Submission from Centre for Climate Safety to the Australian Government’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament House in Canberra, regarding the Paris Agreement treaty being considered, and regarding the actions the government must take to drive emergency-speed emissions reductions in Australia.
Centre for Climate Safety welcomes the opportunity to present our views to this Inquiry.
We are founding members of Centre for Climate Safety. We started this centre because we are concerned about the negative impacts which climate change will have on our region, our environment and the well-being of local residents of all ages.
We recommend that 1) the Australian government ratifies the Paris Agreement treaty of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and meets its commitments from Paris COP21, but then 2) immediately takes much stronger action on climate change than what is implied by the Agreement. The Paris Agreement’s target of ‘below 2°C degrees’ is not an acceptable target.
For a start, we would like to point your attention to these three important connections:
- Now that it has been globally decided that ‘Destination Zero Carbon’ is where we are all heading, there are no societal advantages in procrastinating and delaying the action required to get there. The only ones who benefit economically from the delay are those few people who have an investment or a job in the fossil fuel industry. The faster and bolder we take action on climate change and reduce our emissions, the more benefits society as a whole will be experiencing.
- The Australian population is ready to step in and help with taking stronger action. 65 per cent of Australians want our federal government to take not just strong action on climate change, but to become a world leader in this field, according to a new report from the Climate Institute, ‘Climate of the Nation 2016’.
- Climate change is not just ‘yet another issue’ on the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties’ long agenda of issues. Climate change is more important than anything else you have ever dealt with and will ever deal with. At the same time, unfortunately, it is also a much more complex and wicked problem than any other. For this reason, showing leadership in an international context plays a very significant role – an aspect of climate change and its solution which is often ignored because it is not properly understood. We make an attempt to explain it below.
Three decades of procrastination
We have known about this problem with global warming for decades. And you – our elected leaders – have done next to nothing about it. The global average temperature and atmospheric pollutant concentration graphs are steadily rising every year, and we hold you, our leaders, accountable for that.
As one example, here is a headline in the New Scientist in 1988 (that is almost 30 years ago) which said: “Time for politicians to act”
“The time to ‘wait and see’ whether global warming poses a serious threat to life on Earth is over, says a report released this week by the Joint Energy Programme of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Britain. The report calls for an international effort to control pollution from carbon dioxide.”
Quote from New Scientist, 1988
But, you deliberately chose to ignore this. You chose to listen to the fossil fuel industry’s lobby groups. And today we are beginning to see the results of you ignoring what scientists have been warning us would happen all the way since the 1970s.
Climate change kills people
Already above the 1°C global warming mark, we are seeing very serious impacts of climate change. Climate change is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year.
This week we saw images of floods, smashed bridges and people getting killed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Last week, South Australians had their own taste of tornadoes tearing across the land, the worst in 50 years, while Victorians have struggled all month with floods. Australian farmers fear bankruptcy because of droughts. In Denmark, just last night, an unusual weather phenomenon broke a 139-year-old record.
And according to NASA, climate change is getting worse every week.
The last 12 months has been the hottest on record. August 2016 was the warmest August in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, GISS. (NASA Earth Observatory: Visualizing the Warmest August in 136 Years)
Glaciers and sea ice are shrinking. In 2015, James Hansen and a team of climate scientists warned that sea level could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted.
Catastrophic forest fires in the US and Canada, and also in Indonesia, have added more carbon to the atmosphere over a few weeks than some countries emit in an entire year.
Flooding and droughts are getting worse. Hurricanes in the North Atlantic and Pacific are getting more frequent and more intense.
“Our fingerprints on the climate system are visible everywhere. They are seen in warming of the oceans, the land surface, and the lower atmosphere. They are identifiable in sea level rise, altered rainfall patterns, retreat of Arctic sea ice, ocean acidification, and many other aspects of the climate system. Human-caused climate change is not something far removed from our day-to-day experience, affecting only the remote Arctic. It is present here and now, in our own country, in our own states, and in our own communities.”
Excerpt from a recent open letter from 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel laureates
“The top of the world is turning from white to blue in summer as the ice that has long covered the north polar seas melts away. This monumental change is triggering a cascade of effects that will amplify global warming and could destabilize the global climate system. These changes represent a spiritual impoverishment of the earth, as well as a catastrophe for humanity.”
