The Paris Agreement: Is Australia’s Commitment More Than Hot Air?

 

There were tears of relief from the low-lying nations’ delegates at the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

A 195-nation accord had just given them a lifeline; a commitment to holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The landmark agreement sent a wave of hope through the masses of people looking for greater climate action, but not all see the agreement as a success.

The father of climate awareness, Dr James Hansen of Colombia University, immediately denounced the agreement as a “fraud”. “It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises,” he told The Guardian at the time.  “As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

A year later, the jury is still out on whether Australia will even come close to playing its part in the ultimate goal of global net zero carbon emissions by 2050, despite ratifying its obligation to the landmark UN agreement on November 4.

CEO of the Carbon Reduction Institute (CRI) Rob Cawthorne is excited by the hope the agreement brings, but also recognises its lack of teeth. “With no enforcement, the agreement is little better than a handshake,” he believes. “If China or the US fails to meet their commitments, are we really going to enforce carbon tariffs or trade embargos?”

CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation Kelly O’Shannassy told The Huffington Post Australia she also has grave reservations. “At 1.5 degrees [of global warming] and above they [islands such as Kiribati and Tuvalu] lose their homes,” she says. “At 1.5 degrees and above, we lose the Great Barrier Reef… we’re already seeing this and we haven’t even got to those levels of warming yet. If we don’t get on to reducing pollution fast, it is just a piece of paper.”

Australia has pledged to cut 2005-level emissions 26-28 per cent by 2030, and reinforced that commitment at the recent 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco where signatories met to iron out a roadmap for the landmark agreement.

Many delegates there were reportedly sceptical of just how Australia proposed to achieve that target, but Australia’s power-players Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Environmental and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg remain buoyant.  Mr Frydenberg continues to make the case for gas as the transitional fuel to help coal-dependant Australia deliver reliable base load power while lowering carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, Ms Bishop says the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), the “centrepiece” of the Government’s 2020 policy package, proves the plan is working – already 15 per cent of our households use solar energy, the highest proportion in the world. “Australia has a strong track record on international emissions reduction targets,” Ms Bishop tells Fairfax Media.  “We beat our first Kyoto target by 128 million tonnes and are on track to meet and beat our second Kyoto 2020 target by 78 million tonnes.”

But others aren’t so convinced.

As recently as mid-2015, Australia was still labelled a climate change “free-rider”, dropping off a list of nations taking “credible” action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to a panel led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The latest data from the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) – independent scientific analysis produced by three research organisations – is perhaps the most damning evidence that Australia is lagging well behind other developed nations in climate control.

CAT believes that under present policy settings, Australia’s emissions are set to increase to more than 21% above 2005 levels by 2030, equivalent to an increase of around 52% above 1990 levels.

Unless there is a radical review of ERF, Australia will miss its 2030 target by a “large margin”, maintains CAT.

Mark Butler, Labour’s climate spokesman, echoed those sentiments recently. “The Turnbull Government has no policy for renewable energy investment post 2020, which is also crucial to meet our Paris obligations,” he told Fairfax. “As the ACTU [Australian Council of Trade Unions] has also pointed out, nor does the Government have a plan for a Just Transition to a clean energy economy, as the Paris Agreement calls for.”

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, the chairman of the Government’s backbench committee on the environment and energy, went even further, labelling the Paris Agreement a “cactus” in a Facebook salvo immediately after US President-elect Donald Trump’s upset at the polls. George Christensen, the outspoken Liberal National party backbencher from Queensland, later backed Mr Kelly’s view.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull concedes that the “mechanisms” currently in place to meet the 2030 Paris Agreement targets may need to be revised at the Direct Action climate policy review in 2017. But he remains steadfast in his conviction to the promise, and unshaken by the imminent arrival of such a powerful climate science dissenter to The White House.

“With all the great work done by the US in reducing its fossil fuel usage over the last eight years, maybe Donald Trump could use carbon tariffs as a way of balancing the costs for manufacturing; we can only dream,” adds CRI CEO Rob Cawthorne.

The Climate Institute, for one, was encouraged by the mood in Morocco after the Trump cloud lifted. In a press statement from the event, the institute cleverly subverted the ‘cactus’ dig by calling the agreement a “hardy plant resilient to adversity”. “This has been a remarkable meeting of nations,” said John Connor, CEO The Climate Institute from the talks in Marrakech.“Countries, states, cities, companies and others have responded with grace, vigour and guts to the election of President Trump which could have been a massive blow to climate action. “Australia, like other nations, now needs to get down to getting to zero emissions and recognise that it can be a winner in the global clean energy future.”

Only time will tell if that comes in time for the families of our Pacific Island neighbours.

