On the Right Side of History 1

Monday, August 18th, 2014
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When climate change became a point of differentiation between two political parties, it became an ideological battle ground.

In the current political climate, everything with even a tinge of green is going, going, gone.

Or is it?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, The Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, represents years of work by 309 leading global scientists in more than 70 countries, and confirms that the effects of climate change are being felt around the world. Cynics may maintain climate change is a hoax, but the science tells us that we need to adapt and prepare – and we need to do it now.

It appears Australians are listening.

According to the Climate of the Nation 2014 survey from the Climate Institute, 70 per cent of Australians think that climate change is occurring, up 10 points from 2012. An overwhelming majority – 89 per cent – believe we are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Conservative think tank The Lowy Institute underscores the dramatic turnaround in public opinion, revealing that 63 per cent of Australians want the government to take a leadership role on emissions reductions, with just 28 per cent saying that the government “should wait for an international consensus before acting.”

That international consensus is growing. Political leaders around the world – many of them leaders of conservative governments – are working to reach common ground on climate change.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron believes man-made climate change is one of the greatest threats to his country and the rest of the world, and is pushing for a 50 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target for the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel agrees. Barack Obama has said climate change is harming the United States, and the Chinese Government is trialling emissions trading schemes in six provinces.

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Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing for a 50 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target for the EU

Public sentiment aside, if Australia maintains its commitment to reduce emissions to five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, the Australian Government must get serious about mitigation strategies.

The Coalition has claimed repeatedly that its Direct Action scheme – with its centrepiece Emissions Reduction Fund that will pay the ‘big polluters’ $2.55 billion to cut emissions – will achieve or even exceed the five per cent reduction target.

It may not be that simple, however. The Climate Change Authority projects that emissions will grow to 685 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020 – an increase of 17 per cent above 2000 levels.

Our efforts so far, which have included reducing demand for electricity, using more renewable energy and implementing a carbon tax, carved just 0.8 per cent from our carbon emissions profile in 2013.

Climate change experts agree that improving the energy-efficiency of our buildings is one of the least-cost mitigation strategies, yet many building owners will be unable to access the Coalition’s Emissions Reduction Fund. The minimum bid size of 2,000 tonnes of carbon abatement per year – which only the largest buildings will generate – will prevent the vast majority of building owners from accessing this scheme. Even when building owners ‘aggregate’ to collectively reduce carbon emissions, the upfront costs present an unattractive proposition.

While it may seem that Australia is going backwards, the built environment industry needs to continue marching forwards on the right side of history, championing actions that are making our buildings more efficient, while boosting productivity and health, improving resilience, and creating jobs and economic opportunities.

We must remain firm in our commitment to combat climate change. It is true that we are missing opportunities, and much of the ‘low hanging fruit’ remains untouched, but we cannot let short-term politics obscure the big picture. While public sentiment goes up and down and political will waxes and wanes, our industry will remain on the inexorable, irrefutable trajectory towards a low carbon future.

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  1. Paul Brandon

    Exactly right, Tony.

    It is embarrassing that Australia has turned its back on the climate change challenge.

    Climate change is real and the best, most market driven and most efficient way to respond is through a price on carbon, which provides a 'price signal' to the market.

    Before the carbon tax was abolished, it was being held up by global journals such as The Economist as an example as to how the world should respond to the climate change challenge. Pity the Abbott government has an ideological disposition against any remotely sensible action on climate change.