Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site
  • Home
  • Best of 2021
  • Best of 2021: Not just climate adaptation, but genuine transformation

Best of 2021: Not just climate adaptation, but genuine transformation

1 Comment

 

The Australian government has been in the news this month for two seemingly contradictory policy responses to climate change. First, on 26 January, the Hon Sussan Ley, Minister for the Environment, attended the (first of its kind) Global Climate Adaptation Summit and committed Australia to join the global Call for Action on Raising Ambition for Climate Adaptation and Resilience, to developing a new National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, and pledged new climate finance of at least $1.5 billion over the next five years.

Main image:  A man wearing the traditional dress of the Solomon Islands march on September 20, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

In apparent contrast to these new commitments, Australia’s recent update to its Nationally Determined Commitment (NDC) under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement made no increase to already mitigated ambition, sticking with the current paltry target of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. A target that is shockingly unambitious. Doubling down on this lack of ambition, Australia has still not made a formal commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack proclaiming, ‘We are not worried, or I’m certainly not worried, about what might happen in 30 years’ time.’ This makes Australia the only rich country to not have a net zero commitment in either law or policy.

McCormack and his colleagues in the National Party have also mooted quarantining emissions from industries such as agriculture and mining from any target Australia signs up to, with McCormack arguing, ‘There is no way we are going to whack regional Australia, hurt regional Australia, in any way shape or form just to get a target for climate in 2050’.

The government’s dogged refusal to commit to serious emissions reductions came under fire last week from Mathew Wale, Leader of the Opposition in Solomon Islands, who went on to invite the Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands ‘to join me in visiting my constituency of Aoke Langa Langa Lagoon to meet the people whose sea walls have toppled, whose food gardening areas are too salty to be useful, whose water sources are ruined and whose soup soup gardens are inundated by saltwater. He might explain to them how grateful they should be that Australia is providing billions to ensure jobs are kept in the Australian gas and coal industries.’

On a superficial level, it makes no sense to commit so strongly to managing the impacts of climate change (adaptation) on the one hand while refusing to significantly reduce emissions (mitigation) on the other. On the other hand, when you start to unpack the logic of so much adaptation policy, this contradiction fades away.

You see, all too often an ‘incrementalist’ or ‘adjustment’ approach dominates adaptation policy. This is typified by concepts like ‘climate-proofing’, which aims to ensure that the risks of climate change to existing or planned developments are ‘considered and, if necessary, managed’. The problem with this approach is that it tends to reinforce ‘development-as-usual’ — ultimately promoting the resilience of existing industries and economic systems, rather than the resilience of communities (particularly marginalised communities) or the biosphere.

 

'If there is a lesson for us here, beyond better understanding the real priorities of the Australian government, it is that we should be careful when calling for increased commitments to climate change adaptation and resilience.'

 

Here we can start to understand how refusing to commit to serious emissions reductions, and even calling for agriculture and mining to be quarantined from new targets, can be somehow compatible with expanding Australia’s commitments to adaptation and resilience. The government is steadfast in its commitment to increasing the resilience of these industries in the face of worsening climate change impacts. What is it not particularly committed to is protecting the biosphere or the global population who will rely on it into the future. As Barnaby Joyce put it so charmingly, ‘None of us in [parliament] will be here [in 30 years]’.

If there is a lesson for us here, beyond better understanding the real priorities of the Australian government, it is that we should be careful when calling for increased commitments to climate change adaptation and resilience. While we absolutely need a massive scale up in support for adaptation globally, the last thing we need is to reinforce and entrench the industries and economic systems that created this crisis in the first place. Instead, we need to make transformational changes to these socio-economic systems by prioritising equitable and locally-led climate resilient development — and foregrounding human rights in the process.

One glimmer of hope is the fact that while at the Climate Adaptation Summit, Minister Ley also committed Australia to joining the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, which is focused on ‘enabling a transition to a more climate-resilient, low-carbon, sustainable economy.’ It’s hard to see coal mining featuring heavily in this Coalition’s priorities.

