After the storm: how political attacks on renewables elevates attention paid to climate change



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AAP/David Mariuz

David Holmes, Monash University

This time last year, Australia was getting over a media storm about renewables, energy policy and climate change. The media storm was caused by a physical storm: a mid-latitude cyclone that hit South Australia on September 29 and set in train a series of events that is still playing itself out.

The events include:

In one sense, the Finkel Review was a response to the government’s concerns about “energy security”. But it also managed to successfully respond to the way energy policy had become a political plaything, as exemplified by the attacks on South Australia.

New research on the media coverage that framed the energy debate that has ensued over the past year reveals some interesting turning points in how Australia’s media report on climate change.

While extreme weather events are the best time to communicate climate change – the additional energy humans are adding to the climate is on full display – the South Australian event was used to attack renewables rather than the carbonisation of the atmosphere. Federal MPs hijacked people’s need to understand the reason for the blackout “by simply swapping climate change with renewables”.

However, the research shows that, ironically, MPs who invited us to “look over here” at the recalcitrant renewables – and not at climate-change-fuelled super-storms – managed to make climate change reappear.

The study searched for all Australian newspaper articles that mentioned either a storm or a cyclone in relation to South Australia that had been published in the ten days either side of the event. This returned 591 articles. Most of the relevant articles were published after the storm, with warnings of the cyclone beforehand.

Some of the standout findings include:

  • 51% of articles were about the power outage and 38% were about renewables, but 12% of all articles connected these two.

  • 20% of articles focused on the event being politicised by politicians.

  • 9% of articles raised climate change as a force in the event and the blackouts.

  • 10% of articles blamed the blackouts on renewables.

  • Of all of the articles linking power outages to renewables 46% were published in News Corp and 14% were published in Fairfax.

  • Narratives that typically substituted any possibility of a link to climate change, included the “unstoppable power of nature” (18%), failure of planning (5.25%), and triumph of humanity (5.6%).

Only 9% of articles discussed climate change. Of these, 73% presented climate change positively, 21% were neutral, and 6% negative. But, for the most part, climate change was linked to the conversation around renewables: there was a 74% overlap. 36% of articles discussing climate change linked it to the intensification of extreme weather events.

There was also a strong correlation between the positive and negative discussion of climate change and the ownership of newspapers.

The starkest contrast was between the two largest Australian newspaper groups. Of all the sampled articles that mentioned climate change, News Corp was the only group to has a negative stance on climate change (at 50% of articles), but still with 38% positive. Fairfax was 90% positive and 10% neutral about climate change.

Positive/negative stance of articles covering climate change by percentage.

Given that more than half of all articles discussed power outages, the cyclone in a sense competed with renewables as a news item. Both have a bearing on power supply and distribution. But, ironically, it was renewables that put climate change on the news agenda – not the cyclone.

Of the articles discussing renewables, 67% were positive about renewables with only 33% “negative” and blaming them for the power outages.

In this way, the negative frame that politicians put on renewable energy may have sparked debate that was used to highlight the positives of renewable energy and what’s driving it: reduced emissions.

But perhaps the most interesting finding is the backlash by news media against MPs’ attempts to politicise renewables.

19.63% of all articles in the sample had called out (mainly federal) MPs for politicising the issue and using South Australians’ misfortune as a political opportunity. This in turn was related to the fact that, of all the articles discussing renewables, 67% were positive about renewables with only 33% supporting MPs’ attempts to blame them for the power outages.

In this way, while many MPs had put renewables on the agenda by denigrating them, most journalists were eager to cover the positive side of renewables.

Nevertheless, the way MPs sought to dominate the news agenda over the storm did take away from discussion of climate science and the causes of the cyclone. Less than 4% of articles referred to extreme weather intensifying as a trend.

This is problematic. It means that, with a few exceptions, Australia’s climate scientists are not able to engage with the public in key periods after extreme weather events.

When MPs, with co-ordinated media campaigns, enjoy monopoly holdings in the attention economy of news cycles, science communication and the stories of climate that could be told are often relegated to other media.


The ConversationWith thanks to Tahnee Burgess for research assistance on this article.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Two new books show there’s still no goodbye to messy climate politics


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

As atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rise, so too does the number of books telling us what the consequences are, and what we can do. Two more have been released in the past few weeks – Anna Krien’s brilliant Quarterly Essay The Long Goodbye: Coal, Coral and Australia’s Climate Deadlock, and the worthy Climate Wars by Labor’s shadow environment minister Mark Butler. Both deserve a wide audience.

