What impacts will climate change have on sport?

As a nation, our love of sport and the outdoors is just one reason we need to do our share in preventing as much of global warming as we can. Sports bodies and industries need to adopt strategies to respond to the climate change we can’t avoid, and governments at all levels need to be working with them.

Tony Abbott’s team talked a lot about sports and climate action as part of their campaign to prevent or postpone climate action. Things like sporting bodies facing high electricity prices for ground lighting for practice were falsely claimed to be the fault of carbon pricing (rather than mostly resulting from network charges, or dividends to State Liberal Governments).

They also talked as if the Clean Energy package didn’t include compensation measures, so that people could meet modest price rises that might actually happen for sport and other activities in life. Greg Combet exposed another myth like this one, about admission fees for swimming pools.

But there are real issues from climate change for sports, in the Australian community and at elite level.

As the West Australian Department of Sport and Recreation has said,

climate change is already forcing us to think differently about the simplest aspects of our lives

The WA authorities discuss impacts from reduced rainfall and increased evaporation; higher temperatures; more frequent and extreme natural events; and sea level rise. Impacts they identified include:

  • Reduced irrigation of dedicated sportsgrounds and public open space, but increased evaporation requiring more water for existing turf
  • Damage to facilities such as tennis courts and cricket pitches
  • Forced, permanent or temporary closure of facilities
  • Increased evaporation at open water facilities
  • Limitations on school-based physical education programs or more indoor programs
  • More frequent heat stress-related events
  • Greater risk of storm or fire damage to facilities and infrastructure
  • Difficulty in obtaining extreme event insurance, and the risk that increased insurance costs may be prohibitive for individual club or group schemes
  • Disruption to electricity supplies during extreme events
  • Increased beach erosion from changing wave activity, making swimming and surfing dangerous.

The risks posed by heatwaves were highlighted in January 2014, with players in the Australian Open tennis collapsing, vomiting, and experiencing hallucinations from the heat. The conditions made world-wide news.


  • Climate threats have been highlighted for the Tour de France as the world’s biggest outdoor sports event. (Here in Australia the Tour Down Under which generates over $40 million for South Australia is held in January … .)
  • Heat related deaths in American football have tripled since 1994, and many States have now introduced new restrictions on play and practice in hot conditions
  • Threats to the Winter Olympics have been highlighted this year (as discussed below).

Western Australia’s authorities, who have been particularly active in identifying issues about climate change and sport, don’t have snowfields to worry about, but of course there are issues about snow sports in Australia too.

The Victorian Government refused to release a 2012 report, Climate change impacts on snow in Victoria, but the ABC obtained it through a Freedom of Information request. The report predicts that by 2050, the maximum snow depth could decrease by up to 80 centimetres, and the ski season might shorten by more than two months.

A close look at maps for sea level rise from OzCoasts shows that a range of community sports grounds in Australia – even some in Tony Abbott’s and Joe Hockey’s own electorates – will be directly affected by sea level rise predicted to result from global warming. Many of the sports grounds our communities rely on, of course , are in low lying areas next to rivers or oceans.

For more on this issue, see http://climatechangecricketclub.com/

Will climate change affect the winter Olympics?

>It’s already happening.

Athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, including Australian athletes, were complaining about mushy snow, and slushy conditions at events like the halfpipe.

Over 100 athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics put out a statement drawing attention to the threat and calling for climate action. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News mocked their statement – but then Fox News even puts “climate change” in quotes.

All 5 cities (vying for the 2022 Winter Olympics are likely to face climate change problems.

All of the candidate cities – Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing, China; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; and Oslo, Norway – will likely be facing temperatures near the upper limits of what each region has experienced in the past 150 years. That’s in just 2 Olympics time!

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Transport and climate change

Does climate change mean we all need to give up our cars?

No. Apart from the inherent advantages that access to personal transport offers, dependence on cars has been built over decades into the planning of Australian cities – or the lack of it in too many cases.

But we do need to reduce CO2 and other emissions from driving, as well as from power stations and industry. As well as CO2, emissions from internal combustion engines generally also include nitrogen oxides (because they generally use air with their fuel, and air contains nitrogen) which are more than 300 times as powerful as CO2 as greenhouse gases.

We also need to ensure that more people have viable alternatives to driving – through better public transport availability and through better support for other options like walking and cycling. While transport is only one source of emissions, it’s important to reduce emissions in this area as well as others.

Transport is an area where as well as there being a need for appropriate pricing of emissions, there is clearly a need for complementary measures, including

  • appropriate regulatory measures and co-operation with industry on standards
  • support for research and innovation, to industry and to public transport providers
  • work on the sustainability of our cities more generally (including how far people have to travel to work) – the kind of work Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren pioneered for Australia, and Anthony Albanese has taken forward, and Tony Abbott doesn’t support at all.

In particular, improved vehicle emission standards are not “red tape” or “green tape” that should go on Tony Abbott’s “repeal days” – any more than vehicle safety standards are.

The Climate Change Authority, in its February 2014 report recommending improved targets for emissions reductions by Australia, also recommended early adoption of improved vehicle emissions standards, as one way of contributing quickly to getting to lower levels of emissions. They pointed out that this would also save consumers on fuel costs. They noted particularly that, with all cars soon to be imported cars, there is no reason for Australia to accept less than best international practice on vehicle emissions.

Is public transport greener than using cars?

Generally yes. More substitution of public transport for car transport, as well as offering savings in less time lost in congestion (which is significant for the economy as well as for individuals and families), generally offers savings in emissions per person kilometre.

Estimates from the Public Transport Users Association (based on the existing mix of sources for electricity generation) indicate the following:

Transport mode Emissions
(grams of CO
2-equivalent per
Petrol Car 286
LPG Car 256
Ethanol (E10) Car 253
Electric Tram 52
Diesel Bus 22
Ethanol (E10) Bus 19
Natural Gas Bus 18
Diesel Train 16
Electric Train (Victorian) 14
250cc Motorcycle 124
1000cc Motorcycle 178

So work by Labor governments to enhance provision and useability of public transport, is closely connected with reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (as well as with reducing congestion and travel time and addressing other aspects of liveability and productivity of our cities and regions).

Note that petrol motorbikes, while less emissions intensive than cars, are still substantially more emissions intensive than any form of urban public transport. An interesting development in this area is the widespread adoption of electric bikes in China in particular.

The biggest savings, of course, in enhanced provision and use of public transport are to be found where public transport uses renewable energy.

Are hybrid vehicles part of the answer?

Hybrid vehicles still (mostly) have petrol or diesel engines, but they combine this with electric power from batteries or capacitors.

Often, batteries are charged from regenerative braking rather than the car or other vehicle just throwing all the energy in braking away as noise and heat. For trains in particular this is a very large amount of energy.

Plug-in hybrids can be charged from specialised charging equipment at home or in dedicated charging stations. (These charging stations for plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles are still fairly rare in Australia but are becoming more common in some areas overseas.)


Hybrid vehicles still produce emissions, but offer significant reductions. This does have to be offset against the extra energy (and financial) costs of producing a second electric power and braking system for a car based around internal combustion. But particularly for cars in intensive use in urban environments with frequent braking (like taxis), these extra costs are repaid fairly quickly (depending on the amount of urban driving done), particularly when combined with fuel efficiency measures. It’s interesting that fleet owners (whose decisions can be expected to be motivated mostly by calculations about dollars and cents) have generally been bigger buyers of hybrid vehicles in Australia than individuals.

In the US there is a handy calculator from the Federal Government for payback periods for hybrids with different patterns of use and fuel prices (which uses the different range of models available there). We haven’t found an Australian equivalent yet.

The CSIRO is working on improved concepts for batteries and power for electric cars. It is not clear yet what impact Tony Abbott’s cuts for the CSIRO as part of his war on science will have on this project.

Buses and trucks

Hybrid urban buses have only had limited use and trials in Australia. A NSW trial showed disappointing results, but hybrid buses have been used much more extensively and successfully overseas, including in London where over 300 hybrid buses are now in use, including double deckers, with significant savings in fuel consumption and emissions.

In March 2013, Labor’s Transport Minister in South Australia, Chloe Fox, launched a trial of hybrid buses, built by Custom Coaches and AJ Dennis, on Adelaide’s City Loop. She noted that routes with frequent braking are ideal for vehicles that recharge their batteries from braking. These buses do not face the same challenges in range between charging sessions as are faced by pure electric buses.

Hybrid buses commercially available in Australia from Volvo are due to be trialled in Brisbane in 2014.

Hybrid light and medium sized trucks are made by a number of manufacturers around the world. They have had a limited market due to higher construction and hence purchase costs, but have obvious advantages as fuel costs rise.


Electric motors are standard for most rail transport (obviously for electric locomotives and electric multiple unit sets; less obviously perhaps, but very widely, for diesels. Most diesel locomotives are actually diesel electrics, with diesel engines generating electric power which is then used by electric motors).

Trains with overhead or third rail power can return power to the network using regenerative braking, although there are some limits to this.

(This includes that the power generated needs other trains in the same area to be able to use it. For older Australian networks like Sydney there’s also the problem that 1500 volt DC systems which made sense in the 1920s aren’t suitable for the high power needed for modern freight or high speed passenger rail. Gough Whitlam supported converting rail networks to 25,000 volts AC for this reason.)

Where overhead or third rail power networks are not available (as in much of Australian rail freight operations) or not used, regenerative braking and power is still possible, using batteries.

This approach has become common in US shunting locomotives, to reduce noise and emissions in urban environments, including some remanufactured from older, conventional 2000 HP diesel locomotives. A locomotive launched by GE in 2007 involved 4400 HP of diesel generation, supplemented when needed with 2000 HP of battery power. Another locomotive being trialled has a full 6000 HP of battery power (which can be charged in advance and used alone, but which might also be integrated in a set with conventional diesels using regenerative braking to form a hybrid set). Hybrid multiple unit passenger trains are also being trialled in several countries.

Some multiple unit trains and locomotives overseas are now being trialed, and used more routinely in specialist applications, using hydrogen fuel cells, in hybrids which also use electricity from regenerative braking. For example, as California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger launched a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive in 2010.

US railroads are looking at extensive conversions of thousands of diesel locomotives to use natural gas. Advocates of hydrogen technology have pointed out, however, that while burning natural gas in itself involves less emissions than diesel fuel, such conversions involve locking in use of fossil fuels for locomotives for another 20 to 30 years. This is clearly undesirable in the context of an urgent need to reduce emissions, not just a bit but sharply, to stay within tight carbon budgets. Concerns have also been raised regarding the environmental risks of “fracking” to gain access to gas, and leakage of methane from gas wells. Advocates have therefore urged more attention for hydrogen locomotives.

No trials or commercial applications of hybrid power for rail appear to have occurred as yet in Australia.

What’s happening with electric cars and bikes?

Electric cars and bikes offer emissions free driving – so long as the electricity used is generated without emissions, of course. As the proportion of electricity from sources such as wind and solar increases, electric vehicles offer a means of translating this progress into progress in transport using technologies which already exist and thus can be effective quickly – which is what we need.

There are only a small number of electric cars in Australia so far – estimated at 700 in March 2014 compared to 180,000 already in the USA. Principal barriers are:

  • a scarcity of charging stations
  • greater upfront costs (although running and maintenance costs are very low compared to other cars; and upfront costs could be expected to fall as electric vehicles become more common).

In January 2014 the Electricity Supply Association of Australia issued a report urging increased support for electric cars, noting that

  • an equivalent “litre” of electricity currently costs between 37 cents off peak and 62 cents at peak prices from supply networks
  • on this basis equivalent fuel costs for electric cars amount to around 3 cents a kilometre compared to around 10 cents a kilometre for petrol engines.

These savings would of course be even greater for people charging their cars from rooftop solar (effectively for free once these facilities have repaid their installation costs and allowed for depreciation and the minimal maintenance required). Electric vehicles (including plug in hybrids) also offer new and potentially highly important possibilities for distributed sources of storage, both for network electricity and for household generated electricity.

As at October 2013 electric bikes in China were estimated to number 200 million. Take-up in Australia has been slow but is likely to pick up since amendment in 2012 under Labor of relevant Australian Design Rules to adopt European standards and facilitate use of international designs. (Sensible approaches to regulation, not the ridiculous vanity of “bonfires” of repeal of regulations, like Tony Abbott wants.)

What’s happening with electric buses?

Adelaide is successfully using an electric bus which has a 200km range between recharging from solar panels on the city bus station. This initiative was partly funded through the Federal Labor Government’s Solar Cities program.

In Brisbane, local firm Varley Electric Vehicles was reported in 2012 as working on an “Instant Charge Electric Bus” for Brisbane City Council’s bus services, funded in part by the Labor Government’s Business and Industry Transformation Incentives program.

What’s happening with hydrogen power?

Using hydrogen for energy doesn’t produce CO2, like burning hydrocarbons does. The main exhaust is water vapour. While,yes, that’s a greenhouse gas too, it’s nothing near the problem that too much CO2 is.

Burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine is possible – but like hydrocarbon fuels, if hydrogen is burnt with air, some of the hydrogen combines with nitrogen in the air to form nitrogen oxides, which are very powerful greenhouse gases (300 times as powerful as CO2). Use of hydrogen in fuel cells to produce electricity doesn’t have the same problem, and fuel cell technologies have advanced rapidly in recent years.

Hydrogen is an abundant power source – for one thing, remember, the H2 in water is hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be a very clean fuel – depending on how clean the energy is that we use to make it. Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen takes energy, and burning hydrogen releases energy again.

Some people in the environment movement have been hesitant about advocacy for “the hydrogen economy” because hydrogen made using fossil fuel energy only looks clean, while CO2 and other pollutants keep going up the chimney somewhere else. But hydrogen power, like electric power for vehicles, offers potential for storage of renewable energy, and having that energy where and when we want it.

Hydrogen vehicles currently offer much greater range and quicker refuelling than battery electric vehicles. The costs of hydrogen have also fallen dramatically, along with the costs of renewable energy to produce it with. High volume production of fuel cells has dropped from $275 a kilowatt in 2002 to $51 a kilowatt recently and this trend downwards is expected to continue.

Major current developments include:

  • Toyota, Hyundai and Honda are all planning production models of hydrogen fuel cell cars for release in 2015.
  • In Germany a 500kw system to produce hydrogen from surplus wind power is being built at the new Berlin airport.
  • In 2013 the US Department of Energy launched H2USA, a partnership of automakers, gas suppliers, and hydrogen technology companies to support the development of hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell electric vehicles.

The IPCC report, Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, included an essential role for hydrogen.

As at the start of 2014, however, and unlike other advanced economies, we don’t yet have any major hydrogen initiatives in Australia despite the expertise and skills we have available.

For more information, read: Why is hydrogen fuel making a comeback? from Associate Prof. John Andrews at RMIT.

Isn’t hydrogen dangerous?

Sure. So is petrol. So is electricity. So, of course, are fossil fuels like coal and gas – for their emissions; and for the dangers and environmental hazards in mining or drilling, transport and use, including for local communities like Morwell in Victoria.

More FAQs on transport and climate change

We hope to have more FAQs available shortly on transport and climate change including:

  • Is high speed rail part of the solution? What’s happening there?
  • Is sustainability be part of the answer for the car industry workers abandoned by Tony Abbott’s government?
  • What’s happening with sustainability and aviation?
  • What’s happening with sustainability and shipping?

Please let us know of other topics you’d like to see FAQs on, and any additional information or corrections or clarifications on the FAQs provided here.

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Local government and climate change

Why should people interested in climate change be interested in local government?

Understandably for a global problem, much of the focus for climate action is on national leadership.

