Australia & Climate Change: the Moral Challenge continues

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In 2030, Australia’s combined (domestic and export) emissions from fossil fuels (2.2 gigatonnes) would equate to 11% of the world’s two degree carbon budget in that year. Source

Australia is in the midst of an international climate debate in which it has positioned itself further behind the rising influence of science and positive action.

During the week, the government announced a 26 per cent emissions emission by 2030 based on 2005 levels.

This objective is inadequate since it does not contribute towards limiting temperature increases two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The Climate Change Authority called for a minimum reduction of 45 per cent on 2005 levels. As a result, Australia will remain as the top emitter per capita while it continues to contribute to the global fossil fuel industry.

“Australia’s actions are not ‘irrelevant’ to global climate change efforts: we are materially worsening the chances of achieving the emissions cuts that are necessary if the world is to have any chance of avoiding runaway climate change.” ~Beyond Zero Emissions, Laggard to Leader (Source) 

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Climate change in the Central West: A case study

Observations over the past century have shown that temperatures have been increasing in the Central West since 1970.

When compared to the otherwise natural variability in other NSW regions, the warming trend rate projected in the region is quite large.

The long-term temperature trend indicates that temperatures in the region have been increasing since approximately 1950, with the largest increase in temperature variables coming in the most recent decades.

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Projected air temperature changes for the Central West and Orana Region, annually and by season, daily maxium and daily minimum. Source

On average, Parkes and Forbes experience  20-30 hot days each year -mirroring the prolonged hot days which have the potential increase the incidence of illness and death amongst an ageing population.

Seasonal changes are likely to have considerable impacts on bushfire, infrastructure development and native species diversity.

While much of the media coverage has been dedicated to the increases in temperatures as a result of climate change, it is also worth noting the changes in cold nights that are equally important in sustaining natural ecosystems and agricultural/horticultural industries.

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In August 2015, the NSW government prepared a post-2020 carbon reduction report that was intended to make recommendations relating to the country’s national emissions reduction goals.

Spokesmen for Mr Baird and NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman both declined to reveal what the recommended target was or why the report had not made it to cabinet for discussion.

September 2011 set a future date in which 2021 would allow future state governments to establish goals and targets that support practical action to tackle climate change, including:

  • 20% renewable energy by 2020
  • Help for businesses and households to realise annual energy savings of 16,000 gigawatt-hours by 2020 compared with ‘business as usual’ trends
  • Support for 220,000 low-income households to reduce their energy use by up to 20%

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From denial to inaction? 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently stated that Australia would aim to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, equating to a reduction of 19 per cent compared with 2000 levels.

Two in three Australians say the Abbott government should take climate change more seriously and more believe coal-fired power will eventually be supplanted, indicating a potential voter backlash if the Coalition adopts emission targets that have fallen short.

Half of those surveyed agreed with the statement that the ALP’s carbon policies would ‘just increase electricity prices and not do much about pollution’. 51 per cent of people surveyed said it be based on science rather than what other countries were doing.

The Climate Institute research comprises a national Galaxy survey of 1016 people over three days in late July. It found that 63 per cent of Australians believed the Abbott government should take climate change more seriously, up six points from last year. This jumped to 70 per cent among those aged 18 to 34.

The results follow an Ipsos survey in May that found a clear majority of Australians view global warming as already causing extreme weather, and reports over the past year by the CSIRO pointing to rising anxiety among Australians about climate change.

 

The 2011 Garnaut Climate Change Review found that even discounting exports of energy, Australia was found to be the worst per capital emitter in the OECD group of 34 developed countries.

“Australia’s per capita emissions are nearly twice the OECD average and more than four times the world average.”

“The goal of overall transformation via the lowest cost methods of emissions abatement towards the low carbon future desired by most people will not be achieved by topsy-turvey, politically-motivated policy.”

 

Several analyses have found Australia has at least four large coal plants more than it needs to keep the lights on across the national grid. As EnergyAustralia has noted, owners will face a bill in the hundreds of millions of dollars to cover redundancies for workers and mine rehabilitation costs if they were to shut.

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The Paris Climate Conference: An Uncertain Future. 

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As the preparations for the global climate change conference in Paris in December heat up in parallel with the planet, negotiators in the United Nations climate talks recently proposed a skeleton agreement. The draft includes the key pieces of a legal agreement that are meant to be finalized by nearly 200 countries in Paris.

Countries may more actively follow through on voluntary promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions by expanding renewable energy generation and improving energy efficiency.

The UN-organised Green Climate Fund is intended to generate $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020. Connected to a much larger and longstanding debate about funding for sustainable development, developing countries insist that financial contributions from donor countries should mandatory, but industrialized countries prefer voluntary mechanisms.

Developing countries are increasingly forced to quickly figure out how to best limit negative consequences of climate change and how to design working strategies to reduce vulnerabilities and enhance resilience.

Even after emissions are drastically reduced, the climate changes that occur will be around for the next thousand years. Thus, the Paris negotiations and the actions of the global collective in the next three decades will determine the future of the climate for the next millennium.

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