Saturday, November 13, 2010

Climate change: Ross Garnaut’s Cunningham Lecture

On the evening of 9 November 2010 Professor Ross Garnaut delivered the 2010 Cunningham Lecture to the Academy of Social Sciences. In it, he laid out an update case for action on climate change.

Most of the paper is a technical economic discussion about discount rates and their interaction with uncertainty and with the relationship between Australian and global mitigation. As such it is not an easy read, but it well repays close study.

Garnaut concludes his lecture by asking in very persuasive terms, “What if the mainstream science is right?”

I will conclude the lecture by answering briefly a simple question: what if the mainstream science is right? What if the science supported by the overwhelming majority of scientists who are qualified in the various disciplines related to climate, is broadly right? What if all of the Academies of Science in all of the countries of scientific achievement, are not deluded, or enticed into error by the availability to their members of certain types of research grants?

If they are broadly right, we would probably see a threat to our prosperity rather larger than any of the issues that do the rounds of public discourse on long-run economic development. The threats would manifest themselves in large problems in a few decades, and as the dominant problem well before the end of this century. The challenges beyond this century are difficult to reconcile with continuity in modern human civilisation.

If the mainstream science is broadly right, later in this century we will probably not be squabbling about whether a 37 per cent reduction in allocations to Murray-Darling irrigators is too much; but rather working hard to improve the chance of there being any water at all to allocate.

If the mainstream science is broadly right, defence and immigration would probably have radically different contexts. Probably, because there is uncertainty. It may be worse than this, or better. There is no reason to think the chances of better are higher than the chances of worse.

We should think about it, because there’s a chance that the mainstream science is right. When we think about it, those of us who are not climate scientists would need reasons beyond the current state of knowledge to think anything except that they are probably right. Certainly more likely to be right than people who have not spent the months and years and decades learning the subtleties of this complex area of knowledge. I hope that we here at least — members of this other learned academy that takes seriously the development and testing and accumulation of knowledge — can agree that there is enough of a chance that the mainstream physical and biological science is broadly right, to invest in understanding the implications for human society. After all, ours is the Academy that Australians look to for knowledge on how the immense pressures that we are in the process of placing on our societies may change human life on earth.

If we thought about the respective credentials of those who line up with the mainstream science, and those who are prepared to take their chances with information from other places, we would think that this issue was at least one of the fateful public policy matters of our time.

Nevertheless, as Professor Garnaut observes earlier in the lecture, notwithstanding the strong basis of community understanding and support, when push came to shove, the private interests seeking to block, blunt or slow down action prevailed over well developed community views. As he observes in the concluding phase of his remarks:

If there is to be success in the second attempt to introduce efficient, economywide approaches to substantial reduction in emissions, there will need to be a stronger and clearer message from the independent centre of the polity. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Australia21 book launch and forum

Resilience & Transformation: Preparing Australia for Uncertain Futures is a new Australia21 book published by CSIRO, which provides key trends and actions related to resilience in areas such as Organisations and Economics; Governance and Security; Energy and Settlements; Health and Education; Environment and Society; and Disaster Preparedness and Recovery.

Australia21 is holding a forum on Thursday 28 October 2010 to examine the important implementation aspects of resilience theory. It will be held in the Weston Theatre, Crawford School of Economics, ANU between 2.30pm-5.00pm. Registration cost of $80.00 includes a free copy of the 205 page book. A reception and book launch will take place immediately after the forum. The book will be launched by The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC, Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Registration and forum program at:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Australia21 seeking to broaden its support base

Australia21 is an independent, non-profit organisation whose core purpose is multidisciplinary research and inquiry on issues of strategic importance to Australia in the 21st century.

We depend for our funding upon private donors - we do not receive grants in aid from government or donations from large corporates. We are seeking to expand our network of grassroots supporters to help fund our ongoing work on matters ranging from youth wellbeing to understanding the value of the services we receive from the ecosystem.

Many small donations is what we need, and they are tax deductible to Australian taxpayers. Visit to find out more about us, and make a secure donation online if you wish.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fiddling while the earth burns

The following opinion piece by Australia 21 Director Richard Eckersley was published in The Age, Friday 27 August 2010. Access the original here.

Fiddling while the earth burns
No more 'politics as usual' should mean having enough courage to tackle the sickness of mindless consumption.

Nearly every decade from the 1970s has been declared a decade of reckoning, the time when we must deal decisively with looming national and global environmental crises. And as each decade passes, we postpone the deadline another 10 years. With the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change last year, the 2010s are now the critical decade of action.

This means the environmental ''emergency'' will have lasted half a century, or two generations. It is not just climate change that we must address, but also land and water degradation, food security, peak oil, population and biodiversity loss. And it is not that nothing worthwhile has been achieved; it is that our responses have failed to match the growing magnitude of the problems.

We have to accept that we cannot meet these challenges with ''politics as usual'' approaches, which seek to offend no one, yield to vested interests, and require no ''sacrifices'' in our way of life.

Beyond the election commentary about political executions, spin, negativity, leaks, botched or boring campaigns, risk aversion and lack of policy substance, we need also to acknowledge the systemic failure of our politics to deal with our problems. This deep current is largely ignored, while politicians, commentators and analysts focus on the swirling surface eddies.

The failure to act on climate change hurt Labor. But its shelved carbon pollution reduction scheme was a lemon anyway, an inadequate response. Also, it is unclear whether the key to voter disillusion was concern about climate change or the reneging on a core ''moral'' commitment. Both dimensions are important: climate change is a real threat to our future, but it is also an emblem of the wider challenge to our quality of life.

Mental health is another example of systemic political failure. Yes, mental health made the campaign agenda, but the whole focus of debate was on services. There was no consideration of why we face a crisis in mental health.

This is a Western problem, not just an Australian one. New US research suggests a fivefold increase since the 1930s in the proportion of college students experiencing psychological problems, and that more than half of young Americans today suffer a clinical mental disorder by the age of 21. If such findings are true, how are we to respond?

From a deep-current perspective, all these issues - environmental, social and economic - have their source in a world view that sees the central purpose of our society as pursuing ever more material enrichment in order to allow us to consume more. Not only does this put pressure on resources and lead to the financial excesses that produced the global financial crisis, it ultimately lies behind the crisis in mental health.

Evidence suggests rising mental illness, especially in the young, is the result of the cultural emphasis on materialism and individualism, manifest in changes in the family, work, the media, religion, education and diet. One specific factor is a shift towards defining ourselves in terms of our extrinsic achievements, in the external trappings of the successful life, including wealth, status, recognition and appearances.

The shift emphasises goals that distract us from what is most important to our well-being: the quality of our relationships with each other and our world, which contribute to a sense of intrinsic worth and existential certainty. As Goethe warned, things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.

Fixing this situation goes beyond politics; it requires leadership at all levels of society. But politics has a role to play. Politicians and the electorates they serve must have the courage to enact sweeping policy changes that shift the course of the deep current, not just stir up the surface eddies.
It means recognising that economic growth measures progress very imperfectly, that the content of growth is more important than its rate, and that we need to direct economic activity away from consumption for short-term personal gratification towards long-term investment in the social transformation necessary to address all the challenges of our century and ensure our future.
And that will mean radical reforms, such as limiting or banning political donations by corporations and other vested interests, making polluters pay for greenhouse gas emissions through effective carbon pricing, abolishing tax deductibility for advertising to ease the pressures on us to spend and spend, and creating jobs where they are socially needed and useful, not where confected demand dictates.

Neither politicians nor citizens fully grasp the size of the gulf between political priorities and social realities. In an Australian National University poll late last year (when Labor's stocks were high), 70 per cent of Australians said they were satisfied with ''the way the country is heading'' (a political question), but only 24 per cent thought quality of life in Australia was getting better (a social question).

It makes for a volatile situation, revealed these days in how quickly our political leaders disappoint us. The results of the election, with the shift in power to independents and the Greens, might shake loose the rusted shackles of the political status quo and make deep change possible. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the Australian people want something different from ''business as usual''. Can we achieve something different enough, in both process and policy?

Richard Eckersley is a director of Australia21, an independent, non-profit research company, and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University

Ian Dunlop on our great strategic error

On 20 August 2010 Australia 21 Director Ian Dunlop contributed the following piece to the ABC News website The Drum. The original piece plus posted comments can be accessed here.

Our great strategic error

"Management", according to the late Peter Drucker, the renowned US social ecologist, "- is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things". So how does Australia measure up in these terms as we contemplate the leadership we deserve prior to the election?

We have had a dream run since World War II, built on our natural wealth. Despite the occasional hiccup, our economy has expanded year after year, with increasing prosperity. Understandably we are proud of being world leaders in agriculture, mining and processing, and we have created a strong and vibrant society in many other areas.

Despite periodic cock-ups, we can claim to have done well, excelling at doing things right, and doing the right things, albeit within a rather narrow, resource-dominated, vision. That is until about 15-20 years ago when the world began to hit the environmental and resource limits that will dictate the evolution of society through the 21st Century.

Our resource base is formidable and expanding. But that bounty is fast becoming our Achilles heel. Our exports and domestic energy systems are carbon extensive; our per capita carbon emissions are amongst the highest in the world. Our most vulnerable point is oil; we are around 50 per cent self-sufficient, declining rapidly unless new discoveries save the day, which seems unlikely. But peak oil, which may well mean a 20-30 per cent reduction in oil availability by 2030, is not even on the agenda of the major political parties.

If the world now moves rapidly to a low-carbon footing due to the need for an emergency response to climate change, whilst facing increasing oil scarcity due to peak oil, many of our traditional advantages turn into major strategic risks; that is risks beyond our control which have the potential to fundamentally change our way of life, and undermine our economic strength .

Our raw material exports will not cease overnight, but a shift toward low-carbon alternatives will seriously disadvantage Australia's current business model as carbon sequestration technologies inevitably fail to match their over-hyped expectations. Similarly, we will not find it easy to secure the oil imports we require; conversion of coal, and to a lesser extent gas, will be expensive and environmentally damaging.

Such a scenario, of rapid climate change combined with the onset of peak oil, whilst becoming part of mainstream thinking overseas, is still regarded as extremism in Australia, and certainly not part of the "official future" of the major parties.

Meanwhile the resource sector, buoyed by bullish forecasts of coal and gas demand are forging ahead with fossil fuel developments; doubling coal exports over the next twenty years, expanding LNG exports and establishing a coal seam gas industry with major investment in mines, railways, ports and processing facilities - but with no proven means of sequestering the associated carbon emissions.

So Australia ends up in the worst of all possible worlds. Science is clearly indicating the need for radical emission reductions. Vested interests ignore these calls, continue to undermine any sensible reform and, by special pleading render ineffective even the minimalist reform proposed in the interests of short-term advantage. Lack of certainty on a carbon price stunts the growth of fledgling alternative energy industries, stifles consumer behavioural change and, combined with conflicting regulatory measures, leads to non-optimal short-term decisions, while both main political parties lack the stomach to take on the vested interests. So we fall back into the comfort zone of our dig-it-up and ship-it-out high carbon mindset. In so doing, we are making arguably the greatest strategic error in Australia's history.

For whilst Australia is moving backwards on climate change reform and ignoring peak oil, the rest of the world is vying for leadership of the low carbon economy. A decade hence it is likely that the incremental demand for our high carbon products will have evaporated. At that point we will be left with a large inventory of stranded assets, minimal investment in low carbon alternative energy, little resilience to weather the impact of both climate change and peak oil and strident calls to bail out companies that are "too-big-to-fail".

The irony is that Australia has some of the best resources and greatest opportunities to benefit in the low-carbon world, which we seem determined to ignore - renewables, new generation nuclear, and innovative technologies we have never even thought of which will come out of the woodwork once a clear strategic direction is set.

There are also far wider benefits in moving away from the domination of fossil-fuels. A complete reappraisal of our lifestyle, which is long overdue, becomes both inevitable and desirable. It is not just high oil prices and climate change, but the very question of the sustainability of humanity on the planet as population rises from 6.5 billion people today to 9 billion in 2050, all aspiring to an improved quality of life. New technology will undoubtedly come to our aid but that will not be enough - our values must also change. Conventional economic growth in the developed world will have to be set aside in favour of a steady-state economy where the emphasis in on non-consumption and the quality of life rather than the quantity of things.

There will be far more focus on local food production, opening up new opportunities for rural areas, cities will be re-designed using high-density sustainability principles to avoid urban sprawl, and integrated with public transport to minimise energy consumption. Work centres will be de-centralised. Rail, powered by renewable energy, will become a major transport mode for both freight and high-speed passenger traffic. Air travel will reduce unless new technology develops jet fuel from, for example, bio sources, and even then emission constraints may limit its use. The internal combustion engine will disappear in favour of electric vehicles for many applications. Cycling and walking will become major activities for both work and pleasure - obesity and diabetes will decline!.

The challenge is enormous, but it is the greatest opportunity we have ever had to place the world on a sustainable footing, for what we are currently doing is not sustainable. We must not waste this opportunity, but it needs far bolder and broader thinking than we are seeing at present.

In Drucker's terms, we are becoming ever better at doing things right, but failing miserably at identifying the right things to do. A triumph of management over leadership, driven by nonsensical short-termism. The time has come for a radical re-think of our strategy for the 21st Century.

These are the issues that our potential leaders should be debating before we have to choose. In particular, serious discussion on what a sustainable population really means.

Ian Dunlop is a Centre for Policy Development Fellow and a contributing author to their recent publication, More than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ocean changes accelerating

The first comprehensive synthesis on the effects of climate change on the world's oceans has found they are now changing at a rate not seen for several million years.

In an article published on 18 June 2010 in Science magazine, the authors reveal that the growing atmospheric concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases are driving irreversible and dramatic changes to the way the ocean functions, with potentially dire impacts for hundreds of millions of people across the planet.

The findings of the report, The impact of climate change on the world's marine ecosystems, emerged from a synthesis of recent research on the world's oceans, carried out by two of the world's leading marine scientists, one from The University of Queensland in Australia, and one from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the USA.

Read the University of Queensland’s media release on the findings here.

Sustainability of indigenous hunting

In an opinion piece on the Australasian science website ScienceAlert, Dr George Wilson, a Senior Fellow at University of New South Wales Institute for Environmental Studies, examines the question of whether current Indigenous hunting practices are sustainable, and argues for greater science support for Aboriginal practice:

Despite the importance placed on it by Indigenous people, land and wildlife management is a minor component of current Australian Government resource allocation for addressing Indigenous need.  Redressing this situation is urgent because Indigenous wildlife use and hunting in Australia, as it currently practiced, is often unsustainable. Our investigations which have been published in the CSIRO journal – Wildlife Research, examine the opportunity for greater science support for traditional Aboriginal practice.

