After the rally on Sunday 17 November Ben Eltham took a look at climate activism in the digital age and nominated climate policy as “the central battleground of 21st century politics.” Sooner or later, somehow or other, climate activism has to be turned into real politics. As one of the ten themes in the Centre for Policy Development’s Pushing our Luck: ideas for Australian progress Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne looked at the shape of climate policy for the future.
You can find his whole piece at page 142 on the pdf counter, but I’ll attempt to give a brief outline here.
First he surveys the science, our prospects and the risks. The risk of a 4C future is unacceptably high. He quotes the World Bank’s report Turn Down the Heat:
- ‘Even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented there is roughly a 20 per cent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s.’
What does 4°C mean?
- Professor John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, provides a stark assessment of the difference between a rise of two and four degrees. ‘The difference,’ he says, ‘is human civilisation. A 4°C temperature increase probably means a global [population] carrying capacity below 1 billion people’.
He then looks at the climate budget approach and posts a version of this now familiar graph:
He concludes that we need more ambition and urgency, both at the national and international levels. The achievement of emission reductions at the necessary scale and speed will require transformational rather than incremental change.
Wiseman goes for a three-phase emissions reduction target regime.
First, a 50% reduction target by 2020.
Second, zero net emissions by 2040.
Third, a carbon draw-down phase to get concentrations below 350 CO2e ppm.
I applaud his ambition, but, personally, would change the date of the second to 2030 and put a date of 2050 on the third. That is, we should aim for 350 CO2e ppm by 2050.
Wiseman says that if you look at the simple mathematics of the carbon budget approach you are compelled to set such targets. And
- While the achievement of an emissions target at this speed and scale is clearly extremely challenging, critics who argue that this task is simply impossible have a responsibility to reflect and speak honestly about the full consequences of inaction and delay.
In fact, he says, if we want to avoid crossing critical climate tipping points, there is a case for going harder. I totally agree.
Along the way we need to ditch the massive coal mining expansion planned by Australian companies and governments as it is “one of a handful of projects in the world that would take the planet beyond the point of no return if they were to go ahead.”
This, I think, is the uncomfortable elephant in the room for Labor policy makers. The other mob will never see it, so bipartisanship is not a possibility in this country.
Wiseman then surveys action around the world, which is not waiting for Australia, before laying out the structure of a plan.
- we would need a clear and unequivocal public commitment by the Prime Minister that the Australian Government’s highest priority is to achieve an emergency speed transition to a just and resilient post-carbon economy. The Prime Minister’s announcement would emphasise the importance of setting and achieving emissions reduction targets and a clear recognition of the risks involved in failing to act. The statement would also call on all State and local governments, business, trade union and community organisations to demonstrate the strong moral leadership and decisive action required to meet Australia’s national emission reduction and carbon budget target.
Then we would need an Australian Climate Solutions Act which set up the targets, the structures and the priority actions. Principal amongst these would be an Australian Climate Solutions Taskforce chaired by the Prime Minister and drawing from state and local governments, business, trade unions and community organisations.
Then we would need six key action plans.
First, an Australian Renewable Energy Plan to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy within 10 years.
Second, an Australian Economic Electrification Plan with initial priorities including a modal shift in passenger and freight transport from road to rail; the rapid replacement of fossil fuel based cars with electric vehicles; and the full electrification of household and industry heating and cooling.
Third, an Australian Energy Efficiency Plan that identifies the regulatory, planning, educational and financial initiatives that could achieve the overall goal of a rapid transition to a zero waste economy.
Fourth, an Australian Sustainable Consumption Strategy.
Fifth, an Australian Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry Plan designed to reduce land-based emissions and increase carbon sequestration.
Finally, state and local governments, community sector and business organisations would collaborate to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term Australian Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Plan.
While 58% of Australians think ‘Australia should be a leader in finding solutions on climate change’ there are significant political roadblocks preventing the rapid implementation of post-carbon economy transition strategies. Actions required include the following:
- Overcoming climate science denial and deepening understanding
of the necessity and urgency of action
- Overcoming the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry and its allies
- Overcoming political paralysis and strengthening the determination of communities, governments and businesses to take decisive action
- Developing an economic paradigm focused on wellbeing and resilience rather than unsustainable consumption of energy and resources
- Overcoming technological and social path dependencies and driving social, economic and technological innovation
- Strengthening the financial and governance capabilities needed
to drive swift implementation of large-scale de-carbonisation.
Not much if you say it quickly. Now here’s the rub. Wiseman says:
- Courageous moral leadership – at multiple levels and in many sectors – is an essential precondition for rapid implementation of post carbon economy transition strategies.
And we need a redefinition of prosperity.
So do we just hang around waiting for such leadership to appear? Wiseman ends with some wisdom from Milton Friedman:
- ‘Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.’
Yes, but it seems to me that through activism we can change perceptions so that the crisis is recognised.
Here’s the deal. I’ll keep blogging and you go join at least one of those groups Ben Eltham was talking about, even if it’s just the email list of Getup!, or a political party, or both.
Climate Clippings 87, out tomorrow, has a fair bit of stuff on activism, including some more groups not mentioned by Eltham.
Update – Key climate posts by Brian: