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To mark one year since its establishment, on Wednesday, 23 March Melbourne Climate Futures brought together climate action leaders to examine where we are in the push to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2030, and how we can go further.
With COP26 and a damning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on adaptation and vulnerability as the backdrop, and COP27 approaching, Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp, Professor David Karoly, University of Melbourne School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Professor Jacqueline Peel, Director of Melbourne Climate Futures, and Professor Don Henry AM Melbourne Enterprise Professor of Environmentalism, discussed some of the key obstacles and opportunities in meeting this critical goal.
Discussing climate action at local, national and international levels from the perspectives of science, policy, and business, here are some of the key takeaways – and where we might focus our attention to accelerate a just and equitable transition to net zero.
We need strong national leadership – and it’s currently lacking
The Federal government’s leadership – or lack thereof – emerged throughout the discussion. To limit global warming to the levels and timeframe needed, the panelists said leadership is needed from all countries, also a key topic at COP26.
“We need all countries to have zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2040. That means developed countries need to take the lead. That means before 2040,” Professor Karoly said.
With regions that produce the least emissions often the most impacted, they said it is just that developed countries bear a financial responsibility.
Yet Australia is falling short. It has pulled out of the Green Climate Fund – the main funding mechanism for supporting developing countries to respond to the climate change challenge – and is instead engaging in bilateral negotiations.
Professor Karoly put it bluntly, quoting the IPPC report: “Every tonne of CO2 emissions adds to global warming. That means every time we drive a car driven by petrol, every time we use fossil fuel generated electricity, every time the [government] allows for increased coal mining or burning of
fossil fuels, it makes climate change worse.... any policy that supports ongoing greenhouse gas emissions makes climate change worse.”
And, said Professor Peel, “We should be taking the lead in supporting our neighbours, our Pacific Island neighbours especially, to adapt and respond to climate change impacts. It’s good policy, but it’s also a moral obligation.”
Leadership from the federal government is also critical at home.
Unfortunately, both laws and policies are “missing in action”, Professor Peel said. “We lack a national legal framework that provides leadership and accountability for taking action. Unlike countries like the UK, we don’t have a national climate legislation that talks about the process
of getting [to 1.5 degrees].”
While there is appetite from the community for change – a key demand from City of Melbourne constituents is that the council remains dedicated to climate action – those in power must lead by example. “We’ve got a [federal] government that isn't willing to change, and that compounds through the
community,” Ms Capp said.
“Other countries are amazed we have all the resources to be a clean energy superpower, but we have the least ambitious targets,” Professor Peel added. “We’re crying out for a more nationally coordinated plan around targets, accountability for targets, and a government that acknowledges
that this is a big change and we need to support our communities through it.”
While a recent City of Melbourne exercise found job opportunities from Melbourne being a clean energy innovation centre could be 123,000, there is a “vacuum” on those kinds of discussions at federal level, Ms Capp said.
Young people have a lot to teach us
In lieu of national plans, young people are taking bottom-up action. “They recognise the immense impact climate change is going to have on their futures,” Professor Peel said.
The panel also noted the creativity with which youth are trying to effect climate action. A recent case saw a group of high school students seek to stop Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley approving a coal mine expansion in New South Wales, taking the minister to court arguing she had a duty
of care to protect young people from climate change harms.
While an appeal ruled the environment minister doesn’t have a duty of care, the case highlights a broader trend: where government action is missing, different mechanisms, such as the courts, can be pursued as a tool for change.
Cities are key players in achieving targets
The panel acknowledged the significance of cities’ climate targets, policies and leadership in achieving national and global goals – a trend demonstrated by the inclusion of cities in COP26 programs and panels.
Ms Capp spoke of this growing global trend and Melbourne’s membership in C40 Cities, a global network of mayors taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis. “C40 started as 40 cities; we’ve now got hundreds of cities
... We were the 1271st city to declare the climate and biodiversity emergency – so you can see this momentum happening.”
Collaboration is something we can learn from other cities, Ms Capp said.
"The learnings and the sharings through those sorts of forums are absolutely critical for us to maintain but really accelerate our pace. Through cities we're really encouraging each other to do more.”
While cities and state governments have committed to climate targets – the City of Melbourne, for example, has the Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy
(an ambitious strategy for a cost-effective, environmentally responsive waste and resource recovery system) and Power Melbourne (a pilot renewable
energy storage and distribution program) – policy, planning and coordination at national level is required to really amplify these efforts.
Businesses are showing great leadership – and there’s room to expand
The panel acknowledged how businesses have been climate leaders, spurred on by staff and consumers’ expectations of how they should be behaving. And this should be an encouragement to do more.
Professor Karoly said while there’s no legal recognition that climate risk is the responsibility of all company directors, in practice it was, and needed to be taken into account in all business activities.
Ms Capp suggested focusing on actions that can be replicated.
“When we do these projects, like the Melbourne Renewable Energy program, like Power Melbourne, they must be replicable and scalable so others can easily grab them and apply them, and I think that’s something that businesses can do very well. That’s where we’ll see the proliferation and acceleration
Professor Peel echoed the important leadership role the business sector is playing, while noting tricky issues yet to be resolved. In particular, how businesses manage supply chains and factor in scope three emissions – indirect emissions such as those from product use – and accountability for
net zero targets.
She also suggested more concrete policy settings from the federal government would help companies and organisations navigate these complex areas. “We’re seeing a lot of targets announced ... but what’s that going to look like on the ground? How are we going to know that we’re making progress toward
the ultimate goals?”
Where to next?
In 2022, the science is evident. Climate change is unequivocal and it's beyond time for action.
The panel was clear that we all must be ‘active participants’ in achieving climate goals and work together to influence our policy makers and business leaders.
Whether we’re in business, government or in our role as citizens, there’s so much we can do and it’s such a crucial time to act.
First published on 7 April 2022.
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Melbourne Climate Futures builds on decades of research across areas such as climate change impacts in the Pacific, energy futures, bushfire resilience, and sustainable cities, as well as innovative approaches to policy and law.