In pre-colonial Australia, adherence to customary law maintained wildlife species Indigenous Australians wanted. Today the long-term sustainability of Indigenous wildlife harvesting is threatened. Where Indigenous communities lack leadership and other social problems exist, the capacity to apply customary land-and sea-management practices and to operate cultural constraints on wildlife use is reduced. In addition, increased hunting pressure follows human population increases and modern technology such as vehicles and guns.

Read Dr Wilson’s full opinion piece here.

The full paper published by Dr Wilson and his colleagues from Australian Wildlife Services may be found in CSIRO Wildlife Research; Volume: 37; Issue: 3; 10-17.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Penny Sackett’s Next Big Question

Professor Penny Sackett BS MS PhD is a physicist by training, an astronomer by profession and an educator by inclination. She is a member of several international astronomical societies and the Association for Women in Science. Her career also includes journalism and policy advice on several national science advisory panels. She was appointed Chief Scientist for Australia in November 2008.

For more about this project see The next big question.

Cash for clunkers

Frank Jotzo, Deputy Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, and a participant in the Joint forum on climate change convened at the ANU on 12 July 2010 by Australia 21, Universities Australia and the National Business Leaders’ Forum on Sustainable Development, contributed the following analysis of the Government’s “cash for clunkers” scheme to the Monday 9 August edition of the online political newsletter Crikey:

A carbon price beats throwing cash at new car owners
Frank Jotzo, deputy director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, writes:

Populism and procrastination reign in Australian climate policy, and what new policy proposals there are, on both sides of politics, consist largely of spending taxpayer dollars for little gain.

Labor’s "cleaner car rebate" is a particularly striking example. A year after the US and European countries finished up their cash-for-clunkers programs, Labor proposes that Australia start one. The European and American cash-for-clunkers schemes were squarely aimed at helping the car industry through the recession, but in Australia it is dressed up as climate policy.

The proposal boils down to this. Government would spend $400 million of taxpayers’ money to buy older cars from people who are well enough off to afford new cars. Any car better than the existing fleet-wide average qualifies, so the great majority of new cars would be eligible, not just the most efficient ones. Many of the older cars that attract the subsidy would probably be scrapped soon anyway. The money would be diverted from other climate programs, in particular advanced solar power.

By Labor’s reckoning, the car program would cut carbon dioxide emissions by one million tonnes, presumably stretched over several years. Australia’s total emissions in just one year are 500 times that. The fiscal cost per tonne avoided would be $400. By comparison, a carbon price of just $20 per tonne would drive widespread change in the power and industry sectors. Even relatively high cost renewable energy options, such as the ones supported by government programs that are to be cut back to pay for cars, are estimated to come in at about $50. So the car subsidy policy would backfire in terms of emissions, because money is drawn away from options that would have delivered a much bigger and long-lasting effect.

The tendency with policies such as this is to lead to a maze of expensive subsidies and cumbersome regulation, with plenty of bureaucratic churn and political interference. It will be expensive, and fall short of even the lower end of the 5%-25% reduction range that both parties have signed on to.

The Coalition, meanwhile, promises to pay emitters for reducing carbon, rather than imposing a price on emissions. By necessity, it would need to use highly uncertain estimations of the reductions achieved, compared to some hypothetical baseline. The Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism relies on this principle. It has managed to draw money into clean investments, but in a very patchy fashion, with huge bureaucratic overheads, and with uncertain environmental benefit.

What is more, the Coalition claims as an advantage that prices of energy and goods will not rise. But as always the money will have to come from somewhere, in this case from taxpayers. And if power prices do not go up, then extra incentives need to be created for end users to save energy, through extra government interventions and more subsidies. Achieving any kind of meaningful reduction would rack up an enormous tax bill.

The underlying problem is that neither of the main parties can summon up the courage to go with the policy that is so obviously the key to an effective and efficient climate policy: putting a price on carbon, through emissions trading or a carbon tax. Business is calling for it to put an end to crippling investment uncertainty. The Howard government prepared for emissions trading already in 1999 and made it its policy in 2006. And Australia would by no means be out in front: Europe has had emissions trading for five years, and despite setbacks in the US Senate, schemes for carbon pricing are in place in many American states. Even China is set to introduce emissions trading of the next five years.

Julia Gillard has stated that she is committed to carbon pricing, but not just yet. Her citizens’ assembly seems little more than an excuse for further delay. It would not bring new insight on an issue that has been so well researched and so widely debated as climate change. The science of climate change is crystal clear, the case for action has been made convincingly, and consensus among the expert community in economics and business is that carbon pricing is the right policy choice. Climate change has been in the centre of public debate for years now, and attitudes among the Australian public have been surveyed and re-surveyed dozens of times.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Demolishing the myths on emissions trading

The following piece by Australia 21 Director Ian Dunlop appeared on the ABC’s web forum The Drum: analysis and views on the issues of the day on 2 August 2010, under the title Demolishing the myths on emissions trading.