~ Peter Wadhams, professor emeritus of ocean physics at Cambridge University, a sea ice specialist with 46 years of research on sea ice and ocean processes in the Arctic and Antarctic.
The Paris Agreement is not enough
2°C degrees of warming within this century will allegedly be catastrophic for millions of people and countless species. What about the following centuries? Do we not think we have any responsibility for what happens then? According to a new study published in Nature, we have already today committed the planet to as much as 7°C degrees of warming in the next 1,000 years.
Considering that the oil and gas we have already tapped is in itself going to take us past the 1.5°C-mark, (see New Scientist, 22 September 2016), we already have passed the point of no return for the possibility of keeping the planet below 1.5°C of warming.
What this means, for a start, is that we are now in an emergency. An emergency requires emergency measures – not small steps and gradually increased efforts. The Paris Agreement’s target of ‘below 2°C degrees’ is not an acceptable target. The seriousness and the urgency of the situation call for a national mobilisation. We must step up our collective efforts in every possible way.
The good news is that once we get serious about cutting emissions, we will find that emissions can be brought down much more rapidly and at lower cost than claimed by those who have vested interests in the fossil fuel industry and who are deliberately causing confusion that causes delays. Late mitigation measures are also fated to be much more expensive and disruptive than effective actions taken earlier.
Now what we ask for is some clarity and determination in the policies coming from our federal Parliament, also known as leadership.
The issue with leadership
Climate change is a wicked problem because of its size and the fact that it is transnational. No person or nation is able to solve this problem alone. We need to work together.
For this very reason, leadership is crucial here. Without someone taking the first steps and showing the way, everyone will continue to procrastinate and wait for others to start, as we have seen happening during the last decade – with the result that the transition away from fossil fuels is occurring way too slowly, causing irreversible damage to the Earth’s ecosystems, which causes conflicts over food and water between humans, which in turn is leading to massive numbers of deaths and horrific refugee migration problems.
With decisive climate action leadership from the Australian Parliament, state parliaments and the two public broadcasters, an entire nation’s mobilisation could quickly follow with technical and practical solutions to climate change. The key words are: Innovation, Engagement, Empowerment and Investment.
There are not only the moral and positive psychological benefits of taking decisive action, but also the concrete learnings which come from being in a state of collective action. This is why Australian leadership by example has a disproportionately greater effect than it would appear if only looking at the relatively small amount of greenhouse gases the Australian population is directly responsible for.
Australian zero-carbon leadership has the potential to influence and present solutions to other people and to other nations around the world, and in this way would result in a much larger emissions reduction than Australia can achieve on its own.
Leadership really is the key to solving the problem with climate change.
“As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be held up as the cheapest reliable energy, they will continue to be the world’s largest energy source and the likelihood of disastrous consequences for young people will grow to near certainty.”
~ James Hansen
No more excuses: We don’t have any ‘carbon budget’ left
At the moment, humanity is collectively responsible for adding over 54 billion tonnes of CO2-e of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. Scientists say that all of that needs to come out again, unless we accept that we have already today committed the planet to those 7°C degrees of warming in the next 1,000 years with the dire consequences that such an outcome would bring with it.
Possibly the most alarming sign of our current inaction is the fact that this enormous figure, 54,000,000,000,000 tonnes, still is on the rise, year after year – even after two decades of UN climate conferences, numerous documentaries and TV series, open letters from the science community, and even after more and more frequent extreme weather events, causing despair, death and destruction all over the planet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that to provide a 93 per cent mid-value probability “of not exceeding a dangerous post-industrial increase of 2°C, the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases would need to be stabilised at or below 350 ppm CO2-equivalent”, that is, well below our current levels of over 400 ppm.
Each ppm is equivalent to 7.81 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. (A gigatonne is defined as one billion tonnes, so the figure could also be written out in digits as: 7,810,000,000 tonnes per ppm rising on the global ppm-scale). Already being over 50 ppm above the maximum level that the world needs to be stabilised at is the same as saying that, according to the IPCC, we have already exceeded our ‘carbon budget’ by 400 gigatonnes if we want to keep our planet’s global average temperatures under the 2°C target.
The Australian government must stop acting as if we have a ‘carbon budget’ left for 2°C.
Australia needs to show leadership and join the countries who are taking the ‘well below 2°C degrees’ climate target seriously. If we mean what we say when signing the Paris Agreement, then it means no more new fossil fuels, anywhere. No new coal, oil or gas projects. No new permits for coal mines, fracking sites or drilling in the Bight. No new exploration. No more subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
There are no more excuses. We need to stop polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases as if it were an open sewer.
