A Just Response to CC

What is a morally responsible, scientifically credible national emission target?

Climate Change is the existential threat of our times. On this page we have compiled some climate stories, and climate science, to help us work out what a fair share is for Australia in terms of emission reduction.

Farmers are some of those at the frontline of climate adaptation.

The National Farmers Federation began calling for urgent action over a decade ago.  Joshua Gilbert is a member of Farmers for Climate Action, and led the NSW young farmers climate change motion at the NSW Farmers Annual Conference. He attended Paris for the COP21, where the world agreed to act rapidly on Climate Change.

Joshua is a Worimi man who shared his experience as a young Aboriginal man, with a particular interest in agriculture and the environment, with the NSW.ACT Synod of the Uniting Church recently. You can see his 30min Synod address here

Climate Change is already affecting humans and other creatures

In the lead up to the last Assembly, the Resourcing Unit collected some powerful stories of the way Climate Change is impacting on communities. 

The world’s scientists issued a stark warning back in 1992  about the damage being done to many of the life systems on God’s Earth

In 2017 twenty thousand scientists in 184 countries issued a second warning, they catalogued some of the consequences of our failure to listen, amongst them, accelerating climate change.  Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report warned that we have just over a decade to have taken substantial action, if we are to have any hope of keeping global warming below 1.5oC.  It’s not looking great… (UPDATE- new data shows emissions are getting worse)

The science

If you want a quick recap on whether Climate Change is happening, is bad, and is caused by humans, there’s a short summary at 350.org, or visit Byron Smith’s summary at Common Grace.

There is also an excellent infographic: what’s really warming the world

Good News!

At Paris in 2015, the world’s governments agreed that we must work strenuously to try to limit global warming to as close as possible to  1.5oC, in light of updated science.

This is essential, because although 1.5oC of warming is bad, two degrees is much worse according to the IPCC special report  

At 1.5oC there will be:

  • a little bit of the Barrier Reef left, and 10% of reefs worldwide will probably survive.
  • millions less people flooded out.
  • 10cm less sea level rise than at 2.oC
  • half as much permafrost thawing and emitting methane
  • less ice sheet loss
  • much less loss in agricultural productivity,
  • 100m less people exposed to water scarcity  (1m less in Australia)
  • 60m less people exposed to extreme drought
  • much less money wasted:
  • trillions saved in flooding costs
  • half as much per capita GDP loss- only a 8% vs 13%
  • less tropical diseases

(read a summary of the differences here)

Bad News!

However, according to the UN Environment Emission Gap Report, the pledges so made by governments at Paris amount to less than one fifth of what we need to keep warming to 1.5oC. The following figure is a simplified diagram which will be used in the Synod presentation:

So it is irrelevant when the Coalition claims that we will reach our Paris commitment of 28% reductions “in a canter,” as the commitment itself is woefully inadequate.  In any case, this claim is highly contested by scientists, and it relies on credits we still have from meeting our extremely weak previous commitments, unlike other countries.  

Every year we delay, things get worse!  According to Ross Garnaut’s recent lecture, if we had started cutting emissions in 2014, we would have had to 2050 to reduce our emissions to zero, and still contribute fairly to a 1.5oC world.  But we didn’t.  So now if we immediately adopt a 45% target, we will need zero emissions by 2040.  If the government persists with a 28% target, all of our emissions budget will be used up by 2035, and our rate of reductions between 2030 and 2035 would need to be phenomenal.  

When we look at the global commitments again, according to the UN Environment report, we are on track for over three degrees of warming.  According to the UN World Meterological Organisation, it’s now more like 4oC.

Four degrees means the probable collapse of many societies and natural systems (World Bank 2013). 

At four degrees, climate refugee estimates range from 140 million to 1 billion by 2050.

A just response

How do we decide what Australia’s carbon budget should be, given our historically high emissions, our wealth, and our small population?

Methods vary, but a mid range figure is about 64% reductions by 2030

These mid-range methods, which tend to rely on the approach called “modified contraction and convergence” deny any historical responsibility- we don’t have to make up for our record high emissions over the last decades.  (This approach is explained in the 2008 Garnaut Review).  The mid-range methods allow Australians to continue to emit much more carbon per person than the global average, up until 2050. 

For example the Australian Climate Change Authority, in line with other Australian analysis, allowed Australia one percent of the global carbon budget, though we have only 0.3% of the population. 

That is, Australian calculations used in all the figures cited here allow Australians 3x more carbon than the world average.  Is that fair?  

Others estimates, which take into account Australia’s status as one of the world’s wealthiest nations as well as our past record high emissions, call for 100% emissions reduction by 2030 (Zebedee Nicholls, Australian-German Climate and Energy College, May 2019, pers comm.) 

According to Penny Sackett, Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Australia will have used up its share of the remaining carbon budget by 2022! 

Zero emissions by 2030 is technically possible, according to Beyond Zero Emissions: even the red meat sector. It will be up to Australia’s citizens to create the necessary political will.

The emissions target of 65% suggested in the 2019 NSW.ACT Synod resolution, then, is very middle of the road, if that.  It remains unfair to the poor, takes no account of our past massive emissions, and only gives us a 50/50 chance of keeping warming to 1.5oC.  The Victorian Government’s 2019 expert review panel, concluded that a 67% reduction by 2030 would only deliver a 50/50 chance of staying below 1.5oC.  

Therefore a morally responsible, scientifically credible national emission target, falls somewhere between 64% and 100% reduction of emissions from 2005 levels, by 2030.

The Uniting Church in NSW.ACT is yet to set its own target, but Uniting has opted for 50% reduction from 2008 levels given the current political context.  This will accompany a renewed advocacy push to achieve a scientifically valid and morally responsible national target: ie to change the current political context and let Uniting set a higher target.  So far, Uniting has achieved 25% emissions reductions since 2008.

It is also worth noting that a considerable portion of the Church’s emissions come from creating a social good (accommodation and social services), not luxury items.

Uniting Financial Services implemented the Synod’s divestment policy, refused to sell land for a coal fired power station, and they now target positive environmental investments. There is also work going on in congregations.