‘Climigration’: when communities must move because of climate change



Flood damage in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 2013. Most communities are at some risk from extreme events, but repeated disasters raise the question of relocation.
srv007/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Tony Matthews, Griffith University

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


Climate change increasingly threatens communities all over the world. News of fires, floods and coastal erosion devastating lives and livelihoods seems almost constant. The latest fires in Queensland and New South Wales mark the start of the earliest bushfire season the states have ever seen.

What happens when climate change causes extreme events to become chronic, potentially rendering some communities unviable? This question is fuelling a new strand of global research focused on “climigration”. Climigration is the planned relocation of entire communities to new locations further from harm. And it has already begun.

The Isle de Jean Charles community is the first to receive US government funding to relocate because of climate change.



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It takes a lot to convince a community to move. But extreme events disrupt communities socially, economically and physically. Buildings and infrastructure are damaged, as are community cohesion and morale. Lives may be lost; many others are changed forever.

When extreme events disrupt communities, responses usually occur in one of two ways. We can try to repair damage and continue as before, which is known as resilience. Or we try to repair and fortify against future damage in a process of adaptation. Climigration is an extreme form of climate change adaptation,

This article draws on our recently published research, which investigated how land-use and strategic planning frameworks can prepare for climigration.

From imagination to reality

Climigration is no longer a concern for the future; it is a challenge today. The notion of strategically relocating entire communities has quickly moved from imagination to reality.

For instance, in 2016 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provided US$1 billion to help communities adapt to climate change in 13 states. The grants included the first direct allocation of federal funding to move an entire community.

Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana is the first US community to undergo federally sanctioned climigration. The move has been forced by the loss of coastal land to rising seas and storm surges. Last December, the state bought land at residents’ preferred site to develop their new community.

Property damaged by extreme weather and later abandoned on Isle De Jean Charles.
Maitri/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Climigration options were previously considered in Alaska. Climate-induced coastal erosion has threatened the viability of the village of Newtok for many years. Its residents voted in 2003 to relocate to higher ground but the relocation looks unlikely to be completed before 2023.

In Australia, more than 100 households in Grantham, Queensland, were relocated to higher ground with government assistance after devastating floods caused by an exceptionally strong La Niña in 2011.




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Moving Grantham? Relocating flood-prone towns is nothing new


Critical factors in climigration

Climigration is, of course, not a phenomenon restricted to the US and Australia. It is a growing concern for many countries.

Our research sought to establish a framework for effective climigration planning. We systematically reviewed international case studies of community relocations undertaken because of environmental hazards. As part of this we developed a hierarchy of influencing factors in planning for climigration.

We found that the degree to which a community agrees on the need to relocate is a crucial influence. Consensus generates social capital, which supports action and improves the prospects of successful outcomes.

Perception of the timing and severity of risks is another critical factor. Immediate, obvious risks are more likely to motivate action. Motivation can be low if risks are seen as a problem for the distant future, even if impacts may eventually be devastating.




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Why move back? Floods and the difficulty of relocation


Political, economic and logistical support from government moderately influences the success of community relocation. Relocation may still occur without government support, but this is not preferable and the chances of success are lower.

Strong local leadership can improve the capacity of communities to face the reality of relocation and then to resettle. Strategic leadership from outside agencies is a complement to local leadership, not a substitute.

How to plan successfully for climigration

Strategic and land-use planning systems will be central public agencies in many climigration cases.

Planners already have relevant skills and training. These include community consultation, mediation and stakeholder engagement. Planners can coordinate land acquisition and development applications. They can provide temporary housing, infrastructure and transportation.

Planning for climigration also requires other professional input, including disaster management, social psychology and engineering.

Strategic planning for climigration should begin as early as possible. Vulnerable communities can be identified using risk mapping.




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Alternative sites can then be shortlisted and potential logistical demands identified.

Securing land for relocation may place planners in the middle of competing forces. They need to be careful and deliberative to balance the expectations of residents, government, and the market.

Consultation is vital to secure community consensus in the event of climigration. It is a key tool for planners to explain risks and engage residents in crucial decisions.

Specific policy frameworks for climigration are preferable but not essential. When used, they can improve coordination and reduce the risk of negative outcomes.

A confronting concept

While climigration is not yet a common planning issue, it is likely to become an increasingly urgent agenda. Climigration events like those in Louisiana, Alaska and Queensland are just the first wave.

