‘We will never forgive you’: youth is not wasted on the young who fight for climate justice



Swedish activist Greta Thunberg joins other children from across the world to present an official human rights complaint on the climate crisis.
Michael Nagle/EPA

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, University of Sydney

Last week’s United Nations climate summit may go down in history – but not for the reasons intended. It was not the tipping point for action on global warming that organisers hoped it would be. It will instead probably be remembered for the powerful address by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who castigated world leaders on behalf of the generation set to bear the brunt of inaction.

Young people are not sitting back and waiting for older generations to act on the climate crisis. Days before the summit, school students led a climate strike attended by millions around the world. And at the first ever UN youth climate summit, more than 500 young people from 60 countries, including myself, explored how to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

This group of activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers aged between 18 and 30 showcased potential solutions and put global political leaders on notice: they must fight off the climate crisis at the scale and pace required.

A young boy takes part in the global climate strike on September 20 at Parliament Square in London.
Neil Hall/EPA

Youth voices matter

Youth aged 15 to 24 years represent 16% of the world population and will reach 1.3 billion people by 2030. Obviously the action (or otherwise) of today’s decision makers on climate change and other environmental threats will affect generations to come – a principle known as intergenerational equity.

Millions of young people around the world are already affected by climate change. Speaking at the youth summit, Fijian climate action advocate Komal Kumar said her nation was at the frontline of a crisis and worldwide, young people were “living in constant fear and climate anxiety … fearing the future”.




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“Stop hindering the work [towards a sustainable future] for short term profits. Engage young people in the design of adaptation plans,” she said. “We will hold you accountable. And if you do not remember, we will mobilise to vote you out.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attended the event and his deputy Amina Mohammed took part in a “town hall” with the attendees, alongside senior representatives from government and civil society.

Young people are not sitting idly by

Technological solutions presented by youth summit participants included 3D printing using plastic waste, data storage in plant DNA, a weather app for farmers and an accountability platform for sustainable fashion.

Participants learnt how to amplify their voices using Instagram and how to create engaging videos with their mobile phones. An art workshop taught youth how creativity can help solve the climate emergency, and a networking session showed ways that youth leaders to stay connected and support each other.

Greta Thunberg, second from right, speaks as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and young climate activists listen at the start of the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

Elsewhere, you don’t have to look far to see examples of young climate warriors, including in the developing world.

Programs funded by the UN development program include in Kazakhstan where youth are helping implement an energy efficiency project in schools, and in Namibia where young people are being trained as tour guides in national parks and nature reserves. In Nepal, young people cultivate wild Himalayan cherry trees as a natural solution to land degradation.

Harness the power of nature

Kenyan environmental activist Wanjuhi Njoroge told the youth summit of her nation’s progress in restoring the country’s forest cover.

Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis – such as conserving and restoring forests, grasslands and wetlands – were a key focus at the summit. Efforts to meet the Paris climate goals often focus on cutting fossil fuel use. But nature has a huge ability to store carbon as plants grow. Avoiding deforestation keeps this carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Thunberg and British writer George Monbiot released a film ahead on the New York summit calling on world leaders protect, restore and fund natural climate solutions.

A film by Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot calling for more nature-based climate change solutions.

To date, such solutions have received little by way of investments and funding support. For example in 2015, agriculture, forestry and land-use received just 3% of global climate change finance.

Appearing at the youth summit, the global Youth4Nature network told how it mobilises young people to advocate for nature-based solutions. Their strategy has included collecting and sharing youth stories in natural resources management in more than 35 countries.

Youth ‘will be watching’ their leaders

When it comes to climate change, young people have specific demands that must be acknowledged – and offer solutions that other generations cannot.

But globally there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and by extension, they are largely absent from climate change decision-making.




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Some youth summit participants reportedly questioned whether it achieved its aims – including the value of some workshops, why celebrities were involved and whether anything tangible was produced.

A young girl attends the the global climate strike in Brisbane.
Dan Peled/AAP

Certainly, there was little evidence that world leaders at the climate summit were listening to the demands of young people. This was reflected in the failure of the world’s biggest-polluting countries to offer credible emissions reduction commitments.

But the youth summit went some way to granting young people space and visibility in the formal decision-making process.

