An extreme heatwave in far north Queensland last month is estimated to have killed more than 23,000 spectacled flying foxes, equating to almost one third of the species in Australia.
The deaths were from colonies in the Cairns area where the mercury soared above 42 degrees Celsius two days in a row, breaking the city’s previous record temperature for November by five degrees.
Ecologist, Dr Justin Welbergen from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University) iscollating the numbers of bat deathsand said it was the second-largest mass die-off of flying foxes recorded in Australia and the first time it had happened to this species.
“These are certainly very serious wildlife die-off events and they occur at almost biblical scales,” he said.
“[The biggest] was in south-east Queensland back in 2014 where about 46,000 animals (predominantly black flying foxes) died.
“The population size of the spectacled flying fox in Australia is estimated to be about 75,000 individuals, give or take, so for all intents and purpose that means we have lost close to a third of the entire species in Australia.
“Losing a third of the species on a hot afternoon I would argue certainly strengthens the case for both the Federal and Queensland Governments to consider lifting the species from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’, if not ‘critically endangered’.”
Dr Welbergen said it was also the first time there had been mass deaths of flying foxes from heat stress in far northern Australia where conditions were typically hot and humid but usually remained below 40 degrees.
“Science pretty much agrees this is a sign of things to come,” he said.
“Extreme heat events are increasing in frequency, also in terms of intensity and duration, and we can expect more extreme temperatures to occur increasingly frequently further north.
“A certain proportion of such an extreme event can certainly be statistically attributed to climate change for sure. I think the jury is no longer out on that.”
Wildlife carers overwhelmed
Flying foxes dropped dead from roosting trees around Cairns during the heatwave with some residents forced to leave their homes due to the smell from thousands of rotting carcasses.
With no official protocols in place on how to deal with such an event, the task of removing the dead bats was largely left to an army of wildlife volunteers.
Wildlife carer Rebecca Koller said almost 850 bats were rescued and she was looking after about 200 on her property at Kuranda.
“None of our carers were prepared for the numbers we would have. We already had 500 orphans in care prior to this event,” she said.
“To find places for another nearly 850 orphans was just not something that we would ever in a million years anticipate.
“Not having experienced this before, we went in flying blind.”
‘Canaries in the coal mine’
Dr Welbergen said Australia was now averaging one major flying fox die-off (in excess of 1,000 deaths) each year.
“Since our paper in 2008where we had identified more than 30,000 casualties going all the way back to settlement, we have evidence for at least nine other major events [where] the number of casualties combined is now more than 100,000 individuals,” he said.
“So this is very clearly a very serious issue for the long-term conservation of flying foxes in Australia.”
He said climate change impacts on bats were highly visible given they often roosted near urban areas.
“These sorts of events really raise concerns around what is happening to other species, especially wildlife that have more solitary and cryptic lifestyles,” he said.
“If 30 per cent of all koalas die in a forest, who will be there to see them and count the dead bodies?
“Flying foxes are Australia’s canaries in the coal mine.”
Before the 2016 midterm elections, it was a campaign slogan little known outside progressive activist circles.
Now after the election, it is supposedly supported by most American voters.
Even if many of them still said they have no idea what it was.
In only a few months, the notion of a “Green New Deal” has earned the support of not just a few dozen Democrats in Congress. It’s also backed,at least according to one new survey, by the vast majority of registered voters.
A poll conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities found that 81 percent of registered voters either strongly or somewhat support the ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions over the next decade.
Even most Republican voters — nearly two in three — said they supported the Green New Deal when it was described to them by pollsters as a plan to generate all of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources within 10 years while providing job training for those displaced from traditional energy sector jobs.
But that same survey also identified the main weakness surrounding a Green New Deal, an ambitious proposal from progressive activists to tackle climate change that has been adopted by some high-profile Democratic freshman includingRep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-N.Y.).
More than four-fifths of respondents said they had heard “nothing at all” of it before being reached online by survey takers.
Those findings show that left-leaning activists have, at the very least, found an effective slogan to encapsulate the aggressive action they demand to address climate change.
But turning a mantra into law is no small task.
Ocasio-Cortez and others have outlined formidable goals, but have not yet detailed a clear way of achieving them. And the researchers warn Democrats and their climate activist allies that they should expect to see more resistance to the idea of the platform as more people learn about it and associate it one political party over another.
The phrase “Green New Deal” has existed in U.S. political discourse for at least a decade after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman used it in a2007 column calling for a plan to transition the American energy system from fossil fuels to renewable sources.
The name harkens back to a series of efforts to build public works and overhaul financial rules under Franklin D. Roosevelt dubbed the New Deal.
Soon after that, Van Jones, the CNN commentator who once served as President Obama’s “green jobs czar,”adoptedthe phrase in his 2008 book “The Green Collar Economy” to describe a plan to create thousands of low- and medium-skill jobs installing solar panels and insulating homes.
A year later, the United Nations Environment Programmepicked up onthe phrase when outlining a “Global Green New Deal” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing economic development.
But the current version was perhaps outlinedbest by Ocasio-Cortez.
Shortly after the election, she called for the creation of a so-called “Select Committee For A Green New Deal” in the House that would develop a plan to “dramatically expand” renewable power to meet 100 percent of the nation’s needs while creating a job guarantee program to facilitate that transition.
Since the election, young activists part of groups like the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats have staged sit-ins in the offices of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democratic leaders,demanding their endorsement of the committee. So far, at least 40 members of Congress have endorsed the idea of a Green New Deal.
But given House Democrats’experiencewith cap-and-trade legislation when they were last in the House majority, grand gestures aimed at climate change are going to be politically divisive, even among Democrats.
Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication and one of the co-authors of the survey, said it is “probably not all that surprising” few Americans outside Washington have heard of the Green New Deal.
“It’s quite a new concept and while it is certainly caught hold in in liberal progressive circles, probably not so much in much of the rest of America,” he said.
The poll, which was conducted online between Nov. 28 to Dec. 11, did not tell respondents that so far all of congressional backers of the Green New Deal are Democrats. Public opinion may calcify along party lines as the concept gains publicity and its details — including its costs — are sketched out more thoroughly.
“The Green New Deal isn’t anything yet.
It doesn’t have any guts.
It doesn’t have any inside. It doesn’t have any real specifics other than broad platitudes,” said Frank Maisano, an energy industry specialist at the law and lobby firm Bracewell.
For now, the organizers of the Capitol Hill climate protests are fine with allowing the moment to fill out the details of what major climate change action would look like.
“What young people are doing here today, and what Justice Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez have been calling for, is similar to what happened in the 1930s and 1940s,” Justice Democrats’ spokesman Waleed Shahid told reporters before the protest in Pelosi’s office this month. “The original New Deal was not one policy.”
Australia is experiencing more extreme heat, longer fire seasons, rising oceans and more marine heatwaves consistent with a changing climate, according to the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO’s state of the climate report.
The report, published every two years, measures the long-term variability and trends observed in Australia’s climate.
The 2018 report shows that Australia’s long-term warming trend is continuing, with the climate warming by just over 1C since 1910 when records began.
That warming is contributing to a long-term increase in the frequency of extreme heat events, fire weather and drought.
“Australia is already experiencing climate change now and there are impacts being experienced or felt across many communities and across many sectors,” said Helen Cleugh, the director of the CSIRO’s climate science centre.
The report’s key findings include:
Australia’s fire seasons have lengthened andbecome more severe. In some parts of the country, the season has been extended by months.
The number of extreme heat days continues to trend upward.
There has been a shift to drier conditions in south-eastern and south-western Australia in the months from April to October.
Rainfall across northern Australia has increased since the 1970s, particularly during the tropical wet season in north-western Australia.
Oceans around Australia have warmed by about 1C since 1910, which is leading to longer and more frequent marine heatwaves that affect marine life such as corals.
Sea levels around Australia have risen by more than 20cm since records began and the rate of sea level rise is accelerating.
There has been a 30% increase in the acidity of Australian oceans since the 1800s and the current rate of change “is ten times faster than at any time in the past 300 million years”.
Karl Braganza, the bureau of meteorology’s manager of climate monitoring, said the increase in average temperature was having an impact on the frequency or amount of extremes Australia experienced in any given year.
“In general there’s been around a five-fold increase in extreme heat and that is consistent whether you look at monthly temperatures, day time temperatures or night time temperatures,” he said.
He said there had been a reduction in rainfall of 20% in south-western Australia and in some places that was as high as 26%. In south-eastern Australia, April to October rainfall had fallen by 11%.
The report also highlights an increase in the number of extreme fire danger days in many parts of Australia, particularly in southern and eastern Australia.
Braganza said there was a “clear shift” towards a lengthened fire season, more fire weather during that season and an increase in its severity.
“Often the worst fire weather occurs when you’ve had long-term drought, long-term above-average temperatures, maybe a short-term heatwave and then the meteorology that’s consistent with severe fire weather and the ability for fire to spread,” he said.
“It’s those types of compound events that are going to be most challenging going forward in terms of adapting to climate change in Australia.”
David Cazzulino, theGreat Barrier Reefcampaigner for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said the report confirmed what many Australians already knew about the rising risks of climate change.
“The big line around oceans warming one degree since 1910 is a huge wake-up call,” he said.
“It’s undeniable that warming oceans lead to more marine heatwaves, coral bleaching and coral mortality.”
He said the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef, and climate change policy generally, would be a key campaign issue ahead of the 2019 federal election.
“We are running out of time to keep warming to a safe degree for the reef to have a future,” Cazzulino said.
Labor shouldn’t just back the Green New Deal, it should help lead the way. (Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Workers have gotten a raw deal.
Employers and their Republican (Liberal) allies are trying to eliminate workers’ rights both in the workplace and at the ballot box.
But even when Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, they did little to protect, let alone expand, the rights of working people. Workers need a new deal.
Now, an alliance of social movements and members of Congress are proposing a Green New Deal to create millions of jobs by putting Americans to work making a climate-safe economy. This program meets the needs of—and has the potential to unite—the labor movement, environmentalists, and all those who have been the victims of inequality, discrimination, racism and, now, climate change.
In the week following the 2018 midterm elections, a group of 150 protesters led by young people with the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of likely Democratic House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, urging her to support a Green New Deal. Newly-elected House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) joined the protest with a resolution in hand to establish a Select Committee for a Green New Deal. The proposal has since amassed growing support among Congressional representatives, progressive organizations and young people across the country.
The Green New Deal is poised to become a factor in the 2020 elections. Labor unions should take this opportunity to embrace the proposal—and fight to make sure it’s a strong vehicle for advancing workers’ rights.
What was the New Deal?
In the depths of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal—a set of government programs to provide employment and social security, reform tax policies and business practices, and stimulate the economy. It included the building of homes, hospitals, school, roads, dams and electrical grids. The New Deal put millions of people to work and created a new policy framework for American democracy.
New Deal programs included public employment (Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps); farm price supports (Agricultural Adjustment Act); environmental restoration (reforestation and land conservation); labor rights (Wagner Act); minimum wages and standards (National Recovery Act and Fair Labor Standards Act); cooperative enterprises (Works Progress Administration support for self-help); public infrastructure development (TVA and rural electrification); subsidized basic necessities (food commodity programs and Federal Housing Act); construction of schools, parks, and housing (Civil Works Administration); and income maintenance (Social Security Act).
Besides its famous “alphabet soup” of Federal government agencies, the New Deal was part of a larger process of social change that included experimentation at a state, regional and local level; organization among labor, unemployed, urban, the elderly and other grassroots constituencies; and lively debate on future alternatives that went far beyond the policies actually implemented.
What a Green New Deal would do
The Green New Deal is a program that all trade unionists and advocates for working people can and should get behind.
While there are a variety of detailed proposals for a Green New Deal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ proposal promises to create millions of jobs through building a new 100%-renewable electrical system and a national “smart grid,” retrofitting residential and industrial buildings, and building a new, low-emission transportation system.
It also seeks to end the epidemic of poverty by mitigating deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth and distributing federal aid and other investment equitably to historically impoverished and marginalized communities.
At its core, the Green New Deal would work toward saving the climate by meeting scientific targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases, investing in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases, and making “green” technology a major export of the United States to help other countries transition to carbon-neutral economies.
Why labor should support a Green New Deal
American workers, like most Americans, are dissatisfied with the status quo and want change. Organized labor is in a position to help lead that change. But all too rarely is labor’s program directed to a vision of what we want for the future.
The Green New Deal provides a visionary program for labor and can provide a role for unions in defining and leading a new vision for America.
At the same time, the Green New Deal projects a program that is not far-fetched. It includes plans for a public works programs, the expansion of human rights and new entitlement programs. Americans have made such goals a reality before in U.S. history—with organized labor playing a leading role.
Why a GreenNew Deal? Only protecting humanity from climate catastrophe can unify the political forces needed to meet labor’s demands for jobs, union rights, economic security, full employment, and worker empowerment.
There are 12 key reasons why labor should get on board with a Green New Deal:
Avert climate catastrophe: We are in a climate emergency. The current threat to humanity rivals that of Nazi armies that once threatened to establish a “thousand-year Reich” whose master race would rule the world. Millions of workers mobilized to build the tanks, planes and ammunition that defeated the Nazis. Today we need a mobilization that similarly puts millions to work building the windmills, solar collectors, grids and other tools needed to defeat climate change. Working people have no greater collective interest.
Provide jobs for all: The production of equipment and construction of infrastructure for the new climate-safe economy will provide manufacturing and construction jobs for millions of workers.The Climate Jobs Guarantee contained within the Green New Deal would provide jobs for all who want them at a base wage of $15, including healthcare and other benefits. The ongoing conversion to a sustainable economy will continue to provide good jobs for generations.
Abolish poverty: In addition to a jobs guarantee providing wages that will lift workers out of poverty, the Green New Deal will also include basic income programs and universal health care for those who are not in the workforce.
Rebuild the labor movement: Put simply, a Green New Deal can help rebuild the U.S. labor movement. With input from labor, the plan can guarantee the right to organize, bargain collectively, engage in concerted action and retain basic Constitutional rights on the job for all workers.
Unite the working class: President Donald Trump, the Republican Party and corporate America have been working overtime to divide the working class. The Green New Deal embodies the common interests of all working people in climate protection, jobs for all and greater equality. At the same time, it addresses the legacy of race, gender, and other forms of discrimination and injustice. And it expresses human values that recognize the equal worth and common fate of all people.
Win wide popular support for a labor-friendly program: Public opinion polling shows that the programs of the Green New Deal are extraordinarily popular. A recent poll shows that over half of voting-eligible adults said they would be more likely to support a candidate running on a Green Job Guarantee, including 35 percent of Trump voters. And young people are far more likely to support a candidate running on a platform of 100 percent renewable energy and Green jobs.
Build a powerful labor-friendly coalition: The original New Deal coalition brought together diverse constituencies including labor, African Americans, city dwellers and farmers. That coalition was a dominant force in American politics for more than 40 years. The Green New Deal similarly provides the basis for a broad, long-lasting coalition that can again transform American politics and society. By helping lead that coalition, organized labor can secure the rights and well-being of all workers.
Unify environmental and labor forces in the Democratic Party: Labor and environmentalists have too often been at loggerheads in the Democratic Party. This has undermined both the protection of the environment and of workers. A Green New Deal can become a common program unifying the environmental and labor constituencies of the Democratic Party. By making protecting the climate the way to provide jobs for all, it puts an end to the phony conflict between “jobs and the environment.”
Challenge corporate dominance of the Democratic Party: For far too long, the Democrats’ corporate wing, representing the interests of the wealthy, has dominated the party. Even when Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, the corporate wing of the party helped stymie both labor law reform and effective climate protection—screwing workers twice. The Green New Deal provides a program that represents the views of the great majority of Democrats that can allow the party’s rank-and-file to take control and advance both workers’ rights and climate protection.
Strengthen workers bargaining power: The tremendous demand for labor created by the transition to a fossil-free economy, combined with the Climate Jobs Guarantee, will eliminate that “long line of workers at the gate” that employers use to strengthen their hands in negotiations. The Climate Jobs Guarantee will set a new floor for wages and benefits that all employers will need to exceed if they wish to sustain a workforce.
Expand union apprenticeship and training: As with the economic mobilization for World War II, climate mobilization will require training a new workforce. The Green New Deal defines union apprenticeships and other training programs as a central way to do so. That will provide both a major source of financial support for unions and a chance to show the benefits of unionization to millions of workers entering the workforce or being retrained for new jobs.