Labor is working hard at the national level in defence of the Clean Energy package, including the Climate Change Authority, and now there are Tony Abbott’s threats to the Renewable Energy Target, his reckless or knowing untruths about renewable energy and electricity prices and a new campaign against renewables – on spurious health grounds, of all things, while Morwell in Victoria is shrouded in coal smoke.

But local action is essential too.

Labor seeks to be active in local government because of the vital difference that local governments make in people’s lives. Local government roles are particularly critical regarding climate change issues.

Engagement through local government provides an avenue for people to be directly involved in climate action, even at a time when Tony Abbott’s gang is trying to reverse national action to meet the emergency, and when most States have Coalition Governments which are not facing up as well as they should to their responsibilities on climate issues.

Labor supporters who are seeking to support and participate in climate action should seek out their Labor local government representatives. If there are representatives not taking clear enough action, help them to see how to do so.

In some local government areas where there is not a strong Labor presence, it is worth getting in touch with other good people in local government who are acting on climate change issues because they recognise the interests of their local communities.

Weren’t there claims about local government in Tony Abbott’s campaign against climate action?

Yes, Tony Abbott’s gang tried to make costs to local government a feature of their campaign against climate action. The claims were to the effect that there would be huge costs for councils, which would flow on to ratepayers.

These claims were wildly exaggerated and made no mention of the compensation for taxpayers and pensioners which was an essential part of the Clean Energy package, or other measures to assist with adjustment.

  • Greg Combet caught them out in false claims about impacts of carbon pricing on council trucks.
  • Wayne Swan caught them out falsely claiming that landfills would all be subject to carbon pricing:

The majority of landfills and the majority of councils in Australia will have no liability under the carbon price. The landfills have to be big enough to be liable.

We have had further spreading of misrepresentation by the member for Flinders in relation to councils. What he failed to say in mentioning the City of Wyndham is that the City of Wyndham supports the carbon price.

A government member: Whoops!

Mr DREYFUS: Whoops, indeed.

What roles do local governments have about climate change?

As noted by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility:

Local governments play a critical front-line role in Australia’s response to the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. … Local government authorities are at the forefront of managing the impacts of climate change through land-use planning, development consent and asset management and protection.

While climate change impacts are manifest at the local level, the responsibility for adaptive action cannot lie solely with local government. Effective adaptation requires coordinated national leadership to support decisions made at the local level.

Unfortunately, for the moment we cannot confidently expect positive and effective national leadership to support decisions made at the local level on climate issues, from the irresponsible Abbott government.

But local governments are acting, including through national and regional networks. Even Tony Abbott can’t really expect us to think the local government bodies taking climate action across Australia are all inner urban lefties or socialist extremists.

The Australian Local Government Association has indicated that:

  • Climate change is one of ALGA’s top 5 priority policy issues
  • ALGA recognises the importance of evidence based policy making
  • ALGA supports a price on carbon, in particular a market based approach to drive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • ALGA acknowledges that there will be significant impacts resulting from climate change that cannot be avoided
  • ALGA has a vital interest in climate change policy

Where can I find information from local government associations ?

Local government associations each have climate change pages.

As well as overall resources they provide links to initiatives across Australia, from coastal to city to rural and remote communities. All except Queensland provide a range of public information including

  • land-use and climate change (sea level rise and bushfire issues)
  • guidelines and / or workshops for developing a climate change action plan;
  • case studies on planning, adaptation, distributed energy, community engagement and energy efficiency

Queensland’s LGA has a climate change site too but provides this for members and others with www.qld.gov.au addresses. There are good collections of Queensland resources compiled in papers by Professor Heather Zeppel at USQ.

In the Australian Capital Territory, the responsibilities usually handled by local government are administered by the territory government. Under Labor the ACT Government has been very active on climate change issues.

Where do I find information on initiatives by regional networks of councils?

What initiatives have there been by councils?

Information below is based on a very quick web tour in February 2014. Apologies in advance for omissions. Please send us more information about initiatives you know of or are involved in!

National sources

  • You can find more information from the local government portal at the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility including case studies
  • In August 2013 councils in five states (NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia) formed a research partnership with the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (established by Labor in government nationally) to develop practical steps for embedding climate change adaptation into the short, medium, and long-term planning of local governments. A Guidance Manual is due for publication in early 2014.

Western Australia


As noted the Queensland Local Government Association has a climate change page, but this is accessible for .qld.gov.au email addresses only. For some local government bodies in Queensland, climate action is happening but is best found online by searching with google or similar rather than through the councils own website navigation and search.

Some Queensland councils don’t have express climate change plans but do have climate change in their disaster plans. Some Qld councils that don’t yet have climate change plans have it on their operational plan for development. There are some outstanding initiatives, but the need for State and Federal government leadership appears clear.

  • Blackall-Tambo council climate change page, central Qld
  • The Brisbane City plan for action on climate change and energy is dated 2007 – time to update people?
  • Cairns climate change page links to a series of interlinked plans and actions and plans include annual indicators across mitigation and adaptation.
  • Gold Coast joined worldwide Cities for Climate Protection in 1997. Gold Coast’s climate change page notes that the first recorded council response to climate science was in 1977! See Gold Coast’s climate change strategy 2009-2014
  • Ipswich council climate page has less information than some others on council’s own plans, but contains good information and advice for residents
  • Isaac regional council is supporting the Witness King Tides project to document sea level issues
  • Among its energy efficiency initiatives Logan City council records that its ammonia based chiller (although common in industrial settings) was the first in an Australian office setting. This innovation has been prompted by Labor’s clean energy legislation. People who have followed the carbon pricing debate in Parliament will know that freon refrigerants are far more powerful greenhouse gases than CO2; that John Howard’s government recognised the need to restrict these gases; and that despite this Tony Abbott and his crew opposed any action about synthetic refrigerants and told extravagant untruths about the ruinous effects which Labor’s legislation in this area would have.
  • Mackay council included climate change in their community consultation for planning towards 2031
  • Mareeba shire council has sets of home energy audit toolkits for loan
  • Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast councils have partnered in providing smart homes info
  • Redland council climate change page including climate change strategy
  • Rockhampton 2050: Technical Report on Current and Future Climate Hazards was supported by local and the (Labor) Federal government
  • Sunshine Coast council’s climate action includes an initiative to build a 10MW solar farm which was deservedly featured in national media
  • Tablelands Regional Council climate change page
  • Torres Strait council identifies extremely serious climate change issues, cultural and physical
  • Townsville: Coastal Hazard Adaptation Strategy


Northern Territory

Under Labor climate risk assessments in vulnerable NT communities has been part funded by the Commonwealth. Will that continue?

  • The Northern Territory Local Government Association climate page
  • Belyuen council: climate risks include sea level rise, more intense cyclones, disease risks
  • Coomalie council Climate Change Risk Assessment
  • Darwin City Council
  • Tiwi Islands Climate Change Risk Assessment: As the assessment says, highly resilient communities but increasingly exposed to extreme events
  • Wagait Climate Change Risk Assessment
  • West Arnhem Climate Change Risk Assessment


  • Municipal Association of Victoria climate page links to some of their range of work – there are more climate change documents on their site too
  • Eight South-East Victorian councils have banded together on greenhouse abatement and climate adaptation programs for the Western Port region
  • Ararat is reducing emissions by using wood waste from transfer station to heat local indoor pool
  • Tea Tree Gully council reports on treatment plant, aquatic and recreation centre re energy efficiency and renewables
  • Towong Shire was the first council in Australia to facilitate a community purchasing program for solar home energy systems. The Pure Towong Energy community renewables program focus on barrier reduction and community engagement provides a model for success

South Australia


  • NSW Local Government Association climate change page has workshop package for developing action plan, case studies on action
  • NSW rural council Eorobodalla adopted revised coastal development approach after considering climate change
  • Kuringai accepts climate change increases bushfire risk, incorporates into landuse planning; conducts Building Climate Wise Communities workshops
  • Lake Macquarie council plans for sea level rise, flood risks from climate change
  • NSW central west: Parkes adopts distributed energy plan, instals solar PV on all major infrastructure assets; roll-out of Parkes Solar Communities Project
  • Parramatta: energy efficiency for carpark saving 33% energy for ratepayers, reducing CO2
  • Uralla: community forum to produce consensus recs for climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Rural NSW Wellington, Blayney, Cabonne shires plan climate action together
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Infrastructure and climate change

What impacts could climate change have on existing infrastructure?

Experts have warned of infrastructure destruction including by flooding and erosion.

The former Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency reported that a sea level rise of 1.1 metres presents risks to between 27,000 and 35,000 km of roads and rail, with a value of between $51 and $67 billion (2008 replacement value).

It makes simple financial senses for Australia to do its share of climate action to seek to avoid or limit these kinds of losses.

The CSIRO has said:

The risks to infrastructure include the failure of urban drainage and sewerage systems, more blackouts, transport disruption, and greater building damage. Higher temperatures, altered groundwater and soil conditions, sea-level rise and changed rainfall regimes may also lead to accelerated degradation of materials.

In particular, we can expect more heatwaves as a result of climate change, and we can expect these heatwaves to be more extreme. These will have impacts on infrastructure, as well as on human health and welfare.


Is climate change already having expensive and disruptive impacts on infrastructure?


The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (a consortium of a number of Australia universities) produced a detailed report on the 2009 heatwave in Melbourne and Adelaide. The report noted that financial losses were estimated at $800 million – mainly as a consequence of power outages, transport service disruptions and response costs.

The report noted that both Melbourne and Adelaide

experienced costly service interruptions resulting from failures in the heat sensitive components of power and transport infrastructure and systems, with electricity and train systems being the most severely impacted.

For power:

The city’s electricity sector stands out as being the most vulnerable to heat, with the transmission (due to faults with transformers) and distribution systems particularly being affected by the extreme event of January–February 2009. In Melbourne, the sector was under severe stress and in a state of near-collapse. … In Melbourne on the evening of 30 January, more than 500,000 residents were without power and the system was extremely vulnerable to further and potentially system-wide failure.

Power failures during a heatwave like this are not just inconvenient and unpleasant: they were found to have contributed to the higher rates of deaths and heat-related illness experienced in 2009.

The report said that for power systems

Capital programs must factor in the cost of adaptation to climate change and the prospect of more frequent and intense heatwaves. This is even more imperative given the extraordinarily high economic, social and health impacts of widespread power disruptions caused by and combined with extreme heat events.

As well as other problems like power failures, train services were vulnerable to physical impacts such as tracks buckling in the heat. The report cover shows the remarkable sight of workers spraying water on rail tracks in an effort to reduce this effect. The same thing was seen in the January 2014 heatwave.

What impacts could rising sea levels have on transport infrastructure in Australia?

Rising sea levels due to global warming could have catastrophic impacts on transport systems.

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency reported threats from sea level rise of 1.1 metres as follows

  • Nationally, between 26,000 and 33,000 km of roads are potentially at risk
  • Nationally, between 1,200 and 1,500 km of rail lines and tramways are potentially at risk

Road and rail infrastructure under threat includes links to important ports (for example Port Hedland, Wollongong and Newcastle), urban areas (for example Port Adelaide and Melbourne) and regional and interstate links.

As has been reported in the press, OzCoasts maps for 1.1 metre sea level rise show extensive inundation affecting the main Sydney – Brisbane railway (as well as the route to the Port of Newcastle).

They also show some inundation affecting the Sydney – Brisbane expressway, for example around Raymond Terrace as well as Hexham.

A number of airports – regional and capital city – are also vulnerable.

Which airports are most threatened by sea level rise?

One particularly dramatic aspect of the impact on Australia from unchecked greenhouse gas emissions can be seen by checking Australia’s airports against OzCoasts maps (where available) for the impacts of sea level rises driven by climate change.

The potential economic impacts we are looking at here dwarf any impacts that even the irresponsible and disgraceful Greg Hunt could claim about carbon pricing.

  • At Sydney, OzCoasts maps for 1.1 metres sea level rise show impacts on one end of the main runway and the required run-off area. These impacts are just avoided if sea level rise can be kept to the lower amounts of sea level rise mapped. That would take urgent action now – including Australia resuming a positive international role instead of trying to organise coalitions against climate action.
  • At Brisbane, the runway is shown on OzCoasts map for 1.1 metre sea level rise as just above water, but surrounded. (The small airport in Brisbane’s north at Redcliffe shows as inundated.)
  • At Adelaide, OzCoasts map for 1.1 metre sea level rise indicates the runway would still be just above water but areas of the airport would have operational, on-water issues.

OzCoasts maps are not available for some areas of Australia. But there is enough information to tell us that we do need other airports to be mapped properly and publicly for impacts of sea level rise:

  • For Hobart, OzCoasts maps aren’t available. But the middle of the main runway is between 2 and 3 metres above current average sea levels. That’s the height which OzCoasts tells us can’t afford much sea level rise at all.
  • One end of the airport at Lord Howe Island, some of the runway at Rottnest Island airport and some of the runway at Merimbula airport, is less than one metre above current average sea level.
  • Regional airports where the main runway includes sections between 2 and 3 metres above current average sea level or even lower, include Cairns, Mackay, Sunshine Coast Airport, Ballina, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, and Taree
  • Gold Coast Airport, Townsville, Great Barrier Reef Airport Hamilton Island, Karumba, Moruya Airport on the NSW South Coast, and Onslow Airport up in the north west, appear just marginally higher, with sections between 3 and 4 metres above current average sea level. (OzCoasts maps cover the South East Queensland coast down to Coolangatta, but the southern half of the Gold Coast Airport runway is marked “no data”.)
  • Bankstown Airport’s main runway has sections between 4 and 5 metres above current average sea level. That doesn’t look far at all above the adjacent, tidal, Georges River.
  • Taree Airport is a little higher with the lowest section around 5 metres above current average sea level. But that’s not far above the adjacent, tidal, Manning River.

Whyalla Airport, at 10 metres, is (like the town) in no danger of being wiped off the map by carbon pricing. It is also safer than many regional airports from sea level rise.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation  has called on all members to take serious measures on climate change. Australia has been a member of ICAO from the outset in 1944 and has particular responsibilities as a member of the ICAO council. Mapping potential impacts and planning for those impacts would seem to be the bare minimum required.

Threats to airports from rising sea levels are also being recognised overseas.

What roles could there be for infrastructure policy and investment on climate change?

We need to be planning now for some amount of climate change, as well as working to keep that amount as small as we can.

Experts have pointed to needs for improved building regulation. There could also be roles for the Commonwealth and other levels of government in areas including

  • Continued reform of the National Electricity Market (to support access to renewable energy for households and businesses), and infrastructure measures to support this (for example to support export of renewable energy by States with surpluses)
  • Improved transport infrastructure to support moves to more efficient passenger and freight movement
  • More resilient energy and public transport infrastructure to deal with heatwave conditions
  • Protection of coastal communities against storm surges
  • Improved information to support planning and action by communities, individuals and industries (and to offset moves in the opposite direction by some State governments).
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“Direct action”

Where can I find information on “direct action”?

Very little information on “direct action” was made available by Tony Abbott’s team for the September 2013 election. A Green Paper was finally released on 20 December 2013. Labor has insisted on a Senate Inquiry to get more information and expert input. Hearings started on 29 January 2014, and the Inquiry is to report by 24 March.

Do economists and other experts support “direct action”?

No. Tony Abbott has not been able to find a single credible scientist or economist who supports this policy as the way of achieving action on climate change. Even after the 2013 election, surveys of Australian economists show the majority want a market based mechanism on climate change like an Emissions Trading Scheme.

The only real support for Tony Abbott’s “direct action” in preference to a carbon price comes from the very small minority of business economists who don’t want action at all.

