In a positive sign of the times, climate change was front page news this week. The Pope told anyone who would listen to act on climate while Fairfax in Australia became the latest quality media organisation to start an active campaign on climate change action. All of this came during a week when conservative politics in Australia kept looking in the rear view mirror and continued to have the fossil fuel powered environment policy truck in reverse.
The Pope’s Encyclical has been warmly received by everyone, except Republican Presidential candidates in the United States and the usual suspects in Australia. The amount of ‘media’ generated by the encyclical is probably the single largest news generating event on climate change since the failed talks in Copenhagen in 2009. This time, the news was good. The Conversation provided a good summary of the week: ”Nobody, whether atheist or religious, can deny that the Pope’s encyclical on caring for our common home is a big deal. Its immediate importance comes from its potential to influence world leaders and galvanise the developing world ahead of the Paris Climate Conference this year. Moreover, the encyclical positions Francis in conflict with conservative think tanks such as the Heartland Institute, future contenders for the US presidency (five Catholics are expected to challenge for the Republican nomination), and even climate deniers within the Vatican itself. The stage is set for a battle royale, and Francis shows little sign of flinching. Instead, he has asked readers to “receive this document with an open spirit”. Now that the encyclical has been published, we are in a position to evaluate it on its own terms.” The Weekend Reads at the end of the article has some more good articles on the subject.
In Australia, the revised Renewable Energy Target finally passed through the Senate. As it dragged on, it became one of those “what are we fighting about again” issues. Australian Associated Press had a good summary. To the disappointment of many, Labor agreed to wood waste burning being included as a renewable source. To obtain the support of the cross benches, the government agreed to the introduction of a ‘Wind Commissioner”, according to the Guardian “to respond to complaints about wind turbines.” Both moves led to derision on social media and some calling for a ‘Coal Commissioner’. The Government could go in more unusual directions soon following the Liberal Party Federal Council meeting in Melbourne this weekend. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt will be confronted by anti-climate science push from within. A motion to go to the Council calls for a House of Representatives committee to "examine the scientific evidence that underpins the man-made global warming theory”. The SMH reports it also calls for investigation into "the reasons for the failure of computer models, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and prominent individuals to predict, among other things, the pause in global warming this century”. Finally, "in light of the uncertainty around this issue, Australia does not sign any binding agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year," the Herald reported on the motions. Renew Economy joined the dots on the Government’s actions saying it preferred solar over wind. “What we’re doing there is very significant and we’re increasing the focus on large-scale solar,” environment minister Greg Hunt told radio last week. “There should be a support for large-scale solar, which I think many Australians, if not all, if not the vast majority, would strongly support,” he said in another radio interview. “The comment conveniently ignores the fact that most Australians also support wind energy. It is a small, but vocal minority, including the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, many in Cabinet and key cross benchers, that don’t,” commented leading writer Giles Parkinson.
Fairfax made a major corporate statement on climate change this week by announcing it was going to give more prominence to climate change related stories in the lead up to the Paris conference. The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have jointly launched a series “Climate for Change”, giving it significant coverage in print and online. The Guardian started the trend earlier this year with its “Keep it in the ground” series. In launching the coverage, Fairfax let fly with several articles and editorials attacking the government, including:
• Monday Editorial: “Australia can adopt a moral stance only if we do more in our own backyard. We need that message to get through to our leaders. The climate for change is real. We can be part of the problem or we can be part of the solution. The choice is ours”.
• Peter Hartcher: “Ignoring the opportunity to set a world example in renewable power, the Abbott government will do as little as it can get away with in the global effort to calm global warming”.
• Wednesday Editorial: “In a perfect world, every nation would commit to binding targets and a price on carbon. The political reality is that many nations won't go that far. But Australia can play a bigger part, providing voters maintain the climate for change in the next few months”.
As it is every week, while the Australian Government remains in reverse, the rest of the world and indeed business in Australia is moving forward. Renew Economy reports rooftop solar and battery storage will account for more than half of Australia’s electricity needs by 2040, reducing the need for fossil fuel generation, as the share of fossil fuels falls by more than half to around 40 per cent. “Bloomberg New Energy Finance says Australia’s power sector will fundamentally change over the next two decades, as households and businesses turn to rooftop solar and storage and utilities shift to renewables to replace ageing coal and gas plants. It is part of a massive global shift, with more than $3 trillion being invested in small-scale solar and battery storage worldwide, as the global energy system becomes largely decentralised.” Meanwhile, according to the Climate Group, renewable energy broke another record last year, accounting for over 60 percent of net addition to the world’s power capacity, the new REN21 Renewables 2015 Global Status Report states. “Last year the fight against climate change marked another important milestone: for the first time in 40 years, global economy grow while CO2 emission stalled – despite the world’s average annual increase in energy consumption by 1.5 percent.” Finally, GE says the new renewable energy target will unlock $10 billion worth of deals, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
There were a few new reports out this week covering health, economic and biodiversity impacts:
• Health: The ABC reports on a report from The Lancet that climate change poses such a threat to public health it risks undoing the gains of the last 50 years.
• Economic: The New York Times reports in the absence of global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the United States by the end of the century may face up to $180 billion in economic losses because of drought and water shortages, according to a report released Monday by the White House and Environmental Protection Agency.
• Biodiversity: The Guardian reports on new academic research indicating the rate at which vertebrate species are dying far exceeds the norm and that the earth stands on the brink of its sixth mass extinction.
Perhaps the Wind Commissioner could start his or her work by reading these three reports.
Bloomberg: Behind the Scenes With the Pope's Secret Science Committee
Climate Group: Health and climate change
Climate Institute: Abbott’s mooted pollution targets would fail climate and competitiveness tests
EPA: Global Climate Action: A Win for the U.S.
New Internationalist Blog: 10 signs that climate change success is coming
RenewEconomy: Things we learned this week about Abbott’s wind turbine syndrome
SMH: Abbott lets Australia slip behind as renewable energy advances
The Age: The Australian elites have fundamentally failed us on climate change
The Conversation: Climate mitigation – the greatest public health opportunity of our time
The Conversation: Climate: the elephant in the room for developing northern Australia
The Lancet: Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health
Sydney Morning Herald: How five Aussie icons will fare in a warmer world
Sydney Morning Herald: Australia, an 'injured' energy superpower with a renewables future: Ross Garnaut
Washington Post: How climate-change doubters lost a papal fight
World Health Organisation: Achieving a cleaner, more sustainable and healthier future, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization
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This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm