ARRCC believes that climate change is a profoundly moral issue: the earth is of intrinsic value and we have a duty to protect it. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to care for the ecosystems on which life depends, particularly for people in developing countries who are bearing the negative impacts of climate change earliest and hardest, future generations, and other species with which we share the Earth.
As individuals we can contribute by reducing and changing our consumption habits, in such a way that we focus on those aspects of life that really matter: relationships, a sense of purpose, and connectedness with the natural environment. However, to be effective, the a communal as well as individual response is required. Societal structures that promote unsustainable consumption need to be regulated. Economies need to be redirected away from the pursuit of unlimited economic “growth” and towards new understandings of prosperity.
To guide our work, we have developed a set of public policy positions that we believe are important to address climate change effectively. These positions were arrived at through extensive consultation with ARRCC members, local faith communities and a variety of religious leaders. The policies we advocate are informed by science and a moral commitment to the common good. They recognise that shifting to an ecologically sustainable society reflects a truthful recognition of the limits of our planet's finite resources. They show compassion for future generations, and towards other people with whom we share the Earth so they are equitably able to enjoy its fruitfulness, beauty and diversity.
Public Policy Positions
In consultation with our members and stakeholders, the following positions have adopted. As always, feedback is welcome.
ARRCC’s position is that climate change is a profoundly moral issue. The Earth is of intrinsic value and we have a duty to protect it. Furthermore, civilisation itself and all forms of life including our own are entirely dependent on the ecological integrity of the natural world. We are part of and dependent upon the Earth’s ecosystems, not separate from them. We therefore have a responsibility to care for the ecosystems on which life depends, particularly for (a) the most vulnerable people, often those in low-income, climate vulnerable (so-called ‘developing’) countries who are bearing the negative impacts of climate change earliest and hardest, (b) future generations, and (c) other species with which we share the Earth.
Majura Atoll, Marshall Islands, 2014
As individuals we can contribute by reducing our consumption and changing our habits and thinking. This would free us to focus on those aspects of life that contribute to human flourishing: relationships, a sense of purpose, and connectedness with the natural environment. To be effective, however, our response needs to be structural as well as individual. Societal structures that encourage unsustainable consumption need to change. Economies need to be redirected away from the pursuit of unlimited economic ‘growth’ and towards new understandings of prosperity.
Specifically, a moral collective response to climate change will involve the urgent scaling up of energy generation from renewable sources and the urgent phasing out of coal, oil and fossil gas, both as domestic fuel sources and as exports. It will involve the elimination of subsidies for carbon-intensive industries (such as subsidising rail and port facilities to ship coal). These should be replaced with investment in renewable energy and incentives to pursue a low carbon future, including a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. ARRCC also advocates for a range of related measures such as instituting stronger mandatory energy efficiency standards, encouraging Australians to reduce their meat intake, and ending the logging of old growth forests.
Those with vested interests may insist that these kinds of measures will be economically disastrous. On the contrary, they have demonstrated substantial potential to create multiple new employment opportunities and ultimately to protect the ecosystems on which life itself depends.
In international negotiations, Australia should work strenuously for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 for wealthy countries, and accelerate finance and technology transfers to poorer countries to ensure a global just transition to zero before 2050. We believe that this level of ambition is needed to drive a bold, multi-pronged approach to reducing emissions - harnessing the potential of energy efficiency, soil carbon sequestration, renewables, carbon pricing, individual lifestyle change, reforestation and drawdown technologies. (ARRCC may nonetheless advocate publicly for a less ambitious target in Australia - in the short-term - if this is more likely to achieve a constructive outcome and greater ambition is likely to be dismissed outright by the major political parties.)
It is now understood that even 2°C would mean devastation for many millions of vulnerable people, and worldwide social disruption. As the OECD nation with the highest per-capita emissions and as a country with the capacity to change rapidly, and with huge renewable opportunities, Australia has a moral obligation to lead the way by example.
We should also be providing considerable financial assistance to low-income, climate vulnerable countries to help them adapt to climate change, not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of justice. If principles of proportionality are to be followed, the assistance we offer has been calculated at several billions of dollars annually. Australia should contribute further to a Loss and Damage mechanism under UN auspices, to compensate low-income, climate-impacted countries for the loss and damage done through climate-fuelled extreme weather disasters.
This should be in addition to existing overseas development assistance and be administered through partnerships which give credit to the local knowledge and resilience of people in developing countries. Australia should furthermore advocate for other ways of increasing the capacity of low-income, climate vulnerable countries to adapt, such as the creation of innovative financing mechanisms and the cancellation of unjust international debts.
In the area of climate change, ARRCC holds that these are the policies which best reflect the values held dear by people of various religious traditions: compassion, human fulfilment, justice, truth-telling and respect for life.
1. Climate change is a moral issue
Climate change is clearly a scientific, environmental, economic and political issue but it is also a profoundly moral one.[ii] The Earth’s ecosystems are intrinsically precious and beautiful and deserve protection. Furthermore, civilisation itself and all forms of life, including our own, are entirely dependent on the ecological integrity of the natural world. We are part of and dependent upon the Earth’s ecosystems, not separate from them.
We are challenged by our respect for human beings and all other life forms to accept our responsibilities to care for the ecosystems on which life depends, particularly for (a) people in so-called developing countries who are bearing the negative impacts of climate change earliest and hardest, (b) future generations, and (c) other species with which we share the Earth.
As individuals, reducing our consumption and changing our habits and thinking so as to become ecologically sustainable reflects a truthful recognition of the limits of our planet’s finite resources. It shows respect for our place in the Earth’s ecosystems, as well as demonstrating compassion for future generations, and towards other people with whom we share the Earth, so they are equitably able to enjoy its fruitfulness, beauty and diversity.
Reducing our consumption also allows us as human beings to lead lives which could potentially be more fulfilling, as we shift from overdependence on material comforts towards more enhanced relationships, mutual caring, and a sense of purpose and connectedness to the natural environment. Lasting human happiness does not derive from the superficial pursuit of pleasures, material comforts or even material security alone, but requires respectful relationships with the world about us and those with whom we share it.
This shift in priorities will naturally lead to more communal and collaborative styles of living as distinct from competitiveness, and a readiness to transition to a more sustainable economy. This will require both cultural and practical changes.
2. Climate change requires structural, society-wide responses
Individual choices alone, however, will not create sufficient change. Wider structural and cultural changes are also essential. There are many societal structures which promote unsustainable consumption and the plunder of nature’s limited resources. Unregulated market forces, the pursuit of profit without regard for the costs to people and the environment, and our collective enmeshment with unlimited economic ‘growth’ are all destructive. These structures are not only unsustainable, but they have created the current global economic plight of people who are struggling to survive.
ARRCC recognises that people may find it difficult to hear the message that we all need to take responsibility to prevent catastrophic climate change. Politicians find the recommendations of scientists demanding, given they are lobbied heavily by powerful vested interests seeking to protect their existing assets and historic levels of profits. They also fear that the costs of change will be unpopular with the community. In this context ARRCC has a commitment to truth-telling. Our aim is to advocate for policies which are informed by reputable research and a moral commitment to the common good. The ecological limits of the Earth are not negotiable, and if we treat necessary actions in relation to these limits as ‘unrealistic’, it is at our own, collective, peril.
3. Accepting the science
ARRCC accepts the consensus of the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists and the position of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its ongoing research and reports; that is, that climate change is happening and that it is largely the result of GHG emissions produced by human activity, primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and secondarily by unsustainable land use and industrial practices. Whilst there will always be minority viewpoints and alternative theories, ARRCC accepts the consensus positions just as we would accept the expertise of scientific specialists in other fields.
4. Climate change is a matter of fairness
It is ARRCC’s moral position that responsibility for addressing climate change should be proportional to the level of responsibility for creating the problem – the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Industrialised countries have created much of their wealth through their historical use of fossil fuels. They thus owe an ‘ecological debt’ to those countries which rightly aspire to development, but which must now be mindful that their development should not be based on the significant use of fossil fuels.
Those suffering most from the consequences of climate change are (a) the most vulnerable people, particularly those in low-income, climate vulnerable countries, who are bearing the impacts of climate change earliest and hardest, and have the least resources to cope with them, (b) generations to come, who face a bleak future at best and (c) other species which create the rich diversity of life on this planet. The responsibilities are twofold: reducing emissions (mitigation), and providing financial and technological assistance to adapt to the effects of climate change (adaptation).
Furthermore, because society-wide responses are needed in order to effectively tackle climate change, society as a whole should bear the load of making those changes. Individuals and small communities should not be burdened with disproportionate costs for decisions intended to benefit society as a whole.
5. Mitigation over adaptation
ARRCC hears the voices of those in low-income, climate vulnerable countries which advocate that industrialised countries make mitigation the priority over adaptation. It would be better if the cause of their problems were addressed so that there would be less pressure on them to ‘adapt’. At the same time, the expected ‘lag effect’ of anthropogenic GHG emissions to date means that, even if emissions were somehow stopped immediately, assistance with adaptation will still be necessary if the extreme impacts of climate change are to be alleviated.
The IPCC considers that, in order to have a reasonable (4 in 5) chance of limiting the average global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we need to get CO2 back to 350 parts per million (ppm).[iii] In this relatively new and imprecise science, 2°C had been suggested as the maximum possible average rise to give us a ‘reasonable’ chance to avoid hitting ‘tipping points’ from which there would be runaway temperature increases.
The IPCC is an inevitably conservative body, however, which is tasked to convey the consensus of the world’s climate change experts. Many people would not consider a one in five chance that the world will go into runaway warming as a ‘reasonable chance’ for the future! The ‘biggest system in the world’ also has huge inertia. It will take perhaps 50 years to see the effect, even if we can start to reduce emissions today, which of course is not realistically feasible. Today there is a growing consensus that the safe target temperature is only 1 to 1.5°C average rise, not 2°C. No one can yet be sure where tipping points for runaway climate change may come into effect, so caution is a wise approach.
Meanwhile it needs to be thoroughly understood that there is as yet very little progress in turning around a trajectory that is heading for at least a disastrous 4°C warming. This being an ‘average’, it could mean up to 7°C in central Eastern Australia and significantly more in the Arctic and Antarctic, which will have a huge impact on sea levels and weather systems.
What we can – and must – seek to do today is for our children and grandchildren; indeed for the future of humanity and life on earth as we know it. That is our ethical imperative. At the same time, there are potentially immediate advantages, such as reducing pollution and thus improving health outcomes, increasing employment in the fields of sustainable energy and energy efficiency as well as in large-scale adaptation works around the world. These could bring greater employment and increased standards of living to the most immediately threatened countries.
Therefore ARRCC stands with all those who call for urgent work to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 ppm and even less (as indicated by the emerging science) as required to limit average temperature increases to no more than 1.5°C.
ARRCC also recognises that there is a level of risk associated with any level of warming, including the almost 1 degree increase we are already experiencing. The destructive impacts are most keenly felt in developing countries such as Bangladesh, a number of African nations and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The Global Humanitarian Forum has estimated that the health of 325 million people is currently affected by climate change, principally because of loss of food security, changes in disease patterns and flooding. Even in 2009 these issues were causing an extra 300,000 deaths per year,[iv] virtually unnoticed or brushed off by the rest of the world.