Krien, author of Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests has a sharp eye for the right anecdote and a brilliant turn of phrase. Her reportage can be spoken of in the same breath as Elizabeth Kolbert’s seminal Field Notes from a Catastrophe. She has read extensively (I for one was not familiar with the Myxocene – the age of slime) and in researching her latest essay has clocked up thousands of miles as she dives on the Great Barrier Reef and travels inland to areas that will be affected by the proposed coal mine developments in the Galilee Basin.

Krien offers valuable insights into issues such as coal firm Adani’s negotiations with traditional owners, the battles over coal seam gas, and Port Augusta’s rocky transition from coal to – possibly – renewables. She talks to “ordinary” people, weaving their perspectives into the story while not losing sight of the climate deadlock in her title – the ongoing fight within the Liberal and National parties over climate and energy policy.

In one of many telling phrases she writes of the “Stockholm syndrome built on donations, royalties, taxes and threats” that bedevils Australian politics, pointing out that the fate that befell Kevin Rudd still looms large in the collective political memory. In the end, she returns to the Great Barrier Reef, and her final paragraphs pack an emotional punch that will stay with the reader for a long time.

My only quibble with Krien’s fastidious reporting is that, unlike previous Quarterly Essays, there are no footnotes. But maybe that’s only really an issue for nerds like me.

This is Quarterly Essay 66. Number 33 was Guy Pearse’s equally alarming Quarry Vision. In years to come, perhaps Quarterly Essay 99 might explain how we continued not to take action, as the consequences of climate change piled ever higher around us. Or how – alongside unexpected technological breakthroughs – we began finally to race against our nemesis, our own hubris. Time will tell.

Mark Butler is aiming to do something else besides just telling us about climate politics: as a shadow minister he is setting out Labor’s stall for the next federal election, whenever that might be.

Butler was climate minister in Rudd’s second, brief, government. In 2015-16 he undertook extensive consultations with business, community groups, academics and other “stakeholders” (surely everyone in the world is a stakeholder when it comes to the climate?). His book is essentially an extended advert for that process and its outcomes.

Butler’s prose is solid, and occasionally stolid, as he throws fact after report after statistic at the reader. However, he generally seeks to strike a constructive balance between “problem” and “solution”. There are only a few short chapters on the climate policy mess, with the bulk of the book concentrating on what a future Labor government proposes to do about it.

Inevitably, Butler is more critical of his political rivals, the Liberals and the Greens, than of his own party. You wouldn’t know from reading this book that it was Paul Keating’s Labor government who first began to use economic modelling to argue against emissions reductions, or that it was a Labor government who, in 1995, refused to institute a small carbon tax that would fund renewable energy.

Butler is also, oddly, flat-out wrong when he writes that former Labor minister Graham Richardson persuaded Prime Minister Bob Hawke to agree a 20% emissions reduction target before the 1990 federal election. It was actually his colleague Ros Kelly, in October 1990, and the “commitment” was carefully hedged.

These historical details matter, because we need to be able to hold politicians (and even ex-politicians) to account over their climate pledges. But many readers will nevertheless be more interested in what Butler says a Labor government will do, rather than what previous Labor governments didn’t.

Butler obliges, giving us chapters on “Labor’s clean power plan”, “Manufacturing and mining in a low-carbon world”, and “Low-carbon communities”. Occasionally he raises thorny problems (refugees, the coal industry) without really grappling with them. Given the ugly history around these issues (and the political Stockholm Syndrome identified by Krien), this is perhaps unsurprising.

Curiously, both books make a similar omission: they contain very little on the failures of policymakers and social movement organisations in the period from 2006 to 2012. In 2015, at the Labor Party’s national conference, I asked panellists – Butler was one – what had gone wrong during this time, which encompassed Kevin Rudd’s first prime ministership – in light of the fact that we had known about climate change since the late 1980s.

The other panellists gave thoughtful, sometimes self-critical answers. Butler kept schtum. Yet the question is worth asking if we are to avoid history repeating itself, this time as farce. We need smart people – and Krien and Butler are among them – to be asking how citizens can exert sustained pressure on existing governments and to build capacity to keep holding governments’ feet to the fire until they really and truly take climate policy seriously instead of just using it to score points and kill careers.