 

 

Cristy ClarkDr Cristy Clark is a senior lecturer with the Faculty of Business, Government and Law at the University of Canberra. Her work focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and the environment, and particularly on the human right to water.

Main image: A man wearing the traditional dress of the Solomon Islands march on September 20, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Cristy Clark, climate crisis, climate proofing, Sussan Ley, Michael McCormack, Matthew Wale, zero emission

 

 

submit a comment

Existing comments

Cristy Dr Zhu's team at QUT have already developed a Direct Fuel cell that can transform any grade of coal to energy without the need for combustion. Not only that, they have developed methods to capture any carbon given off in the process.

Why we need to throw the baby out with the bath water is beyond me.

Indonesia this week has banned coal exports to China (30 million tonnes a year) citing domestic shortages and a political pledge to keep domestic coal costs for their power stations to USD$70 per tonne (current MP is $174 a tonne).
Meanwhile vast coal stock piles lay idle at Abbot Point as we are banned from the Chinese export market due to the Covid inquiry political fiasco.
While you make moral pronouncements about the use of coal you should consider the technological advances that exist. It really is a question of retooling the turbines to use coal via the DFC and integrating the carbon capture process.


Francis Armstrong | 12 January 2022  

Thank you Cristy for another important article. You are absolutely correct when you state that  it makes no sense to commit so strongly to managing the impacts of climate change (adaptation) on the one hand while refusing to significantly reduce emissions (mitigation) on the other.  

The current Australian government is refusing to act in good faith with the international community by not cooperating to reduce the emissions causing global temperature increases, climate change and massive environmental health problems.Of course, it is coming from an attitude that climate change was not occurring, but has had to alter its message as the majority of Australians want effective climate action taken now.. 

See a 2019 ABC News report that claims that 64% of Australians think that we should be aiming for zero emissions by 2050:. 
Climate change survey shows Australians want action on emissions, but are divided on nuclear - ABC News

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists are warning that the climate change predicted with global warming has already started. Most can see this with longer and more intense bushfires, more severe floods and other extreme weather events. In addition, a 2016 World Health Organisation reports that there are already 12.6 million premature deaths per annum being caused globally because of all types of pollution
An estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments (who.int)

Currently, I am reading the book Body Count - how climate change is killing us by Paddy Manning which looks at how this is already affecting Australians in terms of deaths from bushfires, floods, heat and diseases caused by global warming.
.Body Count, How Climate Change is Killing Us by Paddy Manning | 9781925456752 | Booktopia

It is totally irresponsible of the Australian government to be opening more coal mines, increasing the use of coal seam gas (fracking), pushing the so called "gas led recovery"and spending huge amounts on establishing a nuclear industry which has highly dangerous wastes which remain radioactive for thousands of years.

We need to concentrate on cutting emissions urgently. 


Andrew(Andy) Alcock | 13 January 2022  

I lit the gas, for the kettle to boil
The fridge is on, so that my food won’t spoil
I took the car, I burnt some oil
The washers on so my clothes wont soil
I don’t want to work or toil
I vacuum every day to keep the dust at bay
The heating is on as I hum along
The means for change are there
But it is so hard to leave the teli,
From my comfortable chair
A Wind Turbine near my home?
Comfort and easy, but not near my home please
All the lights are on, as Lemmings we scurry along.

We all appear (To a varying degree) to be trapped in our fallen human nature, the task to prevent global warming appears impossible. We feel powerless in our attempts, if we have any, to bring about change. The leaders of the world play lip service to the general populous and appease us with platitudes, nominal programs of enterprise, endeavouring to convince us that things are starting to change, in reality they have their own agendas and appease their own Circle of influence, knowing full well that only a radicle change of heart by the leaders of mankind can bring about any significant change.
kevin your brother
In Christ


Kevin Walters | 07 March 2022