Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. That means our ecosystems and communities are particularly vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation.
Since the industrial revolution we've been getting hotter and drier and have now reached a point where the frequency and severity of droughts, wild fires, floods, cyclones and heat waves have been clearly identified as increasing due to human driven climate change. These changes are threatening our communities, ecosystems and wildlife now.
A climate emergency is happening now
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest report Global Warming of 1.5°C states that urgent and unprecedented changes are needed now to prevent catastrophic climate change that will significantly worsen drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
On 6 May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment reported that nature is in a dangerous decline with unprecedented rates of extinction forecast. Around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction within decades. Climate change is a primary cause.
The World Health Organisation has declared climate change the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century.
In August 2019, the world watched as the Amazon Rainforest burned with thousands of fires, many started by farmers and loggers to clear land, and deforestation was revealed to have dramatically increased in 2019. The loss of the Amazon continues year after year.
Australia's CSIRO National Outlook 2019 details a bleak future of economic, social and environmental decline if we do not tackle major problems including climate change and biodiversity loss head on. Further studies forecast that climate change threatens water supplies in Melbourne and Sydney. A dozen towns in NSW are on the verge of running out of water. More than half of Queensland is suffering severe drought with some areas threatened with desertification, meaning the drought will not end in the near future and vegetation will die.
From Spring 2019 to Summer 2020 we experienced the worst bushfires Australian has ever seen leading to catastrophic loss of lives, homes, forests and habitat, with 24 million hectares burnt, 33 people killed by the fires and almost 450 more from smoke inhalation, 3,000 homes destroyed and Sydney experiencing hazardous smoke plumes which at times registered air quality ten times worse than some of the most polluted cities in the world. It is estimated that more than 1 billion animals were lost.
The February 2022 flood waters in Lismore NSW reached 2 metres higher than the "1 in 100 year probability" Annual Exceedance Probability flood level, nearly 1.4 metres higher than the 1:500 AEP design flood level, and 2.3 metres higher than the 1954 and 1974 events, which were previously the largest floods on record. Since then we have witnessed unprecedented flooding from the Kimberley to Tasmania.
What the world is doing
A climate emergency has been declared by 2,309 government bodies around the world representing 40 countries and 1 billion people - and growing.
Following two weeks of mass civil disobedience initiated by UK's Extinction Rebellion that disrupted London's CBD, the UK became the first country to declare a climate emergency, followed by France, Canada and Ireland and now many more.
In the week beginning 20 September 2019, seven and a half million people in 4,500 locations all over the world joined the youth-led call for climate action,went on strike and marched in the streets - including 300,000 in Australia.
On 23 September at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York climate activist Greta Thunberg gave a blistering speech that has already been burned into climate history, saying if world leaders don't act "we will never forgive you".
A growing list of countries are committing to reaching zero emissions and the EU is pushing for bloc-wide zero emissions by 2050.
Started by 350.org the Fossil Free divestment movement is the fastest growing movement in history with 1,557 institutions and 58,000 people representing $40.51 trillion in assets divested from the fossil fuel industry as of 2022.
Renewable energy is now cheaper than coal and is expected to completely out-compete the fossil fuel industry by 2025. Global energy produced from coal decline by 4% in 2020, the largest drop since WWII
Countries are implementing programs of mass revegetation. New Zealand will plant one billion trees by 2028. The Philippines have made it law that every student must plant 10 trees before graduating from elementary, high school and college as a prerequisite for graduation. Ethiopia planted about 350 million trees in a single day, according to a government minister, as part of an ongoing program to grow 4 billion trees this Summer. The President of Madagascar has announced plans to plant 40,000 hectares of forest each year for the next five years. The list is growing.
UN Chief António Guterres’ called on every head of state to bring concrete plans to strengthen emission reductions to the Climate Summit in Sept 2019, and called on counties to go carbon neutral by 2050 and ban new coal plants from 2020.
What Australia is doing
Following pressure after the election of the Australian Liberal government, Queensland fast tracked the approval of the Adani coal mine that will add 4.5 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and pave the way for more mining in the Galilee Basin.
In South Australia, one of the world's most pristine ocean ecosystems, the Great Australian Bight, has been opened to off-shore oil exploration.
At the same time, the ACT has declared a climate emergency, has periods of running on 100% renewable energy and has set a goal of zero net emissions by 2045 at the latest. The NT has a plan to reach zero emissions by 2050 with a focus on solar. At least 30 local councils have declared a climate emergency including Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin and Hobart. South Australia plans to be 100% renewable by 2025. Victoria has increased its climate ambitions to reduce emissions by 75% to 80% (on 2005 levels) by 2035.
Australian former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, brings a lump of coal into Parliament and tells us "don't be scared".
In August 2019 at the Pacific Forum, Australia refused to sign an agreement with Pacific nations declaring a climate crisis and agreeing to halt the use of coal. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australia's emissions are small and reducing them wouldn't solve climate change. Australia is the world's third largest exporter of fossil fuels, has the world's second highest emissions per person.
In December 2019, during a catastrophic bushfire season, then leader of the opposition Anthony Albanese declared that Labor will back the continuation of the Australian coal export industry saying that if Australia didn't sell coal then someone else would.
This announcement came less than a week after the United Firefighters Union flew to Canberra to plead for more firefighters on the front lines and stronger climate action through the phasing out of coal, oil and gas.
In 2022 the federal Labor government was elected following a "Green slide" election in which climate action was the main driver for voters kicking out the LNP and electing record numbers of independents and Greens with strong platforms for climate action. However, even with this strong public push for real and immediate action to mitigate the climate crisis, it's business as usual for the Labor government who continue to approve, invest in and open up new fossil fuel projects. As of March 2023, Australia has 116 new coal, oil and gas projects in the pipeline. If they all proceed as planned, an extra 1.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases would be released into the atmosphere annually by 2030.
What Australia could do
Australia has the resources and conditions to become a world leader in renewable energy and the zero carbon economy. Instead we are squandering this opportunity, failing to plan for a the radical economic shift that is underway, causing immeasurable harm to our environment, disgracing ourselves on the world stage and failing to play our part in averting catastrophic climate change.
This inaction is criminal when the lives of millions of people and the existence of millions of species are threatened. Especially when the solutions so readily exist.
Beyond Zero Emissions’ Stationary Energy Plan (2010) shows – with rigorous, peer-reviewed research – that powering Australia with clean renewable energy is technically feasible and affordable, will improve reliability and can be completed within a decade. A decade! We could have done it already.
An international study has identified Australia as one of six countries where mass revegetation could play a significant role in mitigating climate change, with 58 million hectares of appropriate land available.
Project Draw Down details an extensive list of highly effective readily available measures that could reduce global emissions to zero and draw carbon out of the atmosphere. At the top of the list are wind turbines, reducing food waste and encouraging a plant-rich diet. As a country that has vast wind resources, wastes more food and eats more meat that almost every other country, the opportunities are huge.
The pathway is clear. Australia must declare a climate emergency, transition to zero emissions as soon as possible (including a just transition to 100% renewable energy and transformation of the agriculture industry), stop logging forests and clearing land, embark on a massive program of land rehabilitation and revegetation and encourage and legislate for corporate and individual actions that reduce emissions.
What you can do
But we can't wait for governments to get it together. Here's what you can do to become part of the new zero carbon emissions world now:
Climate actions you can take now
- Learn about and become an ally of First Nations in the fight for Sovereignty, self-determination and justice. First Nations People have looked after this land for over 60,000 years and remain at the forefront of the fight for climate and environmental justice. Learn about decolonising your actions, pay the rent and support First Nations campaigns like SEED mob, Wangan and Jagalingou Standing Our Ground, and what's happening in your local area.
- Support Wangan and Jagalingou people who are defending Country against the Adani coal mine on site. Visit them and/or lend your support online.
- Support the global movement of students demanding emergency action for climate change by signing up to their action alerts and joining them in the streets when they strike
- Join the Extinction Rebellion that is successfully demanding governments declare a climate emergency by using civil disobedience to disrupt business as usual.
- Join the campaign to Stop Adani by signing up to their action alerts and getting involved however you can from sharing their posts on social media to creating a local group.
- Bookmark the Eco-shout national calendar for climate actions, events and forums around the country.
- Have conversations at work, with your friends and family, on social media, with your MP and through letters to local media about climate change and use appropriate language such as "climate emergency" "ecological crisis" and "is happening now" to shift our culture of denial and inaction. You don't have to be an expert. Everyone has a right to a safe climate and to share their concerns. The skeptical science website has info for having conversations and busting myths
- reduce your own carbon footprint in any and all of these ways:
- eat less (or no) meat and/or dairy.
- buy solar panels and hot water systems or choose green energy options with your current provider.
- transfer your super and shares out of the carbon economy and into Australian Ethical.
- use recycled paper products, especially copy paper, to avoid buying paper made from old growth and native forests.
- grow your own veggies, reduce the food you waste and compost what you don't use (methane released from food waste in landfills is 34 times more global warmy than CO2).
- seek out information, there are more solutions and ways to address the climate crisis being created all the time, there's excellent docos, books, workshops, festivals, talks and actions. Now is the time to get informed and get active.