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?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

NWC Report on scale of intercepted water use

The National Water Commission recently released Australia's first ever nation-wide baseline assessment of water interception activities, calling for all Australian governments to take action on this critical issue.

The Surface and/or groundwater interception activities: initial estimates report shows that the total volume of water unaccounted for as a result of land use activities outside our current water entitlement regimes and planning frameworks equates to almost one quarter of all the entitled water on issue in Australia.

A combined annual volume of 5600 gigalitres is intercepted, with forestry plantations using approximately 2000 gigalitres a year (GL/yr), farm dams 1600 GL/yr, stock and domestic activities 1100 GL/yr, and overland flows (floodplain harvesting) on average 900 GL/yr.

According to National Water Commission CEO Ken Matthews:

These are clearly significant uses of water which need to be brought within the water planning and management fold, both to manage current activities and guide future growth.

In agreeing to the National Water Initiative (NWI), all Australian Governments recognised that interception activities present an immediate risk to the security of water access entitlements and the achievement of environmental water objectives.

Under the NWI, governments committed to apply appropriate planning, management and regulatory measures to account for interception water use by 2011.

The report and/or its executive summary may be downloaded from here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nature on climate change

Today’s edition of the prestigious weekly scientific journal Nature has an editorial on the subject of climate change.

It addresses a number of issues: the public impact of the scandals associated with the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia in the UK; the need to continue to engage the public in clear and direct language; and the need for transparency and the avoidance of hype.

On the University of East Anglia issue, the so-called “Climategate” which has brought denialists such comfort, the editorial says:

Despite the scandals over leaked e-mails at the University of East Anglia, UK, and flawed data in the most recent assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific evidence for global warming remains strong. The question, then, is to what extent have the controversies eroded the public's trust in climate science or, worse, in the scientists themselves?

There has undoubtedly been some slippage. But a closer look at the data across multiple polls shows that, broadly speaking, the public trusts scientists, believes in global warming and wants governments to do something about it. The public seems to have done what the mainstream media could not: it has kept the scandals in perspective. The scathing verbal attacks on climate science and scientists are actually coming from a relative handful of critics, and they do not reflect a broader resurgence of scepticism.

On where we go from here, the editorial concludes:

The science isn't complete and never will be, but it is sufficiently robust that broad conclusions cannot be undermined by questions about any given datum point. From this perspective, the fact that climate scientists can't predict exactly how bad the impacts might be could well be the best argument for action.

Read the complete editorial, A question of trust, here.