Pressure from young people for climate action will not subside. Thunberg said it best when she warned world leaders that youth “will be watching you”.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you”.The Conversation

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

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

Highly touted UN climate summit failed to deliver – and Scott Morrison failed to show up



US President Donald Trump during his brief attendance at the UN climate summit.
HAYOUNG JEON/EPA

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg had an angry message for world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in New York overnight.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”

The summit was touted as a chance for the world to finally get its climate action on track. But by almost any standard, the event was a disappointment.




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There was a handful of positive stories. Almost 80 countries and more than 100 cities promised to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Some (mainly developing) nations pledged an end to coal use. And a few developed nations committed more money to the Green Climate Fund, which helps poor nations deal with climate change.

But for the most part, the urgent action needed to avert a global warming catastrophe looked a long way off.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg makes an emotional plea to world leaders to act on climate change.

High hopes but low expectations for the summit

Days out from the summit, millions of protesters marched at global climate strikes to call for strong climate action.

The task was given even greater urgency by a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation, coinciding with the summit, which said emission reduction efforts must at least triple to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to take swift, dramatic climate action.

“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back and around the world, nature is striking back with fury,” Guterres said.




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Guterres convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their pledges under the Paris climate treaty. He wanted world leaders to outline plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050, tackle subsidies for fossil fuels, implement taxes on carbon, and end new coal power beyond 2020.

Few predicted the summit would deliver the global change required. For the most part, world leaders lived up to these low expectations.

President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales speaks during the New York summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

The summit did not deliver

Under President Donald Trump, the United States had already pulled out of the Paris agreement – and its emissions continue to rise. China, arguably disincentivised to act without American participation, also failed to announce new targets and insisted developed nations should lead climate action efforts.

India outlined new plans for reaching emissions targets, but remains committed to coal projects well beyond 2020. And even the European Union, a traditional international leader on climate change ambition and action, did not announce a plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

In a few bright spots, Slovakia confirmed that its subsidies to coal mines will end in 2023. Finland says it will be carbon-neutral by 2035, and Greece will reportedly close its brown coal plants by 2028.

But the disappointing showing by the world’s largest emitters means the summit was effectively a failure.

Australia: a climate summit wallflower

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend the summit – despite being in the US at the time. Foreign Minister Marise Payne attended but did not speak.

Morrison’s non-attendance largely reflected the position Australia took to the summit: ever-increasing emissions, no new mitigation targets beyond those announced in Paris, and no new strategies to reach the targets.




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Morrison was in good company. His host, Trump, also did not attend, except for a brief entry to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak.

Australia was not alone in failing to announce new climate action. But its wallflower status at the summit cemented its global reputation as a climate action laggard. Australia was also roundly criticised by our vulnerable neighbours at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu weeks before, confirming the growing gap between Australia’s climate action and its view of itself as a responsible global citizen.

US President Donald Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the opening of Pratt Paper Plant in Ohio this week.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Andrew Highman, chief executive of global climate lobby group Mission 2020, said representatives from other countries had noticed Australia’s lack of participation.

“It is really very obvious who is absent from the room,” he reportedly said.

“Everyone is well aware that Australia has not made good on its promises in Paris to scale up its commitment to climate action.”

Where to now?

The World Meteorological Organisation said the five years to 2019 will likely be the hottest on record. We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and urgent action is clearly required.

Internationally, the challenge will be to create momentum in the face of US obstructionism and Chinese ambivalence. Guterres indicated he will continue to host these summits and will expect nations to pledge more specific and ambitious targets. Global protest action and mounting scientific reports of accelerating climate change may ramp up pressure for international action.

Youth in the crowd at the global climate strike in Melbourne on September 20.
James Ross/AAP

What about implications for Australian climate politics and policy? The US’ planned withdrawal from the Paris deal may have given Australia some cover for its own lack of climate action. But criticism from other international peers, including our Pacific neighbours, suggests that substantive action may be needed to achieve our foreign policy goals and restore our international reputation.

Pressure is also likely to build on the Morrison government at home. Opinion polls since 2012 have consistently shown growing public support for climate action, in the face of reduced government ambition. In the face of this, the federal government may eventually be prodded into meaningful action. But the climate clock is ticking fast.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

With 15 other children, Greta Thunberg has filed a UN complaint against 5 countries. Here’s what it’ll achieve


Juliette McIntyre, University of South Australia

Yesterday, climate activist Greta Thunberg joined 15 other children from around the world to submit a complaint – or “communication” – to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. They targeted Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey.