There are limits to the feasibility of climigration. It might only be viable for small towns and villages. Undoubtedly there will be cases where climigration is rejected as too much of challenge.

Triage-based planning could be helpful in deciding which communities to relocate.




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Accepting the notion of climigration may be the biggest challenge for planners. The idea that the only viable future for a community is to be relocated elsewhere is unusual and confronting. Managing climigration through planning practice may prove more straightforward than adjusting to the idea in the first place.The Conversation

Tony Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University

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

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Why attending a climate strike can change minds (most importantly your own)



Young people around the world are joining the climate strike movement.
EPA/SHAWN THEW

Belinda Xie, UNSW and Ben Newell, UNSW

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


This Friday in the lead-up to the United Nations climate summit, children and adults worldwide will go on strike for stronger action on climate change. However, you may ask, is striking effective? What can it really hope to achieve?

Our research, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, suggests striking can promote the psychological factors most important for fighting against climate change.




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If you’re wondering what you, as an individual, can do to support action against climate change, joining a strike (and asking your friends, family and colleagues to come with you) is a very good start.

From belief to action

In our recent research, we surveyed a large sample of Australians. We asked them how willing they would be to personally act on climate change (for example, pay more for electricity), support social interventions (such as using public funds to give rebates to households that install renewable energy), or take advocacy action (such as send an email to government officials encouraging them to support mitigation policies).

We integrated previous research which suggests that a range of factors influence people’s willingness to act, so we could target the most important variables. These included socio-demographic factors, amount of climate change-related knowledge, personal experience with extreme weather events, and moral values.

Predicting who will act

We found that the three most important variables in predicting an individual’s willingness to act were affect, mitigation response inefficacy, and social norms.

Affect refers to how unpleasant climate change is to you. The influence of affect is well demonstrated by Tongan Prime Minister Samuela “Akilisi” Pohiva shedding tears in front of other leaders during the recent Pacific Islands Forum.

Feeling more negatively about climate change was strongly associated with a greater willingness to act – so should we just try to feel worse about climate change? We already know most Australians are worried about climate change, and the helplessness associated with eco-anxiety suggests that making Australians feel worse would cause more harm than good.

The second most important predictor was mitigation response inefficacy, or “inefficacy” for short. This is the belief that we should not or cannot effectively mitigate climate change, as reflected in statements such as:

Whatever behaviour we, as a nation, engage in to reduce carbon emissions will make no real difference in reducing the negative effects of global warming.

This sentiment is echoed in frequent reminders that Australia accounts for only 1% of global emissions. By suggesting that we cannot have an impact, while conveniently ignoring Australia’s very high per-capita emissions rate, these beliefs put the brake on mitigation action.

So how do we get past the idea that we can’t make a difference?

One way might simply be to remind people how effective collective action can be. For example, compare these two statements:

  • If one person for a week reduced their TV usage by 20%, then, in total, they would prevent 0.5kg of CO₂ being released into the environment.

  • If 1,000 people for a week reduced their TV usage by 20%, then, in total, they would prevent 500kg of CO₂ being released into the environment.

Recent research found the second statement is more persuasive and leads to greater pro-environmental and pro-social action. Although individual action alone is just a drop in the bucket, aggregating actions over more people makes the same individual action seem more bucket-sized and thus more effective.

This aggregation effect speaks to the power of the school strike. You may not feel like your voice is heard if you carry a sign alone, but this action becomes much more powerful when you are surrounded by tens of thousands of people doing the same.

Our study found the third most important predictor of willingness to act was social norms. Social norms capture the extent to which people important to you are acting on climate change (descriptive norms) and the extent to which you think those people expect you to act on climate change (prescriptive norms).

For example, the Uniting Church recently passed a resolution to support students and teachers striking. This may signal to these students and staff that attending the strike will be both common and endorsed, increasing their willingness to go along.

Earlier this year, a Lowy Institute poll found Australians rank climate change as the top threat to Australia’s vital interests. But for many of us, it is difficult to think of how we personally can reduce that threat.

Participating in the school strike would be an effective start.




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By attending the strike, you will increase the effectiveness of the strike for you and the others around you. And by encouraging your friends and family to go with you, you will promote the social norms that support climate change action.The Conversation

Belinda Xie, Scientia PhD Scholar, School of Psychology, UNSW and Ben Newell, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, UNSW

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

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



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

Bill Hare, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia is keeping poor company

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

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

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

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

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

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

The surprising success stories

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

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

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

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

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




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

Quitting coal is key

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

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

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

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



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

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

Don’t forget about trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate change is the defining issue of our time – we’re giving it the attention it deserves



The Conversation has joined more than 250 news outlets around the world to focus on climate change coverage.