Demolishing the myths on emissions trading

One of the great myths being perpetuated in this election campaign is that the Greens, by refusing to support the Government's CPRS (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme), prevented the introduction of effective emissions trading in this country, thus blocking serious action on climate change. Penny Wong was at it again on ABC's Q&A on Monday night. Utter nonsense!

The CPRS is appalling policy. By weakening the underlying emissions trading mechanism with multiple escape clauses and compensation, it runs counter to all the recommendations of the sound policy design work that had been carried out in Australia, ranging from the AGO 1998 National Emissions Trading framework to the 2008 Garnaut Review, as well as practical overseas experience. The rot set in with the 2007 Report of the Task Group on Emissions Trading, which was initiated by the Howard government and dominated by fossil-fuel interests. Rudd and Wong then continued the race to the bottom, even before the Garnaut recommendations were released, throwing aside what little CPRS integrity remained in the final horsetrading with Malcolm Turnbull. If the CPRS were to be implemented in its current form, it would impose an enormous cost on the economy for minimal reductions in emissions.

Turnbull deserves credit for standing up to the climate luddites in the Coalition, but he is still not prepared to honestly acknowledge the nonsense which the CPRS represents and, more importantly, the size of the problem we now face. The only political party to do so are the Greens. Christine Milne laid it out clearly in her Re-Energising Australia Report, released in 2007. The science now indicates even greater urgency for action.

The inertia of the climate system, particularly the slow warming of the oceans, means that the results of our emissions today only become evident decades hence. Thus, unless we take rapid action now, we may well be locking in irreversible climate change of catastrophic proportions for future generations; indeed we may have already done so.

There will always be scientific uncertainties on an issue this complex, with year-to-year climatic variations continuing to be used selectively by deniers to discredit the mainstream science; but the overall trends are clear and they are all moving in the wrong direction. It is tempting to believe the deniers are right, but faced with the mounting empirical evidence, prudent risk management dictates we should not gamble on inaction.

The world is starting to understand that, if catastrophic outcomes and climatic tipping points are to be avoided, the real target for a safe climate is to reduce atmospheric carbon concentrations back to the pre-industrial levels of around 300ppm CO2 from the current 392ppm CO2. This will require emission reductions in the order of 40-50 per cent by 2020, almost complete decarbonisation by 2050 and continuing efforts to draw down legacy carbon from the atmosphere.

Looked at from a total carbon budget perspective, to have a less than 25 per cent chance of exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase relative to pre-industrial levels, which is still the official political temperature objective, the world can only emit a further 800 gigatonnes of CO2 in toto from today, a budget which would be used up in less than 20 years. Accepting a 50/50 chance allows the budget to increase to 1,200 gigatonnes of CO2, used up in less than 30 years. The Australian budget runs out in around five - eight years. If the temperature target has to be less than 2C, which is now almost inevitable, the budgets are considerably lower.

Put bluntly, we face a global climate change emergency, which requires an emergency response; both major parties are well aware of this from their scientific briefings. In this context, the emission reduction target of 5 per cent by 2020, which they are so graciously offering is derisory. The only possible conclusion is that both parties do not believe in human-induced climate change and are going through the motions purely to placate the electorate. I, for one, object in the strongest possible terms to the future of my children and grandchildren being thrown away by such irresponsibility from those who would profess to be our "leaders".

Christine Milne is quite right to hold out for serious climate change policy rather than this "Clayton's" variety offered by the major parties' deniers.

Ian Dunlop is a CPD Fellow and a contributing author to the CPD book, More than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now, launched this week. Ian chaired the AGO Experts Group on Emissions Trading from 1998 to 2000.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Forthcoming publication: Resilience and Transformation

Later this month CSIRO Publishing will release Resilience and Transformation: Preparing Australia for Uncertain Futures, edited for Australia21 by Australia21 Fellow Dr Stephen Cork.

Resilience and Transformation explores what factors contribute to Australia’s resilience, what trends are apparent, and what actions are required to better prepare us for the immediate and longer term future.

Resilience is a word used more and more across societies worldwide as decision makers realise that predicting and controlling the future does not work and that preparing for uncertainty and surprise is vital. Many viewpoints have emerged on how to assess and achieve resilience of individuals, organisations, communities and ecosystems, but rarely has the resilience of a nation been considered. As Australia moves into a millennium that promises major economic, social, technological and environmental change, Australia21 has assembled some of Australia’s leading thinkers to give their perspectives on the extent and direction of resilience across our nation’s social, economic, ecological and disaster management systems.

Full information about this publication may be found, and orders placed, on the CSIRO Publishing website here. It is a 216 page paperback, priced at $39.95.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Climate change forum report issued

In Joint forum on climate change I gave my extemporised summary of a high level group meeting on climate change and Australia’s response to it which was held at the Australian National University on 12 July.

The meeting, hosted by Australia21, Universities Australia and the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development, included some of the nation’s leading climatologists, economists, climate policy experts and representatives of Australian business.

The question under discussion was “What are the best available policy options for reducing greenhouse emissions in Australia in the context of the Copenhagen result and the delay of an Australian CPRS [the government’s proposed emissions trading scheme]?”   

The formal report of the forum has now been issued, and copies have been forwarded to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Australian Greens .  The executive summary appears below. The full report may be downloaded from the Australia21 website here, and the covering media release may be accessed here.

Executive Summary

Australia21, Universities Australia, and the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable
Development combined to host a high-level forum of twenty-seven experts in Canberra on 12 July
2010. The meeting was held in the context of a forthcoming national election. This Australia21 report provides an overview of the forum discussion and outcomes.

The purpose of the meeting was to define how Australia could most effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in the aftermath of the Copenhagen discussions and the deferral of the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The participants included climatologists, economists, social scientists and policy experts from a range of national institutions and businesses.

A brief review of the scientific consensus about climate change and Australia’s response to date reaffirmed that climate change is a public policy issue requiring urgent attention. Furthermore, far from being a world leader on this matter, Australia is now lagging behind many other developed and developing nations in producing mechanisms to mitigate and adapt to global warming. Yet the Australian electorate seemingly remains impatient for effective action.

The science clearly indicates that there is likely to be increased danger with increased warming and that in the face of grave risks and uncertainties associated with rising emissions Australia must move towards becoming a resilient society. There is the likelihood that feedback effects that are relatively unpredictable in their timing of onset could lead to ‘tipping points’ that would produce irreversible changes to our landscape and ecosystems, and place additional stresses on Australia’s regional and urban infrastructure and its food production systems.

It was concluded that plans for adaptation, mitigation and transformation must be developed in our national response to these changes, recognising that the climate of the future will hold the likelihood of ‘high impact-low probability’ events, of which the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a striking example.

Much of the discussion centred on the potential role of carbon pricing in constraining greenhouse emissions and the practicability of various pricing approaches, including different ways of moving from where we are now, to a situation where a carbon price would result in trading of emissions entitlements as well as real reductions in the nation’s emissions - which are still continuing to rise.
A known and predictable price will offer business a clear understanding of the future costs they face, and will also facilitate investment in innovation in non-polluting energy production. Pricing could be introduced without disturbing the budget bottom line and made appealing to the public and industry, if the property rights on emissions are distributed effectively.

There was firm agreement that a new national narrative on emissions reduction should be developed, and on the importance of depoliticising the debate so as to reflect the magnitude of the environmental, economic and social aspects of changes to our climate.

While regulation for energy efficiency and strategic roadmaps for alternative energy technologies are vital elements of climate policy development, the meeting concluded that Australia should develop a pricing and market mechanism to win the support of the vast majority of Australians. A pricing and marketing mechanism will reduce business uncertainty and increase incentives for investment, at the same time as it contributes to rapid and essential reduction in emissions. There are a number of ways this could happen, and it should commence now.

An independent institution to manage a carbon price could assist in informing a carbon market and in educating the community. Any such institutional structure should be at arm’s length from the political process in much the same way as the Reserve Bank manages monetary policy.

The group is concerned at the way this policy is currently being handled and urges all political parties to work together to produce an effective carbon pricing policy. All political parties should engage in the scale and management required to create Australia as a low carbon society – and to bring it into the centre ground of national public policy.

The forum has offered its support to all parties to assist them to build an attractive and common pricing mechanism into their policy platforms.

Joint forum on climate change

On 12 July a high level group of 27 experts on climate change and Australia’s response to it was held at the Australian National University.  The group included some of the nation’s leading climatologists, economists, climate policy experts and representatives of Australian business.  

The meeting was hosted by Australia21, Universities Australia (the peak body representing Australia’s 39 universities) and The National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development.

The question under discussion was “What are the best available policy options for reducing greenhouse emissions in Australia in the context of the Copenhagen result and the delay of an Australian CPRS [the government’s proposed emissions trading scheme]?”   

At the end of the day the three organisations hosted a small function to enable us to meet with various Canberra based people who are involved in the climate change issue in one way or another.

My task at this point was to give our guests my take on what had occurred during the day – a summary that I hope did not do too much violence to how any of the other participants saw the proceedings.

My summary was recorded by my colleague, Australia21 Chairman Professor Emeritus Bob Douglas, who had chaired the day’s proceedings, and what follows is a transcript of my extemporised summary.


It will not come as a surprise to any of you – because Australia has been thrashing around with this problem of climate change since 1992 – that our discussions today have not produced any new magic bullets. We know what most of the solutions to our policy problems in this area are, so please do not be surprised if a lot of what I say in the next few minutes has a familiar ring to it. This is my summary of the consensus of the people who met in the room today.

