The Politics of Climate Change

I’m liveblogging the debate from the City of Sydney panel discussing the Countdown to the
Paris Climate Change conference for 2015, which is 96 days away.

I’ll be updating this blog on the fly so keep refreshing for updates.

CNPUVgWVEAAwWK5We’ve begun by filling Centennial Hall to capacity with people of every age and stage in life.  There’s clear interest in this event.  And as the pic here indicates, Town Hall has been lit green for the event.

We’re running late for the start so hoping we can cover the topic thoroughly with the time remaining to us.  Hoping I also have enough battery to get through this.

Adam Spencer gets us started as MC for the evening with an acknowledgment of the traditional landowners, media partners and AUSLAN interpreters.  Questions can be sent to the panel on twitter using the #sydcitytalk hashtag.

Ian McLellan at the Guardian welcomes us and quotes George Monbiot saying that calling the crises before us as Clijmate Change is like calling a bomb an unexpected delivery.

Sydney mayor, Clover Moore takes the stage, noting that momentum is building towards the summit in December but there is still significant gaps between needed reductions and practice.  She notes that China is currently trialing several green initiatives and is investing strongly in green energy.  She moves to Australlia noting our lack of leadership and our poor standing in terms of emissions per capita.  She notes that Australians want change; it is national political leadership that resists it.

Greenhouse emissions in the Sydney metropolitan area has fallen across the board, but we need more action across the country.  She notes that it is encumbent upon us to bring about change.

[We are shown a video of the crisis before us – and the clock is ticking]

Connie Hedegaard takes the stage and begins by acknowledging that she is impressed by the number of people who have attended the event, in spite of the dryness of the topic.  She runs a short film of temperature mapping across the globe from 1880.  The coloured map stays blue until the 1970s.  Then it gets steadily redder and redder.  This is what an average temperature of a 0.8% temperature increase.  For 38 years in a row we have had an average year on year temperature which is higher than the year before, and the 10 hottest years ever recorded have been in this period.

She notes that climate change is a threat multiplier. Some commentators have linked the civil war in Syria with climate change.  The severity of the drought in rural areas led the population to flee rural Syria and flood the cities.  The city was unable to support the move, and civil war erupted.  Hence: a threat multiplier.

She notes  that there are a series of ways to address the problem.  The key question is how to make GDP greener.  It is the most difficult thing for policy makers because it will ultimately require a shift away from traditional sources of GDP.  She notes that nation states keep waiting for each other to make the shift.  But time is of essence.  By 2050 we have to be down to 2 tonnes per capita to survive.  In Australia we currently generate 24 tonnes per capita.  Europe is 8 tonnes per capita.  The EU have set targets for emission limitation as well as supporting renewable energies.  And they also price carbon and emissions.

And in spite of the economic crisis facing Europe, the Heads of Government remain committed to the existing targets, and it has been the source of new jobs in renewables and green industries.  So green policies can be a driver for innovation.

She notes that Denmark is now approaching and sometimes reaching 100% renewable energy production.  And since 2000, the green energy export in Denmark has seen 7% growth year on year, because they are selling to other European nations – who are bound by the same targets.  She notes that you can’t offset – you need to transform across all sectors – building, agriculture and transport.

Finally the US and the UK have both committed to climate change targets and strategy. This is a big shift after the ‘after you sir’ syndrome.  It is now imperative that Australia and the developing world invest in cliamte change prevention, which means moving away from business as usual, and will cost cash as well as jobs.  But the argument that energy should not become more expensive is false, because it will cost more if nothing is done.  Climate change prevention will cost.  We just need to ask ourselves the question – how much is it worth to prevent?  If you have 20% GDP doesn’t it make sense for a section of that be devoted to change.

She notes that that young people understand that you need to invest to create change.  We need a paradigm shift.  We need to reduce the short term thinking in politics and we know that the market will shift to support green innovation.  We need to get out of the buy-consume-discard paradigm.  More people are getting used to recycling.  It’s not that much of a shift to bring this to all our consumption.