Nicole Hasham, The Conversation

We provide 100% evidence-based coverage on climate change. Stay informed BY subscribing to our free newsletter.


Veteran Great Barrier Reef expert Jon Brodie often thinks of his PhD students and despairs. The young scientists have a quenchless thirst for new knowledge about the marine wonder. They want to make it better, healthier, more resilient. But climate change and other processes threaten the reef’s very existence. In a few decades’ time, Brodie wonders, what will be left for these scientists to study?

“It’s very depressing for me,” Brodie said of the reef’s prognosis when we spoke last week. “It’s unlikely we’ll have extensive coral reef left in the world within 50 years. It could be earlier.”

Brodie’s personal reflection will be featured on The Conversation this week as we join a global media initiative to better tell the story of the climate emergency. The Conversation has joined more than 250 news outlets around the world to run focused climate coverage in the lead-up to a highly anticipated climate action summit in New York on September 23. Together, participating outlets have a combined reach of well over one billion people.

The Conversation is committed to delivering responsible, evidence-based journalism that helps readers understand the world’s most pressing issues. We hope this week of coverage helps fulfil that mission and, ultimately, adds to pressure on governments to treat climate change with the urgency it deserves.

This week’s global media effort is part of a broader project, Covering Climate Now, which encourages journalists to improve climate change reporting.

This mobilisation of the world’s media resources comes at a critical time. Last October, a scientific report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the world had just 12 years to radically slash greenhouse gas emissions if it hopes to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming, including extreme weather.

For Australians, the past year is a portent of what is to come. Most of the country is gripped by crippling drought. Last summer was Australia’s hottest ever, and last winter was one of the driest on record. A warm, dry spring is on the way and experts predict a monster bushfire season this summer.

But despite Australia’s unique vulnerability to climate change, our greenhouse gas emissions are rising. We must turn the ship around, and quickly.

Our coverage this week will be a guide on how we might do it. We kick off the coverage today with Director of the Australian National University’s Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Frank Jotzo, who takes stock of Australia’s progress on climate action and how we are perceived on the issue by our global peers. Former Australian of the Year and respected climate scientist Tim Flannery will tell us why the gloves are off when it comes to dealing with climate sceptics.

Director of the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, David Holmes, will discuss the push for TV weather presenters to talk about climate change, and respected Murdoch University climate scientist Bill Hare will tell us which countries are leading, and failing, the pack on climate action.

Each day this week, our popular Climate Explained series will answer burning reader questions: why don’t we have zero-emissions electric planes? How much climate change is natural? Why are climate change sceptics often right-wing conservatives? We will also debunk climate myths, explore climate anxiety among young people and consider whether severe environmental harm should be considered a crime against humanity – and lots more.

We hope you enjoy this special week of coverage on The Conversation. Climate change is the defining issue of our time – let’s give it the attention it deserves.The Conversation

Nicole Hasham, Section Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation

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

Australia to attend climate summit empty-handed despite UN pleas to ‘come with a plan’



The Port Kembla industrial area in NSW. Industry emissions can be cut by improving efficiency, shifting to electricity and closing old plants.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Climate action will be on the world stage again at a meeting of world leaders in New York on September 23. The United Nations has convened the event and urged countries to “come with a plan” for ambitious emissions reduction.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the meeting because he says global efforts to tackle climate change are running off-track. He wants leaders to present concrete, realistic pathways to strengthen their existing national emissions pledges and move towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Australia is not expected to propose any significant new actions or goals. Prime Minister Scott Morrison – in the US at the time to visit President Donald Trump – will not attend the summit. Foreign Minister Marise Payne will attend, and is likely to have to fend off heavy criticism over Australia’s slow progress on climate action.

Australia: procrastinator or paragon?

Australia has gained an international reputation as a climate action laggard – plagued by political acrimony over climate change, offering few policies to reduce emissions and embroiled in diplomatic rifts with our Pacific neighbours over, among other things, support for coal.

For many afar, it is difficult to understand the policy vacuum in a country so vulnerable to climate change.

In turn, the federal government points out that Australia is one of the few countries that has fully met its emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto protocol period to 2020, and says that it expects to meet the 2030 Paris emissions targets.

