By Thea Ormerod,  President, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.


Those of us who want to see action to combat climate change have to grapple with a temptation to despair. Let’s face it, the scientific reports which came out before last year’s talks at Doha make for depressing reading. You may well be asking, what’s the good news?

I’ve been collecting it for a while now, so I’ll share some with you. There is significant action being taken around the world, independent of the UN climate talks. The talks themselves are producing only modest results, but more on that later.

Internationally there are some large well-resourced NGOs working tirelessly on climate change. Examples are Greenpeace International, ClimateWorks Network, and Friends of the Earth International. Large faith-based NGOs include Interfaith Power and Light in the USA and Operation Noah in the UK. There are also hundreds of thousands of smaller grassroots organisations and groups mobilised.

ClimateWorks is a particularly impressive. Its goal is the phasing out of fossil fuel use and the rapid take-up of renewable energy. With their partners, through clever campaigning, they’ve managed to stop the building of 70 coal-fired power stations in Europe and there have been no new coal plants built in the USA since 2005.[1]

Their 2011 Annual Report documents international progress, eg, “In 2011 the deforestation rate in Brazil was down by 75 percent from its peak in 2004; in Europe more than 70 percent of new power plant capacity added in 2011 was from renewable resources. As next-generation power plants increasingly become low- or zero-carbon emitters, retirements of high-emitting power plants are accelerating.”[2]

The Climate Institute (TCI) notes that national carbon pricing schemes are now in place in thirty-four countries, with schemes also in place in certain States in the US and Provinces in Canada. China is piloting schemes in six provinces and cities. Professor Peter Newman, at last year’s Climate Summit, told us that car use is declining globally and metros are being built in 82 cities in China and 42 cities in India.

It is well known China’s coal consumption has been growing to make it the world’s largest emitter. However, in February the leadership revised its five-year 2011 – 2015 with a view to stabilisation of national energy consumption by 2015 and to shift its priorities to energy conservation.[3] The five-year plan also has targets to cut national carbon intensity (emissions relative to economic output) by 17 per cent and carbon intensity has indeed been falling. Other targets include increasing forest area by 12.5 million hectares and 11.4 per cent of energy coming from non-fossil fuel sources by 2015. Dezou is its first solar city and Boading, which relies on wind as well as solar, has become a clean energy city.[4]

China, as the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy, is largely responsible for the rapid drop in the price of solar panels in recent years, and solar technology is becoming ever more sophisticated. The global market for clean energy has grown by 70 per cent and is now worth around $260 billion annually. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that more money was invested in renewable energy in 2011 than fossil fuel power sources, like coal and gas.[5]

Regarding UN climate talks, the main achievement so far is an agreement made at Doha 2012 to streamline negotiations for a new legally binding agreement by 2015. This will cover all major emitters, including the US and China. Kyoto targets will be re-examined with a view to increase ambition in 2014.

Outside Kyoto, a number of political and technical processes have been initiated to encourage and incentivise great ambition before 2020. This includes a review of adequacy of the global goal of 2 degrees and a world leader summit to be convened by the UN Secretary General in 2014.

You may be noticing that much of this action is happening overseas, and you’d be right. Possibly the most positive aspect of Australia’s position is that we are among those few countries which have signed up to the Kyoto second commitment period. According to TCI, this locks both Labor and the Coalition into their promises of up to 25 per cent emission reductions by 2020.

All this is the kind of good news which helps sustain hope, whether or not you are a person of faith. There’s also that hope which is nurtured by faith, but that is another story. One thing is for sure, this is a fight really worth having.

[1] Talk by Gavin Purchase hosted by the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Conference, 24/10/12

[2] p. 3

[3] John Garnaut, “China flags plan to cut coal use” SMH Business Day, p.1

[4] Address by Professor Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, at the 2012 Climate Summit

[5] Will McGoldrick, “Nearing the Doha end game”, TCI, 7/12/12

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