Increasing frequency and severity of disasters is also becoming apparent in the ‘developed world’ with more heat, snow, drought, fire and flooding in America, Australia and Europe.[v]
Put bluntly, it is clearly essential to reduce our GHG emissions as quickly as we possibly can.
In international negotiations, Australia should work strenuously for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 for wealthy countries and accelerate finance and technology transfers to poorer countries to ensure a global just transition to zero before 2050.
We believe this level of ambition is necessary because targets drive action. We need action of every kind in high-consuming countries like Australia: energy efficiency, soil carbon sequestration, renewables, carbon pricing, individual lifestyle change, reforestation and drawdown technologies. (ARRCC may nonetheless advocate publicly for a less ambitious target in Australia - in the short-term - if this is more likely to achieve a constructive outcome and greater ambition is likely to be dismissed outright by the major political parties.)
The summary of the 2018 IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 °C states that, provided this is coupled with carbon dioxide removal, "Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems (high confidence). These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options (medium confidence)."
Australia currently (at 14 Jan 2022) has an emission reduction target of 26-28 per cent of 2005 levels (though 26% from 2005 is only 8% from 1990 levels). As at December 2020, Australia's emissions are reliably estimated to come down by 22% by 2030 under current policy settings. The fact that the commitments of most other countries are already much greater [vii] gives all the more reason for Australia to now commit to serious emissions reduction targets of at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 100 per cent below by 2035. We have a responsibility to do much more than most other countries because (a) our per capita emissions are the highest among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations[viii],[ix] (b) our efforts at mitigation are lagging behind many other countries, and (c) we have both the technological and economic capacity to make significant emissions reductions possible.[x] All that is required is the political will. We note that embracing our international responsibilities would have added economic benefits, through the strengthening of sustainable technology sectors of the economy and the creation of new employment opportunities.
Market forces must be regulated.
Corporate bodies must be prevented from being exploitative of people and the environment, and from fostering rampant consumerism, irresponsible exports and excessive speculation on financial markets. Those who create pollution at home or abroad in the course of making profits must be held responsible for the destruction caused and deterred from such action in the future – a legal point widely recognised in regard to other pollutants and environmental destruction but not yet to GHG emissions.
6. Measures of prosperity should be revised
A revised view of measures of prosperity would make the transition to clean energy easier.
The goal of unlimited economic ‘growth’ should be replaced by ‘human and ecological well-being’. We need to transition to a culture in which high priority is given to creating lifestyles that reflect ecological sustainability and justice.
Such a transition will require us to re-imagine prosperity in ways other than economic growth. For example, prosperity could be measured in levels of community cohesion; trust (replacing fear and suspicion); social equity (reducing the widening gap between rich and poor); work/life balance; job satisfaction; rates of physical and mental health; and the quality and integrity of our environment. On this basis, much more value would be placed on the substantial societal contributions of parents nurturing children, along with carers and volunteers.
Moreover, such a transition will require us to revise the key factors that currently drive our economies, such as the pursuit of ever-increasing labour productivity, so that we are no longer locked into an economy that must continue to grow in order to remain stable.[xi] Senior economists are now arguing that ever-increasing personal consumption is dangerously unrelated to its environmental and social costs. Prosperity within the ecological limits of our finite planet, generated by a system that gives value to family, health and social well-being, is at the core of an economic rethink. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible.
7. Australia should have a price on pollution
A low carbon society will require a price on greenhouse gas pollution. ARRCC recognises that not everyone will act because they are aware or persuaded that their individual actions can make a difference. Every person does, however, have an interest in how much energy and products cost them. The Federal Government should implement a mechanism immediately that will put a price on GHG emissions,[xii] so that consumers pay more for products which involve higher emissions.
This would (a) more truthfully reflect the environmental cost of carbon-intensive products, (b) create clear disincentives to use these products, (c) create incentives to increase energy efficiency and use electricity generated from renewable sources and (d) support local production with less shipping and transportation costs. A price on GHG emissions is the most ethical mechanism because GHG emissions are destructive of ecosystems and should be avoided as much as possible, and any emissions should be at a cost to the emitter.
Low-income households should be provided with assistance to prevent undue hardship.
Transitional phased-down protection for so-called trade-exposed, carbon intensive industries could be put in place but should be kept minimal and phased out quickly.
ARRCC recognises the advice of some economists that market-based schemes (known as emissions trading or ‘cap and trade’ schemes) can be effective in reducing emissions. However, some caution is needed because, in practice, some emissions trading schemes have not significantly reduced emissions. Auctioning ‘permits to emit‘ suggests that emissions are acceptable and they have a legitimate market value. In contrast, our goal should be to reduce emissions to zero as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, emissions trading schemes are inherently morally corruptible. This is because (a) they enable GHG emissions to be treated as a ‘cost of doing business’, and so be readily converted into carbon pollution permits - while carbon pollution should be highly restricted, in practice big polluters have successfully lobbied to have large numbers of free permits given to them, thus exempting them from their real responsibilities; and (b) emissions trading often involves an off-shore carbon credit system which allows industrialised countries to outsource emissions reductions to low-income, climate vulnerable countries while making few actual reductions at home.[xiii]
8. Subsidies and other assistance for high-polluting industries should be eliminated
It is morally wrong that industries contributing so much environmental damage attract billions of dollars in subsidies and other assistance annually.[xiv] Subsidies and other assistance for fossil fuels distort the market and particularly reduce the competitiveness of renewable energy, which currently receives much less assistance. Government assistance and policies should provide incentives to pursue a low carbon future. In particular, they should favour energy generation from renewable sources, improvements in energy efficiency, and conservation and regeneration of natural ecosystems.