Last year 2014 may have been the warmest, but there was also more energy storage which was renewable than ever before.  Things have started to move.  Paris has the potential to bring about great outcomes.  But the overall success must not just be to have an agreement, but it must be that we stay below 2 degree rise.  And we need to stop subsidising fossil fuels.  For every $1 we subsidise renwables, we subsidise fossil fuels by $5.  This has to stop.

The citizens also have a responsibility – as consumers, and as concerned, informed citizens.  You send signals to your politicians and to the market.  Your actions will bring about change.  What you say and what you don’t say; and what you do and what you don’t do – matters.  Speak up.  Enact change now.

Adam Spencer asks what will happen in the lead up to Paris.  Hedegaard notes that it’s a matter of getting homework and modelling that has to happen.  And for developing nations we have to ask how first world nations can help those nations to abide by targets.

A question from the floor asks how its possible to take till COP21 for change to be agreed.  Hedegaard notes that there have been some achievements, but mostly the value has been a psychological shift and a general movement towards renewables.

A question from twitter is about how fierce you need to be to bring about real change.  Hedegaard notes that if you need to make these kinds of changes you do need fierceness.  If you don’t take a risk, you can’t change much.  Sometimes you need to be less diplomatic and more blunt to shame countries in to action.

The panellists take the stage – Clover Moore, Sydney Lord Mayor, Mark Butler MP, Shadow Minister for the Environment, Larissa Waters, Australian Greens Deputy Co Leader and Senator for Queensland and Dr John Hewson AM, former Leader of the Liberal Party.

Spencer notes that the current federal government were invited to participate but chose not to participate.  John Hewson notes that the Prime Minister is “suffering from wind”.

Butler notes that the current government are reflecting the PM’s perspective.  The recommendation of the current govt is to do as little as possible, even if he does recognise the science is real.

Waters notes that it’s only a matter of time before the taregts will be met.  She just hopes it will be sooner than later.

Spencer asks if the current targets are correct.  Hewson says it’s half of what is needed [to great applause].  He also noted his own policies from 30 years ago included green principles but we’ve lost those opportunities.

The question from the floor asks if it’s harder for a resource based economy to meet targets.  Hedegaard says obviously it’s not easy. Nonetheless, all the nations that do rely on these fossil fuels will need to shift in a planned manner.  It won’t happen overnight; it must be planned.

Spencer challenges Butler to name 40% reductions as a target for Labor.  Butler answers that 26-28% is insufficient (but fails to agree to the 40% target). He notes that Labor is committed to the 2 degree target, and will bring an ETS to the next election.  He notes that Labor will release a number for targets before the next election.

Spencer asks Waters what the Greens target.  She notes that the Greens target is science based. The science says 40-60% cuts will only generate a 66% likelihood of reaching the 2 degree cap.  So the Greens taregt is 60-80% cuts.

Moore notes that it’s timely to look at a bipartisan approach from Europe as a guide for change. She notes that in spite of the fact that it’s not our tradition, Australia should be getting bipartisan agreement on targets.

Butler says the bipartisan approach followed by David Cameron and Ed Milliband is something we have never done here.

Spencer notes that the Adarni decision stopping the coal mine on the basis of environmental factors could be considered more broadly.  Hewson notes that the decision to invest in Adarni was stupid anyway.  Who invests in something that is reducing value and increasing pollution.

Butler notes that even Burmese government is performing better on renewables investment than the current government.  Waters notes that Adarni would have been Australia’s biggest coal mine.

Moore notes that we are the most urbanised country in the world.  Emissions can come down in the cities.  This is a responsibility of governments in cities.  She notes that Sydney will be co-chairing the building energy efficiency meeting next year.  It’s tragic that the current federal budget does not have a cities policy but instead is investing in road development.

Spencer asks what the panellists want to have happen in Paris. Hewson says divestment is a clear opportunity for corporates to withdraw funds from fossil fuels. Waters wants binding targets of a 2 degree cap as well as phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Butler wants the Australian PM at Paris, because we are the biggest pollutant.  Moore wants a commitment to the 2 degree cap, and for citizens to speak up. Hewson says men argue; nature acts.  We need men to act and not argue.  Hedegaard says we need to acknowledge we are in an interdependent world.  Big and small countries need to come together to agree.

[Ironically my batter is running out]

The panel closes to immense applause – great event.









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