Establish a standard for those who claim to be labor’s friends: One reason for organized labor’s declining clout has been the lack of a clear standard for those who seek labor’s support. The Green New Deal provides a clear statement of how candidates and organizations can show support for labor—and therefore what politicians must fight for if they want labor’s support.
What the New Deal did for labor
The New Deal established jobs programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA employed more than 8.5 million workers who built 650,000 miles of highways and roads, 125,000 public buildings, as well as schools, bridges, reservoirs, irrigation systems, parks and playgrounds.
In 1936, when many American employers were violently opposing unions, WPA director Harry Hopkins signed an agreement assuring the Workers Alliance of America, a merger of several unemployed organizations, the right to organize relief workers.
The Workers Alliance functioned as a proto-union in the WPA, striking, protesting grievances, and organizing mass demonstrations and marches to maintain and expand the program. It worked with the AFL and the nascent CIO to demand union scale for skilled workers, a minimum payment for WPA workers and collective bargaining for all workers on work-relief projects. Many WPA workers used their experience to become organizers in the new CIO. As the WPA wound down and the private economy revived, many former Workers Alliance activists became leaders in the new industrial unions.
The 1935 Social Security Act established retirement pensions, unemployment insurance, and welfare programs that remain the primary basis for economic security for many American workers to this day.
The 1935 National Labor Relations Act—aka the Wagner Act—guaranteed workers the right to bargain collectively through unions of their own choosing. Union membership virtually tripled in the decade following the passage of the act.
The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act set maximum hours, minimum wages and abolished child labor.
Through its role in the administrative agencies of the New Deal and its growing role in the New Deal coalition, organized labor achieved an unprecedented, if still subordinate, voice in the halls of governmental and political power.
What labor should ask of a Green New Deal
While current proposals for a Green New Deal align with workers’ interests, organized labor brings traditions and insights that can make them even more compelling.
Incorporating worker demands in the Green New Deal program will pay benefits long before they can be implemented at a national level. It will ensure that labor’s approach is understood and adopted by a wide coalition. And it will provide guidelines for what policies that coalition will fight for at a local, state, regional and industry level.
Labor needs to begin the discussion on what it wants in a Green New Deal. It needs a program that will transform the role of organized working people at least as profoundly as the programs of the New Deal. But that can’t simply be a matter of going back to labor’s past glories.
The rights of working people have been eroded under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Labor law as amended by Congress and interpreted by the courts has become less a protection for workers and unions than a means to restrict their freedom. Simply rolling back recent conservative victories like the Supreme Court’sJanusdecision is not enough. Labor can and should demand that the Green New Deal—like the original New Deal—establish a new framework that protects workers’ fundamental Constitutional and human rights.
Labor should demand that any Green New Deal:
Restore the right to organize, bargain collectively and engage in concerted action on the job: These rights were originally protected by the New Deal’s National Labor Relations Act, but they have been eroded by legislation, court decisions and the power of employers to discipline and fire their workers.
Guarantee the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the workplace: These rights are essential to workers’ freedom to organize as they see fit. They are also essential aspects of human rights and human dignity that should not be eliminated once you enter the workplace.
Restore the right to strike: In the half-century following the Civil War, American workers’ movements maintained that the right to strike was a fundamental Constitutional right, guaranteed by the 13th Amendment’s prohibition of “involuntary servitude.” It’s time to enforce that right.
Guarantee the right to a safe and healthy work environment: The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 supposedly assured “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women,” but it was deeply flawed from the outset and has been gutted over time. A Green New Deal can help meet both labor and environmental goals by banning all unsafe practices in workplaces.
Provide a fair and just transition for workers whose jobs may be threatened by economic change: This should include but not be limited to change that results from the transition to a climate-safe economy. It should include an updated version of the GI Bill of Rights that gave returning World War II veterans education, housing, medical and other benefits to make a new start on life and economic development support for communities affected by economic transition.
Establish fair labor standards: The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provided minimum wages, limited the hours of work, and established other protections for workers. Today the minimum wage is so low that it fails to ensure even a poverty-level income. In practice, workers can be made to work for as few or as many hours as their employers want. New labor standards should ensure that anyone who works gets a living wage; employees are provided predictable hours of labor; and that workers may not be fired without just cause.
Establish strong state and local prevailing wage laws: The Davis-Bacon Act, passed on the eve of the New Deal, requires that all contractors and subcontractors performing federally-funded construction, alteration, or repair work must pay their workers no less than the prevailing wages and benefits for corresponding work on similar projects in the area. A Green New Deal should implement prevailing wage laws for all climate-protection jobs, all state- and locally-funded projects, as well as other industries.
Encourage industry-wide bargaining: The labor relations system established by the New Deal often led to industry-wide collective bargaining in which all steelworkers or auto workers were united in their confrontations with management. Today, workers in each industry and each corporation are often represented by dozens of different unions who all bargain separately with little coordination. A Green New Deal can encourage bargaining councils and other forms of coordination that promote higher wages and prevent a race to the bottom by taking wages out of competition.
Establish a “buy fair” and “buy local” procurement policy: A Green New Deal can provide incentives for quality jobs which provide family-sustaining wages and benefits; the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining free of intimidation and reprisal; and hiring opportunities for workers in disadvantaged communities.
What trade unionists can do right now to win a Green New Deal
The idea of a Green New Deal has rapidly and unexpectedly broken through into public discussion. Here’s how unions can build on this momentum right now:
Support the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal actions: Show up for demonstrations at your Congressional representative’s office to demand they support a Green New Deal.