An island in the low-lying Pacific nation of Tuvalu, which is threatened by inundation from rising seas.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Come with a plan, and make it good

The landmark Paris agreement includes a global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Countries set so-called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) outlining an emissions reduction target and how they will get there.




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Australia set a target to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the Paris treaty, the national pledges should be reviewed and strengthened every five years.

The UN convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their NDCs. The new pledges should be in line with a 45% cut to global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Australia’s emissions are rising

Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are about 12% lower than in 2005, the base year for the Paris target. But since 2013 they have steadily risen, and are continuing to rise.

In the electricity sector, recent declines in coal-fired power and increases in renewables are reducing carbon output. But those savings are being negated by rises in the gas industry and from transport.

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

Nevertheless, the Australian government is loudly confident of reaching the Paris target – including by using a large amount of accumulated credits from the Kyoto Protocol period. On average, Australia stayed below the Kyoto emissions budgets from 2008 to 2020, and the plan is to count this “carry-over” against an expected overshoot in the period to 2030.

This may be compatible with the Paris Agreement rule book. But it would receive scorn from countries that care about climate commitments. The Kyoto targets were not in line with the ambition now spelled out in the Paris agreement, and Australia’s Kyoto targets are seen by many countries as lax.

We could do so much better

With meaningful policy effort, Australia could meet the Paris target without resorting to Kyoto credits, and possibly meet a much more ambitious target. This would set us up better for deeper cuts down the road.

Rapid and large emissions reductions could be made in the electricity sector – especially if the investment boom in renewables of the last two years were to continue. However the latest indications are that renewables investment is tailing off.

The transition to renewables is transforming the electricity sector. Pictured: a high voltage electricity transmission tower in central Brisbane.
Darren England/AAP

Large improvements can readily be made in transport by shifting to electric vehicles and improving the rather dismal fuel efficiency of conventional cars still sold in Australia. Gas and coal use in industry can be cut by improving efficiency and shifting to electricity, and by phasing out some old energy-hungry and often uneconomic plants like aluminium smelters.

The gas industry can do better through improved management of leaks and reduced venting of methane; we can also improve agricultural practices and land management.




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The transition in the energy sector will definitely happen, based on the cost advantage of renewables, unless governments actively stand in the way. The question is how quickly and smoothly it will happen.

The advantages of the renewables transition extend beyond our shores. Solar and wind energy could be converted to carbon-free hydrogen and other zero-emissions fuels at massive scale and then exported. Electricity could also be sent through undersea cables to Asia.

This is shaping up as a real possibility, depending on technology costs and whether the world kicks the fossil fuel habit.

Outside electricity generation, policy measures are needed to achieve, or at least encourage, these changes. A price on carbon like many countries now have, would do a very good job, combined with the right regulation and public investment.

Cattle stir up dust on a property outside Condobolin in NSW’s central west. Most of the nation is currently gripped by drought.
Dean Lewins/AAP

2050: defining a strategy

Limiting the risk of catastrophic climate change demands that global emissions fall rapidly in coming decades. Keeping temperature rise to 2°C or less means reducing emissions to net-zero.

Australia will be expected to table strategies to get to net-zero by 2050 next year, at the UN’s climate COP, or “conference of the parties”. That process should be a chance for Australian governments, industry and civil society to put heads together about how this could work.




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The year 2050 is beyond the horizon of most corporate interests vested in existing assets, and it allows greater emphasis on long term opportunities than on short term adjustments. This should encourage a more open discussion than the often acrimonious debates about 2030 emissions targets and short-term policies.

Australia should show the world it can imagine a zero-emissions future, and hatch the beginnings of a plan for it. It would help position the nation’s resources industries for the future and help with our international reputation.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Why declaring a national climate emergency would neither be realistic or effective



The Greens and independent MPs are pushing for Australia to declare a national ‘climate emergency’, in line with several other nations.
Darren England/AAP

David Holmes, Monash University

Predictably, both major political parties are resisting calls this week for a parliamentary conscience vote to declare a climate emergency in Australia.

The resistance is unsurprising because both the Coalition and Labor are still captive to the fossil fuel industry. Both fear alienating voters who believe that a mining job is somehow worth far more than a renewables job, though this is perhaps more true for Labor than the LNP.

