Sometime today Australian time, there will be a puff of smoke coming out of the Vatican. White smoke indicates we have a new Pope. Today’s puff of smoke will come from a red hot fire when Pope Francis sets the climate change action issue alight with an “encyclical”. While not quite the ten commandments, it isn’t far off.
Whether you have a faith of not (and for the record this author is a strong atheist), this is a significant moment. It is significant because many strong Christians, like Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and a host of right wing politicians in the United States, are also strong climate deniers, skeptics or obstructionists. How will they react when their spiritual leader tells them to act - quickly and forcefully? Bloomberg says the Pope’s statement “could turn US politics upside down. If it has the impact he's counting on, it could finally budge a glacier of frozen thinking on the crisis. It could break through to millions of Americans who thought they knew what they thought about global warming.” Already, some Republican US Presidential Candidates like Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum have told the Pope to keep out of the issue. While the Guardian reports that the statement has leaked, it shouldn’t detract from the substance of the release. The reaction will be fascinating.
So to climate politics and the Bonn meeting has wrapped up with some cautious optimism and claims the world is moving closer to a global deal, albeit slowly. Former Australian Conservation Foundation CEO and Board Director of the Climate Reality Project, Don Henry, summarised events in The Conversation, closing with: “The negotiations are frustratingly slow. However at Bonn they seemed to be starting to move firmly towards a new global climate agreement being struck in Paris. As always, the devil is in the detail. How much ambition, finance, energy, and teeth and we’ll see in an ultimate Paris agreement rests on the work to be done and goodwill between now and then.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports China will endorse a statement later this month to seek a UN agreement to tackle climate change. The statement reportedly says "The EU and China recognise their critical roles in combating global climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity.”
That’s the good news from afar. Closer to home, Fairfax took the Prime Minister and Government to task in three highly critical pieces this week. On Saturday, Tony Wright in The Age, reacted to the the PM’s comments on wind turbines saying “Perhaps he just doesn't discern the way the wind's blowing. The leaders of the G7 – the world's seven biggest economies – agreed this week to end the use of fossil fuels for energy by the end of the century.” On the same day in the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hatcher asked: “What is Australia's strategic energy policy? To become the Jurassic Park of the world economy? Or will it exploit its advantages in sun, wind and brainpower to take advantage of the next great energy revolution as the planet enters its seventh energy era?” Adam Morton in The Age on Sunday reported on the impact of climate change dithering on Australia’s international image: “Until its position becomes clear, Australia continues to cop criticism. The French government has been briefing journalists with its concerns, and British liberal newspaper The Independent last week said the Prime Minister was running a government considered "one of the most environmentally hostile in living memory”.”
The Guardian reported Australia’s “big four” banks have bucked a global trend by heavily favouring investment in fossil fuel projects over renewable energy by $6 to $1 since the global financial crisis. It citied analysis by Market Forces which revealed ANZ was the clear leader in funding coal, oil and gas projects in Australia since 2008, pouring in $12.6bn. But it was Commonwealth Bank that most heavily skewed its investments in favour of fossil fuels, with $9.9bn in loans dwarfing its renewable projects by a factor of 13 to one. The study found the big four – rounded out by National Australia bank ($8.3bn) and Westpac ($5.9bn) – dominated fossil fuel finance in Australia, accounting for $36.7bn, or more than a quarter of $134bn in total funding by more than 150 financial institutions from 2008 to 2014. The four banks participated in nearly three-quarters of the 182 loans made to the sector in that time, the study found. ANZ alone had a hand in 99 deals.
Meanwhile, in Canberra, the Government inquiry targeting green groups accidentally exposes $145 million mining tax dodge. New Matilda reports on the Australian Institute report that mining companies get to exert influence over government via lobbying, and then claim some of the money they spend doing it back in tax. “The $20 million of tax lost to mining lobbying, however, “is likely to be just the tip of the lobbying iceberg” because it only takes into account the money paid out to big lobbying organisations, not third party companies or in-house lobbyists,” reported the website.
What’s the public to make all of this? Well, much according to the Lowy Institute. Its 2015 Poll has recorded the third successive rise in Australians’ concern about global warming. Half the adult population (50 per cent, up five points since 2014 and 14 points since 2012) say ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem’. A solid majority, 63 per cent, say that in the lead-up to the 2015 UN climate change conference in Paris, ‘the Australian Government should commit to significant reductions so that other countries will be encouraged to do the same’. Only 35 per cent say the Government ‘should not make significant commitments on emissions reductions ahead of other countries’.
A phrase that remains in use today as a hangover from World War Two and other atrocities is “War Criminal” Could it be possible that we one day, perhaps soon, will have “Climate Criminals”? RTCC reports the world’s leading fossil fuel companies could be taken to court for damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions under plans released by a coalition of Pacific Island communities on Tuesday. “We commit to holding those most responsible for climate change accountable. By doing so, we send a message of hope that the people and not the polluters are in charge of humanity’s destiny,” Vanuatu president Baldwin Lonsdale said in a letter. “We commit to bring a case that would investigate the human rights implications of climate change and hold the big carbon polluters accountable to appropriate international bodies or processes.”
The International Energy Agency released a significant report this week which saw media take a variety of angles:
• The Guardian said the report calls for our key outcomes from Paris: targeting a near-term peak in global emissions by 2020; the process of five-yearly revisions of targets; setting a long-term goal on greenhouse gas emissions, effectively a “carbon budget”; and monitoring emissions and fossil fuel use in the energy sector, with results published regularly by all countries.
• QZ reports half of the world’s new power capacity came from renewables last year, with China leading the way.
• Washington Post reports the IE reports says that current national commitments to cut greenhouse gases are still insufficient to keep the world below two degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels.
• Sydney Morning Herald reports fossil fuel subsidies are undermining climate efforts.
Finally, some more worrying science news this week. Ecowatch reports on a NASA study indicating more than one-third of earth’s largest aquifers are being rapidly depleted. Researchers discovered that one third of the Earth’s largest groundwater basins are rapidly depleting due to human consumption, and will only get worse with the changing climate. These aquifers are a crucial source of fresh water for 35 percent of the human population. That’s more than 2 billion people.”
Worrying? I’ll drink to that.
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Think Progress: Why You Should Be Paying Attention To The ‘Other’ Form Of Solar Power
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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