» Read more about why emergency-scale action is necessary
“This image should terrify you. It should be on billboards.”
~ David Roberts, Vox Magazine
This graph from the newly published Oil Change report shows the magnitude and speed of the emissions reductions required. The authors of the Oil Change report chose to model two scenarios. One gives us a 66 per cent chance of stopping short of 2°C degrees. The other gives us a 50 per cent chance of stopping short of 1.5°C degrees. Neither are acceptable risk levels. Who would enter an airplane if there were a 34 per cent chance that it would crash?
In either scenario, global emissions must peak and begin declining immediately. For a medium chance to avoid exceeding 1.5°C degrees, the world has to zero out net carbon emissions by 2050 or so — for a good chance of avoiding 2°C degrees, by around 2065. After that, emissions have to go negative. Humanity has to start burying a lot more carbon than it throws up into the atmosphere.
“We are woefully behind in our current response to climate change.”
~ Stefan Raubenheimer, director of SouthSouthNorth
Pseudo climate policy
The Australian government must be doing everything it possibly can to avoid this situation and protect our country. We remind you that you entered Parliament and were sworn in with promises to us, your voters, that you will do what you can to protect this nation. We can’t see this being the case with the current climate and fossil fuel policies. Under no calculation does the government’s plan to cut emissions measure up to Australia playing its part.
If we want to match what is happening in the US and the European Union, we have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 per cent by 2030. Cutting 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 is a pseudo climate policy.
Advice provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade suggested that Australia already has the necessary “legislation, policies and measures” in place to meet its 2030 target. But during a public briefing on the Paris Agreement last week department officials conceded that there was no government modelling on how current policies will affect emissions beyond 2020 to show that Australia will meet its 2030 target. Or when emissions will peak.
“Australia will likely miss its Paris climate commitments by around one billion tonnes of greenhouse emissions by 2030 if it continues with its current policies, and may have to cut another billion tonnes if it commits to what most analysts suggest is the country’s fair share of the Paris target,” wrote RenewEconomy.
Putting Australia’s signature on the 2016 Paris Agreement committing nations to holding the increase in global average temperatures below 2°C ought to have huge and very direct consequences for Australian coal, oil and gas industry. But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.
This country should as a minimum adopt the targets the Climate Change Authority recommended last year, and which the Victorian State Government has adopted: net zero emissions by mid-century.
Once politicians and the people have committed to this, we’ll find that it can be done much faster than that.
» RenewEconomy – 21 September 2016:
Australia facing 1 billion tonne emissions shortfall on current policies
» Business Insider – 22 September 2016:
Scientists think we could hit a critical climate threshold in the next 10 years
Majority of Australians want action on climate
According to the Climate Institute’s Climate of the Nation poll, 65 per cent of Australians want their country to lead the world on finding solutions, a significant increase since the time of divisive debates about the Gillard government’s carbon tax. That’s two thirds of our population – 16 million Australians.
“Public support for world-leading, federal government-level action on climate change has bounced back, according to a new poll, as people perceive environmental impacts around them and support a larger role for renewable energy production,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald.
The Climate Institute has been conducting our annual Climate of the Nation attitudinal research since 2007. It is the longest continuous survey of community attitudes about climate change. They have charted the views of Australians about matters relating to climate change and energy policy, through the ups and downs of changing weather patterns, related natural disasters and the waxing and waning of the political landscape.
This year’s research, conducted by polling over 2,000 people across the country, as well as holding focus groups in Brisbane, Melbourne and Newcastle, once again benchmarks the views of everyday Australians on these key issues.
In the report ‘Climate of the Nation 2016’, the institute compares and contrasts them to the findings over these past years.
» The Climate Institute:
Climate of the nation 2016
» Series of short videos on www.youtube.com
» Sydney Morning Herald – 25 September 2016:
Support for world-leading action on climate change skyrockets, according to new poll
» The Guardian – 29 September 2016:
Officials admit no modelling shows how Australia will meet Paris climate pledge
“Climate policy is not providing a secure future for Australians. The implications of rising sea levels and drowning and failed states are underestimated. Just as we have faced fire, flood, drought and military threat in the past we now need to throw everything we can at the climate crisis. We must make action on global warming the nation’s highest-level priority.”