The majority view of economists is summarised by Chris Caton (at BT Financial) who said that any economist who did not opt for an ETS should hand his or her degree back.

Isn’t direct action against climate change better than a trading mechanism no-one understands?

“Direct action” is just another one of Tony Abbott’s catchy slogans, with a bit of taxpayers money sprayed up against the wall to hide a retreat from any effective action – it’s not a real climate change policy at all.

If Tony Abbott supported real direct action, he wouldn’t want to take money from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which are funding real and cost-effective measures. And he wouldn’t be trying to scrap Australia’s legal cap on emissions, or the mechanisms to tell us how well we’re doing against targets set in law. The Australian public understand this: polls show only 12% prefer Tony Abbott’s “direct action”policy.

What did Treasury say about an ETS versus “direct action”?

In their “Blue Book” in 2010 – the brief that would have gone to an incoming Coalition government if the election or the negotiations afterwards had gone the Coalition’s way – Treasury described a carbon pricing mechanism as “the only realistic way of achieving the deep cuts in emissions that are required”.

They identified ‘scaling up’ from 5% pollution reduction as a major problem with the Coalition policy, saying

a market mechanism can achieve the necessary abatement at a cost per tonne of emissions that is far lower than alternative direct action policies. Moreover, many direct action measures cannot be scaled up, and, for those that can, the cost per tonne of abatement would rise rapidly, imposing further costs on taxpayers and consumers. All of this serves to underscore the conclusion that the sooner an emissions trading scheme can be implemented the better.”

This, and the “Red Book” brief prepared alongside it (for briefing an incoming Labor government) were released by Treasury (with some confidential materials blacked out in both cases) on Wayne Swan’s watch when Labor formed government after the 2010 election. Penny Wong’s Department of Finance did the same.

These “Books” are the ultimate in independent advice. They are prepared by the professionals at Treasury and Finance, before they or anyone else knows who the next government will be.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey haven’t allowed the Red and Blue Books which were prepared for a new government in 2013 to be released. This is despite FOI requests, and despite the precedent in accountability set by Labor in Government in 2010.

Who would pay for “direct action”?

You would. Labor’s Emissions Trading Scheme means the big polluters pay. “Direct action” means the taxpayer pays the big polluters.

Are there any other examples of “pay the polluter” schemes like “direct action”?

No. Governments around the world are trying a range of complementary measures to go with carbon prices, including incentives as well as regulation. But there aren’t any other schemes that pretend to address pollution by paying polluters with no legal caps and no penalties.

It would be like paying someone to do less drink driving, but then doing nothing when they keep doing it. Any useful scheme involving incentives has to be part of a larger scheme with proper targets and caps.

Would “direct action” at least pay for emissions reductions that wouldn’t otherwise have happened?

Tony Abbott’s government says this “additionality” will be one of the conditions for “direct action” funding. But we still haven’t seen any mechanism to actually guarantee that the taxpayer won’t be paying for things that businesses would have done some or all of anyway.

The Grattan Institute has questioned the effectiveness of “direct action” in ensuring additionality in relation into coal fired power in particular:

A particular example is in regard to electricity generators where falling demand is already leading to the mothballing and possible permanent closure of capacity. The 2010 published Direct Action Plan allowed for the ERF to support the reduction of emissions from old or inefficient power stations. It would be inappropriate if such funding was to flow to power stations that would have closed anyway.

Submissions to the “direct action” Senate inquiry have also pointed out that in trying to build in “additionality”, the “direct action” plan would disadvantage responsible businesses that have already reduced emissions. Their work would count now as “business as usual” and not be eligible for subsidies. Meanwhile their competitors who hadn’t acted before would be able to copy this same work and bid for their share of the “Emissions Reduction Fund”.

What happens to businesses who don’t make successful bids for “direct action” funds?

“Direct action” doesn’t give any incentive for improved outcomes on emissions for all those businesses who aren’t picked as winners by whatever process Tony Abbott’s government puts in place (we still can’t say what that is, except that it’s not a proper market and he doesn’t want it to be the experts at the Clean Energy Finance Corporation).

Only those who get subsidised will be given any incentives to act under “direct action”. This is unfair and it won’t give us the emissions reductions we need.

Will “direct action” achieve even the 5% emissions reductions target that Tony Abbott’s government says it accepts?

Independent analysis says no (see for example the work referred to in the Climate Institute submission to the “direct action” Senate inquiry).

Tony Abbott has capped the “emissions reduction fund”, whether or not it achieves the emissions reductions that he says he’s committed to. Obvious conclusion … he’s not really committed to the emissions reductions.

Independent analysis suggests that an additional $4 billion of taxpayer funding would be required for “direct action” even to meet a 5% reduction target. In contrast, of course, Labor’s ETS involves polluters paying, and is scalable to meet a tighter cap on emissions.

There are no guarantees of achieving even 5% emissions reductions through the “direct action” system. Because there is no cap on emissions, there is no guarantee that Australia as a nation will meet our international commitments.

Could we plant enough trees to stop climate change?

It would be nice if this were true, but no. As Labor’s Penny Wong has said, this is a slogan or a pamphlet, not a policy.

Monash University research indicates that, just to achieve Tony Abbott’s promises, tree planting would have to cover an area more than twice the size of Melbourne, even under the most optimistic assumptions. Under real world conditions, we would need a very much larger area even to achieve Tony Abbott’s targets, and we would need to sacrifice vast amounts of water and farmland.

And remember, Tony Abbott’s targets are far less than what science tells us we need.

What about the soil carbon bit of “direct action”?

Tony Abbott’s policy presumes that soil carbon can deliver up to 85 million tonnes of reduction per year, at just $10 per tonne. A University of Western Australia study however found the cost to be more like $80 per tonne. Greg Hunt’s own Environment department estimates that the technology can only deliver 1/20th of the claimed reductions. This is why Labor members of Parliament have referred to policies that depend on “magic soils and magic trees”.

Aren’t the proposed subsidies for some extra solar rooftops one good bit of the “direct action” policy?

Tony Abbott’s “direct action” policy said there will be a “one million solar rooftops” program, with $500 million over the next decade for $500 rebates for solar panels, hot water systems and heat pumps, and some other smaller programs including for schools.

But this was scrapped in Joe Hockey’s 2014 Budget (still not passed because it is so unfair and so lacking in sense.)

Even if the solar rooftops commitment in “Direct Action” somehow gets put back, it still leaves more questions than answers. For example:

  • Why adopt a target of one million rooftops over a decade, when over a million rooftops were already fitted with solar in Labor’s last six years, and costs and technology have improved so much in that time that we should expect and plan to be accelerating, not to be slowing down?
  • Like the rest of “direct action”, where are the mechanisms to ensure that the public aren’t paying for things that would have happened anyway?
  • Tony Abbott’s government says there will be priority for low income households. But how do you get a rebate if you are renting? Or if you can’t find the upfront system purchase costs in the first place?
  • How will Tony Abbott’s scheme fit with schemes where you lease solar panels or fit them into your power contract instead of paying an upfront fee you could get a rebate for?
  • Does this provide any incentive for small businesses wanting to install solar power, particularly in rented premises?
  • Isn’t this scheme giving less with one hand than what the other hand is taking, considering Tony Abbott’s attempt to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and threats to the Renewable Energy Target?
  • With the solar installation industry warning of thousands of job losses under Tony Abbott’s policies if we reduce the Renewable Energy Target, why should anyone believe that these policies from his government involve a real increase in support for renewable energy?
  • Doesn’t Tony Abbott making negative and inaccurate comments about renewables, like saying that they put power prices up, tell the real story about whether he really wants to see more solar panels on Australian roofs?

Does Tony Abbott’s “direct action” mean we don’t need the Renewable Energy Target?

No. No independent analysis shows “direct action” as a real policy with good chances of working. So it’s hard to see it as a real substitute for anything. Unless you don’t want a climate policy at all, and are happy to just throw some public money away so you can pretend to be doing something.