9. Australia should rapidly phase out coal exports
Phasing out coal exports should occur as part of a wider plan to establish renewable energy alternatives. As the world’s second largest exporter of coal[xv], Australia profits from the further creation of emissions overseas, which are not officially counted in our already very high emissions per capita.
10. There should be a halt to CSG exploration and extraction
There should be a halt to exploration and extraction of Coal Seam Gas (CSG), other ‘tight’ (or ‘unconventional’) and ‘conventional’ (or ‘natural’) fossil gases. This is because fossil gas is a fossil fuel and fossil fuels are a primary cause of global warming. Society needs to shift directly to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible if we are to avoid the worst of global warming. Gas being seen as a transition fuel delays this shift. Indeed when fugitive emissions (escaped unburnt and highly potent gas) are taken into the account, gas is little or no better than other fossil fuels and may even be worse, as there is mounting evidence to suggest levels of fugitive emissions from all gas extraction and transmission may be higher than originally claimed.
Furthermore, CSG extraction using hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) has a range of other local adverse impacts. These include:
- loss and fragmentation of habitat for native species, and animals dying because they drink from abandoned toxic ponds;
- pollution of water and soil resources (both on the surface and under the ground), with associated threats to agriculture and food supply;
- damage to local people’s health, livelihoods and communities; and
- increased risk of fire, both from gas and its flaring and from drying of local soils and vegetation as a result of clearing, and lowering of water tables.
- fragmentation of and limiting access to and use of farming and pasture lands
Overall, there is serious doubt about the claim that gas from CSG is any better environmentally than coal.
11. Coal and gas communities need a more secure, diversified future
In the shift away from coal or gas, it would be unjust to expect that workers in these industries bear the cost of the changes needed by society as a whole. Therefore, communities currently dependent on coal or gas should be supported to diversify their local economies in a way which leaves them less vulnerable to the rapid decline of their industries, a decline which is now inevitable.
Workers in these communities deserve secure, meaningful, well-paid jobs in the industries of the future, as Australia adapts to climate change and becomes a clean energy superpower. The transformative changes needed to our energy, infrastructure and economy could lead to many projects and jobs in regional Australia.
The transition should be resourced by government but planning should not be top-down. It should be led by communities themselves. It is local people who are best placed to plan and create alternative employment opportunities, suited to their own region. Examples already abound, eg, Newcastle, Cairns and Port Augusta. For more, see the Climate Council's Cities Power Partnership website.
12. Public investment should go into energy generation from renewable sources and energy efficiency as a preference over Carbon Sequestration and Storage (CSS)
We must stop building power stations that burn fossil fuels and instead create the capacity for energy generation from renewable sources as quickly as possible.
We support the views of organisations like Beyond Zero Emissions that, with the political will and prudent investment, Australia could create all its electricity requirements from renewable sources within a decade.[xvi]
Claims that renewable energy cannot provide ‘base-load’ power are misguided. Using varied and sufficient sources, and appropriate location, connections, storage and/or dispatching, renewable energy can supply all our electricity needs.[xvii]
Energy efficiency and generation from renewable sources such as wind and solar is readily available and proven. All that is needed is investment and deployment.
The large sums of money that have been invested worldwide in trying to develop Carbon Sequestration and Storage have resulted in only small-scale projects with limited capacity to sequester carbon, and at very high cost. CSS is no longer generally regarded as a realistic option for large scale reduction of GHG emissions within the next decade, if at all. Furthermore, pursuit of CSS delays the necessary shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
13. Nuclear power is not the solution
Nuclear power is not an acceptable alternative to solar, wind, hydro, wave and other renewable sources of energy.[xviii] Aside from community resistance and the fact that large plants take over ten years to establish, nuclear power plants, both large and small, carry with them security and environmental risks which would become a burden for this and future generations[xix] as there is still no safe way known to permanently dispose of nuclear waste.
Small Modular Reactors are, according to their advocates, safer, cheaper and quicker to build than large nuclear plants, but there continues to be a waste problem. Renewable energy created by highly efficient, low-cost wind and solar continues to be far preferable, particularly when taken together with battery storage. Regarding Nuclear Power and Climate Change, Engineers Australia has stated that, even if there is a possibility of Nuclear power in some future time becoming viable:
1) It does not change the need for immediate and urgent action to address climate change.
2) Nuclear power cannot be viewed as a substitute for broad and coordinated action. [Ref. page 6 in Defining the option: Nuclear generation in Australia Engineers Australia, February 2020]
Regarding Small Modular Reactors, Engineers Australia has stated that they are not yet commercially available, and their cost competitiveness is unknown. [Ref. pages 4 - 6, Defining the option: Nuclear generation in Australia Engineers Australia, February 2020]
14. Policy and regulatory settings and programs should favour renewable energy and energy efficiency
Policies, regulation and programs should provide incentives for households, communities and businesses to install and use renewable energy and to use energy more efficiently. Such incentives can help realise the huge environmental and economic benefits from improved energy efficiency that are not currently being fully taken up, for various reasons,[xx] and could go much further.[xxi] Citibank calculate the global savings by taking action now would be $1.8 trillion by the year 2040, whereas the cost of climate change inaction will be $44 trillion by 2040.[xxii]
Other incentives can stimulate transformations in the energy sector. For example, generous feed-in tariffs in Germany made its solar industry viable, bringing down the cost of renewable energy so it is more competitive with dirty energy, and created 250,000 jobs.[xxiii] In Australia, the Renewable Energy Target has facilitated the building of locally owned clean energy enterprises with huge benefits to the local communities concerned. Much of this has occurred in regional Australia, with flow-on economic and social benefits to the communities concerned and without the local disruption caused by coal, oil and gas mining, transport and power stations.
