Climate change is here, now we need to adapt

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Wentworth voters sent a strong message to the Coalition that it needs to start taking serious action on climate change or risk seeing its vote continue to fall.

Rooftop solar installation with Shenzhen downtown skyline view as background, China (Getty)The ALP should also sit up and take notice of exit polling from the Australia Institute, which found an overwhelming majority of voters (79 per cent) were influenced by climate change (and the need to replace coal with renewable energy), while almost half (47 per cent) indicated that this issue had a lot of influence on their vote, and a full third (33 per cent) named it as the most important issue.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the Hague Court of Appeal has upheld the historic decision in Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015), which 'determined the Dutch government must reduce CO2 emissions by a minimum of 25 per cent (compared to 1990) by 2020 to fulfil its obligation to protect and improve the living environment against the imminent danger caused by climate change'.

With scores of similar actions being brought against governments in cities across the US, countries throughout Europe, New Zealand, Uganda and elsewhere, this result is another positive sign that governments can no longer continue to ignore their citizens' increasingly desperate concerns around climate change. The question, of course, is whether any of this is enough to save us from climate catastrophe?

According to the recent IPCC Report only 'rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society' will give us a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5oC, thus giving us and the planet an opportunity to adapt to the significant changes that are already being wrought by climate change. In other words, we have completely run out of time and need our governments to take decisive and immediate action on climate change.

What does this rapid and far-reaching action look like? According to the IPCC, the world needs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent (from 2010 levels) by 2030 and reach 'net zero' emissions by 2050 (which may require a period of 'net negative emissions'). To achieve these kinds of reductions, we need to immediately change our approach to energy, land and ecosystems, urban and infrastructure, transport and industry, by, for example, shifting to renewable energy, changing to a plant-based diet, and building green cities.

And yet, our Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, responded to the Wentworth by-election results by ruling out any change to the government's climate policy, despite it having recently removed any emissions reduction target from its energy policy.

 

"Adaptation efforts are already taking place around the world. As the impacts of climate change increase, our adaptation efforts will require significantly more institutional, structural, and financial support."

 

While, of course, this is an issue that should be at the front of all of our minds at the next election, we might also want to look elsewhere for action on climate change. A promising development over the last couple of decades has been the leadership demonstrated by cities and sub-national states in relation to action on climate change. One example of this can be seen in the Sustainable Cities (or Eco-cities) movement. These cities aim to be carbon neutral, consume less and mostly local resources, make car travel redundant, produce zero waste, and, simultaneously, reduce inequality.

While eco-cities are not going to be enough to limit global warming to +1.5oC, they can make an important contribution to our mitigation efforts, particularly since around 50 per cent of us now live in cities. Additionally, these green city policies can form an important part of our adaptation to the, now unavoidable, impacts of climate change — like more severe extreme weather events, increasing heatwaves and more intense droughts.

As the IPCC have underscored, 'the world is already experiencing the impacts from 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels', and adaptation efforts are already taking place around the world, including sea wall construction, mangrove restoration and crop modifications. As the impacts of climate change increase, our adaptation efforts will 'require significantly more institutional, structural, and financial support'. Furthermore, because the impacts of climate change vary so significantly from place to place, cities will often be best placed to respond effectively and flexibility to the adaptation needs of residents.

A really simple adaptation strategy is urban greening. Urban areas are often considerably hotter than their surrounding rural areas due to high concentrations of buildings and roads, which absorb and trap the sun's heat. In the face of rising global temperatures, these extra few degrees have significant implications for liveability — especially for poorer residents. Planting more trees and grass (which also helps to facilitate groundwater recharge), and greening roofs (or even just painting them white) can considerably reduce the temperature in these urban heat islands.

Other cities will have to consider strategies to increase their resilience in the face of increased extreme weather events. This can include shifting core services from street level (so that when buildings flood, they can still function because their power services are located on higher levels), encouraging micro-grids (to contain the impact of local infrastructure damage) and supporting household level water catchment and storage (good old water tanks).