Is “direct action” really an excuse for doing nothing very much, at the expense of throwing away public money?

Unfortunately, it looks like the answer is yes.

This is what Malcolm Turnbull warned us :

The fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming. As Tony observed on one occasion ‘climate change is crap’ or if you consider his mentor, Senator Minchin, the world is not warming, it’s cooling and the climate change issue is part of a vast left wing conspiracy to deindustrialise the world.

Now politics is about conviction and a commitment to carry out those convictions. The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is ‘crap’ and you don’t need to do anything about it. Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental figleaf to cover a determination to do nothing.

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Climate change science and impacts

Where can I find accurate information on climate science?

A really good source of information is at www.skepticalscience.com , from John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow at University of Queensland. See especially the arguments pages, including responses to over 100 of the most common climate denial lines, all based on peer reviewed science.

There is also good information from the Climate Council, which is just getting going to replace the Climate Commission. The Climate Commission was established by Labor in Government to provide the public with information, but which was sacked by Tony Abbott’s government.

Just out in February 2014 are FAQ and other information jointly from the US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society.

Is climate change happening, and are human emissions causing it?

Yes, and yes. Climate scientists are 95% sure, to rigorous scientific standards, and getting even more certain as even more evidence keeps coming.

The International Panel on Climate Change reports give details. The Climate Council has an excellent summary of the most recent (5th) IPCC report on the science.

As Labor’s Mark Dreyfus has said in Parliament:

There is no more reason for policymakers, ministers or anyone in Australia to be now challenging the science of climate change, as people, unfortunately, are being encouraged to do—led by our current Prime Minister.

Even Rupert Murdoch has said that “climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats” to our society (although you wouldn’t know it from his tabloids).

Do people in Australia accept that climate change is happening?

A CSIRO survey released in early 2014 showed 81% of people in Australia agree the climate is changing. A majority (although a lower number) accept that humans are causing it. Even Tony Abbott (sometimes) says he believes it.

Only 8% of Australians think the climate isn’t changing, with slightly more than that in the “don’t know” column.

People who deny climate change is happening are out on the fringe of public opinion as well out of step with the science. Oddly, though, the survey showed that the 8% think nearly half of Australia agrees with them. Maybe they just get their science from the shock jocks. And maybe this is why they feel okay campaigning against action on climate change.

There’s way more climate denial in the Australian media (including places like talkback radio and the Murdoch press) and in Australian Parliaments than there is in Australian public opinion, let alone among scientists. Much of the denial you hear originates with paid “think tanks,” like the Institute of Public Affairs or their equivalents in the USA, who won’t disclose where they get their money.

These FAQ are meant to help with answers when you see or hear people getting it wrong.

Hasn’t the climate always changed?

Science tells us that Earth’s climate has changed over millions of years, due to things like the very slow drift of continents. The Earth has seen species come and go with this.

But we are talking here about big and rapid changes during our own human lifetimes, and in our children’s lifetimes. Still think it’s to the point that the climate has changed before?

Aren’t CO2 and other greenhouse gases a tiny part of the atmosphere, and aren’t human emissions even smaller?

This is another favourite of people who take their science from Alan Jones instead of from the CSIRO. But the fact that CO2 is only a small proportion of Earth’s total atmosphere, is exactly why changes in the amount of CO2 being emitted since the Industrial Revolution are able to have a significant effect on this proportion.

As Margaret Thatcher said in 1989: “none of us would be here but for the greenhouse effect. It gives us the moist atmosphere which sustains life on earth. We need the greenhouse effect—but only in the right proportions”. She said in the same speech: “We are seeing a vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere.”

Since pre-industrial times, the concentration of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere has increased by 40 per cent, with around 500 billion additional tonnes of the gas pumped into the atmosphere over that same period. From studying things like Antarctic ice cores, scientists can tell that this is the highest atmospheric concentration of CO2 in at least 800,000 years.

Isn’t it just the sun?

No. Solar radiation reaching Earth does vary slightly (mainly from small, predictable variations in the Earth’s orbit, as well as from sunspots). But for the last 35 years, we have experienced reduction in solar radiation reaching Earth, at the same time as we’ve had above average temperatures (in the atmosphere and still more in the oceans).

The solar energy that really counts here, is the solar energy from millions of years ago that’s stored in the fossil fuels we’ve been burning, and the solar energy from our own time that we need to use more of right now.

Aren’t volcanoes and bushfires more important sources of CO2 than human emissions?

No. Humans emit more than 100 times as much greenhouse gases as volcanoes do. Volcanos have had very little impact on the last 40 years of global warming and if anything their clouds may have had a slight cooling effect. And global warming will make bushfires more likely to happen, more likely to happen earlier in the season, and more likely to be severe.

Didn’t global warming stop in 1998 (or some other year after that)?

No. Climate deniers confidently repeat this as if it were an established fact (Tony Abbott said it on the Alan Jones show in December 2009), but no. The World Bureau of Meteorology says no.

As Professor Ross Garnaut said in the 2011 update to his Report:

There is a statistically significant warming trend, and it did not end in 1998 or in any other year.”

Every year since 1976 has been above average. If you were born in 1976 or later, you’ve never lived in a below average year. 2013 was Australia’s hottest since records began (confirmed by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology) and the world’s 4th hottest.

Doesn’t a cold winter in America prove there’s no global warming?

No. Extreme weather of all kinds is actually made more likely by global warming.

For the 2013-14 North American winter, the “polar vortex” of very cold air has strayed south. This seems to be because global warming has reduced the air pressure differences that we can usually rely on to keep this vortex at home near the North Pole. Look up the short video from President Obama’s chief scientific advisor explaining it.

A ship with some scientists got stuck in Antarctic sea ice this summer. Doesn’t that prove there’s no global warming?

No. Any more than the fact that there’s ice in your freezer proves what the temperature in the whole house is doing.

If anything, the sea ice having drifted in unusual ways might actually be a result of climate change, although they aren’t sure about that.

What we can be sure of is that the claims that this event disproves global warming (by the Murdoch press and by former Liberal staffers writing in supposedly better papers), tell you far more about the people behind the stories than they do about climate change.

Some scientists somewhere sent something in emails to someone a while ago. Doesn’t that prove there’s no global warming?

No. People who hacked into scientists’ emails in the UK, for the story they want you to believe, are about as trustworthy as the people associated with Rupert Murdoch’s papers in the UK who have been caught out for hacking the phones of royal family members, and celebrities, and victims of crime.

The scientists whose emails were hacked have been cleared of any wrongdoing. Yet somehow this is meant to prove that scientists worldwide, including NASA, and the CSIRO, and the Weather Bureau, are all part of a conspiracy to invent or exaggerate global warming? Right.

It’s all too scary to think about. Can’t we just not talk about global warming?

Wouldn’t it be nice if climate change really was all made up, and we didn’t have to do anything about it? But shutting our eyes and talking loudly about something else won’t make this one go away.

As Labor’s Bill Shorten has said, we don’t elect leaders just to look the other way when hard issues come along.

Why should we trust scientists when they’re paid to promote global warming theory?

Let’s be honest: the attack on science is ridiculous and shameful. And much of it is made (honestly or not) by people who are paid to make it – or by the worst Tea Party types in Tony Abbott’s own party.

There is just no evidence for a worldwide conspiracy by scientists to invent or exaggerate global warming. And people who are paid to make these attacks, or the anonymous billionaires in the US who have been shown to be funding climate denial through trusts and foundations, are not in an independent and trustworthy position themselves, least of all to accuse other people of being part of a paid conspiracy. Don’t believe them.

NASA says that they are certain global warming is happening. Only the real fringe thinks they faked all those moon landings too!

Here’s what Malcolm Turnbull said:

Those of us who do not believe the CSIRO is part of an international Green conspiracy to undermine Western civilisation, or do not believe that leading scientists like Will Steffen are subversives, should not be afraid to speak out, and loudly, on behalf of our scientists and our science. We must not allow ourselves to be deluded on this issue.