Ultimately, anyone interested in the future of Australia – and the future of climate policy – should read both of these books carefully. While Krien’s has some immediate use, its greater function will be something we can pull out of a time capsule to explain to young people 20 years hence that we knew exactly what was coming and what we had to do. It will help them understand why we didn’t do it.

The ConversationButler’s book will serve well over the next five years, as citizens try to hold a putative Labor government to its fine (if still inadequate) promises on the great moral challenge of our generation.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

While nations play politics, cities and states are taking up the climate challenge


Michael Mintrom, Monash University

Last week, Donald Trump entered the White House Rose Garden and announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In doing so, he fulfilled his campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris deal, a move that calls into question the future of the entire agreement.

In withdrawing, Trump cited the (arguably short-term) sacrifice the agreement requires of the US. This perspective fulfils the famous prediction made by economist Garrett Hardin in the 1960s: the “tragedy of the commons”. Hardin wrote that self-interest drives individuals to exploit collective resources in the short term, even to their long-term detriment.

Hardin and those following him thought the only way to avoid this tragedy was by securing collective agreements. That is why so many people view the Paris Accord as a vital mechanism for addressing climate change. It is also why the US withdrawal is devastating.

But another famous economist, Elinor Ostrom, saw things differently. Writing after the demise of the Kyoto Agreement but before the Paris Accord, Ostrom said that faith in multinational accords to address climate change was misplaced. Ostrom saw the limits of such collective action. Crucially, Ostrom suggested that we should also recognise the potential of localised collective action.

And already there are examples in both the developed and developing world that this is happening right now.

The new global leadership

Ultimately, efforts to reduce global warming are advanced by the pedestrian, daily choices of households, businesses, and sub-national governments. Millions of local choices can have global effects, for good or ill.

It’s clear that Trump is stepping away from global leadership on climate change. But in response, the state governors of Washington, New York and California declared they remain committed to the Paris climate targets. Since then, a further 10 US states have joined the budding Climate Alliance.

In the past two decades, mounting evidence has shown the power of such efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. These efforts have been driven by policy entrepreneurs – people with vision, energy, and the collaborative instincts required to promote collective action. A classic example is provided by the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in 2005 invited mayors from other mega-cities to join him in promoting climate change efforts. That initiative has spurred many more, with transformative effects.

Looking around the world, we can see the diversity of localised initiatives in place to address climate change.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, traffic congestion and pollution are being addressed by providing better public transport options and more bicycle lanes.

In Ethiopia, the Addis Ababa Light Rail Transport Project aims to reduce significantly the greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

In India, Kolkata has implemented the Solid Waste Management Improvement Project, which is reducing the release of methane emissions, while contributing to improved public sanitation.

Across Europe, cities have started emulating meat-free Thursdays, which originated in Ghent, Belgium. Aside from other benefits, reducing meat consumption can reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

In the US, leaders in cities and states have done much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by cars and coal-fired power plants, for example through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Globally, the Carbon Disclosure Project has significantly influenced actions of businesses and governments alike.

Particularly important for smaller developing countries is the Cartegena Dialogue. It creates opportunities for leaders to share strategies for mitigating climate change and – just as urgently, especially for small Pacific nations – adapting to it.

The Paris Accord is a landmark, multilateral initiative. The withdrawal of the US is appalling, and deserves a strong rebuke. But it does not foreshadow the unravelling of multilateral resolve for addressing climate change.

The ConversationThe backslappers in Washington have had their Rose Garden moment. Elsewhere, energetic policy entrepreneurs are mobilising. Grounded in their communities, they are acting to protect the planet for today’s young people, and for those not yet born. That too, is global leadership.

Michael Mintrom, Professor of Public Sector Management, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

So long, Climate Institute – too sensible for the current policy soap opera


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

The Climate Institute, which was among the first Australian NGOs to focus solely on climate change, is to shut down at the end of June after 12 years. The Conversation

It was born into an era when politicians and voters were finally waking up to the importance of climate policy. But now, its self-described “centrist, pragmatic advocacy” has run out of financial backing.

Early years

It’s easy to forget, given the political theatrics we’ve witnessed over the past decade, just how little attention was being paid to climate policy before the explosion of concern in late 2006. Life was bleak for environmental groups under the four Howard governments from 1996 to 2007, with the partial and controversial exception of WWF.