~ Paul Barratt, former Secretary of the Departments of Defence and Primary Industries & Energy, and a former CEO of the Business Council of Australia
Australians call for a climate emergency declaration
“This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency action,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said.
“This is a real emergency we face,” said the Hon Lily D’Ambrosia, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change in the Victorian State Government, earlier this week.
On 23 June 2016, 24 prominent Australians called for emergency-scale action on climate change in an open letter to the new parliament, published in The Age.
The letter was published in connection with the launch of a petition, the Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilisation Campaign, which asks the Australian Parliament to declare a climate emergency and mobilise society-wide resources at sufficient scale and speed to protect civilisation, the economy, people, species, and ecosystems.
Declaring a climate emergency would be a public signal that indicates that governments and society will be mobilised in emergency mode until the emergency passes. War-time mobilisation examples indicate how quickly and thoroughly ‘business-as-usual’ and ‘reform-as-usual’ can change when we rise to the challenge of dealing with an existential threat.
The campaign is building public awareness that we are in a climate emergency that threatens life as we know it. Among the climate and sustainability groups so far supporting this campaign are:
- Baby Boomers for Climate Change Action
- Beyond Zero Emissions
- CANWin (Climate Action Now Wingecarribee)
- Centre for Climate Safety
- Climate Action Canberra
- Climate Action Monaro
- Climate Action Moreland
- Climate Change Australia (Hastings branch)
- Climate Change Balmain-Rozelle
- Coffs Coast Climate Action Group
- COREM (Community-Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimby)
- CORENA (Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia)
- Dandenong Ranges Renewable Energy Association
- Darebin Climate Action Now
- Eastern Climate Action Melbourne
- Future Environment Defenders (FED Up)
- Geelong Sustainability
- Groundswell Bass Coast
- Lighter Footprints
- Market Forces
- Parramatta Climate Action Network (ParraCAN)
- Psychology for a Safe Climate
- RSTI (Research and Strategy for Transition Initiation)
- Stonnington Climate Action Network
- Surf Coast Air Action
- Transition Byron Shire
- Transition East Geelong
- WATCH (Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health)
- Yarra Climate Action Now
- Zero Emissions Byron
We expect many more to join the campaign in the coming months. Learn more about the campaign at: www.climateemergencydeclaration.org
Strategy and Planning
“Climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion and our will. But we are equal to that challenge.”
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
 Climate change and mental health
While climate change confronts us with dangerous challenges, it also offers us some exciting possibilities to create change and improve our lives. We refer you to the essay ‘Benefits from understanding the connection between climate and mental health’ for more information on this topic.
See more submissions to the Inquiry Commission on www.aph.gov.au
For instance the submissions from
1 Mr. Don Morris & Fiona H. Lyda (PDF 73 KB)
2 Climate Action Moreland (PDF 257 KB)
3 Dr LUKE KEMP (PDF 420 KB)
4 Mr lock Barker (PDF 351 KB)
5 Prof Tim Stephens (PDF 94 KB)
6 Australian Manufacturers Workers Union (AMWU) (PDF 2075 KB)
7 Mr Michael Streatfeild (PDF 34 KB)
8 Climate Change Balmain-Rozelle (PDF 37 KB)
9 Uniting Church in Australia (PDF 365 KB)
10 Climate and Health Alliance (PDF 69 KB)
10.1 Supplementary to submission 10 (PDF 427 KB)
10.2 Exhibit (PDF 226 KB)
11 Mr Andrew Laird (PDF 30 KB)
12 Emeritus Professor Rae Walker (PDF 407 KB)
13 Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (PDF 762 KB)
14 Name Withheld (PDF 43 KB)
15 ClimActs (PDF 224 KB)
17 Ms Grace FitzGerald (PDF 112 KB)
18 Australian Industry Greenhouse Network Ltd (PDF 314 KB)
19 Australian Medical Students Association (PDF 395 KB)
20 Minerals Council of Australia (PDF 491 KB)
21 Electrical Trades Union of Australia (PDF 458 KB)
22 Australian Council of Trade Unions (PDF 117 KB)
23 Australian Ethical Investment Ltd. (PDF 270 KB)
24 Climate Council of Australia (PDF 99 KB)
25 Mr Peter Sainsbury (PDF 62 KB)
26 Caritas Australia (PDF 309 KB)
26.1 Exhibit (PDF 2009 KB)
27 Investor Group on Climate Change (PDF 75 KB)
28 Public Health Association of Australia (PDF 1396 KB)
