Labor’s climate and resources spokesmen at odds over future policy

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has had his proposal to bring Labor’s climate change target into line with the government’s immediately torpedoed by the party’s climate spokesman Mark Butler.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute made public ahead of its Wednesday evening delivery Fitzgibbon suggested the ALP offer “a political and policy settlement” to match the higher end of the government’s 26-28% target for reducing emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.

Labor’s controversial election policy was for an ambitious 45% reduction.

Fitzgibbon said the change he advocated would mean “the focus would then be all about actual outcomes, and the government would finally be held to account and forced to act.

“A political settlement would also restore investment confidence and for the first time in six years, we could have some downward pressure on energy prices,” Fitzgibbon said.

But Butler rejected the proposal saying the government’s target “is fundamentally inconsistent with the Paris agreement and would lead to global warming of 3℃.

“Labor remains committed to implementing the principles of the Paris Agreement, which are to keep global warming well below 2℃ and pursue efforts around 1.5℃,” he said.

“Labor’s commitment to action on climate change is unshakeable. We will have a 2050 target of net zero emissions and medium-term targets which are consistent with the agreement,” Butler said.

Despite dismissing Fitzgibbon’s idea, Butler has acknowledged that Labor’s climate change policy must be up for grabs in the party’s review of all its policies between now and the 2022 election.

But revising the climate policy will be one of its major challenges, because the party is caught between its inner city progressive constituency and its traditional blue collar voters. Its ambivalent position on the planned Adani coal mine cost it votes in Queensland at the election.

Apart from the politics, the 45% target for 2030 would be more unrealistic at the next election because emissions at the moment are increasing, meaning ground is being lost.

Fitzgibbon, who takes a more pro-coal attitude than many of his colleagues, had a big swing against him in his NSW coal seat of Hunter.

He said in his speech that a 28% reduction would be a “meaningful achievement” and could be built on later. He also pointed out bluntly that Labor couldn’t achieve anything if perpetually in opposition.

“If we could get to 28% by 2030, and also demonstrate that we could do so without destroying blue collar jobs or damaging the economy, then we would have a great foundation from which to argue the case for being more ambitious on the road to 2050,” he said.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, who is from Queensland, refused to be pinned down when pressed on Fitzgibbon’s proposal.

“My view is we can take real action on climate change without abandoning our traditional strengths, including in regional Queensland,” he said.

The Victorian minister for energy, environment and climate change, Lily D’Ambrosio, asked at the Australian Financial Review’s national energy summit about Fitzgibbon’s comments, said she wasn’t much interested in what a federal opposition did.

“We have a very strong and ambitious policy and we took that to the last state election, and we all know the result of that election, so we will continue to implement our policies and get them done,” she said.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor pointed to the divisions in the opposition but welcomed that there were “people in Labor who are making sensible suggestions about dropping their policies from the last election.

“What we saw happen there was Labor went to the election with policies – 45% emissions reduction target, 50% renewable energy target – where they weren’t able to or willing to detail the costs and impacts of those policies,” he said.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.


Logically, how is it possible to use more resources than Earth can replenish?

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According to the WWF, we’re living off 1.6 Earths’ worth of resources.
Kevin Gill/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Bonnie McBain, University of Newcastle

Since the 1970s, humans have used more resources than the planet can regenerate. This is known as overshoot. The WWF Living Planet Report has reported overshoot every two years since 2000.

However, this fact can inspire some confusion. How can it logically be possible for us to use more resources than Earth can produce, for decades on end?

There are two basic concepts at work here. One is our ecological footprint, which can be very loosely understood as a way of tallying up the resources we use from nature. The other is the planet’s ability to provide or renew those resources every year: its “biocapacity”.

When our ecological footprint exceeds Earth’s biocapacity, that’s unsustainable resource use. Unsustainable resource use can occur for some time. The environmental thinker Donella Meadows used a bathtub analogy to explain how.

Imagine a bathtub full of water, with the tap running and the plug out at the same time. It is possible for more water to flow out of the bath than into it for some time without the water in the tub running out. This is because the significant store of water in the bath acts like a buffer. The same goes for nature.

Because nature has accumulated resources – for example, in a forest – it’s possible for us to harvest nature at a greater rate than it can replenish itself for a certain amount of time.

But this leads to the question: if humanity’s ecological footprint exceeds Earth’s biocapacity, how long can we keep going without crossing a tipping point? Our recent research investigates this question.

Explaining the feedback system

It’s important to make the point that nature provides us with literally everything we need, through processes known as ecosystem services. Much of this is obvious because we buy and sell it, as food, shelter and clothing.

Other services go largely unnoticed. Forests provide protection from flooding by slowing down surface water runoff, for example, while mangroves absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it. Until relatively recently, nature has continued to provide, despite our rapidly increasing ecological footprint.

In part this resilience comes from being able to buffer disturbance with the existing store of resources. But there’s an important mechanism that helps natural systems adjust – to a certain extent – to disruption. This is called a feedback mechanism, and if we take the bathtub analogy one step further we can see how it works.

Say we set up our bathtub so that the tap and the plughole communicate with one another. If more water suddenly starts flowing down the plug, then the tap increases the flow of water into the bath to compensate, thus maintaining the water level. This is an example of a “positive” feedback (more water exiting the bath) being moderated by a “negative” feedback (more water entering from the tap), thus maintaining the state of the system (water in the bath).

Let’s pick a real-world example. Clearing trees from a forest might mean that seeds from the soil have the chance to germinate. If they germinate before the landscape gets too degraded, they can potentially balance out the disturbance.

But harvesting forest also exposes the ground, causing soil loss. In turn, vegetation might find it more difficult to regrow – resulting in yet more soil loss, and so on. This is a “positive” feedback – one that reinforces and exacerbates the original problem.

Negative feedbacks can only adapt to a certain level of disruption. Once the disturbance is too large, they break down. Positive feedback loops can then prevail and the ecosystem is likely to cross a tipping point, resulting in permanent, dramatic and sudden transformation.

Crossing planetary boundaries

In our research, my colleagues and I compared future ecological footprints with research about planetary boundaries (points at which the risks to humanity of crossing a tipping point become unacceptably high). We found the discrepancy between the ecological footprint and biocapacity is likely to continue until at least 2050. We also found that our global cropping footprint is likely to exceed the planetary boundary for land clearing between 2025 and 2035.

This occurs in the context of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that have already crossed the planetary boundary of 350 ppm. (As I write, the carbon dioxide concentration is over 400 ppm.)

By itself, both these points are serious enough. More seriously, we have no idea what happens when two planetary boundaries are approached simultaneously, or two tipping points interact.

We face the permanent loss of essential natural processes, putting, for example, our global food security at risk. Our research shows we need to address gradual, cumulative change, as the global resource buffer shrinks and stabilising feedback mechanisms are overwhelmed.

The ConversationBut there’s good news too. Ecological footprints decrease in response to human decisions. Our current trajectory towards tipping points is not fait accompli at all, but can be influenced by the choices we make now.

Bonnie McBain, Tutor in Sustainability Science, University of Newcastle

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

Greenland: Natural Resources Exploitation Rapidly Advancing

The article below reports on the opening up of Greenland for oil and mining exploration.

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