Climate change is not a challenge for the distant future. It is here and now. We are already suffering from the effects of global warming and the intensification of extreme weather events, and things are going to get worse. The question now is what we do to both limit the damage and adapt to the inevitable. Fortunately many of the actions that we must take will actually make our lives better.

 

 

Cristy ClarkDr Cristy Clark is a lecturer at the Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice. Her research focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and the environment, and particularly on the human right to water.

 

Main image: Rooftop solar installation with Shenzhen downtown skyline view as background, China (Getty)

Topic tags: Cristy Clark, renewable energy, solar power, coal, Scott Morrison, Wentworth

 

 

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Thanks Cristy for a good article! All national governments should act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Vote for politicians who take this issue seriously, particularly for the sake of future generations. But we should do our part too. Australia is a world leader in rooftop solar panels, which are now so affordable that homeowners can't really afford not to install them. They pay for themselves in 3 or 4 years and then provide free power for many years after.
Grant Allen | 27 October 2018


A good place to start would be to shut down geoengineering, so the earth can repair itself. Don't believe in geoengineering? Take a look at any weather map on the bom website http://www.bom.gov.au/products/national_radar_sat.loop.shtml . Check out MIMIC http://tropic.ssec.wisc.edu/real-time/mimic-tpw/global2/main.html Study the patterns when storms are being created. Wakey Wakey....Time to wake up.
Riborg Andersen | 29 October 2018


Thanks Cristy. I have difficulty accepting the Liberals indigestible rhetoric on energy and reject their refusal to accept overwhelming research. Do they imagine that all the scientists are wrong? The recent swing in Wentworth may have indicated a timely public reaction. Almost every educated voter wants firm, timely action to halt global warming and arrest imminent sea-level rise. Yet the Libs justify dismissive attitudes towards this issue when our Pacific neighbours are at risk of losing the soil beneath their feet? Does a mantra of lower electricity bills in 2018 look so important? The Government should work constructively to set a modern, constructive, bi-partisan sustainable energy policy. Avoiding this will inevitably cost them the next election. How is it a reflection of humane values when they continue the indefinite detention of refugees on ill-equipped islands? This produces grave mental and physical harm. To ignore impartial calls for urgent action from Medicins-Sans-Frontieres, & to dismiss or silence their reports is disgusting. If the seas rise 10 metres because of global warming, there wont be a Manus or Nauru and the only good result of that is that The Liberals wont have to pay Ferrovial $1,168,000,000 a year of tax payer money.
Frank Armstrong | 29 October 2018


Yes, adaptation is the sensible response to climate change whether it is global warming or cooling, not the notion that we are powerful enough to change climate. The Federal Government does acknowledge and respond to climate change. The voters in Wentworth who demanded climate change action really wanted motel government subsidies for the 'green' companies that they have invested in! As for the UN's IPCC, their science cannot measure anthropogenic warming so therefore it cannot be managed!
Gerard Tonks | 29 October 2018


Thanks Christy, A valuable wakeup call to all of us. I have been recording the daily weather (and reporting it) for over half a century .My records show worrying changes in rainfall and temperatures. To double check my data, I am examining nearby BOM site records going back to 1900 and beyond. It is good to see local councils, state governments and private individuals ; even companies, now doing their bit in installing solar panels and batteries to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. We have solar panels and will install a battery when they become more economic and affordable. Greening the urban areas is very important, but we citizens can assist by reducing our use of non-renewable energy by lifestyle change . A worrying trend is demolition of perfectly good traditional houses for the building of "Mac mansions" , often poorly designed , energy guzzling monoliths in our cities. Another gripe is the trend towards the purchase huge SUV vehicles which are gas guzzlers ! We citizens need to lead by example to save the planet for our children , and in my case my grandchildren.
Gavin O'Brien | 29 October 2018


Dear Cristy, Your position is fashionable, but not based on science. Plenty reports exist that say global warming is less than 1 degree, and weather events are not getting more frequent. Regards
Adrian | 04 November 2018


Sorry Adrian, there is a lot more compelling evidence for human induced climate change than there is evidence for the Virgin Birth.
Ginger Meggs | 09 November 2018


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