Ranging from nine to 17 years old, and from twelve different nations, the group includes a young Sami reindeer herder, a member of the Indigenous Yupiaq tribe, and teenagers from the Marshall Islands who fear their island home will vanish under rising sea levels.




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Their communication argues these countries are violating the standards set in the Convention of the Rights of the Child – which is run and monitored by the committee.

They allege these countries are:

recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights.

In particular, the communication alleges the petitioners’ rights to life, health, and culture have been violated.

But whether or not the petitioners are successful, the mere act of filing the complaint has already brought the matter into the public eye.

Greta Thunberg gives a searing speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit.

So what role does the committee play? And can their claim actually change international climate policy?

Standing up for the rights of the child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international human rights treaty that concerns the right to protection and the economic, social, cultural and political development of all children.

And it’s the job of the Committee on the Rights of the Child – a group of 18 independent experts – to monitor the worldwide implementation of the convention’s standards.

The convention came into force in 1990 and is “the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history”. All the countries of the world bar one – the United States – have ratified the treaty.

The CRC establishes global standards with respect to human rights as they apply to children. In particular, article 3 of the CRC requires:

in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

How the CRC works

The CRC committee has two functions. First, it oversees the implementation of the convention by receiving reports every five years from participating countries outlining the steps taken to fulfil their obligations.




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Information is also gathered from NGOs and other sources to identify areas of concern. For example, Australia’s last report to the committee was submitted in January 2018. It addressed issues such as the offshore detention of child refugees.

The Australian government appeared before the committee on September 9 and 10, and the committee’s recommendations will be received by the end of this week.

But the second, relatively new, function of the committee permits an individual, or group of individuals, submit a communication arguing their rights have been violated. This “Optional Protocol” – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011 – is what Greta Thunberg and the 15 other children are using.

Communications may only be made in respect of countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol and, to date, only 45 out of the 196 state parties have done so. Australia, the United States, Great Britain and China are among those countries that have not signed or ratified.

Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey have ratified the Optional Protocol and have also ratified the substantive international legal obligations relating to climate change. As Greta recently tweeted, this is why these particular five countries were selected.

What next?

There are a number of procedural legal hurdles that must be cleared before the committee can address the substance of the issue.

First, it must be determined if the communication is actually admissible, which includes whether the petitioners have exhausted the legal options in their home countries for addressing their concerns.

But while Thunberg and her co-petitioners have not brought any actions in state or federal courts it may be the committee allows the matter to proceed anyway, since taking such action may have been “unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief”.

Second, the committee must rule on jurisdiction, as the obligations of the CRC only apply to each child within a country’s jurisdiction.

Some of the petitioners meet this requirement by virtue of their nationality or residence, but the communication makes a broader claim: any child is within the jurisdiction of a country when its polluting activity impacts the rights of children, within or outside that country’s territory.

This is a very significant claim: essentially, that carbon pollution leading to climate change violates the rights of children worldwide.

Only once these hurdles are cleared will the committee investigate the substance of the complaints, proceed to a hearing, and make recommendations to any country responsible for violation.

Are they likely to succeed?

The success of the claims may seem a foregone conclusion, as the committee is one of five UN human rights treaty bodies to recently issue a joint declaration stating: “climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment” of human rights. And that climate change is “a children’s rights crisis” seems an inevitable conclusion.

Still, the communication must clear all the legal hurdles set out above.

But even should the committee agree with Thunberg, the options for redress are limited. After the committee transmits its views and recommendations, they’ll follow up six months later to see if its recommendations have been implemented.




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If they haven’t, there’s not much the committee can do to compel a country to take action.

But the committee’s conclusions are not without impact. Its views and recommendations are strong advocacy tools.

Alongside the school strikes, the communication is part of a broad campaign designed to focus political attention on the issue of urgent action on climate change.The Conversation

Juliette McIntyre, Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

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.