 

 

Tips To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Over Christmas

While we stuff ourselves silly and tear into the presents under the tree, a hidden cost to our festive excess is slowly killing the planet.

In 2005 the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) produced a report which outlined the impact of Christmas spending in terms of greenhouse pollution, water use, land disturbance and materials used.

The ACF executive director Don Henry said the results of the analysis were shocking.

Spending just $30 on chocolate Santas and candy canes cost 940 litres of water, created 16kg of greenhouse gases and disturbed 26 square hectares of land.

On a national level, the University of Sydney-calculated date found December sales of typical Christmas favourites – confectionary, alcohol, household appliances, and clothes – created 2.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses and used 100,000 megalitres of water.

Of course, no one’s advocating you become Ebenezer Scrooge from this point forth – just that you consider adopting a few new practices that won’t put such a strain on the environment.

Here are just 7 ways to offset the Christmas hangover for you – and the planet.

  1. Take a staycation: By exploring your own city, or travelling short distances from home, you are dramatically reducing emissions from flying and driving long distances. Just ensure your car is serviced, tyres are inflated to the correct pressure, and the air-conditioning unit is serviced and cleaned. You can estimate your COimpact when driving by using the nifty travel calculator on the Carbon Reduction Institute (CRI) website, here.
  2. Fly on airlines with carbon off-sets: If global aviation was a country, its CO2 emissions would be ranked 7th in the world, between Germany and South Korea. Just one return flight from Sydney to Brisbane is responsible for 381kg of GHG emissions. Fortunately, there are many airlines doing their bit to reduce this impact on global warming. The major carriers in Australia – Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia – all offer credit options compliant with the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS), for a relatively miniscule outlay. Visit the CRI site to calculate the emissions of your Christmas trip and what you need to pay to off-set it. The CRI supports Clean Up Australia and its Clean Up Our Climate campaign. An economy ticket on return flight to London from Sydney is responsible for 7.16 tonnes of GHG
  3. Book with eco-friendly tour companies: Another way to lighten your carbon footprint is to book your holiday with one of the growing number of environmentally-friendly tour operators, both at home and abroad. In Australia, one of the most reputable is the student-friendly Small World Journeys which pays to offset the carbon emissions that result from all of its trips, whether you’re discovering Sydney, or diving in the Great Barrier. The carbon-neutral operator Intrepid, which has offices in Australia, is another world-leader in eco-travel. In 2010 it made a commitment to zero emissions on all its tours.
  4. Switch on to power savings: They may be pricier at the checkout but LED Christmas lights save your pocket and the environment in the long-run. Frank Skinner, marketing director for ChristmasLightsEtc.com, says LED lights use up to 90 per cent less electricity than their incandescent counterparts. Turning off overnight avoids wasting electricity when it’s not needed and reduces the risk of lights being accidentally left on during the day. But the real failsafe way is to buy a timer, which you can get at Bunnings for as little as $11.50. Also, ensure you only use the air conditioner when absolutely necessary, and set the temperature to as close as possible to the outside reading – 26 degrees is a good summertime recommendation. If you really want to go the extra yard, switch over to GreenPower for your Christmas celebrations. It’s the only voluntary government accredited program that enables your electricity provider to purchase renewable energy on your household’s or business’ behalf.
  5. Give eco-friendly presents instead A 2010 study found that six million Australians received one or more presents they never used or later gave away – we suspect most of others polled were being polite! But before you throw your hands up in despair this Christmas and say ‘Why do I even bother’, there is a solution for you – and the planet. Below are just a few alternative ways you can show your appreciation and love for others.
    • Buy carbon offsets. Whether your loved one is a businessman, about to get married, or just loves to travel, the Carbon Reduction Institute has a package to suit everyone and all budgets.
    • Sponsor an orangutan. For as little as $12 a month, you can help support an orphaned or injured orangutan through rehabilitation in one of The Orangutan Project’s care centres.
    • Buy a service, not a product – to reduce embodied greenhouse emissions and water, buy someone a voucher for a massage for example, rather than a massaging appliance.
    • Give the gift of learning – give your child a tree to plant in the back garden, or a book on science or the environment.
  6. Think recycling : The strain on refuse centres and recycling depots reaches breaking point at Christmas. To ease the burden, Zero Waste SA compiled a handy 12 Wastes of Christmas list that everyone should get familiar with before Santa slides down the chimney. From tips on buying the right Christmas tree, to disposing of glass and what plastics to recycle, the planet will thank you for years to come. Oh, and if you must splurge on a fancy appliance, make sure it’s one that will last.
  7. Avoid food wastage: In the U.S it’s estimated Christmas revellers throw out 12 billion kilograms of food each festive season. That’s equal to roughly 37kg of wasted holiday food per person. To help you reduce the strain on the environment closer to home, Foodwise.com.au has compiled a handy list of tips. Some councils will allow food scraps to go into green waste bins, but people needed to check if their local council did, Zero Waste said. It also suggests getting a worm farm – another great gift idea – which can turn the waste into compost to go onto household garden beds.