29 The Australian Climate Roundtable (PDF 128 KB)
30 Mr John McLean (PDF 222 KB) Attachment 1 (PDF 74 KB) Attachment 2 (PDF 17 KB)
31 Centre for Climate Safety (PDF 631 KB)
32 ActionAid Australia (PDF 61 KB)
33 Mr Franklin Bruinstroop (PDF 453 KB)
34 Mr Philip S Clark BSc, BEcon (PDF 273 KB)
35 Mr Neville Hughes (PDF 21 KB)
36 Business Council of Australia (PDF 168 KB)
37 Dr Debra Parkinson (PDF 53 KB)
38 Senator Malcolm Roberts (PDF 98 KB)
39 cohealth ltd (PDF 163 KB)
40 Doctors for the Environment Australia (PDF 467 KB)
41 Dr Matthew Rimmer (PDF 516 KB)
42 Darebin Climate Action Now (PDF 518 KB)
43 Dr Felicity Deane (PDF 487 KB)
44 Dr Liz Hanna (PDF 618 KB)
45 Yann Robiou du Pont, Stephen Pollard, Adrian Ford, Kate Dooley and Anne Houston (PDF 72 KB)
46 Department of the Environment and Energy (PDF 2197 KB)
“A spokesman for Australia’s Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the government was trying to get it ratified as soon as possible.”
» Sydney Morning Herald – 6 October 2016:
Paris climate accord to go into force, Australia misses out
About the process in Parliament
In Australia, the power to enter into treaties is an executive power within Section 61 of the Australian Constitution and, accordingly, is the formal responsibility of the Executive.
Australia has adopted the position that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) shall review and report on all actions proposed by the government before action is taken that binds Australia to the terms of the international agreement. The treaty-making process requires all treaty actions proposed by the Executive to be tabled in Parliament, along with a National Interest Assessment (NIA), during which time the proposed treaty action is subject to an inquiry and report by the JSCOT.
Although the Constitution does not confer on the Parliament any formal role in treaty making, all treaties (except those the government decided are urgent or sensitive) are tabled in both Houses of Parliament for at least 15 to 20 sitting days prior to binding treaty action being taken.
The treaty text, NIA, and associated documents will also be published, and the public is able to make comments on the proposed treaty action (which may be through public hearings).
At the completion of the review, JSCOT reports to Parliament with advice on whether Australia should take binding treaty action and other related issues that arise during the review.
As a general rule, all treaty actions will follow the JSCOT process. The one exception is where the Minister for Foreign Affairs certifies that a treaty is particularly urgent or sensitive, involving significant commercial, strategic, or foreign policy interests.
“Given that Paris implies few obligations, Australia will likely ratify the agreement before the end of the year. Not doing so would unnecessarily risk Australia’s already tattered reputation on climate change. Yet there are also fears that Australia risks embarrassment by ratifying and then missing its first pledge.”
“Turnbull will not act alone; his decision will be advised by cabinet and the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. This is a cross-party committee made up of members from the Senate and the House of Representatives.”
» The Conversation – 6 October 2016:
Paris climate agreement comes into force: now time for Australia to step up
Australia’s current climate policy is to cut 26% in emissions based on a 2005 baseline. Each Australian averaged 26 tonnes of emissions per person in 2010, and currently Australia’s emissions data are on the way up. Australia is one of the most coal-dependent countries in the world.
Meanwhile, actions and achievements are happening all over the world. For instance
• Denmark has reached a 40% cut compare to 1990 figures
• The UK has reached 31% compared to 1990 figures
But these relative percentage figures are very difficult to compared, as explained here (Figure 1) by the Climate Change Authority.
It is all depending on in which year the emissions peaked in each country.
This illustration produced by the Climate Change Authority clarifies how much higher Australians’ emissions were in 1990 than those in the US and European Union, and that a 64% reduction of 1990-levels by 2020 would not even bring Australia down to the level where the EU and US aim to be in 2020.
» Read more in the Climate Change Authority’s practical guide
Start cutting emissions yourself
Having ambitious targets for cutting costs and environmental impact are possible for any business and service. And when setting an ambitious target you have a greater chance producing results than if you present a small goal to your stakeholder community.