Climate Change Strategy for 2015

What should a new Climate Change Strategy look like for South Australia?

CC review smallThis week the South Australian Government started consultation on a revision of its climate change strategy – to update the 2007 version and respond to the Premier’s Climate Change Council’s Low Carbon Vision.

And so much has changed since those two documents. We find ourselves in a time where our Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, is regularly criticised for his utterings – especially on coal mines, wind farms and renewable energy investment. Last week the Syria crisis was noticed by just about everyone due to the heart wrenching photos of little 3 year old Aylan, (and more than one commentator has noted that climate change and devastating drought helped spark the Syrian crisis). And we are on our way to Paris – the biggest hope for international climate change agreement since Copenhagen – and with the two biggest emitters, China and the USA, both showing hopeful signs of both action and commitment.

So what should we do?

For a start, lets have the conversation loud and clear about how important this is and help our pollies to commit to really meaningful action. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Conservation Council’s kick off workshop last week and the message I took home was about selling the vision of the future we can choose to pursue.

This is essential. While the experts still get tangled up in battles with denialists and Government documents are at pains to point out the reality of the science, we are not getting on and having the discussion about what changes mean – to me, to my lifestyle, and to my choices. In the early days the UNFCCC tried to cover this ground by using scenarios – two stuck in my head – 1. a version of self sufficiency that allowed us all to learn a better way and made our footprints smaller and less voracious and 2. a technology adopter’s dream with inventions solving all our problems and without any real review of our lifestyles. (I have a mental image of the social scientists and the engineers at the UNFCCC table each accusing the other of being total dreamers and in reality both technological change and social change are needed.) You can see that our own values are required for discussions about the future and all the expertise in the world cannot make difficult choices for us.

So I thought I’d start by articulating my vision at the moment and after the big hoo haa in Paris in December I might reflect on how 2015 events have altered my views.

I would like us to go straight past any debate about where in the 60% – 90% range our 2050 target should land and pull the starter’s gun on the race to zero emissions. In my mind, it is clear that is where we need to go and we should be asking, “how fast can we get there?”. We should be watching our progress every year and celebrating every moment of proof that it is possible. Think first man on the moon stuff. A 2050 target has always kicked the can further down the road because 2050 makes us feel like we don’t need to act immediately – we can do better.

And I mean “we” in a global sense. Let’s talk about wind and solar successes here in SA sure, but lets also celebrate and adopt breakthroughs that others make. I want to see many more people understanding and embracing the fact that the emissions caused by everyone in the world ultimately have to converge. convergenceWe are in this together. The developing world will continue to have a rise in per capita emissions for some time and we need our per capita emissions to plummet in order to converge with their levels. The handy chart from the Climate Change Authority illustrates the point as HE (high emitters like us) AE (average emitters maybe like Europe) and LE (low emitters like India) all converge and then head to zero together. (There is a whole range of graphs on how this convergence should look – I have just chosen the simplest one to illustrate the point.) I am heartened by the fact that China’s emissions may start to fall sooner than it expects (2030) because it’s coal consumption is falling already and renewables are taking off. I actually think the LE countries might leapfrog us, build low carbon infrastructure and shake off the fossil fuel shackles faster than we can. We have the furthest start point in the race to zero emissions but we have the advantages of wealth, resources and education.

And as global citizens we need to grapple with the humanitarian dimension of the problem, which is way outside my expertise. Suffice to say climate change will cause more people than ever to move around the globe. The only way we will feel comfortable rather than defensive about playing a strong humanitarian role is to build a strong low carbon economy that is resilient to the warmer climate and weather conditions that will continue to challenge us.

With around 80 Days left to the Paris COP, I am planning to blog about initiatives we could take, maybe even one per day?  Those ideas that I manage to document before October 18th I will be throwing into the consultation process. Please have a look through the DaystoParis section of my blog and if you like any of my ideas, feel free to send the Government a link.

And these will be my main themes:

  • innovation means getting serious about experiments and adopting ideas that are successful elsewhere. It means Governments and all our big corporates setting themselves up as lead customers. (See Goran Roos report for SA to better understand what lead customers can do) It also means that Government introduces low carbon progress into its regulatory and policy levers.
  • zero carbon energy will require us to go beyond electricity and to include heat and transport. This is a moving feast. 10 years ago we didn’t imagine the cost of solar energy falling so fast. for example. Electricity can be the source of heat and transport energy but will it become the dominant form? We need to move fast toward a completely no carbon energy system and we need to keep as many good ideas in the mix until the pathway becomes clear.
  • products and services need to become zero carbon (and sustainable) from cradle to grave. In fact these days we talk about cradle to cradle as product manufacturers close the loop on production and design full recycle-ability. We are a long way off though. Eco products are often a premium niche. In this information age, there is no excuse for consumers not to have full access to the environmental (and ethical) implications of their purchasing choices.

What do you think? what is your vision?

About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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