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.

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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.

New UN report outlines ‘urgent, transformational’ change needed to hold global warming to 1.5°C



File 20181008 72124 1ce1rz1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

National Renewable Energy Lab/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Mark Howden, Australian National University and Rebecca Colvin, Australian National University

A landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, commissioned at the breakthrough 2015 summit that brokered the Paris climate agreement, outlines what’s at stake in the world’s bid to limit global temperature rise to 1.5℃.

The report, released today, sets out the key practical differences between the Paris agreement’s two contrasting goals: to limit the increase of human-induced global warming to well below 2℃, and to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5℃.




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The UN’s 1.5°C special climate report at a glance


Two and a half years in the making, the report provides vital information about whether the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious goal is indeed achievable, what the future may look like under it, and the risks and rewards of hitting the target.

Here are five key questions to which the report provides answers.

Can we limit warming to 1.5℃?

There is no clear yes or no answer to this question.

Put simply, it is not impossible that global warming could be limited to 1.5℃. But achieving this will be profoundly challenging.

If we are to limit warming to 1.5℃, we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030, reaching near-zero by around 2050.

Whether we are successful primarily depends on the rate at which government and non-state bodies take action to reduce emissions. Yet despite the urgency, current national pledges under the Paris Agreement are not enough to remain within a 3℃ temperature limit, let alone 1.5℃.

Source: Australian Academy of Science.

Global warming is not just a problem for the future. The impacts are already being felt around the world, with declines in crop yields, biodiversity, coral reefs, and Arctic sea ice, and increases in heatwaves and heavy rainfall. Sea levels have risen by 40.5mm in the past decade and are predicted to continue rising for decades, even if all greenhouse emissions were reduced to zero immediately. Climate adaptation is already needed and will be increasingly so at 1.5℃ and 2℃ of warming.

Rapid action is essential and the next ten years will be crucial. In 2017, global warming breached 1℃. If the planet continues to warm at the current rate of 0.2℃ per decade, we will reach 1.5℃ of warming around 2040. At current emissions rates, within the next 10 to 14 years there is a 2/3 chance we will have used up our entire carbon budget for keeping to 1.5.

How can we limit warming to 1.5℃?

The report says “transformational” change will be needed to limit warming to 1.5℃. Business as usual will not get us there.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases need to reach net zero globally by around 2050. Most economists say putting a price on emissions is the most efficient way to do this.

By 2050, 70-85% of electricity globally will need to be supplied by renewables. Investment in low-carbon and energy-efficient technologies will need to double, whereas investment in fossil-fuel extraction will need to decrease by around a quarter.

Sustainable agriculture is a big piece of the low-carbon puzzle.
CIFOR/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Carbon dioxide removal technology will also be needed to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But the IPCC’s report warns that relying too heavily on this technology would be a major risk as it has not been used on such a large scale before. Carbon dioxide removal is an extra step that may be needed to keep warming to 1.5℃, not an excuse to keep emitting greenhouse gases.

Production, consumption and lifestyle choices also play a role. Reducing energy demand and food waste, improving the efficiency of food production, and choosing foods and goods with lower emissions and land use requirements will contribute significantly.

Taking such action as soon as possible will be hugely beneficial. The earlier we start, the more time we have to reach net zero emissions. Acting early will mean a smoother transition and less net cost overall. Delay will lead to more haste, higher costs, and a harder landing.

Reducing emissions quickly will also ensure warming is capped as soon as possible, reducing the number and severity of impacts.

Yet severe impacts will still be experienced even if warming is successfully capped at 1.5℃.

What is the cost of 1.5℃ of warming?

Although the Paris Agreement aims to hold global warming as close to 1.5℃ as possible, that doesn’t mean it is a “safe” level. Communities and ecosystems around the world have already suffered significant impacts from the 1℃ of warming so far, and the effects at 1.5℃ will be harsher still.

