CANWin Community Forum declares Climate Emergency

On the last Sunday in November this year I attended a local Southern Highlands, NSW, Australia, Community gathering, hosted by Climate Action Now – Wingecarribee (CANWin). (Wingecarribee is the council that takes in the Highlands towns of Mittagong, Bowral, Moss vale, Bundanoon and Berrima, amongst others.) CANWin had hired the local Memorial Hall in Bowral, a country town at about 700 metres above sea level (2,250 feet). Its population is 13,000 with a demographic older than Australia’s average of 38 years of age, at 54 years. According to the National Census of 2016, 34% of the population is over 65.

Five minutes prior to the start, queues still filled the entrance as people registered

I mention these statistics because on the face of it one would not expect this relatively quiet country town to be full of activists. This is a community that is experiencing many more days over 30 degrees C than just two decades ago. The 6-months humidity of Sydney which many had consciously left for a cooler higher altitude abode is fast appearing around Christmas and hanging on for months rather than weeks. The Highlands are now in their fourth spring/summer where rainfall has been down over 30% or more in each of four seasons.

Packed house greeted CANWin’s speakers in Bowral

Appearances can be deceptive. Because four hundred and forty people crammed in to attend the CANWin event. Of those, seventy people were left with no alternative than to stand for the whole two hours so they could hear the two keynote speakers. And they had some people very much worth listening to. Ian Dunlop is a former oil and coal industry senior executive with Shell – now a staunch climate action advocate. Dr. John Hewson, is a former Federal Opposition leader, an economist and now at the ANU Crawford School for Public Policy in Canberra. 

Keynote speaker Ian Dunlop addresses CANWin Community Forum November 2019

Mr. Dunlop very quickly cut to the chase. His talk was entitled Climate Change: An Immediate Existential Risk to Humanity requiring Emergency Action. Based on all the evidence of actual steps taken to reduce carbon emissions since the original UN climate agreement 22 years ago in Kyoto in December 1997, far from achieving the 2050 goals of a 1.5°C mean global temperature rise, mankind is more likely to arrive at a 4°C increase.

Thinking of all the pronouncements from political leaders, that include the promise that Australia will achieve it’s 2030 agreed targets “in a canter”, this was an alarmingly different story. With announced Australian plans for further development of the North West Shelf gas fields, the approval of a modified Adani coal mine in Queensland, and substantial increases to fracking gas volumes, by 2030 Australia will find itself in the top five fossil fuel energy producers in the world. For a fuller exposition of all Mr Dunlop’s points, including many of the graphs he shared on the day, read What Lies Beneath, to be found on the website. The latest publication, by Paul Gilding is entitled Climate Emergency Explained.

Effectively the ONLY way to achieve a 66% chance of success of 1.5°C temperature rise is to cease all new fossil fuel activities, strand the assets in the ground and accelerate renewables and the infrastructure required to accommodate this more tricky energy source when it comes to poles and wires. We have already used up our entire carbon budget for coal mining if we want to have any chance to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. This applies in Australia and around the world. It’s just Australia keeps increasing its planned fossil production!

Ian Dunlop urges Emergency thinking

Mr. Dunlop outlined the cumulative impacts from climate changes already observed, on security within societies. This derives from more extreme weather events, with greater frequency. This will result in the displacement of tens of millions, then hundreds of millions from low-lying urban coastal cities, especially within Asia. He noted the recent public announcement by the Indonesian government that Jakarta would be relocated and a new capital city would be established. The current site of Jakarta is sinking, rapidly, causing ever more frequent flooding and inundation, making habitation unviable in the next fifty years. Added to which smoke haze each year in Jakarta is making habitation ever more risky to health. To Jakarta he added varying risk in Bangkok, parts of Tokyo and Yokohama, the low-lying lands of the Bangladesh delta, and even cities such as New York, Miami and Sydney.  The displacement resulting from sea rise will alter societal stability and accelerate mass movement of peoples. Civil unrest, competition for fresh water and insurrection will all become acute issues and ever more frequent.. 

