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And The Survey Says…

It seems carbon neutrality is still a taboo subject. But while our politicians still kick climate change around as though it were a political football, most scientists are past the point of debate. In fact, the majority of Australian people are also firmly in the believer camp if the most recent Climate of the Nation survey by the Climate Institute is taken into account.

In a year where we’ve seen coal fired power stations approved, new mining licences granted, and where fracking and coal seam gas were firmly on the political agenda, these results might perhaps seem a little surprising. It would appear that our government’s emissions reduction commitment is out-of-step with public sentiment.

According to the survey, most Australians trust the science when it comes to climate change. Observed climate change impacts have meant that this years’ survey has shown the strongest results since 2008 in favour of action on climate change.

The survey further found that while only 3% of people were in favour of coal fired power, 59% supported solar energy. Given these results, the government’s current practice seems less than representative.

To keep global warming below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we need to get to zero net emissions – carbon emissions minus sinks – by 2050. By signing to the Paris Agreement, Australia is committed to that target.

 

So Where Is The Policy?

If this is what we know, and what most Australians believe, why is policy on climate change in Australia still less than robust? When we should be asking big business and industry to flex its environmental muscle, and show the country a little good corporate citizenship; instead our government is facilitating growth in finite fossil fuel industries and mining leases over land which should be carbon sinks, not carbon creators.

The idea of fossil fuel and industry subsidies, to many Australians, is akin to supporting ‘dirty’ industries to continue to pollute, unchecked. Fossil fuel dependent industries are heavily subsidised; while subsidies, tax breaks or incentives for renewable energy, or major biosequestration projects are limited. This government is demonstrating its interests, loudly and clearly, in policy and legislation, while it’s clear that the Australian public want a very different attitude to carbon reduction.

Added to that, when strong political leadership in the taxation, subsidisation and carbon and energy pricing space could change the game with respect to Australia’s emissions, this government is leaning on a poorly formed auction process which provides a very limited incentive for polluting organisations to engage with this complex process. At the same time it devalues voluntary carbon credits in the market, which become less competitive aside the ‘cheaper’ credits available via the scheme.

This government still calls the Emissions Reduction Fund the ‘centrepiece of our climate policy’. However the fund already has allocated 83 per cent of its $2.1 billion budget to contract 178 million tonnes of abatement for delivery over the next ten years – achieving only 12% of its anticipated target.

Australia has a relatively strong economy, particularly when considered in the current global context. It also has a (comparatively) stable political ecology. So why then does it seem incapable of setting a decent example for the rest of the world when it comes to climate policy? We have both the means, and the mechanisms at our fingertips… but perhaps not the moral imperative. While Kevin Rudd once called climate change “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”; it seems our halo has slipped.

 

Politicians Playing With Time.

We’re fast spending our carbon budget, and in fact, if Australia keeps emitting at the rate it currently is, it will spend its entire carbon budget by 2031. For Australia to have  a realistic chance at achieving emissions reductions targets, which will contribute to global emissions reductions and limit warming, the government will have to make a fundamental shift in attitude – and a fast one.

While it demonstrates a positive political commitment, ratifying the Paris Agreement, which surprised many in the wake of the US election outcomes, does not magically reduce emissions. The piece of paper may be signed, but without tough policies and programs in place – our current plans to achieve targeted emissions reduction will simply miss the mark, in much the same way the ERF is destined to do.

This government will have to take a hard line on fossil fuel subsidies, a strong legislative approach to carbon emissions reductions and pricing and a proactive advocacy approach to renewable energy and carbon reduction projects.

Given our record of extinctions, our massive land clearing legacy and our per capita emissions profile, isn’t it time we started to look through a different lens at our local climate change impacts, and our global influence?

It’s time for a change – and if we want to see change from our government – we will have to maintain focus through the next three years. We will have to be a consistent and vocal 70%. We are the majority, and while small change is just that; collective acts of small change can make a big impact.

But through all the ‘doom and gloom’, there are positive steps being taken, and post the Paris Agreement, a collective and effective global climate coalition looks more likely. There are many social enterprises and not-for-profits stepping up to bridge the gap between government policy and practice. Businesses like Carbon Neutral are supporting major corporations and industries to clean and green their business processes, and to find positive ways to offset their emissions, while enhancing biodiversity and creating supportive new industries in the regions.

With a little luck, and a lot of good management, we will find a way.

To see our National Award Winning Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor click here.

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