Poverty and disadvantages will increase as temperatures rise to 1.5℃. Small island states, deltas and low-lying coasts are particularly vulnerable, with increased risk of flooding, and threats to freshwater supplies, infrastructure, and livelihoods.

Warming to 1.5℃ also poses a risk to global economic growth, with the tropics and southern subtropics potentially being hit hardest. Extreme weather events such as floods, heatwaves, and droughts will become more frequent, severe, and widespread, with attendant costs in terms of health care, infrastructure, and disaster response.

The oceans will also suffer in a 1.5℃ warmer world. Ocean warming and acidification are expected to impact fisheries and aquaculture, as well as many marine species and ecosystems.

Coral reefs around the world are seeing increased rates of bleaching.
OIST/Flickr, CC BY

Up to 90% of warm water coral reefs are predicted to disappear when global warming reaches 1.5℃. That would be a dire situation, but far less serious than at 2℃, when the destruction of coral reefs would be almost total (greater than 99% destruction).

How do 1.5℃ and 2℃ compare?

Impacts on both human and natural systems would be very different at 1.5℃ rather than 2℃ of warming. For example, limiting warming to 1.5℃ would roughly halve the number of people globally who are expected to suffer from water scarcity.

Seas would rise by an extra 10cm this century at 2℃ compared with 1.5℃. This means limiting global warming to 1.5℃ would save up to 10.4 million people from the impacts of rising seas.

At 1.5℃ rather than 2℃:

  • up to 427 million fewer people will suffer food and water insecurity, climate risks, and adverse health impacts

  • extreme weather events, heat-related death and disease, desertification, and wildlife extinctions will all be reduced

  • it will be significantly easier to achieve many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including those linked to hunger, poverty, water and sanitation, health, and cities and ecosystems.

How does the 1.5℃ target fit with the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals aim for a world in which people can be healthy, financially stable, well fed, have clean air and water, and live in a secure and pleasant environment. Much of this is consistent with the goal of capping global warming at 1.5℃, which is why the IPCC notes there are synergies if the SDG initiatives and climate action should be explicitly linked.

But some climate strategies may make it harder to achieve particular SDGs. Countries that are highly dependent on fossil fuels for employment and revenue may suffer economically in the transition towards low-carbon energy.

Carefully managing this transition by simultaneously focusing on reducing poverty and promoting equity in decision-making may help avoid the worst effects of such trade-offs. What works in one place may not work in another, so strategies should always be locally appropriate.

Where next?

Limiting global warming to 1.5℃ will require a social transformation, as the world takes rapid action to reduce greenhouse gases. The effects of climate change will continue to shape the world we live in, but there is no doubt we will be far better off under 1.5℃ than 2℃ of global warming.




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The choices we make today are shaping the future for coming generations. As the new report makes clear, if we are serious about the 1.5℃ target, we need to act now.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the substantial contribution to authorship of this article by of Lamis Kazak, an Australian National University Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (Sustainability) student, as part of a Science Communication Internship with the Climate Change Institute.The Conversation

Mark Howden, Director, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University and Rebecca Colvin, Knowledge Exchange Specialist, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University

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

The UN’s 1.5°C special climate report at a glance


Emil Jeyaratnam, The Conversation; Madeleine De Gabriele, The Conversation, and Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report today on the impacts of global warming of 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels.

The report outlines the considerable challenges of meeting the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious goal of limiting warming to 1.5℃, the global effort needed to achieve the target, and the consequences of not.

The highlights of the report are presented below:



CC BY-ND

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Australian Labor Party had a goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2050. But the ALP hope to achieve the 50% target via an emissions intensity scheme by 2030.The Conversation

Emil Jeyaratnam, Data + Interactives Editor, The Conversation; Madeleine De Gabriele, Deputy Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation, and Michael Hopkin, Section Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation

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

Australia’s UN report card: making progress, could do better on inequality and climate


John Thwaites, Monash University

Visiting drought-affected farmland in NSW last week, new PM Scott Morrison said he was not interested in considering the role of climate change on the drought because he was “practically interested in the policies that will address what is going on here, right now.”

A narrow focus on the short term is common in politics, but it won’t make the long-term problems go away. Drought and other issues like inequality, housing affordability, obesity and the loss of Australia’s rich natural heritage will only get worse.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted by Australia and all nations in 2015 are a way to help countries focus on these longer-term challenges. They are a set of goals and targets for economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability to be met by 2030.

In addition to governments, more and more businesses are now reporting on their progress towards these global goals, too.

How is Australia going?

This week, the National Sustainable Development Council with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute published the Transforming Australia: SDG Progress Report. It examines trends between 2000 and 2015 to assess whether Australia is on track to meet the 2030 targets.

The report highlights strong progress in health and education, but poor performance in addressing inequality, climate change and housing affordability. Of 144 indicators assessed across the 17 goals, 35% were on track, 41% needed improvement and 24% were off-track or deteriorating.




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Despite some progress, the report found almost every goal has at least one target where an important indicator is off-track or will require a breakthrough to be achieved.

For example, income poverty in Australia has decreased since 2000. But a person on Newstart, who would have been near the poverty line in 2000, is now 25% below the poverty line due to the lower indexation rate for Newstart payments.

Life expectancy in Australia is among the highest in the world and has increased from 79.3 to 82.5 years between 2000 and 2015. Smoking rates and road traffic deaths have fallen dramatically, as well. However, Australia still has a high prevalence of lifestyle-related risks, such as obesity, and deaths due to road accidents in remote areas remain five times higher than in cities.

On the positive side, Australia is an increasingly educated society. The proportion of the working age (25-64) population holding tertiary qualifications increased markedly from 27.5% to 43.7% between 2000 and 2015, one of the highest percentage of tertiary qualifications in the world.

While Australian student performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) benchmark has been declining across science, maths and reading, Australian students perform very well as collaborative problem solvers – an increasingly important indicator for the jobs of the future. On the downside, investment in early childhood education and care remains low.

The report also highlights key challenges in achieving Australia’s economic goals, with relatively low investment in research and innovation, increasing underemployment and high levels of household debt.

While Australia has enjoyed a record period of economic growth and disposable incomes per capita grew strongly from 2000-2012, wage growth has stalled since then and cost of living pressures are now putting a strain on families.

Not there yet

Two persistent challenges identified in the report are continuing inequality and Australia’s poor performance on climate action and the environment.

Despite strong economic growth since 2000, Australia’s income inequality did not improve and wealth inequality got worse.

The glass ceiling remains firmly in place and structural inequalities continue to prevent women from reaching their potential. In 2017, just 11 women led ASX200 companies, while only 30% of Australian parliamentarians are female .




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Meanwhile, the gender pay gap has barely narrowed in 20 years and women’s superannuation balances at retirement remain 42% below those of men. And the Closing the Gap report illustrates the vast inequality gulf between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Of all the UN Sustainable Development Goals goals, taking urgent action to combat climate change is the area where Australia is most off track.

Greenhouse gas emissions, the highest per capita in the OECD, are roughly the same now as in 2000 and are projected to be even higher in 2030. We are nowhere near meeting even Australia’s modest Paris target of a 26% emissions reduction by 2030.

Are we ready for the future?

It is clear that Australia has a considerable way to go to achieve most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and it will require a major change from business as usual.

Despite our history of strong economic growth, our children and grandchildren face the prospect of being worse off than we are unless we address inequality, climate change and cost of living pressures.

In an increasingly polarised political and media landscape, we should be looking to strengthen collaboration between government, business, social enterprise and society. To achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, we need to overcome the short-term focus that currently dominates our political landscape and work collectively if we are to achieve a “fair go” for the next generation.


This article is the first in a series looking at Australia’s progress toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, based on a report published by the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.The Conversation

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

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

Australia falls further in rankings on progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals


John Thwaites, Monash University and Tahl Kestin, Monash University

Australia is performing worse than most other advanced countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the global SDG Index, which compares different nations’ performance on the goals.

According to the SDG Index, released yesterday in New York, Australia is ranked 37th in the world – down from 26th last year, and behind most other wealthy countries including New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The best-performing countries are the northern European nations of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany, all of which have a history of balancing economic, social and environmental issues.

The SDG Index measures progress against the 17 SDGs agreed by all countries at the United Nations in 2015. The goals encompass a set of 169 targets to be met by 2030 to achieve economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Yet despite the progress made by some countries, all nations still have a way to go to achieve all of the goals.




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Australia: the world’s worst on climate action

The latest SDG Index shows that Australia is performing relatively well in areas such health and wellbeing, and providing good-quality education. But its results for the environmental goals and climate change are among the worst in the OECD group of advanced nations.

The new index ranks Australia as the worst-performing country in the world on climate action (SDG 13). The measure takes into account greenhouse gas emissions within Australia; emissions embodied in the goods we consume; climate change vulnerability; and exported emissions from fossil fuel shipments to other countries.

One of the reasons why Australia has slumped so far in the rankings is that the SDG Index is now taking into account the so-called “spillover” effects that countries have on other nations’ ability to meet the SDGs. These effects may be positive, such as providing development aid; or negative, such as importing or exporting products that create pollution.

The report shows that G20 nations account for the largest negative economic, environmental, and security spillover effects. Despite being among the richest nations in the world, the US, the UK and Australia are rated worst in the G20 for negative spillovers.

The UK, for instance, rates particularly badly on the tax haven score, which makes it harder for other countries to raise the tax revenue needed to provide health, education and other services to their citizens.

This year’s SDG Index also includes a key environmental spillover indicator: carbon dioxide emissions embodied in fossil fuel exports, calculated using a three-year average of coal, gas and oil exports.

Australia’s annual exported CO₂ emissions are a colossal 44 tonnes per person. This outstrips even Saudi Arabia (35.5 tonnes per person), and is orders of magnitude larger than the figure for the US (710kg per person).

G20 leading the way?

With all countries still falling short of achieving the SDGs, the SDG Index also assesses what actions G20 governments are taking to help close this gap. Most G20 countries have begun to implement the goals but there are large variations among G20 countries in how the SDGs are being embraced by political leaders and translated into action.

Composite score of national coordination and implementation mechanisms for the SDGs in G20 countries.
SDSN and Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report

Brazil, Mexico and Italy have taken the most significant steps among G20 countries to achieve the goals, illustrated for instance by the existence of SDG strategies, coordination units in governments, or online platforms. India and Germany have at least partially already undertaken an assessment of investment needs.

According to this assessment, Australia has taken some initial steps to support SDG implementation. Supportive actions taken by the government include setting up a cross-departmental committee, co-chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to coordinate Government SDG activities. The Senate has established an inquiry to examine the opportunities to implement the goals.

Significantly, the federal government has also prepared a Voluntary National Review report on progress in implementing the goals, which it will present to the UN’s High Level Political Forum next week. The report addresses how Australia is performing against each of the goals and includes many case studies of implementation from business, civil society, academia, youth and all levels of government. It is accompanied by a new Australian SDG case study hub. Many of these activities occurred after the cut-off period for the SDG Index, so Australia’s overall performance on SDG implementation is actually higher than the SDG Index gives it credit.

However, Australia is not taking more deliberative action to address the SDGs, such as developing a national implementation plan or setting aside funding for SDG implementation. Nor are individual departments identifying the gaps in Australia’s SDG performance and identifying what they plan to do differently to address them.

The ConversationGiven Australia’s poor performance on some of the SDGs there is clearly a need for targeted action if we are to achieve the goals by the 2030 deadline.

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University and Tahl Kestin, Sustainable Development Solutions Network Manager, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

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