A majority of Australians accept that climate change is happening, although, like the minister for natural disasters, David Littleproud, a surprising number don’t necessarily believe it is caused by humans. Moreover, when climate change is made an economic issue, many voters are less likely to support tougher action if they perceive this is going to impact on their cost of living.

Despite the fact he lost his own seat in the recent federal election, former PM Tony Abbott said the Coalition’s overall victory made this point abundantly clear.

Where climate change is a moral issue, we Liberals do it tough. But where climate change is an economic issue […] tonight shows we do very, very well.




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Climate change vs the economy

There is no better illustration of Abbott’s zealous observation than in Queensland during the 2019 election.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown, believing he could turn the controversial Adani coal mine into another Franklin River dam, led a convoy of climate activists through Queensland towns. But pushing climate change as a moral issue became an insult to the coal communities there.

Bob Brown’s anti-Adani protests didn’t play well in some Queensland communities.
Rohan Thomson/AAP

Labor also talked tough on climate change, with former leader Bill Shorten declaring in the final week of the May campaign:

It is not the Australian way to avoid and duck the hard fights. We will take this [climate change] emergency seriously.

At the same time, Labor vacillated over Adani. The party’s prevarication over climate led to much confusion, and when the votes were counted, it did not win a seat north of metro Brisbane.




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Fast-forward to today, and the painful loss of the election has ensured that Labor isn’t taking any chances on coal.

In fact, shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong didn’t hesitate last month when she said,

coal remains an important industry for Australia and it remains part of the global energy mix.

And Labor may now be preparing to walk away from its ambitious climate target of cutting emissions by 45% by 2030, in favour of a focus on a net-zero pollution target for 2050.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale accused Labor of “caving in to the coal, oil and gas lobby” if it abandons its 2030 emissions reduction target, and added,

Labor will have lost whatever remaining credibility it has on the climate crisis.

The politics of a national emergency

In many city councils and certain electorates across Australia, declaring a climate emergency has been a clever strategy both for political consumption and to mobilise behavioural change on a local scale.

But on a national scale, where climate change is so heavily politicised, the declaration of a climate change emergency would be an unmitigated disaster for the major parties, and for the cause of effectively communicating climate change.

This is not to say that climate change isn’t anything short of an emergency. It absolutely is.




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The monstrous amounts of energy going into the oceans right now guarantees continued global warming that is fast heading towards the equivalent of the climatic violence of the Eemian period of 118,000 years ago.

And among the countless tipping points we are seeing unfold before us, the shock of a premature fire season in NSW and Queensland, with winter barely over, is just one way in which climate change is having an impact at a local level.

In some ways, there is no better time to raise awareness of climate change than during extreme weather events, as people are looking for explanations as to why they are occurring and how they can be so severe.

But to declare a national climate emergency, pushed so strongly by the Greens and independents, is not only politically difficult in Australia at the moment, it is also a hopeless communications strategy.

Communicating a climate emergency

Here are six reasons why declaring a climate emergency is so deeply problematic.

1) Without bipartisan support, which is likely to be the case, it will further entrench the politicisation of climate change in Australia. Australians are already divided on anthropogenic climate change, and are increasingly afflicted by issue fatigue. This is precisely because climate change is thrashed about as a political issue (which turns on opinion) rather than a matter of physics (which turns on facts).

2) If such a conscience vote fails in parliament, it will marginalise any well-intentioned instigators as a partisan minority.

3) If ever such a conscience vote succeeded, it would merely come to serve as a symbolic cover for inaction in the face of steadily rising emissions.

4) Without meaningful decarbonisation policies, such a declaration would become a twisted apologia for such inaction, as long as political parties are able to spin national accounting carbon emissions figures.

5) Recent research by the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub found that the term “climate emergency” didn’t resonate with Australians as much as other phrases, such as climate change, global warming, extreme weather, climate crisis, and complex weather. Only 6.93% of Brisbane respondents and 4.03% of Melbourne respondents preferred “climate emergency” to the other terms.

6) By far the most overwhelming problem with such a declaration is that politicians are the least trusted sources of information on climate change.

To regain trust on climate change, politicians need to lead with genuinely effective policies and decisions, rather than the foil of a hollow sentiment that has no legal or economic status.

In the meantime, there needs to be better public understanding of the science behind climate change, delivered by trusted sources, that allows people to come to terms with the true urgency of the crisis.The Conversation

David Holmes, Director, Climate Change Communication Research Hub, Monash University

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