Are the seas really rising? I haven’t seen it in the years I’ve been going to the beach …

Yes, the seas are rising. Measurements over the last century showed slow but steady rises. This has been too slow to see happening, but it has still been serious. Unfortunately, newer predictions, including more accurate satellite measurements, and allowing for melting glaciers and icecaps, are for faster and worse sea level rises.

The World Meteorological Organisation advises that sea levels are now rising about twice as fast as they did on average across the 20th century. If emissions continue to increase unabated, sea level could rise by around 1 m by 2100. Sustained warming could eventually lead to the loss of the entire Greenland ice sheet, with a rise in sea level of up to 7 metres. And release of the methane currently trapped in the Arctic permafrost could lead to far worse results still.

Is a bit of sea level rise all that serious?

Yes. Even a small rise in sea levels will give a higher base for tides, let alone for storms or cyclones. Some countries – and some of Australia’s coasts – don’t have much more than a metre above sea level. Kakadu’s freshwater wetlands and the tourist industry based on them are very vulnerable, for example. Local governments like Hobart plan on the basis that 3 metres of freeboard above average sea level is needed before an area can be said to be above the effects of storm surges and king tides.

And the actual sea level rise from unchecked global warming could be far, far worse.

Why would global warming make the seas rise?

Water expands as it heats (from 4oC upwards). And the oceans are absorbing more heat as global warming occurs. We know now that over 90% of global warming is going into the oceans. On top of that, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and sliding into the sea.

Does it matter all that much if the seas are getting more acidic?

Yes. CO2 dissolving in the oceans is making the oceans more acidic. This threatens many of the food chains that marine life and ultimately we humans depend on. Increased acidity affects the ability of shellfish to make shells, to take one example.

Is climate change causing more and worse hurricanes?

Overall, yes. While we can’t say any individual storm was caused by global warming, it’s basic physics that more energy in weather systems can be expected to produce more severe weather events.

Hurricanes draw their energy from heat in the ocean. Warmer oceans will produce more and worse hurricanes. And higher sea levels will mean more damage caused by storm surges.

Can’t we just adapt, the way humans have adapted to changes over history?

Rapid climate change – like the one from the asteroid hit that seems to have wiped out the dinosaurs, or like rapid global warming from our own industrial emissions – is not something easy to adapt to. And it’s really not something that we want to see in our and our children’s lifetimes.

Our climate is changing faster now than it has in the thousands of years of human civilisation.

We will have no choice but to adapt to some level of climate change. The IPCC says we probably can’t avoid around 2oC of warming on average. That will be serious enough. But the more global warming there is, the harder and more expensive it will be to adapt.

To take just one example, most cities around the world have been built just metres above nearby seas, and the amount of sea level rise will depend on the amount of global warming.

Won’t more CO2 just make more plants grow?

No. Climate change presents big threats to farmers in Australia and around the world. For example, it is changing the rainfall and other seasonal patterns that farmers depend on. And lots of the extra CO2 is making the oceans more acid, which threatens food sources there. Only complete ratbags think or say we need more CO2.

Isn’t it too late to worry about changes that happened because of the industrial revolution?

This isn’t mainly about what people did in the 19th century, before almost anyone knew about the greenhouse effect or global warming. Half of all fossil fuels burned, ever, have been burned since 1985.

What we do, right now and from now, matters. This is why the Climate Commission (before Tony Abbott tried to silence it by cutting off its funds) called its report “The critical decade”.

If it’s too late to stop climate change, why should we bother doing anything?

The more global warming there is, the harder and more expensive it will be to adapt. The International Energy Agency has estimated that each year of delay from here would cost an additional $500 billion. The sooner we take effective action to reduce the threat, the more hardship and expense we can avoid into the future.

Adaptation will be important too, but we need to apply our abilities for innovation to preventing all the global warming we can, not just trying to mop up afterwards and adapt to whatever comes along.

Aren’t there lots of environmental issues besides climate change?

Yes, of course. But climate change and other most other environmental issues are linked.

For example, climate change threatens biodiversity in many environments, including in Australia. Climate change will put rivers in Australia like the Murray-Darling, and native plant and animal habitats, under even more pressure. And many other environmental threats – like threats to forests – also carry climate risks.

Here’s a reminder of what long term environmental activist Peter Garrett said in support of Labor’s clean energy legislation:

In all the environmental campaigns I have been involved in, none is so important—nor is there any environmental issue as important—as tackling dangerous climate change.

As the World Wildlife Fund said on World Wildlife Day 2014, if you care about protecting wildlife you have to care about climate change.

How is forest protection important to climate change?

Land clearing in itself releases CO2. Also, older forests with bigger trees absorb and hold more CO2 than newer plantations. So loss of forests will make climate change worse.

What gases apart from CO2 are important?

As well as CO2 , there are other important greenhouse gases where we need to take action, including methane (from animal waste and coal and gas emissions ) and various refrigerant gases. The Clean Energy Package addressed these – Tony Abbott’s team opposed action on these too.

Do sources of emissions besides coal fired power stations matter?

Yes. Different kinds of fossil fuels (and biofuels too, like ethanol or wood) all emit CO2 when we burn them, whether we use them for transport, heating or power. We also need to take into account emissions from farming, land clearing and mining (including incidental emissions of methane from extracting natural gas or coal, as well as emissions from power for mining equipment).

What can I do when I see and hear climate myths?

If it’s someone you know, give them better information. If it’s someone in the media or a public position, challenge them, or let someone know who can. If you need more information, contact your local ALP member or candidate; or one of the environment group contacts listed on this site.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

What is the International Panel on Climate Change?

The IPCC was established by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation in 1988, and endorsed by the UN General Assembly the same year. It is an intergovernmental body open to all countries which are members of the UN. Australia has been a member from the outset.

Isn’t the IPCC exaggerating the risks?

No. Numerous expert papers have documented how the IPCC is actually more likely to be underestimating the risks.

The IPCC has avoided making predictions on those climate change issues where it considers not enough evidence is in yet. For example, warming and sea level rise could be made far worse (think dozens of metres), quite quickly, if the permafrost in Arctic regions melts and releases its methane – but the IPCC hasn’t made predictions on that yet because it isn’t satisfied yet.

Where can I find the IPCC’s reports?

The website of the International Panel on Climate Change is at http://www.ipcc.ch/ . The IPCC publishes regular Assessment Reports on the state of knowledge of climate change as well as more specialised information.

Climate Change 2007 was the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. In common with earlier reports the Fifth Assessment report will be released in 4 phases (from September 2013 to October 2014): Climate change 2013: The physical science basis (now available); Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (due March 2014); Mitigation of Climate Change (due April 2014); and Synthesis Report (due October 2014).

Where can I find a summary of the latest IPCC reports?

The Climate Council has an excellent summary of the most recent (5th) report on the science.

The IPPC itself has a Summary for Policymakers of the first section of the Fifth Assessment Report released, on the physical science of climate change.

Key findings from this Summary for Policy Makers are copied below.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850

Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010

Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent

The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia

The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification

Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

Climate models have improved since the 4thAssessment Report. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

The IPCC goes on to discuss predictions in more detail. It notes, however, that many of these predictions depend on what we do now.

What is a carbon budget?

A good source of information on the global carbon budget is online from the Global Carbon Project.

The IPCC and other experts have been giving increasing emphasis to the concept of overall “carbon budgets”. Labor’s Clean Energy Future Act put this concept into Australian law for the first time, by requiring the Climate Change Authority to consider a global carbon budget in setting emissions goals.

Carbon budgets refer to how much extra CO2 and other greenhouse gases humans can put into the atmosphere before even greater levels of global warming happen. The world has already used one third of the budget (1700 Gigatonnes) for emissions between 2000 and 2050 that would give us a two-thirds chance of staying below 2oC average temperature rise.