As would be expected, we are opposed to imposition of levies and other penalties on households, businesses and community groups that have installed solar and wind power.
15. Australia should legislate for stronger mandatory energy efficiency standards and provide incentives for the use of energy efficient products
Strong mandatory energy efficiency standards and incentives for the use of energy efficient products will help us to avoid this waste and over-consumption. These must include cars, appliances, equipment, and homes and community, commercial and other buildings.
A national retrofit program for Australian homes and other buildings should be introduced. This is another significant potential generator of local skilled and semi-skilled employment.
As well as through financial incentives, people should be encouraged to change their individual behaviour through comprehensive public awareness campaigns and the inclusion of relevant material in school curricula.
AGRICULTURE, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ECOSYSTEMS
16. Agricultural emissions must be reduced
Australians should be encouraged to reduce their meat intake and shift towards more sustainable local-grown plant-based diets.
a) As a nation, we should set achievable time-bound targets for reducing emissions in the agricultural sector.
b) Farmers should be given incentives to increasingly engage in carbon sequestration in the soil (as distinct from CSS relating to coal-fired power stations) and other environmental services.
c) Livestock Farmers should be offered training and resources to develop alternative forms of income generation on their land. For example, solar or wind installations could become an additional source of agricultural income, providing for local supply and feeding back into the grid.
Ruminant livestock, particularly cattle and sheep, are a major source of methane, directly contributing around 10 per cent of Australia’s GHG emissions.[xxvi] Animal products make up a third of Australians’ ecological footprint if all the factors are taken into account, for example, the amount of biologically productive land and water that is needed to supply resources for our consumption and to absorb our wastes.[xxvii]
17. The logging of old growth and intact forests in Australia should be ended immediately
Forests help reduce climate change by absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide. Approximately 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from clearing, logging and degradation of the world's intact forests.[xxviii] Forests are also key components in the water cycle and weather systems. They help keep local environments cool and moist, which can reduce the severity of bushfire.
Australia should stop logging old-growth forests and provide support to develop alternative means of income generation to communities affected. For example, comprehensive forest management programs are essential to reduce catastrophic forest fires whose frequency, speed, intensity and devastation increase as climate warms. These could provide excellent local employment opportunities (and are often well-suited to local indigenous communities, as well as producing local opportunities for regenerating local ecosystems).
Help should be provided for Indigenous peoples, local communities and governments in developing countries to avoid further deforestation, industrial logging and degradation of their forests. Indigenous people must not be excluded from forested lands from which they derive their livelihoods, as could happen through the misuse of the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme.
As a nation, Australia should take a leadership role in persuading other countries to protect remaining intact forests globally. For example, Australia should oppose the clearing of forests for palm oil plantations for the production of vegetable oil or ethanol, which have the ultimate purpose of enabling us to continue our high consumption lifestyles.
18. Carbon sequestration in soils has limited value
While carbon in soil is of general positive value for plant and soil health and water and nutrient retention, its potential industrialised effectiveness for carbon sequestration is limited, particularly in a warming climate.[xxix] It will not lead to the significant reductions needed to quickly stabilise the climate, so it should not be relied upon as a central feature of an emissions reduction policy.[xxx]
19. Conservation of biodiversity is essential
Biodiversity conservation protects the natural ecosystems on which all life depends. It can also reduce some of the impacts of climate change. For example, mangroves protect shorelines from storm surges and vegetation reduces the magnitude of flooding. Yet climate change is an enormous threat to biodiversity conservation as many more species are expected to become extinct. Australia should further develop its own protected estate in order to minimise the risk of species extinction. Australia should also assist developing countries to research and improve their protected area estates. All biodiversity conservation efforts outside of the protected area estates should be encouraged globally.
20. Active and public transport should be prioritised above infrastructure for private vehicles in all planning and investment decisions
Greater use of public transport and active transport (such as walking and cycling) reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared with transport systems based on fossil fuel based private cars. It also leads to people having better health, more effective use of urban space, urban areas being less congested, lower levels of pollution, reduced costs for travellers and much lower social and economic cost from loss of life and severe injuries from car crashes. Switching to public and active transport will also enhance resilience to the decreasing availability of fossil oil.[xxxi]
Public transport is at least twice as energy efficient as private cars.[xxxii] A metro rail system carries up to 50,000 people/hour, light rail or bus rapid transport carries 10,000-20,000 people/hour, a bus lane carries 5,000-8,000 people/hour, whereas a lane of freeway carries only 2,000 vehicles or 2,500 people/hour.
Each full standard bus can take more than 50 cars off the road while a full train can take more than 600 cars off the road.[xxxiii] Depending on the rail infrastructure, rail corridors can carry between 10 to 20 times the capacity of freeways.[xxxiv]
Furthermore, reduced private cars on the road means that less space is needed for road and parking infrastructure. All this space for infrastructure for private cars costs money and is simply unproductive land.
Surveys of citizens consistently show that people want to see a higher priority for greener urban transportation options in their cities, yet city planners and politicians have for too long opted to privilege private road transport.[xxxv]
21. High-efficiency land transport should be prioritised over air transport, particularly for high-use corridors
Air travel, particularly for short-haul journeys, has a large environmental footprint and is growing dramatically. The Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane corridors are amongst the busiest in the world.[xxxvi],[xxxvii] Replacing these trips with travel by high-speed electric train would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants in equivalent times.[xxxviii]
ARRCC supports a high-speed rail network connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. Beyond Zero Emissions proposes that it could be partially or completely powered by solar thermal energy. Again, such a development would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and increase Australia’s resilience to oil shocks.[xxxix]
22. Australia should take a positive leadership role in international negotiations
In this capacity, Australia should promote strong mitigation targets for industrialised countries, and support a legally binding international agreement (first increasing its own emission reductions target to at least 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030).
23. Australia should meet its aid obligations to help reduce poverty and population growth
On the question of population growth contributing to global warming, there is a need to stabilise the world’s population at present levels. While birth rates globally need to be kept to sustainable levels, it is more urgent to moderate the consumption of populations in industrialised countries, where it is much higher per capita.
In low-income, climate vulnerable countries, it has been shown by the UN Population Fund that population growth declines when issues of poverty, education and health are addressed. Furthermore, the direct impacts of poverty on the environment are also reduced. Therefore the Australian Government should be pressed to meet all of its obligations in relation to the Millennium Development Goals and the subsequent Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. We should honour our commitment to reach the international standard of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) to international aid (we remain well short of the current target of 0.5 per cent GNI.)[xl]
Principles regarding adaptation financing
One of the key areas of concern in international climate change negotiations is the financial assistance needed by low-income, climate vulnerable countries to enable them to adapt to the impacts of climate change while at the same time developing in a sustainable manner.
ARRCC respects strong voices of advocacy from low-income, climate vulnerable countries such as that of President James Michel of Seychelles:
We have come here not to beg but to assert our right. Our right to a decent life. Our right to survival in an increasingly cynical and manipulative world, dominated by big business. Our way of life that we want to bequeath to the children of our islands and their children. Our right to development that enriches our quality of life and the essence of our being, over and above purely commercial considerations. Our right to exist… It is time that we recognise climate change for what it is: a collective crime against humanity. Climate change will be the single largest reason for displacement of peoples in the next 50 years. Climate change is already robbing a generation of its livelihoods. Climate change is robbing island nations of their right to exist. We must save our future together.[xli]
Our obligation, in the ‘developed’ world, is twofold: to radically reduce our emissions and to assist low-income, climate vulnerable countries to adapt. This latter obligation is not an act of charity, but an act of reparation.
The requirements of justice include the following principles:
(a) The scale of funding must be adequate to meet the needs.
(b) The funding should be new and additional to overseas development assistance.
(c) These amounts should be grants not loans. As the payment of an ‘ecological debt’, they should not increase the debt burden of low-income, climate vulnerable countries.
(d) Given the scale of the challenge, public sector finances are required as well as private sector finances. New international mechanisms will be necessary to create further revenue streams.[xlii]
Concern for justice also requires that those of us who have been privileged historically should not impose our conceptions of appropriate ways to use adaptation funding. Industrialised countries, which have for so long exerted dominance internationally, should afford people in low-income, climate vulnerable countries decision-making influence over solutions. Indeed, traditional communities have long shown resilience and ingenuity in devising their own strategies to adapt to adverse conditions, some of which may flow back to be used in the ‘more developed’ nations.
low-income, climate vulnerable countries need to be able to strengthen their capacity to adapt to current and coming changes in climate in ways they regard as appropriate. The measures must be adequately resourced through international financing which does not add to existing unjust debt burdens.
24. Australia should put new and substantial amounts of money on the table to finance adaptation and mitigation in low-income, climate vulnerable countries.
While Australia’s emissions are low as a percentage of the world’s total (ignoring the fuels that we export) our emissions per capita are among the highest in the world. Having taken an unfair share of the world’s capacity with these emissions, we commensurately owe a greater ecological debt to low-income, climate vulnerable countries.
‘Developed’ countries have pledged to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 for adaptation and mitigation measures for low-income, climate vulnerable countries. For the sake of justice, this figure should be higher. Based on existing pledges of international finance and a range of indicators of responsibility and capacity, estimates of Australia’s ‘fair share’ are around $2.8 billion[xliii] to $2.9 billion[xliv] per year for adaptation finance plus $2.3 billion in mitigation funding[xlv]. Academics at the Australian National University have estimated that a possible range for Australia‘s longer-term share would be $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion, with $2.4 billion used as a reference point.[xlvi]
Australia’s contributions have been a small fraction of this, but the current Coalition Government has distanced itself entirely from internationally agreed goals and is the only Annex II country to have done so. This is not only a major embarrassment; it is morally wrong and should be addressed.
25. International financing for adaptation to climate change should be separate to overseas aid.
Aid should be targeted directly to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and the subsequent Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, which will work to address the global impacts of climate change. Currently, low-income, climate vulnerable country adaptation and mitigation funding comes out of the Federal Government’s Overseas Development Assistance budget, which is unacceptable.[xlvii] This sets up the potential for double-counting and lack of transparency. Amounts set aside for Climate Finance should be administered separately.
26. Adaptation needs per se should receive more funding than mitigation.
At least half of the funding should be directed towards meeting the adaptation needs of low-income, climate vulnerable countries, with the remainder being for assistance with mitigation. At present, a disproportionate share is going to mitigation.