UN climate change report: land clearing and farming contribute a third of the world’s greenhouse gases



Farming emits greenhouse gases, but the land can also store them.
Johny Goerend/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Mark Howden, Australian National University

We can’t achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement without managing emissions from land use, according to a special report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Emissions from land use, largely agriculture, forestry and land clearing, make up some 22% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Counting the entire food chain (including fertiliser, transport, processing, and sale) takes this contribution up to 29%.




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The report, which synthesises information from some 7,000 scientific papers, found there is no way to keep global warming under 2℃ without significant reductions in land sector emissions.

Land puts out emissions – and absorbs them

The land plays a vital role in the carbon cycle, both by absorbing greenhouse gases and by releasing them into the atmosphere. This means our land resources are both part of the climate change problem and potentially part of the solution.

Improving how we manage the land could reduce climate change at the same time as it improves agricultural sustainability, supports biodiversity, and increases food security.

While the food system emits nearly a third of the world’s greenhouse gases – a situation also reflected in Australia – land-based ecosystems absorb the equivalent of about 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This happens through natural processes that store carbon in soil and plants, in both farmed lands and managed forests as well as in natural “carbon sinks” such as forests, seagrass and wetlands.




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There are opportunities to reduce the emissions related to land use, especially food production, while at the same time protecting and expanding these greenhouse gas sinks.

But it is also immediately obvious that the land sector cannot achieve these goals by itself. It will require substantial reductions in fossil fuel emissions from our energy, transport, industrial, and infrastructure sectors.

Overburdened land

So, what is the current state of our land resources? Not that great.

The report shows there are unprecedented rates of global land and freshwater used to provide food and other products for the record global population levels and consumption rates.

For example, consumption of food calories per person worldwide has increased by about one-third since 1961, and the average person’s consumption of meat and vegetable oils has more than doubled.

The pressure to increase agricultural production has helped push about a quarter of the Earth’s ice-free land area into various states of degradation via loss of soil, nutrients and vegetation.

Simultaneously, biodiversity has declined globally, largely because of deforestation, cropland expansion and unsustainable land-use intensification. Australia has experienced much the same trends.




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Climate change exacerbates land degradation

Climate change is already having a major impact on the land. Temperatures over land are rising at almost twice the rate of global average temperatures.

Linked to this, the frequency and intensity of extreme events such as heatwaves and flooding rainfall has increased. The global area of drylands in drought has increased by over 40% since 1961.

These and other changes have reduced agricultural productivity in many regions – including Australia. Further climate changes will likely spur soil degradation, loss of vegetation, biodiversity and permafrost, and increases in fire damage and coastal degradation.




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Water will become more scarce, and our food supply will become less stable. Exactly how these risks will evolve will depend on population growth, consumption patterns and also how the global community responds.

Overall, proactive and informed management of our land (for food, water and biodiversity) will become increasingly important.

Stopping land degradation helps everyone

Tackling the interlinked problems of land degradation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and food security can deliver win-wins for farmers, communities, governments, and ecosystems.

The report provides many examples of on-ground and policy options that could improve the management of agriculture and forests, to enhance production, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and make these areas more robust to climate change. Leading Australian farmers are already heading down these paths, and we have a lot to teach the world about how to do this.

We may also need to reassess what we demand from the land. Farmed animals are a major contributor to these emissions, so plant-based diets are increasingly being adopted.

Similarly, the report found about 25-30% of food globally is lost or wasted. Reducing this can significantly lower emissions, and ease pressure on agricultural systems.

How do we make this happen?

Many people around the world are doing impressive work in addressing some of these problems. But the solutions they generate are not necessarily widely used or applied comprehensively.

To be successful, coordinated policy packages and land management approaches are pivotal. Inevitably, all solutions are highly location-specific and contextual, and it is vital to bring together local communities and industry, as well as governments at all levels.




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Given the mounting impacts of climate change on food security and land condition, there is no time to lose.


The author acknowledges the contributions to authorship of this article by Clare de Castella, Communications Manager, ANU Climate Change Institute.The Conversation

Mark Howden, Director, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University

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

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


Kristen Lyons, The University of Queensland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaching multiple human rights obligations

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

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

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

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

Torres Straight Islanders are on the frontlines

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

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

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

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

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

Parallel threats across the Pacific

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

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

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

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

The growing wave of climate litigation

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

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

We are not drowning. We are fighting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



File 20190410 2909 1ru6uth.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
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.