Referring only to reductions in existing rates of emissions might give the idea that we “just” need to slow down to a safe level. But science tells us that CO2 in the atmosphere from human emissions is already way beyond safe levels, and will stay there a long time.

So for decades to come, we have a very limited carbon budget for the world to live within.

And (unlike Labor’s budget action for temporary budget deficits to save Australia from the Global Financial Crisis, which Tony Abbott is on the public record as having slept through) this is the sort of budget where going into deficit really would leave a debt that our children won’t be able to pay back.

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Climate change policy

Isn’t Australia’s contribution to global emissions too small to matter?

No. As a country we are one of the highest emitters per head. Together, the countries in the group that emit about the same as us add up to around 40% of global emissions.

If we don’t act, why should we expect these other countries to? And do we really accept – or expect our leaders to accept – that “what we do in Australia doesn’t matter”, on this any more than on other issues?

Could we benefit economically by doing more on climate issues?

Yes. As well as having much to lose if we are slow to act, we have much to gain economically from action. We have here some of the world’s leaders in solar power research, for example. More support and investment in this work would pay big dividends.

Could we benefit in our region of the world by doing more on climate issues?

Yes. Our Pacific neighbours include poor countries critically threatened by sea level rise, and by other climate change issues. They know as well as we do that these issues have been caused by the emissions that gave industrialised countries like Australia much of our prosperity.

What do we expect them to think of Australia cutting its aid budget, and going backwards on climate policy?

After Tony Abbott (in another one of his schoolboy interjections) made what he thought was a joke in Parliament about carbon pricing in Tuvalu, and Tuvalu sinking into the ocean (yes, he really did …), Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister in February 2012 said

for the people in the climate change small island states, this is not a joke .

You mightn’t have read that in many Australian newspapers, who were mostly busy reporting other aspects of political theatre at the time. But they did notice around the Pacific. Here’s a more recent story from our Pacific neighbours, from February 2014:

In November, Japan, Canada and Australia backtracked on their ‘emission-reduction targets’, signed under the Kyoto Agreement. It is with Australia though that there exists most acrimony. Australia “shares the same ocean as our island nations and is a big brother to the Pacific,” says Koreti and therefore it “makes no sense that they would contribute so greatly in destroying the environment. It’s unacceptable that given the irrefutable evidence of the harm caused by carbon emissions, Australia would not help.”

Shouldn’t we wait for other countries to act first?

No. This is a favourite for those wanting to delay climate action, but it has been rejected over and over again by experts, from Peter Shergold’s report for the Howard Government, to Ross Garnaut’s more recent work, to the Climate Change Authority.

Most countries–and all the major emitters – are acting now, and we need to do our share. Here’s what Australia’s Department of the Environment still had on its website as of January 2014:

Many countries–and all the major emitters–are acting now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries have started this transformation to take advantage of the opportunities stemming from the next stage of global development that will be powered by clean energy.

A broad range of countries have introduced, or are planning, market based emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes. Australia’s top five trading partners–China, Japan, the United States (US), the Republic of Korea and Singapore–and another eight of our top twenty trading partners (New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada) have implemented or are piloting carbon trading or taxation schemes at national, state or the city level.

Many countries have renewable energy targets, including fifteen of Australia’s top twenty trading partners. Energy performance standards for appliances, buildings and industrial plants, as well as incentives for the use and development of low emission products and technologies are now widespread.

Why should countries like Australia limit their emissions when developing countries are increasing theirs?

It just isn’t true that developing countries aren’t acting.

China’s growth in coal use has almost stopped already, for example, to the point where investment in big new coal mines here could quickly become very risky financially. In 2013 alone China installed 12 gigawatts of solar panels, equalling in one year the total installed so far by the US. In 2014 China plans to instal another 14 gigawatts of solar.

Developing countries also rightly point out that the countries which industrialised first have benefited the most from fossil fuel based development, and have contributed most of the CO2 in the atmosphere. One estimate is that for a global carbon budget consistent with 2oC, the USA passed its fair share back in 1936, while China wouldn’t get there at the current rate until 2050. Even if we ruled a line and started from 2000, a fair share of a 2 degree carbon budget would see the US stop net emissions completely by 2025.

How long has Labor been committed to action on climate change?

Labor’s platform has included a commitment to action on climate change since 1998 (credit there to Kim Beazley and his team, and particularly to Anthony Albanese).

Labor leader Kevin Rudd initiated the Garnaut Review from opposition in 2007, to be ready to act in government.

Labor’s first act in government in 2007 was ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. (One of the Abbott Government’s first acts by contrast was to sack the Climate Commission by telephone.)

Labor took a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to Parliament in 2009; took a commitment to act on climate change to the 2010 elec2tion; got the Clean Energy Bills through Parliament in 2011; and is defending Australia’s clean energy legislation against Tony Abbott’s wrecking now.

Didn’t Julia Gillard promise not to introduce a carbon price?

No, she didn’t. Just because Tony Abbott says (now) that an emissions trading scheme is the same as a tax, doesn’t make it true.

Just because Mr Murdoch’s press prints something, or Alan Jones or other shock jocks say something, doesn’t make it true.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard ruled out introducing a carbon tax (which was the policy of the Greens political party). Her Government introduced an emissions trading scheme (which had also been Liberal policy until Tony Abbott took over) with a short initial fixed price period to provide stability for industry, as the Garnaut Review had recommended, and as was and is Labor policy.

What’s in the Clean Energy legislation?

The Clean Energy legislation provides for:

  • A carbon price on emissions by big polluters – with a fixed price initially to provide certainty, moving automatically after 3 years to a cap and trade scheme
  • Establishment of the Climate Change Authority with functions including advising on pollution caps
  • Polluters being able to meet up to half their liabilities with international permits
  • Assistance for trade exposed industries
  • Clean energy investment including establishment of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • Tax cuts and pension increases to offset costs flowing from carbon pricing.

What policy on carbon pricing did Labor take to the 2013 election?

For the 2013 election, Labor proposed moving forward the transition from a fixed carbon price period to a flexible emissions trading scheme, from July 2015 to July 2014. This is the policy that Labor members and Senators are defending in Parliament.

What are Australia’s existing emissions reduction commitments?

Australia committed at the Copenhagen Accord negotiations to an unconditional reduction of 5% reduction below 2000 emission levels by 2020. Australia also committed to reductions of from 15% to 25% reductions on 2000 levels by 2020 depending on the extent of international action. Australia has also committed to 80% reductions by 2050.

When are these commitments due for review?

The Climate Change Authority presented its report to Government in February 2014, including advice on revising Australia’s emission reduction targets. Labor Senators (along with most non-government Senators) have successfully resisted Tony Abbott’s shameful attempt to abolish the Climate Change Authority before it could deliver its crucial independent report.

Should Australia increase its emissions reduction targets?

The Climate Authority has now delivered its report. It

  • found that Australia’s conditions for moving beyond 5% to 15% reductions by 2020 have been met
  • found that maintaining a 5% target for emissions reductions to 2020 is not a credible start toward achieving internationally agreed goals to try to limit global warming to an average 2 degrees
  • recommended a 2020 target of a minimum of 19% (based on 15% plus another 4% carried over from Australia’s Kyoto commitments)
  • recommended a 2030 target of between 40% and 60% below 2000 levels.

Labor’s leadership has said they’ll respond seriously to the final report of the Climate Change Authority (which Labor put in place) which was delivered at the end of February 2014. Tony Abbott’s government is refusing even to review emissions targets until 2015.

Many people with expertise in the area have also said that the critical time is right now; that Australia needs to move much further than reductions of 5% by 2020; and that the conditions set by Australia in international commitments for moving beyond this minimum reduction have clearly been met.

For example, the Climate Institute says:

Stronger emission targets are justified not only by advances in international action and the risks to Australia from even moderate levels of climate change but also by the high economic costs and risks of delaying deeper emission cuts until after 2020.

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