Ask politicians who depend on labor support to sign on to Congressional resolutions calling for a Green New Deal
Pass a resolution demanding a Green New Deal: The organization Labor for Single Payer first passed resolutions through hundreds of local unions, then dozens of national unions, and ultimately turned the labor movement into a powerful advocate for universal healthcare. The labor movement’s support for a Green New Deal can send a strong message that the plan is critical to building working-class power.
Push for elements of the Green New Deal in your collective bargaining demands: “Bargaining for the common good” is a growing trend for American unions. Many aspects of the Green New Deal can be won through union bargaining. For example, unions can bargain for their employers to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to apply prevailing wage standards to their own workers or outside contractors who perform the necessary work.
Join together with other unions and allies to demand a Green New Deal: Coalitions that advocate for protection for both workers and the climate have emerged at the local, state and national levels. You can join with them to form a powerful force to ultimately win a strong and bold Green New Deal.
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Her comment came a few days before a major UN climate summit, COP24, held in Katowice, Poland.
Other panellists on Q&A contradicted Ms Vanstone, saying emissions were rising.
This prompted many viewers of the program to call on RMIT ABC Fact Check to investigate Ms Vanstone’s claim.
Ms Vanstone’s claim is misleading.
Latest federal government figures suggest that although greenhouse gas emissions have fallen over the past 10 years, emissions started trending upwards again about four years ago.
The upturn, since 2014, has coincided with the Abbott government’s removal of the carbon tax.
Also, while emissions from electricity production have been falling, the decrease has been outweighed over the past four years by rising emissions in other sectors of the economy, such as transport, where emissions are associated with increased LNG production for export.
Emissions can be measured in different ways: for example, as total emissions or emissions per capita or per GDP.
In the past year, Australia’s total emissions have been rising. But emissions per capita or per dollar of real GDP have been falling, mainly due to Australia’s rapid population growth.
However, it is worth noting that Australia’s progress in cutting emissions under its international obligations (the Paris Agreement) is measured by changes in total emissions rather than by other measures.
As one expert put it: “The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters.”
Ms Vanstone made her claim during a discussion on Q&A about a protest by Australian schoolchildren titled ‘Strike 4 Climate Action‘.
She was speaking about the climate policies of Australia’s two major political parties, and in the broader context of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment, as perceived by young people.
Ms Vanstone did not specify which kind of emissions she was talking about. Nor whether she was referring to simple totals or ratios.
Fact Check invited her to clarify this. She said she had not been expecting to talk about emissions: “I can’t tell you that I had a particular tight construct in my head at the time,” she said.
“I think I was just making a general remark about emissions generally over a long period of time.”
Fact Check considers it reasonable to assume that her claim refers to Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions over the past 10 years — the length of time examined by the Government’s most recent report on emissions.
What others are saying
Ms Vanstone is not alone in claiming emissions in Australia are decreasing, though other speakers have been more specific.
Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, also on Q&A, said carbon emissions per capita and by GDP were at their lowest levels in 28 years.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price also highlighted this low ina press releaseannouncing the Government’s latest quarterly emissions data.
Nonetheless, she acknowledged that total emissions had risen over the year to June 2018.
Others have also pointed to the rise in total emissions.
Labor senator Lisa Singh, another of the recent Q&A panelists, argued that “emissions have continued to go up since 2011”.
Andon ABC radiothe same week, Richie Merzian, the climate and energy director for think tank the Australia Institute said: “For the last four years, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing.”
The Australian Department of the Environment and Energy collects and publishes a series of reports and databases, known as theNational Greenhouse Accounts.
The accounts track greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 onwards, and fulfil Australia’s international reporting obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol.
Quarterly reports, released as part of the accounts, track total emissions as well as emissions by sector, per capita and per GDP.
Thelatest report, released three days before Ms Vanstone’s Q&A appearance, provides estimates of Australia’s national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions up to the June quarter of 2018.
The report examines emissions produced by eight sectors: electricity, stationary energy, transport, fugitive emissions (for example, leakages), industrial processes and product use, agriculture, waste, and land use, land use change and forestry.
Are emissions per capita and per GDP useful measures?
Put simply, no.
Dr Saddler said focusing on emissions per capita was meaningless, since the measure used in international agreements was the more crucial total emissions.
“The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters,” he said.
Professor David Karoly, an internationally recognised expert on climate change, said the emissions per capita was a useful measure when it allowed for country by country comparisons.
“The Australian per capita share at the moment is higher than any other developed country in the world — higher than the US. Yes, it’s coming down, but it is still the highest.”
Both Dr Saddler and Professor Karoly confirmed the fall in emissions per capita and GDP were due to rapid population growth in Australia.
Experts assess the claim
Professor Karoly said if Amanda Vanstone’s claim was made in reference to total Australian emissions, “they are going up”.
He noted that the start of the recent rebound in emissions from mid-2014 coincided with thedumping of the carbon taxby the Abbott government in July of that year.
Professor Mark Howden, the director of ANU’s Climate Change Institute, told Fact Check: “I think it is correct to say that Australian emissions were coming down, but are now rising steadily.”
He said an argument could be made that emissions have come down, given they are lower now than at their peak between 2005 and 2008.
“However, this is a problematic argument,” he said.
“Under the current mix of policies and economic activities, emissions are clearly not coming down but instead are rising steadily.”
Pep Canadell, a senior principal research scientist in the CSIRO Climate Science Centre, and the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, suggested that 1990 was a good reference year for gleaning a long-term view of changes to emissions.
“Good annual data only starts from 1990, which is the reference year of the Kyoto Protocol and why the Government started the good quality data then,” Dr Canadell said.
Emissions per capita have fallen 37 per cent since 1990.
However, Dr Canadell added:
“Given Ms Vanstone’s statement is present tense, I disagree [that emissions are falling]. According to the data, emissions have been going up since 2013, with ups and downs, and, if anything, accelerating recently.”
Delegates to the UN climate conference in Poland have reached agreement on how to implement the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, which comes into force in 2020. What are the key points to come out of the meeting?
1. The rules are key to the game
However dull it may be, the operational rules for the 2015 Paris climate agreement will govern the way the world tackles climate change for decades to come.
The key thing was not to unravel the carefully negotiated Paris agreement by having one set of rules for the rich countries and another one for the poor.
By that measure the conference was a success with China showing leadership by not pushing for a return to the old ways of countries who did, and countries who didn’t.
Also helping that effort was the US.
Ensuring that the China and the US face similar regulations has long been a key of American policy.
Keeping everyone on the same page also delighted the EU.
Climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete explained how the new rules would work.
“We have a system of transparency, we have a system of reporting, we have rules to measure our emissions, we have a system to measure the impacts of our policies compared to what science recommends.”
To keep everyone in check, the rules will also contain a compliance mechanism, which means that countries that don’t submit their reports on time will face an inquiry.
The new regulations are “flexible” for developing countries, meaning they can sign up to the rules at a later date.
2. Science is worth fighting for
One of the biggest rows at this meeting was over a key scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
A group of countries including Saudi Arabia, US, Kuwait and Russia refused to “welcome” the IPCC study.
They merely wanted to “note” the contents.
Efforts to find a compromise ended in failure.
However that was not the end of the matter.
The vast majority of countries felt that acknowledging the science was critical at this conference.
Their efforts did finally ensure that the IPCC was recognised – but many felt it was a token effort.
“That science is unsettling and it doesn’t connect it to the need to do more,” said Camilla Born from the environmental think tank E3G.
“The deal looks at it in isolation, it’s an elegant compromise but it’s not really enough.”
3. International spirit is still alive
Many countries had worried that with the rise of nationalism in many countries and the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president, the international co-operation needed to tackle climate change might be in danger.
For many getting agreement here in Katowice was less about technical rules and more about showing that the international spirit is still alive and has teeth.
“I think the beauty of multilateralism is that it is the effort of everybody,” said Spanish Ecology Minister Teresa Ribera.
“And what we have seen is that everybody has supported the package, no single country has decided to step down.
“It is very difficult. It is like organising a party for 200 friends, and there’s a single menu that everybody has to eat. It is not so easy but we have got it. That’s fantastic!”
4. A win for the process but not for the planet?
While negotiators have been congratulating themselves on a job well done in landing the rulebook, there are many voices here who feel that the agreement does not go far enough.
They point to the strength of the science, and the public recognition of the impacts of climate change seen this year in heatwaves and wildfires.
Many environmental campaigners believe that Katowice was a missed opportunity for radical action.
“We have ended up here with more of a coal trade fair than a climate convention,” said Mohamed Adow from Christian Aid, referring to the efforts to promote coal by Poland and the US at this conference.
“We haven’t acted in good faith, particularly for the young, that we takes seriously what science is telling us and we are responding to it. That message didn’t come through.
“If people think the rulebook is the way to get the world on that path, it is not robust or ambitious enough.”
5. New voices are emerging
One of the most striking things about this conference of the parties was the presence of energised young people in far greater numbers than I have ever seen them at a COP before.
Climate change chimes with young people in a way that is sometimes missing with older people, who make up the bulk of negotiators here.
The sense that perhaps this UN process doesn’t quite connect with the modern world was summed up best by Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives and now their lead climate negotiator.
“Almost 10 years since I was last at these climate negotiations, I must say, nothing much seems to have changed.
“We are still using the same old, dinosaur language. Still saying the same old words.
“Still making the same tedious points.”
It would be hard to argue with this view given the shenanigans that played out at the end, when one country, Brazil, held up progress at the talks on one issue for a couple of days.
Perhaps the most memorable image of this meeting was that of 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg.
This teenager who has organised school strikes in Sweden held daily press conferences here to drive home her message that platitudes and warm words just aren’t enough anymore.
Her message was sharp and succinct.
“We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”
As the COP24 climate summit comes to an end, it is clear that governments have failed to adequately respond to the catastrophic impacts of climate change that were highlighted in the landmark IPCC report on 1.5°C.
Based on a now widely operational Paris Agreement the next two years need to be used to build far-reaching transformational partnerships and reach the level of ambition science makes clear is necessary.
COP24 failed to deliver a clear commitment to strengthen all countries’ climate pledges by 2020. At the same time, a relatively effective though incomplete rulebook for how to implement the Paris Agreement was finalised.
Limited progress was also made with regard to how financial support for poorer countries coping with devastating climate impacts will be provided and accounted for.
The EU has made welcome efforts by building alliances with other countries and finding common ground on sticking points.
It has also set a good example when, together with several other members of the High Ambition Coalition, it committed to increase its 2030 climate target by 2020, in light of the warnings of the IPCC report.
However, it has failed to convince all other governments to make the same commitment.
Germany doubled their support for the Green Climate Fund to support developing countries, but other European countries still have to do the same.
In reaction to the COP24 outcomes,Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europesaid:
“The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens.
Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate pledge before the UN Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55% reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for.”
Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s leading NGO coalition fighting dangerous climate change.
With over 150 member organisations from 35 European countries, representing over 1.700 NGOs and more than 40 million citizens, CAN Europe promotes sustainable climate, energy and development policies throughout Europe.
CAN Europe members made the following statements wrapping up COP24:
Jennifer Tollmann, Climate Diplomacy Researcher, E3Gsaid: “In the end the EU did finally step up as a bridge-builder. But we now need to see whether they can ace the real test. Will they pull their weight in closing the global emissions gap and support their climate vulnerable allies to weather the storm?”
Mattias Söderberg, Climate Advisor, DanChurchAidsaid: “Poor and vulnerable countries are left behind with the agreement from Katowice.
People who face loss and damage due to droughts, flooding and devastating storms are not acknowledged.
This puts more burden on those living in poverty who are affected by the worst impacts of climate change, and who in most cases have very few emissions themselves.”
Christoph Bals, Policy Director of Germanwatch said: “It’s very clear that the world expects the EU to lead in climate politics.
In the end we have seen some attempts of EU countries to play a constructive role in the high ambition coalition. But only far reaching transformational partnerships between EU members and other countries can develop the necessary geopolitical dynamics for transformation.”
Neil Makaroff, European Policy Officer of Reseau Action Climat France said: “The COP24 climate negotiations should be a wakeup call for EU countries: there is no time to waste in childish divisions.
The IPCC report clearly highlighted that our home is burning and we have a limited time to save it.
Governments should be united in engaging Europe in a more ambitious climate policy, both boosting the energy transition and ensuring that it is socially just, benefiting to all. Europeans have this special responsibility to pave the way and lead climate actions by example.”
Sven Harmeling, Global Policy Lead on Climate Change, CARE International said: “At COP24, a number of powerful countries driven by short-sighted interests pushed to abolish the ambitious 1.5°C limit and throw away the alarming findings on harmful climate impacts of the IPCC Special Report.
The most vulnerable countries, civil society and people on the ground have been leading the fight for climate justice.
While governments accomplished the task of adopting a rulebook to further the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the world now requires much faster and stronger climate action at the national level, and support for poor countries to build climate resilience.”
Sebastian Scholz, Head of Climate Policy, NABU/BirdLife Germanysaid: “Again at this COP civil society made their demand clear to those decide to stay within the limit of 1.5 degrees of global warming.
None the less several issues weren’t solved by the delegations.
Even the alarming findings of the IPCC Special Report weren’t properly integrated into the outcome.
The EU had a rather weak position on closing loopholes in the accounting guidelines of the rulebook.
This won’t help to limit emissions, but also incentivise the use of non sustainable biomass for energy supply, and therefore risks a further loss of biodiversity.”
Karin Lexén, Secretary General of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservationsaid: “Two months ago, the scientific community sent an emergency message on the state of the climate crisis.
Coming to Katowice, we demanded no less than an emergency response.
This was not delivered.
Now all countries must urgently pick up the baton, do their homework and get ready to radically scale up climate action at home.
In Sweden, we demand a ban on fossil fuels by 2030.”
Otto Bruun, Climate Policy Officer, Finnish Association for Nature Conservationsaid: “Climate scientists have highlighted a safe option to avert climate chaos. Early retirement of fossil fuels should go hand in hand with the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems. While the governments at the Katowice conference did not produce the rulebook to match the ambition of the Paris treaty, governments must now mind the gap in ambition and increase their efforts at once. The April 2019 general election in Finland looks set be a climate election. Our collective ambition in civil society is to drive through an unforeseen and just policy shift to immediately protect and restore forest and peatland carbon sinks while retiring all fossil fuels altogether within two decades.”
Jeff Sparrow is an Australian leftwing writer, editor and former socialist activist based in Melbourne, Victoria. He is the co-author of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within. He is also the author of Communism: A Love Story and Killing: Misadventures in Violence.Wikipedia
Demonstrators stand next to metal barriers around the tomb of The Unknown Soldier at The Arc of Triomphe during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs on the Champs Elysees in Paris, on December 1, 2018. (IMAGE: vfutscher, Flickr)
As the globe – and the political climate aimed at saving it – heats up, we need a different politics to tackle an entrenched problem, writes Jeff Sparrow.
Sensible centrism will doom us all.
Take Emmanuel Macron, once hailed everywhere as the savior of liberalism.
“Macron,”explainedPoliticoin April this year, “has stepped audaciously into the vacuum created by Trump’s abdication of America’s historic role as keeper of the liberal democratic flame.”
Nor was this an anomalous view in the English-speaking world.
MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid expressed the perspective of many American Democrats, when she quipped that Macron should be running Washington.
AsSalon put it, “Macron appeared to have everything that centrist Democrats could ever want in a candidate; he was young, smart and charismatic, yet also mature and pragmatic (as all centrists are, in the neoliberal worldview).
Macron also appeared to be different and innovative, like a political version of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and claimed to be “neither left nor right,” as if to have a political ideology was to have an outdated worldview, something like using a flip phone in 2018.”
In Britain, he generated the same kind of excitement among the same kind of people, with Labourite opponents of Jeremy Corbyn enthusing over the ‘new Tony Blair’, even as a new Macron-inspired centrist party called Renew came into being.
With riots, blockades and protests spreading across the country, the demand for Macron’s resignation provided a central slogan uniting an often fractious movement.
But his failure represents something more than the misfire of an overhyped media personality.
It illustrates the peculiar danger posed by the ongoing infatuation of supposed progressives with the so-called ‘radical centre’.
Macron’s international boosters had presented him as the figure to stem the rise of reactionary populism in Europe, someone who would combine market-based prosperity with liberal reforms.
When, in December 2017, Trump repudiated the Paris Climate Accords, Macron launched a slick social media campaign around the slogan ‘Make the planet great again’.
To that end, he proposed a so-called ‘eco tax’ on fuel, a levy intended, he explained, to discourage car use and to raise funds for climate change mitigation.
Symptomatically, though, he provided no alternative for working class drivers in the outer suburbs, small towns and rural areas without public transport.
The meteoric rise of the Yellow Vests reflected the widespread (and accurate) perception that the fuel tax constituted another attack by a government of the rich on some of the poorest people in the country.
In many ways, the tax represented the final straw for a population long sick of austerity.
The Macron bubble had, in fact, already burst well before the Yellow Vests took over the streets.
Nevertheless, for those of us watching from afar, it’s worth reflecting on how centrism brought the rhetoric of environmentalism directly into conflict with the aspirations of the people, in a manner that gave ammunition to the worst denialists.
Hasn’t every right-wing demagogue, from Donald Trump to Pauline Hanson, denounced climate change as a chatter class preoccupation imposed to shackle the working man?
Thus, rather than defeating the reactionary populists, Macron provided them, via his tax, with an effective talking point, a confirmation of the perspective they’ve long argued.
As he back-pedalled, the president acknowledged what he called the tension between ‘the end of the world’ and the ‘end of the month’.
The formulation was repeated by sympathetic commentators who declared that, in the future, environmental measures must be imposed gradually, so as to ease the pain of those living payday to payday. But that argument, too, accepts the underlying frame of the far right, positing workers as innately opposed to an environmentalism that, by definition, rendered them poorer and more miserable.
In reality, it’s climate change, not climate action, that necessarily threatens ordinary people, simply because the environmental crisis can no longer be disentangled from the broader crisis of a decaying capitalism.
The catastrophic weather associated with global warming will, for instance, overwhelmingly affect those already targeted by austerity – the individuals too poor to relocate or rebuild or use aircon or take other preventative measures.
The refugees from rising seas will be indistinguishable from the victims of war and poverty; the political ruptures provoked by drought, land degradation and other environmental disasters will blend into the general instability of the 21st century.
The tension between climate activism and the working class emerges not from the nature of the problem but from the logic of centrist solutions, which always centre on neoliberal mechanisms such as carbon taxes.
But there’s no environmental reason to rely on the market to combat fossil fuels.
A government could, after all, forcibly acquire polluting industries at the stroke of the pen, much as almost every regime nationalised parts of the economy during the Second World War.
To put it another way, the decarbonisation of the developed nations could be presented in a program designed to extend democratic control over industry, improve working conditions and materially improve the lives of the populace.
If it’s not – if climate action instead becomes a fig-leaf for austerity – that’s because of political choice rather than necessity.
Centrists pride themselves on their political acumen.
Carbon taxes and other market mechanisms might not be ideal, they say, but they reflect the horizon of the possible.
We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and it’s better to do something than nothing at all.
Macron’s example demonstrates the bankruptcy of that argument.
To their credit, the Yellow Vests seem to be moving to the left rather than to the right.
Nevertheless, the French situation will inspire right-wing populists everywhere to bring climate denial to the front of their agenda, adding to the difficulty of achieving genuine environmental change across Europe and elsewhere.
The fight for climate change depends on ordinary working people.
We have more to learn from the Yellow Vests and their militancy than we do from ‘sensible centrists’, no matter how much they drape themselves in green.
Now, more than ever, climate action must become radical.
In 2007, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a story calling for a “Green New Deal.”
Friedman explained that he no longer believed that there was one silver-bullet program that would solve climate change.
Rather, just as a variety of programs were part of former US president Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” for economic revitalization in the 1930s, so it would take a variety of investments in environmentally-friendly technologies to help stabilize the climate.
Friedman almost certainly could not have imagined that some day politicians would propose a Green New Deal that might include a universal basic income.
Newly elected US congress member and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for office on an ambitiousclimate-change platform which she also calls a Green New Deal.
The plan has gained attention and supportersover the last month, and is becoming a main talking point among Democrats who are looking for a meaningful agenda for the party over the next decade.
Ocasio-Cortez envisions the federal government leading efforts to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions by investing in renewable energy infrastructure, improving the efficiency of residential and industrial buildings, and constructing an energy-efficient electricity grid.
To achieve the Green New Deal’s goals, the government would need to hire millions of people. Ocasio-Cortez sees this as an opportunity to transform the economy.
The Green New Deal would include training and education for workers, as well as a federal job-guarantee program.
Further, all investments would be focused on low-income communities.
Presenting climate-change mitigation as a jobs program, rather than an economy killer, may be politically savvy.
As if all that wasn’t ambitious enough, the Green New Deal would also include “basic income programs, universal healthcare programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor-market flexibility, and entrepreneurism.”
It is basically everything liberals desire and more.
Supporters defend the need for these welfare programs as ways to alleviate the disruption that would be caused by the elimination of fossil fuel-supported jobs.
With a universal basic income and government-guaranteed health care, losing your oil-industry gig wouldn’t be as bad.
The program would of course be very expensive.
It’s hard to estimate how much it would cost, as the details are still murky. Green Party leader Jill Stein estimated that her version of the Green New Deal, which isless ambitiousthan the one presented by Ocasio-Cortez, would cost $700 billion to $1 trillion annually.
Ocasio-Cortez says hers would be funded by debt spending and tax increases.
In Friedman’s original conception, the government played a much smaller role in the Green New Deal.
He believed the government’s place was not in funding projects, but in seeding research and creating tax incentives andefficiency standards (paywall), and that harnessing the power of the private sector was the key to taking on climate change.
While Ocasio-Cortez believes the private sector has a role to play, she argues that the scale of the project is too big to leave to government-guided market forces.
The Green New Deal has come a long and very expensive way.
It still far cheaper than catastrophic climate change.