He went on to describe the observations of temperature and climate change we see today are the direct result of steps taken, or not, thirty years prior. This is because the effect is cumulative. Even the positive and successful steps to eliminate chloro-fluoro-carbon  aerosols in the eighties and nineties has had a temporary benefit worth about 0.3°C. But there will no temporary let-up from a full increase in temperature from any actions or increased emissions made from now on. 

He is of the view that Australia must take responsibility for the emissions of carbon gases resulting from fossil fuels we dig up and export. By 2030, based on public statements of intended production by oil, gas and coal companies, Australia, together with its own domestic production of greenhouse gases, will find itself  in the top 3 emitters by 2030, contributing 13% of global greenhouse gases.

Ian Dunlop concluded a stern message. Climate change is a local, national, global emergency. Nothing short of declaring it as a national emergency in Australia and putting in place wartime-like authorities and actions are likely to accelerate the actions now needed, given the delays and inaction of the past 25 years. “Winning slowly is losing,” he stated.

The next two speakers were both associated with the School Strike for Climate movement: Maddie Clegg who is concluding university studies into Human Impact on Climate, and Steph Jedrasiak, a student from local Highlands school, Chevalier College. Both are involved with School Strike for Climate Action. They talked about their future, their concerns and fears, their hopes and their actions. One was very struck by both of these courageous young women that their generation, who will be the first to really see the consequences throughout their adult lives, are determined not to waste any further time. Quiet, reasoned, fact-based, but also women of ‘steel.’ Encouraging and impressive.

Steph Jedrasiak addresses Community Forum November 2019
Maddie Clegg speaks to Community Forum November 2019

Next at the podium was local council executive, Barry Arthur. Barry heads the Wingecarribee Council Environmental unit. He displayed several noted achievements of actions taken by Council with measurable results in lighting, solar energy, waste treatment and many more successful positive environmental initiatives, despite an 8% increase in population over recent years. It was noted that apologies had been received from invited councillors and the Mayor. The messages from the day’s seminar are messages Council leaders NEED to hear, and act upon more.

Wingecarribee Council’s Environment Manager reports on solid local progress.

The second keynote speaker was former Federal Opposition leader, Dr. John Hewson. “Climate is a Moral Issue,” Hewson said, as he opened his remarks. “This is an Emergency.”

Former Federal Opposition leader, Dr. John Hewson.

Somewhat ruefully he noted that in his failed bid to win government as leader of the Liberals in 1993, their manifesto committed to -20% in CO2 emissions by 2020.  He stated that back then Climate was not a major political area of difference between the major political parties. He called for a 50% emissions reduction target by 2030, stating that once prices became more affordable, possibly with government subsidy, the transition to electric cars will be much quicker than we think. He reminded us that the United States switched from horse-drawn carriages to internal combustion engine cars within roughly a ten-year time frame. He said he believed the same would occur again with electric cars, especially if fossil fuel subsidies were removed at the same time.

Dr. Hewson proposed a Climate Transition Authority, which drew the first applause of the day. He advocated taking each sector that generates emissions, such as static power, transport, agriculture, manufacturing etc…, and draw the best people to accelerate actions to reach aggressive emissions reduction 2050 targets. He was at pains to make clear that the inevitable dislocations for some workers must be handled sensitively and that people could not be left high and dry by these new actions. He proposed a reframing of the Minerals Council to become the Resources Council, embracing alternate forms of energy and addressing issues of stranded assets. 

Dr Hewson advocated a Climate Transition Authority, recognising the urgency of Action

John Hewson said he found it ironic that on the same day former UK Prime Minister Teresa May declared a Climate Emergency, the various Australian governments of Queensland and Federally approved the go-ahead for the Adani Mine. He recalled the polarised bitterness of the coal miners’ strikes under Margaret Thatcher, but pointed out that Britain was almost totally out of coal today or soon will be. Many more jobs in wind and solar energy had been created than had been lost from the very dangerous occupation of coal mining. Even in Australia there were only 12,000 CMFEU members, out of a population of 25 Million!