The genesis of this meeting was a feeling that following the postponement of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the disappointing outcome of the Copenhagen discussions – though I am not as disappointed about that as some commentators – Australia21, as an organisation interested in public policy, should be sitting down and thinking – “Well, what can Australia actually do? What are the politically feasible next steps?"  Happily, Universities Australia and the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development were very happy to collaborate in hosting today's event.

The first point is that we all agree that action is urgent from the climate point of view. A 2° rise in average global temperature is almost inevitable.  2° will be difficult to cope with. What we are dealing with right now is not only abatement but also adaptation. We must have a very clear view that we are in the adaptation phase right now.

Action is urgent from another point of view, to create investment certainty and to ensure that there is investment for our future energy needs that can take place on an informed basis. People need to know where they stand. It is also important from the point of view of enabling consumers to make informed decisions about technologies they want to use in the abatement and adaptation process. Inaction in that regard has already cost us.

There was a clear view that we must price carbon and that we must develop a carbon market. There are at least three reasons why we need to price carbon, and the first is of course the obvious one of the impact on demand that results from having a price on carbon. Equally, or perhaps more important, is the incentive that a carbon price creates to innovate, and to innovate on a clear view of what the market is telling you.  So the question becomes “what will be a commercially sustainable form of innovation?”

The third point is that a carbon market – a futures market in carbon – is a mechanism to bring perceptions of the future back into the present. As new technologies emerge and new situations arise, people in the market can say “Well, I am going to respond to this in a certain way.” That in turn will have an impact on the price of carbon.

We also have to recognize that the climate is a driver of a number of issues.  The most obvious ones are water availability and water management, our food production systems, which lead to questions of what will be the distribution of life and living and economic activity in rural and regional Australia, and will have a very profound implications for the preservation of biodiversity

We can't predict the future. So we need to make sure that we adopt resilient policy frameworks. By resilience we mean the ability to withstand a shock and continue to function with the purpose for which we want the system to function.  One clear way to create resilient frameworks is to have a diversity of technological solutions. We should not get locked into one view of the future with a single bet or a narrow range of bets.

Because of the urgency, we need to take early actions. And they obviously have to be politically feasible early actions. Amongst the early actions, we can see the necessity to communicate a target for a carbon budget, to set the transitional price on the pathway to a long-term framework and to pluck Рto use a clich̩ Рthe low hanging fruit. That requires an emphasis on identification and implementation of the energy efficiency frameworks that are currently evolving.

We need to look now to a broad roadmap of the long-term actions to be taken and those would include a robust long term energy pricing and trading framework.  It is very important to try to depoliticize the subject and in the long run transfer the market process to an independent institution where it is more secure from the political hurly-burly.

Government needs to approach the public debate strategically. By strategically, I mean changing the environment within which the debate takes place, and that means communicating to the public the science, the urgency, the mechanisms and the policy framework.

Above all, we would assert that central government has to re-capture and act on the climate change issue. It must put itself back at the centre of policy and the centre of the debate, and not simply be reacting. It needs to be leading the issue, and creating the political climate for action.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

HotLine asks its next big questions

 HotLine - a television style panel show by kids for everyone

An audience of over eighty students aged from 12 to 17 years participated in a television style panel show on Wednesday 23 June 2010 at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre in Adelaide. 

The hotline project is linked to Australia21’s Next Big Question (NBQ) project, which seeks to create a new conversation on the big questions facing Australia, to respond to the unprecedented challenges facing Australia within the global world today.

Australian youth have been invited to participate in the NBQ project. Recently youth participation occurred in conjunction with the Federal Government’s Australian Youth Forum, and now with this creative initiative called HotLine.

The HotLine host was 17 year old Tom Merrett, Head Prefect at Unley High School who recently contributed to the Next Big Question Project for Australia21. He was also a winner of 2009 ECOtvc film competition and his film Global Warming It’s Serious screened on Network TEN.  Tom believes that Australia's youth have to deal with the effects of environmental change and social realities, and that young people need to be involved in today’s decisions for our future.

The HotLine show began with a live link to Canberra to Dr Lynne Reeder, Executive Director, Australia21 who gave an overview of Australia21 and the Next Big Question project. The panel then presented the results of the Australian Youth Forum participation, and other youth involvement. The Australian Youth Forum input to the NBQ can be accessed by clicking on the second report findings at

Other panel members included Dr Barbara Hardy AO, renowned scientist, geologist and co-instigator of the Nature Foundation of SA; Prof Monica Oliphant, scientist and solar expert; Maggie Hine, Group Manager of Sustainability at Onkaparinga Council; Joel Dignam, student from University of Adelaide who attended Australian Youth Climate Debate at Copenhagen; and a 16 year old student who is a recent ECOtvc winner.

Prior to the HotLine show, students were asked to submit up to three questions on the environment. Questions could be controversial, interesting and insightful, related to people and society, technology, hopes and concerns, cultural background and the way we live our lives. Students’ questions were to be answered by the panel. The questions are listed below.

With three cameras, a sound recordist, an auto-cue for the host, a live feed for the audience, and five screens surrounding, it all created a very professional production.

Students were also given an overview of how the production studio had been set up for the day to give them the opportunity to learn about the intricacies and complexities of television panel show production.  Some students also gained work experience through their involvement with the filmmaking.

It was agreed that the day had been a great success – with one participant noting “Hotline is a wonderful initiative and it's inspiring to see kids communicating with and informing kids on complex environmental issues.”

The outcome of this creative and participative event will be a ten minute television style panel show for You Tube, schools, websites and hopefully television.

It is planned to make HotLine a regular online show hosted by schools and students and to link with organizations such as Australia21 and the Australian Youth Forum.

Hotline Questions

Students 15 years

-  What can we, as youth, be doing to help in the battle against climate change?
-  What is being done in Australia to change the way we live our lives so that we can be more sustainable?
-  How can schools make a difference?
-  What is a good way to get funding for environmental projects at our school?
Students 12 years
-  Considering alternative sources of energy, I am particularly interested in focusing on Uranium as South Australia has such rich deposits in this mineral.  Therefore my questions are as follows:
:  Can Uranium be developed as an energy source without harming the environment?
:  Would Uranium provide a cheaper source of power than we currently have?
:  Would the use of Uranium pose a threat to the world at large?

Students 13 years
-  How can we sustain our growing population when we keep putting houses and other infrastructure on our most productive land?
-  How is the Port Stanvac desalination plant sustainable without damaging the marine environment?
-  Is there some way to supply water to farmers along the Murray River as well as to the Lower Lakes and the Coorong?

Students 17 years
-  What is the likelihood of another oil spill happening like the one in the Gulf of Mexico?
-  Do you think the environment will be able to recover from this spill?
-  What does this mean for our reliance on fossil fuels as an energy source?

Students 13 years
-  What do you believe would be the most appropriate energy option for Australia and why?
-  What is Australia doing to support the oil spill situation in America?
-  How do you think the Australian Government is handling the production of carbon emissions?

Students 12-14years
-  Why is all the “Environmentally Friendly” franchised so frantically, why don’t you spend the money on making the products more affordable as the main part of society are not as rich and fortunate, their money is needed for the necessary things.

-  Do you think that the Government both Federal and state are giving enough money to the right solutions for saving the environment such as solar power, wind power and just green energy in general? Could we not just spend the money trying to fix people’s life styles then clean up the previous damage?

-  There will have to be a balance between all fuel cars and all “environmentally safe” cars in order for the environment AND the economy to be better off. If there had to be a majority of one, which do you think would favour the economy and the environment?

-  Are the “environmental friendly” shopping bags actually any better for the environment? We hear about how the plastic bags are suffocating animals in the ocean and not biodegradable so they cause litter and result in landfill, but do the “new and improved” bags do anything?

-  At the rate that we are going in tropical rainforest deforestation, how much of our rainforests will we still have? How will this affect the natives and animal species only found in rainforests?

- How are we impacting the ecosystem in daily life, and will we still be able to live like this in 2050?

-  What eco-friendly alternatives are being looked into for our daily power needs, such as cars?

-  What mark is the mining industry leaving on the Australian ecosystem?

-  The current environment programmes run by schools and private companies are often, in my opinion and most people my age, boring. What research is conducted before these programmes are initiated, and does it actually involve people of the targeted age group? 

-  Do you think that we should be investing money into saving the environment or saving people? Many children are dying each day of malnourishment, and AIDS and we are spending money on making solar panels.  Is this right?  Should we be spending money on the environment before people?

-  Because of our modern lifestyles and the choices we are allowed to make, do you think advertising these environmental issues will really have any effect on the community?

-  Do you think that governments are taking enough action in informing the public about the right choices to make for the environment?

-  How are we going to inform people about the bigger picture, not just doing what they think is good for the environment?

-  Why would people change for environment technology when it costs more and it does not travel or work longer or better? Why is it that there is not a solution to satisfy the whole of society that is easy and cheap to use?

-  Why doesn’t the government put a lot of time and pressure to achieve great environmental technological feats? Shouldn’t the technology be more efficient but be convenient and better for the environment?

-  From my perspective it seems that the government is making all the decisions. This is surely wrong as should youths not get a say, taking into consideration that soon current day children will lead our nation in government?

-  How will the new mining tax affect the current economical state, and me and others personally?

-  In light of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico do you think that this will hasten the search for alternative energy sources?

-  What detrimental effect will take place on the environment when the salt from Adelaide’s new Desalination Plant is pumped back into the Saint Vincent Gulf?

-  When Australia took part in the recent climate change expo, it was said that to transport all the representatives of Australia to the said expo, that it used more fuel then a small country in a year. Is there actually a point to wasting all this power or are we actually making our predicament worse?

-  How are we as a nation meant to change our lifestyle by including these new forms of power and transport?

-  What is the point of all these new environmentally friendly cars when most of them still get their power by burning fossil fuels or nuclear power? For example, electric cars are powered by electricity and this electricity is made by burning coal. Are we actually getting anywhere?