their canopies.

The remainder wait – bronzed by summer, but still mostly green – for the right environmental cue.

For years, careful species selection and selective breeding enhanced autumn colour displays. This rich tapestry is now unravelling as hotter summers, longer autumns and drought affect each species differently.




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Paradoxes and indirect effects

It seems logical warmer temperatures would mean shorter and less severe frost seasons. Paradoxically, observations suggest otherwise – the arrival of frost is unchanged or, worse, occurring earlier.

When not preceded by gradually cooling overnight temperatures, frosts can induce sudden, unceremonious leaf loss. If warm autumn temperatures fail to initiate colour change, autumn displays can be short-circuited entirely.

At the centre of many urban-tree plantings, our long association with elms faces a threat. Loved for the contrast their clear yellow seasonal display creates against pale autumn skies, elm canopies have been ravaged by leaf beetles this year. Stress has made trees susceptible to leaf-eating insects, and our current season delivered an expanse of stressed, and now skeletal, trees.

Autumn leaf displays drive tourism.
Norm Hanson/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA



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Change everywhere?

This dulled image of autumn is far from universal. Climates differ between locations. So too will the climate changes we’ve engineered and their impact on autumn displays.

Increased concentration of anthocyanins associated with warmer summers has, for example, created spectacular leaf displays in Britain’s cooler climates.

Of course, we’ll continue to experience radiant autumn displays too.

In years of plentiful rain, our trees will retain their canopies and then, in the clear skies of autumn, dazzle us with seasonal celebrations. However, that too may be tempered by the increased risk of colour-sapping pathogens, such as poplar rust, favoured by warm, moist conditions. And there are also negative consequences for autumn colour associated with elevated carbon dioxide concentrations.

Of course, we need to keep it in perspective – the dulling of autumn’s luminescence is far from the worst climate change impacts. Nevetheless, in weakening our link with nature, the human psyche is suffering another self-inflicted cut as collective action on climate change stalls.The Conversation

Matthew Brookhouse, Senior lecturer, Australian National University

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

There’s a lot of bad news in the UN Global Environment Outlook, but a sustainable future is still possible



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It’s not all doom and gloom – pathways to restore the health of our planet do exist.
wonderisland/Shutterstock

Pedro Fidelman, The University of Queensland

The Sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6), the most comprehensive environmental assessment produced by the UN in five years, brought us both good and bad news.

The environment has continued to deteriorate since the first GEO-6 report in 1997, with potentially irreversible impacts if not effectively addressed. But pathways to significant change do exist, and a sustainable future is still possible.

Launched in March at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the 700-page report involved nearly 200 global experts who collaborated over 18 months.




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It covers, in detail, a range of topics, including air, biodiversity, oceans and coasts, land and freshwater, climate change, human health and energy.

And it assessed the state of the global environment, the effectiveness of policy responses, and possible pathways to achieve the environmental goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The good news

There is a fair bit of negative information in the GEO-6, which unfortunately reflects the overall state of environmental affairs globally. But it is not all doom and gloom, the GEO-6 has many positive, solution-oriented messages too.

The GEO-6 advises that pathways and approaches to systemic change exist, which must be scaled up quickly to steer the planet towards more sustainable futures.




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The considerable connections between environmental, social and economic policies can inform multiple goals. So policies addressing entire systems – such as food, energy and waste – are more likely to have beneficial impact.

For instance, reducing our use of fossil fuels leads to health benefits by decreasing outdoor air pollution responsible for premature deaths. And efforts to eliminate hunger (such as changes in agriculture production) can help address climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and chemical pollution.

With the window for action closing quickly, given the unprecedented rate of global environmental change, the GEO-6 is calling for more ambitious and innovative policy.

We need significant change leading us to decarbonisation, a circular economy, sustainable agriculture and food systems, and better adapting socio-economic systems to climate change.

The bad news

The GEO-6 warns the overall condition of the global environment continues to deteriorate, driven mainly by population growth, urbanisation, economic development, technological change and climate change.

Here’s what we’re dealing with:

  • air pollution currently causes an estimated 6 to 7 million premature deaths annually
  • we might be witnessing the sixth mass species extinction in the planet’s history
  • 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year as a result of mismanagement of domestic waste in coastal areas
  • warming ocean waters are leading to mass mortality of coral reefs across the world’s tropics
  • 29% of all lands are degradation hotspots
  • pathogen-polluted drinking water and inadequate sanitation cause approximately 1.4 million human deaths annually, with many millions more becoming ill.

These and other issues reported in the GEO-6 will lead to ongoing and potentially irreversible impacts if they are not addressed effectively, and immediately.

Typically, environmental policy efforts are based on individual issues, like air pollution, or industry sectors. But this approach doesn’t address the complexity of contemporary environmental problems that require system-oriented efforts at large scales.

Under current policy scenarios, the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as other goals like the Paris Agreement, are unlikely to be achieved.

The GEO-6 calls for urgent, inclusive and sustained action by governments, business and society proportionate to the scale and pace of global environmental change.

What it means for Australia

In Australia, positive action is taking place at state and local levels of government, where support for more ambitious emissions targets is generally stronger than at the Australian government level.

And many sectors of society and business are shifting towards more sustainable practices. The booming uptake of rooftop solar and the development of large-scale renewable projects illustrates such a shift.

But when it comes to sustainable development policies at the national level, Australia lags behind most of the developed world, particularly in relation to energy and climate change policy.




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We don’t yet have long-term certainty for support of the uptake of electric cars, the transition to renewables, the adoption of fuel efficiency standards, and limiting emissions from the manufacturing and resources industry.

Effective strategies to curb land clearing remains to be seen, and only recently Australia has incorporated principles of circular economy into the National Waste Policy.

These do not help Australia meet its agreed commitments under the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and associated Sustainable Development Goals.

With long-term environmental, socio-economic and political stability at stake, it is time for commitment, leadership and robust policies that can last beyond the three-year electoral cycle.The Conversation

Pedro Fidelman, Senior research fellow, The University of Queensland

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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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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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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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.