Climate change was simply not an issue that had traction with the federal government, and the business community had fought itself to a standstill on the topic of whether Australia should ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which John Howard resisted to the end.

Bob Carr, the then premier of New South Wales, had been trying to get carbon trading onto state and federal agendas with limited success.

By 2004 attitudes were shifting, not least because of the ongoing Millennium Drought. In a 2015 interview Clive Hamilton, a climate policy academic and inaugural board chair of the Climate Institute, noted:

In the early 2000s when the environment groups started to get serious about climate change, they adopted their standard tactics, which had run out of steam. The problem for environmentalism in Australia, as well as internationally, is that they had this glorious period of the 1980s and ‘90s, and then they became institutionalised; their tactics became stale. It wasn’t their fault – it’s just the world changed.

Hamilton explained that in 2005, Mark Wootton, director of the Poola Foundation, approached him saying that he had A$5 million and wanted to spend it on something that would “cut through” the stagnant climate change debate. Hamilton thought about it and proposed the Climate Institute, which he put together over the ensuing months. After chairing the board for its first year Hamilton returned to his duties at the Australia Institute.

Launching a tour of rural Australia the following year, Wootton told journalists:

People have to see there is a solution, that there is a way out… It’s about people moving on and not feeling that sense of despair, which I’ve genuinely felt, and that’s why we set this up.

The institute opened its doors in October 2005 and was soon in the headlines. Howard attacked Carr, declaring himself “amazed a former Labor premier should advocate that we should sign up to something that would export the jobs of Australian workers”.

A month later, the Climate Institute returned fire with an attack on the Howard government’s Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, widely interpreted as a way for polluting nations to dodge Kyoto.

This pattern of well-timed reports and timely rebuttals has continued over the past 12 years. During this time the Climate Institute has challenged successive governments to do more, to create stronger policy and a more predictable investment environment – something that is sorely lacking to this day.

The institute’s critics will claim it never escaped the neoliberal paradigm – the idea that the market can and will deliver as long as the right policy levers are pulled at the right time. In fairness, though, it never pledged to transcend free-market economics anyway, although it also tried along the way to expand the argument to include moral (and religious) values.

Main achievements

In the reporting on the institute’s demise, its main claims to fame are listed as helping to expand the renewable energy target in 2008, saving the Climate Change Authority from Tony Abbott’s axe in 2014, and building bipartisan support for Australia to ratify the Paris climate agreement in 2016.

But there was much else that the Climate Institute worked on, which is in danger of being forgotten.

It toured rural Australia to listen to farmers’ concerns.

It tried to signal to politicians that voters cared. For example, before the “first climate change election” in November 2007, it commissioned a poll of 877 voters in nine key marginal electorates. It found that 73% of voters thought climate change would have either a strong or a very strong influence on their vote at the election, an increase from 62% in August.

It also played a part in stitching together what political scientists call “advocacy coalitions”. One notable example was its help in producing the Common belief: Australia’s faith communities on climate change report, released in December 2006 with input from 16 Australian communities including Aboriginal Australians, Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other denominations.

Why it died and what next?

The institute’s outgoing chief executive, John Connor, told Reneweconomy that the decision ultimately comes down to funding:

We haven’t been able to plug the [funding] gap. Centrist, pragmatic advocacy is not sexy for many people who want to fund the fighters or pour funds into new technology.

As such, the Climate Institute is another victim of the policy paralysis that has exasperated and bewildered commentators.

It is indeed hard to justify the funding of calm, measured policy advice when the mere mention of the most economically tame of notions – an emissions intensity scheme – causes panic and retreat in the federal government.

Climatologist and Climate Council member Will Steffen, interviewed on the ABC, suggested that over the past two or three years many organisations have begun to take climate change on board, and so the institute’s unique role was lessened.

But one piece of the furniture that urgently needs saving is the institute’s Climate of the Nation, the longest trend survey of the attitudes of Australians to climate change and its solutions. Hopefully another organisation (I’m looking at you, Australian Conservation Foundation) will pick this up.

The staff of the Climate Institute will hopefully find new roles within the now smaller ecosystem of environmental policy advice. With the impacts that the institute and others were warning about in 2005 arriving with depressing predictability, Australia desperately needs three things.

It needs community energy programs. It needs effective opposition to plans for yet more fossil fuel extraction. And most relevantly here, it needs a cacophony of well-informed and relentless voices advocating for the most useful policies to get the carbon out of our economy.