Climate Control Crusader Jay Weatherill: Can He Weather The Federal Storm?

 

Dark storm clouds were rolling into Canberra from the halls of power in Adelaide for the final Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting for 2016. They weren’t the kind that plunged much of South Australia into darkness on September 28, but they were shaping to be just as volatile in a political sense.

Defiant South Australian premier Jay Weatherill says Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has thrown his state under the bus by blaming the blackout on issues with the state’s renewable wind-turbine system, rather than a freakish once-in-a-lifetime weather system that tore towers from the ground and brought down high transmission lines.

“Malcolm Turnbull, our PM, took the first opportunity to lecture South Australians about the dangers of renewable energy, and for the Labor states in promoting unrealistic renewable energy targets,” Mr Weatherill told reporters at the time

“Now this was information that was made … in contradiction of the oral advice that we were receiving from the Australian Energy Market Operator. The PM was fearful that he would be blamed for a national electricity market that caused a blackout.

“The PM was fearful that he would be blamed by the right-wing of his party for pushing into renewable energy when he knows that he leads a party which is dominated by coal interests.

“It’s deeply disappointing that we do not have the national leadership which is necessary to deal with this and other issues.”

The Prime Minister added further fuel to what was expected to be a heated COAG agenda on December 9 when he appeared to do a U-turn on considering an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

Mr Weatherill now says he’s left with no choice but to float the idea of a state and territory system, without federal backing.

“States would simply join together and exercise their own carbon emissions intensity scheme,” he told the ABC’s AM program ahead of the COAG summit.

“We have had advice that this is certainly possible.”

Mr Weatherill also told the media he’d prefer a national bipartisan scheme that would provide long-term certainty for investors but believes Federal Government is “very firmly bought and sold by the coal club”.

Over the past decade, South Australia has dramatically changed its energy mix.

Its coal-fired plants have all been moth-balled and wind now supplies 40 percent of its power.

Mr Weatherill has built on previous climate change Labor leadership in SA. As Minister for the Environment from 2008-2010, he benefited from the state’s Climate Change Council, which was set up in 2007 to provide independent advice to the minister responsible for climate change.

Although not without his critics, he’s now arguably the most forward-thinking and progressive climate change politician in Australia.

At the end of 2015,  he released South Australia’s Climate Change Strategy 2015-2050, a landmark roadmap for reducing emissions – and maximising business opportunities – that he hopes will culminate with Adelaide becoming the first city in the world to be carbon neutral.

Just a few weeks later, with a two-person camera crew in tow, Mr Weatherill even fronted at December’s COP21 conference in Paris to spruik his commitment to carbon neutrality.

Although dubbed ‘Jet-Setting Jay’ and criticised for wasting tax-payers’ money – more recently he was in Finland investigating the logistics of SA duplicating that country’s nuclear waste dump – Mr Weatherill is adamant that the investment was a drop in the ocean when weighed against the future benefits.

Unless dramatic emission reduction measures are taken soon, the outlook for SA is a hotter, drier climate – with more frequent and longer heatwaves, drought and increased bushfire risk.

One of the worst impacted areas of the state in the short-term is the Murray-Darling Basin where food production is estimated to drop by 49-72% by 2050, according to Mr Weatherill’s Climate Change Strategy report.

After Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce said he would cut the state’s water allocation, Mr Weatherill has now issued a stern ultimatum to the PM – recommit to the basin plan, or he’ll reinstate the Fight for the Murray campaign.

The Fight for the Murray campaign commenced in 2012 and was successful in ensuring 3200GL of water would be returned to the River Murray – the baseline volume of water needed to keep the system alive as determined by detailed Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation science.

This water is needed to keep the Murray mouth open, reduce salinity in the Coorong and Lower Lakes, increase flows to the Coorong and allow for an increase in floodplain watering across NSW, Victoria, and South Australia.

“The Prime Minister needs to pull his Deputy into line and ensure he does not dud us on the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement,” demands Mr Weatherill.

“We were given reassurance before the Federal Election that the Agreement would be delivered in full.

“Close enough is not good enough – the crucial last 450GL must be delivered, as promised – the Federal Government cannot just cut and run on one of the nation’s most important agreements.

“The future of the Murray-Darling Basin is crucial for all Australians.”