A MULTI-FAITH NETWORK
COMMITTED TO ACTION
ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Our Policy Positions

BASIC PRINCIPLES

The basic principles outlined below inform the development of our public policy positions in regard to addressing climate change effectively.

A. Climate change is a moral issue

ARRCC’s position is that climate change is a profoundly moral issue. 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. 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. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to care particularly for people in low income climate-vulnerable countries who are bearing the negative impacts of climate change earliest and hardest, future generations, and other species with which we share the Earth.

B. Climate change is a matter of fairness

ARRCC stands for climate justice. Friends of the Earth UK offers this helpful definition: 'Climate justice means finding solutions to the climate crisis that not only reduce emissions or protect the natural world, but that do so in a way which creates a fairer, more just and more equal world in the process.' 

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. We stand in solidarity with peoples of low income countries and attempt as best we can to amplify their calls for Climate Finance, Loss and Damage Finance as well as greater ambition in reducing emissions.

ARRCC stands in solidarity with the First Nations people of Australia. Climate change compounds the longstanding challenges and injustices faced by Australia’s  First Nations people, who are also disproportionately impacted by climate change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are at the forefront of resistance to fossil fuel companies as they fight to protect their spiritual connection to Country, their sacred sites, human rights and biodiversity. ARRCC recognises the crucial importance of their leadership, respecting  the deep knowledge of First Nations people in regard to caring for Country and their leadership role in the fight for a safe and liveable climate.  ARRCC recognises the need to listen to First Nations perspectives and amplify their voices in the fight for justice and climate action. 

ARRCC also stands in solidarity with the First Nations of the Blue Pacific Continent, admiring their international leadership in various fora in the struggle for climate justice in our region of the world. 

C. Climate change requires both individual and structural, society-wide responses

ARRCC understands that to effectively address the moral challenge of climate change, a communal as well as individual response is required. Individual choices alone 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, nations acting in their short-term self-interest (narrowly defined), 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.

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 necessary 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 systemic changes.

D. Climate justice is inextricably linked to First Nations justice

Climate change compounds the longstanding challenges and injustices faced by Australia’s  First Nations people, who are also disproportionately impacted by climate change. Damage to Country as a result of climate change, such as the destruction of sacred places and the loss of native food sources, bears significant consequences for First Nations communities and their ability to practise culture. ARRCC respects  the deep knowledge of First Nations people in regard to caring for Country and their leadership role in the fight for a safe and liveable climate.  ARRCC recognises the need to listen to First Nations perspectives and amplify their voices in the fight for justice and climate action.

Whilst acknowledging that climate change is a global issue and requires a global response, in the context of ARRCC’s limited resources and in the interests of maximising its effectiveness in reducing the impact of climate change, ARRCC’S focus is to stand especially in solidarity with the First Nations people of Australia, as well as our Pacific neighbours. 

We acknowledge the First Nations of the Blue Pacific Continent, admiring their international leadership in various fora in the struggle for climate justice. Similarly, in bringing a diverse range of supporters together, ARRCC’s focus is on the issue of climate change, rather than intersectional justice issues which its members are of course free to support.

All Australian governments should fully respect First Nations peoples’ rights to protect Country. The Federal Government should start by amending the Native Title Act to remove flaws that favour mining interests over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and provide capacity for Traditional Owners to enact free, prior and informed consent with capacity to refuse mining. Also the Federal Government must remove the power to compulsorily acquire native title lands and extinguish native title rights.

E. The Integrity of Government is crucial to addressing climate change

ARRCC recognises that like some everyday people, some politicians may find it difficult to hear the message that we all need to take responsibility to prevent catastrophic climate change. Politicians may be challenged by the recommendations of scientists, given they are lobbied heavily by powerful vested interests seeking to protect their existing assets and historic levels of profits. Similarly, the nature of the process of transition to new energy sources is fraught with misinformation and disinformation serving the political and personal financial gain of some at the expense of the common good.

ARRCC advocates that governments respond to the issue of climate change with integrity by making a primary commitment to truth telling and serving the common good. The ecological limits of the Earth are not negotiable, and if necessary actions in relation to these limits are dismissed recklessly as ‘unrealistic’, it will be at our own, collective, peril. 

F. Accepting the science

The values of truth-telling and concern for the common good inform ARRCC’s advocacy for policies which are, in turn, informed by reputable research. 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 primarily the result of GHG emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels and secondarily by unsustainable land use, that is, unsustainable forms of agriculture and deforestation.  

The consensus is increasingly imbued with a sense of urgency. ARRCC believes that, without more rapid and scaled climate action, the world is on track to reaching 1.5°C by 2030, after which humanity increasingly risks reaching tipping points precipitating self-sustaining, irreversible catastrophic climate breakdown.

There are an increasing number of reports that 1.5°C is unachievable, that is, humanity has no 'carbon budget' left for it. 

 

OUTCOMES DESIRED

Our public policy positions will address both MITIGATION and ADAPTATION. Policy positions addressing mitigation are those aimed at making the impacts of climate change less severe by preventing or reducing emissions of GHG into the atmosphere.  Policy positions addressing adaptation are aimed at assisting the process of adjusting to the current and future effects of climate change. 

MITIGATION

ARRCC stands with all those who call for urgent work to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 ppm or less which, the science indicates, is required to limit average temperature increases to no more than 1.5°C. ARRCC hears the voices of those in low income countries which advocate that high income 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 generally agreed guardrail for humanity is 1.5°C, beyond which there is an unacceptably increased likelihood of precipitating self-reinforcing systems of global warming. 2023 was the hottest year on record and the data of several reputable research bodies shows that global temperatures were near to or over 1.5°C. This does not mean that average temperatures have reached the 1.5°C guardrail but it should alert policy-makers that we need to act with urgency. 

The 2023 AR6 IPCC Synthesis report said, “With every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger. Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including its variability, global monsoon precipitation, and very wet and very dry weather.”

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. 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 degrees.

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). 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.

 

Policies advocated

ENERGY GENERATION

1. Australia should adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets

The fact that the commitments of most other countries are already much greater gives all the more reason for Australia to now commit to serious emissions reduction targets of at least 75%  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 (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. 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.  

2. There should be a phase-out of coal and gas exports such that exports end by 2035. 

A) Australian governments should stop the approval of new coal and gas mining. A staggering 45% of all new proposed coal projects in the world are in Australia. The coal industry plans to expand and operate for decades to come.

Australia is one of the world’s biggest coal exporters and 95% of Australia’s coal must remain in the ground to even have a 50% chance of keeping to a 1.5C of warming. 

Australia’s exports of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) have risen dramatically in the last five years and, with our small population, Australia is now the third largest exporter of fossil fuels globally, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. 

Latest International Energy Agency Report Executive Summary reiterates “No new long-lead time upstream oil and gas projects are needed in the NZE Scenario, neither are new coal mines, mine extensions or new unabated coal plants.”

There should be a halt to exploration and extraction of both 'unconventional’ and ‘conventional’ fossil gas. 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.

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.

B) At the international level, Australia should endorse both the proposed Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty and to sign up to the Port Vila Call each in their entirety.

For decades international climate negotiations have focussed on reducing emissions without mentioning the need to stop digging up the fossil fuels that cause them. The proposed treaty would complement the Paris Agreement by providing the global roadmap needed to halt the expansion of fossil fuel, manage an equitable phase-out of coal, oil and gas, and lay the foundations for a true just energy transition in which no worker, community or country is left behind.

This is an idea that comes from the Pacific, is important to our Pacific neighbours, and which is gaining momentum globally. See https://fossilfueltreaty.org/

Similarly, the Port Vila Call is a diplomatic push led by six Pacific nations for a wide range of major changes to make the Pacific free of fossil fuels. It includes but is much broader than the Treaty mentioned above. 

Australia has agreed to some aspects of the Call but has been unwilling to endorse the Call in its entirety. This is a point of contention in the Pacific Islands Forum, of which we are a member. See this webpage for the full picture

3. Public money should no longer be used to assist high-polluting industries.

Australian governments have been increasing the amount they spend on fossil fuel  industries such that subsidies, across all federal, state and territory governments, reached $11.6 bn in the financial year 2020-2021. The largest source of public subsidy is the Fuel Tax Credit Scheme

It is morally wrong that industries contributing so much environmental damage attract billions of dollars in public money annually. Such assistance for fossil fuels distorts the market and particularly reduces the competitiveness of renewable energy. Hand-outs to fossil fuel industries should instead be going to social housing, aged care, disaster preparedness, the health system and so on. 

That said, it is a welcome development that in the 2022-2023 Federal Budget, the Government has committed $25 bn to renewable energy infrastructure.

4. Australia should have a price on pollution

A low carbon society will require a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. 

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 renewable energy and (d) support local production with lower transport costs. 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.

Research published in the journal, Nature, shows that market-based schemes (known as emissions trading or ‘cap and trade’ schemes) are effective in reducing emissions.  

Instead of free allocation, governments should distribute permits via auctions, allowing the market to determine the price. This incentivizes cost-effective emission reductions, as firms with the cheapest abatement options will cut their greenhouse-gas output rather than pay for a permit. See: https://www.carbonknowledgehub.com/factsheets/caps-and-allocation/ 

However, caution is required because emissions trading schemes are inherently morally corruptible. This is because (a) they enable GHG emissions to be treated as a ‘cost of doing business’,  while carbon pollution should be highly restricted, (b) in practice big polluters successfully lobby to have large numbers of free permits given to them, thus exempting them from their real responsibilities; and (c ) emissions trading often involves an off-shore carbon credit system which allows industrialised countries to outsource emissions reductions to low-income countries.

5. Workers in coal and gas industries should be supported through an orderly, fair, well-funded and locally designed transition to more sustainable industries.

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.

6. Nuclear power is not the solution, nor is Carbon Sequestration and Storage (CSS)

Nuclear power is not an acceptable alternative to solar, wind, hydro, wave and other renewable sources of energy. The nuclear energy industry world-wide is declining while the speed and scale of low cost renewable energy backed by storage has hit critical mass.  Aside from community resistance to nuclear technology in Australia, large scale reactors take over ten years to establish and even “small modular reactors” remain experimental. Both large and small nuclear power plants carry with them security and environmental risks which would become a burden for this and future generations. 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]

Similarly, 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.

7. Public investment should go into energy generation from renewable sources and energy efficiency.

We must create the capacity for energy generation from renewable sources as quickly as possible and stop building power stations that burn fossil fuels. This would require a much higher level of public investment than is currently being made, a level which is proportionally closer to the sums invested in the USA under the Inflation Reduction Act.

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.

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.

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.

8. 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, and could go much further. 

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.

9. Australia should legislate for stronger mandatory energy efficiency standards and provide incentives for the use of energy efficient products

Australia wastes energy.  We lag behind a range of other countries and that lag is increasing.

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.

TRANSPORT

10. Active and public transport should be prioritised above infrastructure for private vehicles in all planning and investment decisions. 

Australia is heavily car-dependent compared to other countries, leading to the fact that cars and light commercial vehicles make up 62% of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Australia has more registered vehicles than people licensed to drive them. (Source: Shifting gear: the path to cleaner transport, Climate Council report August 2023, p. ii) 

Current transport funding and assessment models are heavily skewed towards traditional car and truck-based infrastructure, limiting the potential of sustainable transport modes to decarbonise Australia’s economy. By investing much more in walking, cycling and rail infrastructure, the benefits would be improved public health, fewer road deaths, more liveable public spaces, less noise and heavy particle pollution, less land area needed for roads and car parks, lower household transport costs as well as a reduction of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Public transport should be affordable and available to those who need them most, such as people with a disability, older people, and those living in outer-suburban, regional, rural and remote areas.

11. Road transport should be electrified, as much as possible with the use of renewable energy.

The use of Electric Vehicles should be incentivised and accessible EV charging infrastructure should be rapidly expanded. Government and public transport fleets should be electrified. 

According to a BZE submission to the Infrastructure Department in 2023, 9% of the nation’s emissions come from commercial vehicles. Therefore, as well as deploying electric passenger vehicles, attention should be given to the deployment of commercial electric vehicles (CEVs) such as trucks, buses, utes and vans.

12. There should be a mode shift of capacity for transporting freight from trucking and aviation to electric rail and zero emissions shipping. 

Transporting goods by heavy commercial vehicles and by air are carbon intensive. “Heavy vehicles on Australian roads are responsible for a disproportionate share of fatal and serious accidents, and require a large amount of space to operate. Similarly to personal vehicles, this remains the case regardless of how electric they become. Therefore, a shift from roads to rail will not only deliver significant emission reductions and protect Australians from the worst impacts of harmful climate change, it will also rapidly reduce congestion, air pollution and road casualties - benefiting all Australians."  (Climate Council submission to the Infrastructure Department in 2023) 

13. Policy measures should be taken to reduce emissions from aviation. 

The high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from air travel are widely underestimated. They are currently not included in carbon accounting under the Paris Accord. Despite various improvements in the efficiency of passenger air travel since 1990, emissions are growing because the increasing number of people choosing air travel is outpacing the efficiencies created. Before the pandemic, aviation accounted for 2.1% of global emissions. 

Government policies that could help lower emissions from aviation are:

  •   Investment in high-efficiency rail transport should be prioritised, especially for high-use corridors such as the route between Sydney and Melbourne.
  •   A carbon price on air travel.
  •   Regulations ensuring fuel quality, fuel emissions standards, authentic carbon offsetting and the use of innovative technologies.
  •   Public information campaigns around the environmental costs of air travel.

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.

 

AGRICULTURE, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ECOSYSTEMS

14. 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. 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.

15. The logging of native forests in Australia should be ended immediately

Native forest protection and regeneration will not only work to restore biodiversity in our forests, but is a critical part of addressing climate change. Healthy ecosystems store carbon as well as removing carbon from the atmosphere. When we destroy forests, that carbon is released into the atmosphere. Since the industrial revolution, we have released millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases, not only by burning fossil fuels but also by clearing forests and changing our relationship to nature. 

Key research published in 2012 showed Australia had cleared 104 million hectares of forest since 1788, ie, nearly 40% of its forests. Nearly one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are currently created by land use, ie, agriculture and deforestation. (IPCC 2022, sixth assessment report). 

ARRCC supports an immediate transition away from native forest logging to 100% plantation timber. Around 85% of the wood produced in Australia comes from plantations (ABARES - Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, 2023). On January 1st, 2024 both the Victorian and West Australian governments officially ended the logging of native forests in these states. 

ARRCC supports the Federal government’s current reform of Australia’s outdated Environmental Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act. We call specifically for the application of national environmental standards to the approval of all land-clearing and forestry projects, under the auspices of an independent EPA (Environment Protection Agency).  ARRCC advocates for government intervention and investment in the move to a sustainable 21st century timber industry. This is essential not only for the environment, but also for a just transition in which displaced workers can be employed in native forest restoration and an expansion of plantation timber. About 1100 people are employed in all aspects of the native forest industry nationally. By contrast 7900 people are employed in plantations. (State of the Forest 2018, ABARES p. 433). 

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, at the expense of the well being of the Earth and its inhabitants.

Support should be provided for Indigenous peoples and governments in low-income countries to avoid further deforestation. Indigenous people must be given influence over the operation of the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme.

18. The use of carbon off-sets should be limited and not used as a false substitute for reducing emissions.

The use of carbon offsets and the associated Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU) has limited real validity. We need to directly stop climate pollution from being produced and emitted into the air.  Regenerating and protecting trees and forests does provide huge benefits for nature and climate. However, attempting to offset emissions from fossil fuels, by growing or protecting trees, does not provide an equivalent reduction in pollution. This is because there are significant risks. Fires and drought can kill trees and forests, especially in our warming climate, sending the carbon dioxide back up into the atmosphere.  To prevent climate change we need to rapidly reduce our emissions, especially by rapidly phasing out the production and burning of fossil fuels.  

The results of research by Climate Analytics showed:

  • For every ACCU generated to offset one tonne of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) emissions from liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced in Australia – about 8.4 tCO2e lifecycle were  emitted globally. 
  • For every ACCU generated to offset one tonne of coal production emissions – about 58-67 tCO2e were emitted globally.  

Offset schemes can often be intentionally manipulated, or doomed to fail due to inadequate tools, implementation, monitoring or long-term regulation.

20. 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. 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.

21. 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.

 

ADAPTATION

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.

Outcomes desired

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.

Policies advocated

22. 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.

As part of the Paris Accord, wealthy countries pledged to mobilise $100 billion per year for adaptation and mitigation measures for low-income, climate vulnerable countries. For the sake of justice, this figure should be higher. The amount has never collectively been committed, even for one year.

ARRCC agrees with Oxfam's recommendations that Australia should:

  • Commit to providing $4 billion in climate finance annually by 2025, representing Australia’s fair share of the 2020-2025 USD $100 billion climate finance goal.
  • Play a productive leading role in climate finance discussions, ensuring it meets the needs of Pacific Island states, and ensuring Australia commits to paying its fair share when new goals are agreed in 2025.
  • Provide $700-$990 million to the Green Climate Fund to promote goodwill and support local responses in our region.
  • Makes an initial commitment of $100 million to the Loss and Damage Fund established at COP28 and commits further loss and damage funding as part of the NCQG.
  • Ensure that all climate finance is in addition to the existing international aid budget, prioritises locally-led and gender responsive investments, and is in the form of grants, not loans, to avoid increasing the debt burden of low-income countries.
  • End public money going to support polluting fossil fuel industries and reallocate these savings to climate finance. 

23. 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. This sets up the potential for double-counting and lack of transparency. Amounts set aside for Climate Finance should be administered separately.

24. 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. 

25. 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. This could include a universal UN-sanctioned financial transactions tax, popularly known as a ‘Robin Hood Tax’.

26. 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, despite recent claims about reducing its support for fossil fuels.

27. 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. 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. 

28.  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.

29.  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.

30. 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. 

31. 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. 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.

CONCLUSION

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.