There’s a fourth thing, actually: luck. From here on we are going to need an enormous (and undeserved) amount of luck if the lost years of ignoring sensible climate policy advice are not to come back and haunt us.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

That Lump of Coal


Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

“Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you. It’s coal.” With these words Australia’s Treasurer Scott Morrison taunted the Opposition, attempting to ridicule its commitment to renewable energy.

He handed the lump of Hunter Valley coal to a delighted Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and it was then passed, to much hilarity, along the front bench and over to the back benches. Handling a lump of coal leaves hands black, but this lump had been turned into clean coal with a coat of lacquer.

The exuberant deployment of a lump of coal to mock those who want to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels came soon after Prime Minister Turnbull’s shock announcement that Australia ought to be building a new generation of coal-fired power plants, subsidized by the government if need be. Even the coal-fired electricity generators have distanced themselves from Turnbull, declaring that it just won’t happen.

More to the point, the audacious celebration of the wonders of coal occurred in the middle of one of the most severe heatwaves eastern Australia has ever experienced.

Temperature records have been smashed, fire danger levels have been set at ‘catastrophic’, and everyone who has opened themselves to the scientific warnings struggles to ward off a terrible feeling of foreboding.

The coal taunting incident in Parliament seems to reveal a new dimension to the climate debate in Australia, one that goes beyond denialism and political culture. It’s almost as if, like King Lear raging at the storm, Turnbull, Morrison and Joyce are defying nature to do its worst, almost willing it to happen because mankind will prevail.

We forget that, for some people, there are desires more urgent and goals more grand than that of protecting others, and their own families, from plunging into dark and dangerous times. The glory and self-satisfaction of defeating one’s enemy, for instance.

Drama in human affairs

One cannot help noticing that this display of bravado by the nation’s leaders is especially vigorous from alpha males, men who act as if the future is a horror movie in which the anticipated terrors are to be relished but also withstood, except that they forget that this one has no end. We will all be trapped in the cinema as the never-ending movie becomes ever-more terrifying.

I have written more about the sociology, psychology and power politics of climate change than most. Yet now these kinds of explanations seem too weak, given what’s at stake and the wilful refusal to face it. It is almost as if there are forces at work in the climate change drama above the everyday ones.

The denial industry often reminds us that carbon is the source of life, and perhaps that thought lay behind Morrison’s swaggering parliamentary performance with his lump of coal. Yet carbon now in its fossilized form reminds us of our mortality. Is that so hard to grasp?

Perhaps he and his kind do grasp it; but they are not horrified by it as others are, because it only means hastening the fate that awaits us all anyway. He does profess to be some kind of Christian.

The braying asses of the Murdoch press will scoff at this kind of reflection; but we must remind ourselves that they are humans too, with the same inner fears, hidden doubts, and desperate needs that others have, even if they lie more deeply buried. Every mythological narrative must have characters like them.

If the climate drama needs to be thought in ‘mythic’ terms, those who value life might respond in ways guided by that way of thinking.

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia must make the environment integral to economic decision-making


Carl Obst, University of Melbourne

How we track our economy influences everything from government spending and taxes to home lending and business investment. In our series The Way We Measure, we’re taking a close look at economic indicators to better understand what’s going on.


The way traditional economics measures the environment, or in many instances doesn’t, is a long standing problem. For decades, our primary measure of economic activity, gross domestic product (GDP) has measured “progress” without accounting for the cost borne by the environment, nor the substantial benefits we receive from it.

In politics and economics we regularly use the word “capital” to mean assets like buildings or cash. This should extend to the environment too. Nature is an asset.

The need to recognise our natural capital is highlighted by its ongoing loss – the reductions in forests, the depletion of fish stocks, the degradation of soil, the loss of biodiversity, more severe flooding and similar trends. The human and environmental cost of these losses are invisible if you only look at GDP, and so there is little political incentive to do anything.

We must change this, and make nature integral in our calculations and decision making. Our economic system functions within, not alongside, an environmental reality. The tools have been created over the past twenty years to factor the environment into our decision making. We just need to take the next step.

Measuring natural capital

For over 20 years experts around the world have been developing extended economic accounts to include nature. They build upon the United Nations (UN) economic accounting framework called the System of National Accounts (SNA). In 2012, the UN Statistical Commission adopted the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) as the international statistical standard for the integration of environmental data within the SNA, including new standards for the measurement of GDP adjusted for the depletion of natural resources such as timber, fish, water and mineral resources.