Emma Heyde, Hornsby Greens Councillor, and MC for the day

Emma Heyde, who had MC’d the afternoon, closed the formal presentations. Emma is a former Southern Highlander, now a Greens Councillor in Hornsby, New South Wales. She noted that the people she represented were traditionally very conservative, but she had persuaded enough people that climate was a real issue and got elected. She refuted claims that the fires had little to do with Climate Change and asserted that they were intensified by climate change. She advocated a six-part philosophy to get politicians to listen.

  1. Scare people! Get their attention! Sound the Alarm!
  2. Realise that we are part of the tipping point and can contribute to change.
  3. Politicians should not accept any donations from minerals resources companies.  
  4. Stand for election yourself on a climate action platform.
  5. Find your friends; find your tribe – such as the Climate Action Now Wingecarribee group (CANWin).
  6. Tackle Human Climate Actions.

Emma restated points made earlier in the day. Every system needs to be as strong as we can make it, so treat it as the emergency it is because the
individual response is critical. It WILL make a difference.

Once the presentations had concluded, Lyndall Dalley, a key local, proposed the motion that Wingecarribee Council declare a Climate Emergency.

Lyndall Dalley proposed the declaration of a Climate Emergency

The motion was passed overwhelmingly. Together with the signatures gathered on the day, she promised to deliver 3,500 signatures to Council supporting that initiative, gathered over recent weeks.

The afternoon concluded with a variety of written questions, addressed by various members of the panel in turn. The session was hosted by Clive West, the convenor of the meeting from CANWin. One questioner, a farmer, stated that regenerative agriculture alone could more than resolve CO2 emissions targets.

Panel addresses Questions and Answers at the Community Forum, led by Clive West

The panel agreed that regenerative farming, crop rotation, changed farm animal practice, especially with ruminant cattle, could go a long way to assist in reduced emissions, lower chemical inputs and improved land quality. But that is only part of a multi-0faceted approach. No sector alone can carry the load. It was noted that celebrated regenerative agricultural advocate, Peter Andrews was in the audience, but due to time limits it was not possible to give him the chance to speak. One felt this was an added opportunity lost. I have heard Peter speak on his subject several times. To see more on Peter Andrews, you can see Australian Story.

The audience acknowledged the contribution of the speakers with warm applause, suggesting attendees would be acting on what they had heard. As attendees left, a crowd gathered around an e-bike, where it’s proud senior Australian was explaining its virtues, how easy it was to ride. The CANWin attendees are clearly about action in meaningful ways.

For further reading, sources and viewing: 
– CSIRO’s current climate report 
– School Strike for Climate Action  
– Papers on climate Change from ANU, Canberra.  
– Reports on Climate Change  
– Peter Andrews, ABC Australian Story film (28 minutes) 
– The Climate Council’s Report Page.
– The Australia Institute refutes Australian Prime Minister’s UN claim on renewables per capita
-The website of The Rocky Mountain Institute, home of co-founder Amory Lovins, who co-authored the environmental bible Natural Capital

This is a summary of two hours of compelling information sharing by people who have studied the science. Every effort has been made to correctly report what each speaker said. I regret any errors made, but they have no ill intent and will be unintended if so found.

I have been involved with various environmental initiatives for some twenty-five years. The politicisation of climate science and the influence of certain media and interested mining and energy groups to mis-inform is in parallel with the emergence of other sometimes sinister extreme conservative views. In Australia Climate is, today, all about Politics. As a result both Labour in Queensland & the Federal Liberal-Nationals Coalition government endorse Big Coal, leaving it, for now, to citizens to fight for a better way. Time has almost run out. My contemporary Oxford staircase student, the remarkable Amory Lovins, later of The Rocky Mountain Institute, has been showing the way forward for nearly fifty years. There are none so deaf as those who chose not to hear.

In a further blog on climate, I will be examining the impact of drought on two continents on opposite sides of the world. In the northern summer of 2019, I recorded images in central France were feedlots replaced fresh grass and normally green fields were already straw-like by early August. Now in the late spring and early summer of South Eastern Australia I am again observing the same critical absence of meaningful rain. The piece will examine cause, consequence and through images and words describe observations that may help in understanding the universal issues in water shortages, increasingly a global security and survival threat.  

– John Swainston, November 2019

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© Copyright John Swainston, 2019