People in Power: Democratic ways to combat Climate Change

Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Forum

People in Power: Democratic ways to combat Climate Change

Kathryn Ridge

Fifteen years ago, Bob Carr introduced the world's first emissions reduction scheme. Since, then Australians have endured 15 years of virtual inaction on climate change. Political leaders who supported serious action to combat climate change exited the stage. Renewable energy targets, cap and trade markets and voluntary models whirl around in a confusing chaos of claim and counter claim.

There is clear evidence that a majority of Australians want action on climate change. The 'Vote Compass' run by the ABC at the 2013 Election asked 'How much should the Federal Government do to tackle climate change'. The answer from an effective sample of over half a million voters, was that  16.47% want less action, 20.2% about the same as now, and 63.3 per cent want greater action. In the 2014 Lowy Institute Poll, 63 per cent of respondents said the Australian government should be taking an international leadership role on reducing emissions

In the absence of effective government action, people are making their own responses. These are political decisions and investing in a widespread belief that every little bit helps. Some of this is on an individual scale, solar hot water, solar panels, using public transport or hybrid cars and buying food locally.

Perhaps more exciting is the emerging collective responses, Repower Shoalhaven is installing Australia’s largest community-owned commercial solar system (99kW), it has an anchor buyer of its energy, the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling and Recreation Club. Repower Shoalhaven is a community group formed last year and is seeking local investors to crowd fund the project. Another example of local politics is LIVE – Locals Into Victoria’s Environment. This is a non-profit, community organisation based in Port Phillip with a goal to reduce the human contribution to, and the impact of, climate change on our planet. One of its projects is installing up to 1000 solar panels on the roof of the South Melbourne Market.

There are also many local efforts to reduce carbon footprints through action of transport and food production and distribution. In an integrated approach, the City of Sydney assisted by Michael Mobbs' vision and tenacity has seen Chippendale convert rainwater systems to watering roadside gardens, reusing green waste locally, and taking excess to farms to offset fossil fuel based fertilisers. Cool white surfaced roads are being trialled to reduce the need to cool hot terraces, and increased road verge planting has had a measurable effect. Not satisfied with this, they are moving on to construct one of the biggest distributed solar energy projects in Australia, in Newtown.

Despite these real, effective political responses, Tony Abbott refuses to add Climate Change to the G20 agenda in Brisbane November 2014. The C20 summit, civil society’s input to the G20, issued a communique from its Summit which urged global leaders to build the foundations of inclusive and sustainable global economic growth, while addressing climate change as an urgent priority.

The key dichotomy here is between ineffective government responses, and highly effective democratic responses. Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor on development to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has noted that it is impossible to tackle global poverty without tackling climate change “the G20 countries are the world’s most important economies, if the G20 gets its house in order the world can be saved. If not, the G20 will wreck the world, pure and simple…...Brisbane is therefore crucial.”

As Peter Burdon says, If there's no room in politics any more for principled positions, then things are going to get very, very hot.

Kathryn Ridge is an environmental lawyer and scientist.

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