Policy papers

Nothing direct about ‘Direct Action’

Saturday, October 18th, 2014
“It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.” Seneca (1 BC–AD 65) (With thanks to http://www.wbgu.de)
The Abbott Government’s “Direct Action Plan” is currently undergoing public scrutiny via a Senate Inquiry into the policy. More specifically the Inquiry will look into “the Abbott Government’s failure to systematically address climate change”.
I use the “air quote” marks deliberately as there is little that is direct about this policy, as it is largely about using taxation revenue to funnel, through complicated administrative schemes, publicly funded subsidies to polluting industries for emissions reductions they might make anyway, and reduces any incentives for long term emissions cuts due to a short program time frame.
Despite being touted as the cornerstone of national climate policy, the Direct Action Plan will not even achieve the wildly inadequate emissions reduction target of a 5% cut on 1990 levels by 2020. In the words of The Climate Institute: “No independent analysis to date has shown that the policy framework as outlined can achieve Australia’s international obligations and emission commitments.”
Bit of a worry, isn’t it?
A more direct way of achieving emissions reductions might be to impose a financial penalty or disincentive to pollute. That would increase the costs of emission per tonne, raise the relative costs of emissions intensive practices and create an incentive to find lower emissions alternatives. It would also make cleaner, lower emissions pathways relatively cheaper, compared to now. But, oh wait… that’s what we already have in the form of a carbon price (which is not a tax – although that would be better). But the Abbott government, to the consternation of the international community, and against the advice of leading economists, climate policy experts, the OECD and the World Bank, is seeking to abolish it.
Other elements of the (poorly spelled out) plan include the employment of masses of young people to plant trees. A laudable aim, both for youth employment and for revegetation projects, but as an emissions strategy, it’s a bit like saying you’re going to stop the warming of the ocean by picking up litter on the beach i.e. nice idea but hopelessly inadequate in tackling the core problem.
The core problem, as it stands, is our fossil intensive energy system, based as it is on coal, gas and oil. Until we begin to transition away from these energy sources and take advantage of our abundant, cost effective (because they carry few or none of the “externalities” of fossil fuels, like environmental harm and damage to people’s health) renewable energy resources like wind  and solar, we’re basically ‘pissing into the wind’, to adopt a crude, but accurate, analogy.
Despite the rhetoric, the DAP and its Emissions Reduction Fund will not fund lowest cost, effective emissions reductions with minimal administration – it promises to do the opposite and support high polluters with large subsidies to make little or no emissions reductions AND to see a massive increase in paperwork with a project by project approach that will cost more and disproportionately burden smaller organisations.
But the core issue in regard to the Direct Action Plan for health and medical professionals is that this and other proposed climate and energy policies fundamentally overlook the full truth about climate change – that it is not an environmental problem, and cannot be solved by a single portfolio approach. It is a profoundly complex issue that impacts on every corner of society, every industry, every person, every species.
But while it is complex, and no other challenge like it has been faced by human society before, we know what to do. It’s not like we’ve just found out about it. A recent note from the Australian Parliamentary Library chronicles the sad and chequered history of climate policy in Australia, starting back in 1972, riddled as it is by the fingerprints of rent seekers, big coal, oil giants, gutless politicians and climate deniers and those who are willing to willfully gamble the lives and futures of our children, our grandchildren and a future for the extraordinary miracle of human existence on this tiny blue planet.
Climate change is, as the international medical journal The Lancet wrote in 2009, the biggest threat the global public health this century. Climate change threatens the future of human civilisation. As leading climate scientist Hans Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute in German says, if we hit a temperature rise of four degrees, projected for mid century on current rates of emissions, the difference between that and our (also too high) target of two degrees, may be “human civilisation”. That’s a big gamble to take.
And it’s not one we need to take. As the European Commission 2050 Roadmap outlines, the pathway to a low carbon economy offers lower energy costs, cleaner air, a healthier community, and the preservation of vital natural capital. In its flagship report on a global low carbon transition, the German Advisory Council on Global Change is emphatic that the key ingredients for this necessary transition are available – they state: “the technological potential for comprehensive decarbonisation is available”, the business and financial models are available, and “the political instruments needed for a climate friendly transformation are widely known”.
Here in Australia, two sets of comprehensive modelling, from Beyond Zero Emissions / Melbourne Energy Institute and the University of NSW, show affordable technologies for a 100% renewable energy supply for Australia are available now, at a lower cost than polluting ones.
The Abbott government would do well to look beyond its rhetoric and determined opposition to policies that have global and expert support. To do otherwise risks failing in its duty of care to act in the interests of Australian citizens, by leading us on a global warming pathway which looks to carry the kinds of profound consequences only those well versed in the Bible may yet have contemplated.
The Climate and Health Alliance submission to the Direct Action Plan Inquiry can be found here.

Our Uncashed Dividend: The Health Benefits of Climate Action

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Fiona is the author of the recently released paper: Our Uncashed Dividend: The Health Benefits of Climate Action, jointly published by the Climate and Health Alliance and The Climate Institute as a joint report.

This report draws together a large and growing body of evidence from health and medical research showing substantial health benefits linked to measures to cut emissions.

It demonstrates that actions that cut greenhouse gas emissions can improve Australians’ health and could save billions of dollars for health care budgets and save thousands of lives each year.

 This report reflects the fact that it is becoming clear that many activities that cut emissions will also improve health and vice versa. While emissions reductions are also important strategies to act on climate change, the benefits for health are significant and available immediately, while the climate benefits accumulate in the longer term. The report is supported by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

Download the full report here.

Shifting from fear to hope

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Australia’s abundant energy and opportunities for future wealth and health

Australia’s history is closely linked with a reliance on natural resources. We have been encouraged to think that the ‘lucky country’ is dependent on its natural assets for wealth and prosperity and that their exploitation is our only key to a stable economy and flourishing society. The bad news is that the way we are using some of those resources is damaging not only the ecosystems on which we depend, but also our economic security and our nation’s reputation as a good global citizen.

The good news is that our abundant natural resources can continue to dominate Australia’s future.  But we must begin to transform our economy now to capitalise on this continent’s natural advantages of sun, wind, and soil and the opportunities they afford for a secure future.

Repositioning Australia now to capitalise on its natural advantages by building industries based on sustainable resources will enable us to lower our emissions and draw down carbon dioxide – with the additional benefits of more jobs (and more secure jobs), cleaner air, economic prosperity and energy security.

This paper is published in the book More than Luck: Ideas Australia needs now, published by the Centre for Policy Development (CPD).

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