Progress in the implementation of the standard is ramping up, with at least 70 countries having or planning SEEA based measurement programs. Legislation has been passed for EU countries that must now produce accounts annually in six areas of the SEEA. The World Bank is leading a global partnership, WAVES, to drive forward accounting for natural capital in developing countries. It uses the SEEA as the technical basis for its work.

Australia has been at the leading edge of these developments and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has a small but well established program for environmental accounting. There are accounts for flows of water and energy on an annual basis, and annual measures of the stocks and values of land and various natural resources. These, and other environmental-economic accounts, are all brought together in the annual report, Australian Environmental-Economic Accounts.

At a corporate level, there is also interest in extended accounting. A substantive step forward was the release of the Natural Capital Protocol in July 2016 by the Natural Capital Coalition involving contributions from a wide range of stakeholders. The corporate focus has mostly been on accounting for carbon emissions and water use, but extensions into other areas are well underway.

But these advances have not been enough. Getting traction and buy-in with decision makers remains challenging and the level of investment needed to ensure more frequent reporting has not been forthcoming.

Integrating economic measures

Although accounting for environmental stocks and flows is useful and should be encouraged, none of the accounts on their own drive home the link between economic activity and the environment. Without a broader, more systemic framing, it remains easy to see the environment as a set of separable components, which are external to the economy.

This siloed view is reinforced in our approaches to environmental measurement. Experts in soil, water, biodiversity and the climate all establish their particular approaches, without consideration for how their data can be used and applied in an integrated way.

To create this more holistic view, SEEA has recently been extended to account for ecosystems and biodiversity. The resulting accounting framework melds human production and consumption with the benefits provided by environmental ecosystems. These include the provision of timber, fish and water, the filtration of air and water, carbon sequestration and cultural and amenity services. Sustaining this requires maintaining our natural capital.

Ecosystem accounting thus gives a platform for a full integration of nature with standard economic data on production, income and wealth.

This advance has allowed for more engagement with experts in other fields – economics, statistics, ecological and biophysical sciences, geography and accounting. Together, the experts involved have worked to create a common understanding and language for the considerable depth of knowledge that exists in each “silo”. Ecosystem accounting projects can now been found all over the world at national and local scales. They are taking place in many developed countries but examples are also present in less statistically advanced countries such as the Philippines, Peru, Uganda and Mexico.

In Australia, the ABS is developing ecosystem accounts for the Great Barrier Reef and the SEEA EEA framework has been applied extensively in Victoria in various contexts, for example to support the recent State of the Bays report and in the assessment of Victoria’s national parks. Indeed, in Victoria, environmental-economic accounting is a key feature in its recently released strategic plans for biodiversity and the provision of clean air and water.

Building on all of these developments, in November 2016 , Australia’s environment ministers “agreed to work together to develop a common national approach to environmental accounts”.

Closing the circle

However, while the recent advances in environmental-economic accounting have opened new possibilities, much work still remains. Measuring and accounting for our natural capital is only part of the story. We must integrate the information into the analytical tools and models that decision makers use. We must report natural capital measures in budget statements and annual reports. And, most importantly, we must use the information to build the conversation about the inherent connection between natural capital and economic activity.

The standard set of financial and economic data in the national accounts and corporate reports cannot be regarded as best practice any longer. Australia is a mature and wealthy society, the next step must be investment by governments and corporations in systems to account for natural capital and hence give themselves a complete set of information for economic decision making.

The Conversation

Carl Obst, Honorary Research Fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian climate politics in 2017: a guide for the perplexed


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

If you thought the climate debate has been ugly, you haven’t seen anything yet. In 2017 Australia will review its climate policies, and the process is not off to a good start.

To recap: with the release of the climate review’s terms of reference at the end of 2016, the federal environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, appeared to place on the table an emissions intensity scheme (a widely supported form of carbon pricing). He then wisely went to Antarctica.

After its day in the sun, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull swiftly backtracked in part due to pressure from conservatives within the Coalition. By allowing a small group of politicians to take the most cost-effective policy off the table at the outset, Turnbull has made the coming year(s) that much harder to manage.

In the same week, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel reported his initial findings on the security of the National Electricity Market. He stated that his review “will continue to analyse all the options to ensure future security of power supply and compliance with climate obligations”.