27. Public sector finance is needed at home as well.
Given the scale of the challenge here in Australia, public sector finances are required as well as private sector finances. Public money is the only feasible source of funding for adaptation per se, whereas there may be ways for the private sector to participate in meeting mitigation needs. Innovative mechanisms will be necessary to create further revenue streams to address climate change.[xlviii] This could include a universal UN-sanctioned financial transactions tax, popularly known as a ‘Robin Hood Tax’.[xlix]
28. Allocations for funding should be administered through UN mechanisms.
Decisions made through UN mechanisms include better representation from low-income, climate vulnerable countries than is available through other channels such as the World Bank. Indeed, the World Bank is an inappropriate administrator of international financing since it actually exacerbates climate change through practices such as disproportionately favouring fossil-fuel-intensive projects over renewable energy projects,[l]despite recent claims about reducing its support for fossil fuels.[li]
29. ARRCC supports calls for the cancellation of unjust international debts.
Low-income countries would have much greater financial resources available to help them adapt to climate change if they were freed from the burden of unjustly created historical debt burdens, the capital of which has been paid many times over.[lii] Currently, large percentages of these countries’ national incomes are required for debt repayments, restricting their capacity to provide for the basic needs of their populations or for adaptation.
PACIFIC ISLAND ADAPTATION
30. Being situated in the Pacific region, Australia has special responsibilities to assist Pacific Island nations with adaptation.
Dealing with climate change needs resilient communities whose members help each other. Australia being the biggest and wealthiest country in the Pacific region must play a special role in helping our island neighbours to adapt to climate change. Adaptation strategies can include mangrove re-afforestation, the construction of sea walls, rainwater harvesting, the development of new methods of growing food, land reclamation and early warning systems for natural disasters.
31. Australia should welcome climate-displaced people from the Pacific region.
A special immigration category should be created for people from the Pacific region who can no longer live in their own countries because of the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels. Australia should also work with countries whose people are at risk of wide-scale displacement to develop solutions for relocation at the national level, eg the cession of territory to disappearing states. It should be recognised that the people of these island countries do not want to become either refugees or immigrants. They wish to keep their nation, even if they lose their land.[liii]
32. Low-income, climate vulnerable countries will benefit from basing their development on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.
It is not true that fossil fuels are needed to lift people out of poverty. People of the global South do indeed need cheap, abundant, dependable sources of energy but this energy does not have to be in the form of fossil fuels such as coal for the following reasons:
- Renewables lend themselves to small-scale, decentralised energy delivery systems. This means energy is used near to where it is generated, and energy supply can be democratised. Furthermore, it enables supply networks to more robust and much less energy is lost through transmission than with a large generators and long supply lines.
- Pollution from burning fossil fuels is already causing significant health problems in places such as China and India, and impacting adversely on air quality.
- The mining of fossil fuels draws heavily on increasingly scarce water resources and/or pollutes them.
- People of the global South have the most to gain by warming being minimised, given that they are most vulnerable to its impacts. Research shows humanity must leave at least 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to avoid even the internationally agreed limit of 2°C of global warming, let alone the lower levels of warming of 1-1.5% needed for a safer climate and survival of low-lying nations.
33. Technology transfer would enable low-income countries to leapfrog to cleaner and more efficient technologies.
In a context of global warming, low-income countries face the challenge of minimising their emissions while continuing to reduce poverty and develop their economies. For this, they will require technological assistance such as the Clean Development Mechanism.[liv] Technology transfer for mitigation purposes is made difficult and expensive by international patent rules and the failure of donor governments to provide sufficient funding for technology research, development, deployment and transfer. Governments have tended to leave technology transfer to the private sector, but it is public money that is needed in the initial stages.
In providing technological assistance, Australia must be careful to be guided by the judgement of those in low-income countries who have a more informed understanding of what is appropriate in their own context. Ultimately it will be necessary to build resilient communities.
While ARRCC promotes the value of individuals changing their habits and thinking in response to the challenge of climate change, an enlightened public policy response is essential in order to be effective. This is an area of inherently moral decisions to which faith traditions can make a contribution. In a context of competing values such as economic ‘growth’, ARRCC has put forward policies which we believe best reflect the values held dear within the various faiths: human and ecological well-being, compassion, justice, truth-telling and respect for life.
[i] The current stated Australian goal of a 26% reduction on 2005 levels is only an 8% reduction on 1990 emissions
[ii] This document builds on statements in Common Belief: Australia’s Faith Communities on Climate Change, published by The Climate Institute, Sydney, December, 2006.
[iii] In April 2014 we had the first month ever over 400 ppm: Thompson, A 2014, ‘April Becomes 1st Month With CO2 Levels Above 400 PPM’, Climate Central, 29 April 2014, http://www.climatecentral.org/news/april-becomes-first-month-with-co2-levels-above-400-ppm-17367
[iv] Human Impact Report: Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, commissioned by the Global Humanitarian Forum, June 2009.
[vi] IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, p. 748
[vii] Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, ‘2020 Country Emissions Targets’, http://www.c2es.org/international/key-country-policies/emissions-targets
[viii] Greenhouse gas emissions data from OECD Library, ‘Environment at a glance 2013’ Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensities per capita, 2010 http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/environment/environment-at-a-glance-2013/greenhouse-gas-ghg-emission-intensities-per-capita-2010_9789264208919-graph1-en
[ix] Climate Change Authority 2015, Australia’s future emission reduction targets. Special Review Draft Report, April 2015.
[x] Australia has the lowest government debt to GDP ratio of any OECD country. See http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=GOV_DEBT
[xi] See Jackson, T 2009, Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet.
[xii] Except steam, which is technically a GHG but our production of it can’t be measured directly, and which is unlikely to increase. Fossil fuel energy used to produce it will however be charged.
[xiii] Graham, R 2010, Climate Change discussion paper, UnitingCare NSW.ACT, pp. 13 – 16.
[xiv] Peel, M, Roderick Campbell, R & Denniss, R 2014, Mining the Age of Entitlement: State government assistance to the minerals and fossil fuel industry, The Australia Institute, June 2014, http://www.tai.org.au/content/mining-age-entitlement
[xv] World Coal Association, Coal Market & Transportation, http://www.worldcoal.org/coal/market-amp-transportation/
[xvii] Diesendorf , M 2013, ‘Another myth busted on the road to 100% renewable electricity’, RenewEconomy, 4 April 2013.
[xviii] Alan Robock, Professor of Climate Science, Rutgers University http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-robock/nuclear-energy-is-not-a-solution_b_5305594.html?ir=Australia
[xix] Monbiot, G 2007, Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning Penguin, London, 2007, pp. 84 - 89; also Diesendorf, M 2009, Climate Action, UNSW, Sydney, p. 39.
[xx] Vorrath, S 2013, “‘Hidden fuel’ worth hundreds of billions: IEA’s new energy focus”, RenewEconomy, 17 October 2013, http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/hidden-fuel-worth-hundreds-of-billions-ieas-new-energy-focus-27544
[xxi] Pears, A 2014, ‘Energy-smart appliances cut Australian power bills by billions’, The Conversation, 23 April 2014, http://theconversation.com/energy-smart-appliances-cut-australian-power-bills-by-billions-25816?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+23+April+2014&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+23+April+2014+CID_94c610a961d885702108eb463d792c34&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Energy-smart%20appliances%20cut%20Australian%20power%20bills%20by%20billions
[xxiii] Environment Victoria, www.environment victoria.org.au
[xxiv] Laird, P 2014, ‘Australia’s transport is falling behind on energy efficiency’, The Conversation, 27 August 2014, http://theconversation.com/australias-transport-is-falling-behind-on-energy-efficiency-29881
[xxv] ClimateWorks Australia, 2015, Australia’s Energy Productivity Potential, March 2015, ClimateWorks Australia, Melbourne
[xxvii] Australian Conservation Foundation eco-footprint calculator, using data from the Integrated Sustainability Analysis method developed by the ISA team at the University of Sydney and ACF.
[xxviii] Hamilton, C 2013, Earthmasters: the dawn of the age of climate engineering, Yale University Press, p. 43.
[xxix] Minasny, B & McBratney, A 2013, ‘Storing carbon in soil: potential opportunities outweigh limits’, The Conversation, 6 September 2013, http://theconversation.com/storing-carbon-in-soil-potential-opportunities-outweigh-limits-17922
- [xxx] https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/new-study-estimates-mitigation-potential-soil-carbon-sequestration#.Vh40nROqqko
[xxxi] Richardson, E, Sinclair Knight Merz & Newman, P 2008 Transport for Sustainable Cities, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, p. 14-15.
[xxxii] Parliament of Australia 2009, Australian Parliamentary Library Climate Change Website. Effects of Climate Change. Economic Effects. On Transportation, 11 September 2009. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Browse_by_Topic/ClimateChange/effects/Economic/OnTransportation
[xxxiv] Richardson, E, Sinclair Knight Merz & Newman, P 2008 Transport for Sustainable Cities, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, p. 14.
[xxxv] Richardson, E, Sinclair Knight Merz & Newman, P 2008 Transport for Sustainable Cities, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, p. 14-15.
[xxxvi] The Economist 2012, Daily charts, ‘Top Flights', 14 May 2012, http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/05/daily-chart-8
[xxxvii] Kitching, C 2014, ‘Busiest flight routes in the world revealed ... with number one carrying SEVEN MILLION passengers a year (and the two cities will surprise you)’, Daily Mail, 8 August 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2719733/Busiest-flight-routes-world-revealed.html
[xxxviii] Clarke, D 2010, ‘Aviation Q&A: the impact of flying on the environment’, The Guardian, 6 April 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/apr/06/aviation-q-and-a
[xxxix] news.com.au 2014, Travel updates, ‘High-speed rail: Australia could build network for $30 billion less, according to Beyond Zero Emissions’, 19 August 2014,
[xl] ‘The World We Want to See’, Micah Challenge, 2010, p. 3. We spent 0.36 in 2012 http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/datablog/2013/aug/22/australia-foreign-aid-spending-data
[xli] From speech given to UN Conference of Small Island Developing States, 1 September 2014.
[xlii] UNFCCC Secretariat (2007) ‘Investment and Financial Flows to Address Climate Change’.
[xliii] Garnaut, R, 2008, The Garnaut Climate Change Review, Final Report, p. 222.
[xliv] Oxfam International, 2007:28
[xlv] Oxfam International, 2009:31
[xlvi] Jotzo, F., Pickering, J. and Wood, P.J., ‘Fulfilling Australia’s International Finance Commitments: Which Sources of Finance are Promising and How Much Could they Raise?’ CCEP working paper 1115, October 2011.
[xlvii] From a conversation between Kevin Rudd and Rev. Tim Costello, June 2010.
[xlviii] UNFCCC Secretariat (2007) ‘Investment and Financial Flows to Address Climate Change’.
[l] ‘World Bank vs. Climate Change’, Australian Civil Society Organisations statement on the Climate Investment Funds, 2009; Yeo, S, 2014, ‘World Bank spent $1bn exploring for new fossil fuels in 2013’, Responding to Climate Change , http://www.rtcc.org/2014/04/10/world-bank-spent-1bn-exploring-for-new-fossil-fuels-in-2013/; Mathieson, K, 2015, ‘World Bank fossil fuel financing leapt in 2014 despite its calls to end subsidies’ The Guardian, 17 Aprl 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/17/world-bank-fossil-fuel-lending-leapt-in-2014-despite-its-calls-to-end-subsidies
[li] King, E 2015, ‘World Bank chief backs fossil fuel divestment drive’, Responding to Climate Change, 23 January 2015, http://www.rtcc.org/2014/01/27/world-bank-chief-backs-fossil-fuel-divestment-drive/ and http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/2013/06/art-572648/