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5 things Australians need to know about Climate Change and Renewable Energy

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As Australia’s political leaders scuttle around trying to influence public opinion on issues like the Safe Schools program, the budget (I know) and renewables; we at The Idea Monger, decided to condense some of the most important aspects of the renewable energy and climate change agenda into an easy to consume article.

1. Say hello to the first climate change refugees

Reported by Reuters late February, a small Native American community in coastal Louisiana is to be resettled after losing nearly all its land partly due to rising seas, a first in the United States. The band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, a Native American tribe living in the Louisiana coastal wetlands, has lost some 98 percent of its land since the 1950s. This is the first time an entire community has had to be relocated due in part to rising sea levels, said Marion McFadden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In case you missed the full story, the Huffington Post and Mashable reported on this as well.

If you think that you’re safe in Australia, think again! On current trends, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts sea levels will rise by up to 60 centimetres by 2100, putting vast areas under water. It is predicted that roughly 250,000 Australian properties will be inundated by 2100. There’s even a government website that shows you an interactive map here.

2. In Australia, greenhouse gas emissions from our biggest polluters are rising

Last month, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that eight of the top 10 largest polluters increased their greenhouse gas emissions during the past financial year, according to Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) data. The federal government’s Clean Energy Regulator says that reported direct emissions were up 2 per cent in the year to June 2015, when compared to the previous 12 months. Read more here.

Australia's 10 biggest climate polluters

While global emissions flatline, Australia’s emissions continue to grow

Figures from the International Energy Agency revealed that global emissions plateaued in 2015 while economic output continued to grow. Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said Australia’s emissions grew last year, in contrast to the progress being made by our global peers.

“The US has declared a moratorium on new coal mines on federal land and the electricity industry’s use of coal fell to record lows in 2015 as renewable energy boomed. This driving pollution down. US Emissions from the electricity sector fell 18% on 2005 levels as emissions from Australia’s electricity sector grew 3 per cent.”

“China has pledged to shut 1000 coal mines this year and modeling shows their emissions may have already peaked- well ahead of schedule.”

Meanwhile in Australia last week, Environmental Minister Greg Hunt incorrectly claimed that Australia had reached peak emissions, based on national accounts showing a reduction in land emissions. The Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen said the true test of whether a country was effectively tackling climate change was whether or not fossil fuel emissions were going down rapidly. “Emissions from the electricity sector, the largest source of emissions, jumped 3 per cent in the 2014-15 year compared to 2013-14,” Prof Steffen said. Read more here

3. March heat records smashed

This month, The Bureau of Meteorology reported that national heat records were smashed in the start to March. In a special statement, the bureau said the first three days of the month were each warmer than any previous March day, based on area-averaged temperatures across the nation. Prior to that, February saw a shocking spike to global temperatures.

4. Doubling renewable energy would grow Australia’s GDP by US$27Bn

report, released by the International Renewable Energy Agency, found Australia was one of the countries that stood the most to gain from higher investment in renewable energy due to the reduced health impact of coal pollution and a large increase in GDP.

Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said the report also found that water withdrawals in 2030 could decline by more than a quarter in Australia if renewable energy capacity was to double globally on 2010 levels.

Another report released last week established that doubling the global share of renewable energy by 2030 could could increase employment and save up to $4.2 trillion annually.

The smartest companies (Facebook, Virgin, Amazon and Linkedin) are already investing in renewables. Last year, Google made its biggest ever renewable energy investment with a goal to be 100% powered by renewable energy in 9 years.

Renewable energy stats 2016

5. As other countries step up their game, Australia lags behind

It might surprise you to find out that Bhutan is not only carbon neutral, it is carbon negative. Watch this amazing Ted Talk that was filmed last month.

Finally, the rest of the world is moving in the right direction:

  1. Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy in 2015.
  2. Nicaragua is aiming for 90% renewables by 2020, with the majority of energy coming from wind, solar, and geothermal sources.
  3. Germany leads the world in solar PV capacity and has even been able to meet as much as 78% of a day’s electricity demand from renewables.
  4. Uruguay is now 95% powered by renewables after less than 10 years of concerted effort. The country invested heavily in wind and solar with no subsidies or increases in consumer costs.
  5. The solar industry in the US employs three times more workers than coal mining.

Relative to the rest of the world, Australia’s approach to renewable energy leaves much to be desired. Without clear policies to encourage renewable energy and discourage carbon emissions, Australia’s targets will always remain as just targets. We stand to gain the most, in particular, the millennials who will benefit from growth of jobs in researching, manufacturing, developing and maintaining RE sectors. The question is: How are we going to get our government to act on these issues?

Feature photo credit: Melbourne & the Yarra River via photopin (license)

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Journalist, editor and producer of content for newspapers, magazines and radio since 2004. Based in Melbourne Australia, shamelessly for the food, hipster culture and great stories.

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