And that was only 2016…

Reviews galore

The Finkel review of the National Electricity Market will be released in 2017. At the same time, the government will begin its climate policy review.

Unless the political circumstances change dramatically, the review will conclude by the end of this year.

Every step of the way will see protests, media stunts, hostile leaking and lobbying – public and private – by big actors. Climate and energy will consume the national news agenda, which will leave voters and viewers exhausted.

The terms of reference state that the review will look into:

  • the role of international carbon permits in reaching targets

  • a long-term emissions-reduction goal after 2030

  • asking the department to look at the impact of state-based policies, including the states’ own ambitious renewable energy targets, and whether this helps or hinders the national approach

  • the impact of policies on jobs, investment, trade competitiveness, households and regional Australia

  • Turnbull’s move to combine the energy and environment portfolios and whether this is the best way to tackle climate policy.

That there is nothing in this about an expanded and lengthened Renewable Energy Target will mean nothing to groups who want it discussed.

What can the government actually achieve now?

Now the government has ruled out the most promising policy option, who will be willing to lead the hamstrung review? Watch this space.

And what is left on the policy table? There are a couple of options:

  • expanding the large-scale Renewable Energy Target (RET) – this seems unlikely, given the amount of grief Turnbull and Frydenberg have been giving South Australia and Queensland over their own renewable targets of late

  • regulating the closure of coal-fired power stations – this seems unlikely too, given the failure of the “cash for closures” scheme under the Gillard Labor government

  • further restrictions on land use (unlikely to make the National Party very happy) and research into methane reductions from livestock (cue headlines about cow farts).

But asides from not making environmentalists particularly happy, these will not resolve the questions of grid security and energy pricing, both of which have the potential to cause political and economic mayhem.

Sharpen the pitchforks

Labor will use climate as a “wedge issue”, perhaps more gingerly and cautiously than Kevin Rudd did ahead of the 2007 election.

The government’s relations with the state governments will stay fraught. South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has mooted a states-based emissions intensity scheme, but there is little appetite from other states, and business appears unenthusiastic

However, Weatherill may now be tempted to deflect blame for any South Australian energy problems onto Turnbull, who has made himself into a piñata.

Business is fuming and some odd coalitions are forming. The policy uncertainty (caused of course in no small part by the business sector’s failure to defend Gillard’s carbon tax) is aggravating them and scaring away investment. The worst possible outcome for business – a patchwork of state laws causing more work and less profit – is a distinct possibility.

Meanwhile, the gas industry has had its beady eye on electricity generation for well over a decade. It wants some sort of emissions trading scheme badly, so it can be in pole position as lots of coal-fired plants are closing soon.

Expect to see a “gas versus coal” battle, with coal pointing to gas prices rising, because it fetches more on the international market. The question of reservation policy – hated by many – may attract some strange allies.

The environmental movement will struggle over this. They are still bruised over the Rudd and Gillard policy battles, and an emissions intensity scheme is numbingly technical. In her excellent PhD thesis at the University of New South Wales, Rebecca Pearse argued that many activists have moved on to either supporting community-based renewables or contesting fossil-fuel infrastructure projects.

Of course, anti-green groups will also be hard at work, perhaps led by Coalition MPs Cory Bernardi and George Christensen and the Institute of Public Affairs. All have argued that Australia should do much less on climate change.

Expect anything

Finkel’s final electricity review is due in March. It will be interesting to see if the attacks that have happened to other scientists involved in climate and energy happen to him.

At some point in 2017 Al Gore will release a sequel to his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Expect to see reactions to that.

The next big international negotiations, chaired by Fiji but hosted by Germany, will take place in November 2017.

Will President Trump have taken the United States out of the Paris Agreement by then? Will the US pull out of the entire climate convention? Or will Trump settle for just sending the office junior to the negotiations, while gutting his Environmental Protection Authority?

Nobody knows, probably not even the president-elect himself. A recent ANU study points to Trump-style disaffection taking hold in Australian politics.

There’s a hoary old Machiavelli quote that gets dragged out in articles like these about the political pain that transitions cause:

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

In these dire times, it is unclear who could call an end – or a ceasefire – to what Guardian journalist Lenore Taylor calls “the stupid barren years of the carbon wars”. It’s what some public policy theorists call a “hurting stalemate”.

This is going to be bloody.

The Conversation

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.