Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies in the Face of Climate Change

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies in the Face of Climate Change

C H A P T E R 9 Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies in the Face of Climate Change: The Australian Approach Giuseppe Forino, Jason von Meding, Graham...

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9 Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies in the Face of Climate Change: The Australian Approach Giuseppe Forino, Jason von Meding, Graham Brewer University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia

9.1 CLIMATE CHANGE ISSUES IN AUSTRALIA Several climate-related hazards such as tropical cyclones, floods, bushfires, droughts, and hailstorms occur every year in Australia. According to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Cleugh et al., 2011) and the Fifth Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Reisinger et al., 2014), climate change has the potential to contribute to increasing the frequency and duration for some of these extreme events in Australia, making it one of the developed countries most vulnerable to climate changeerelated hazards (Cleugh et al., 2011; Garnaut, 2011; Hobday and McDonald, 2014; Forino et al., 2017). The climatic diversity of the country ranges from tropical monsoonal to arid, temperate, and alpine conditions, with regional differences in relation to impacts by climate changeerelated hazards on economy, environment, and society (Cleugh et al., 2011; Reisinger et al., 2014). Also, most of the major population centers and about 90% of the population are along the coast and are likely to experience more frequent and intense sea level rise, inundation, floods, coastal erosion, and heatwaves (Cleugh et al., 2011; Garnaut, 2011; Reisinger et al., 2014). Due to these issues, the federal government of Australia undertook a long commitment in order to tackle climate change, balancing the necessity of reconciling environmental benefits with the achievement of economic goals (Bulkeley, 2001). The Australian government system is a liberal democracy including three levels, that are the federal government, the State/Territory government, and the local governments (Nalau et al., 2015). The federal government allocates responsibilities to the State/Territory governments, and therefore delegates legal mandates and schemes of local governments to the legislation of related State/Territory governments (Measham et al., 2011; Nalau et al., 2015). States and territories, however, also have their own legislatures able to set broad or sectorspecific mitigation policies, as well as retain varying degrees of ownership and regulatory oversight (e.g., over the electricity supply sector) (Kember et al., 2013). Within such a scenario, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is the primary intergovernmental platform for the negotiation between state/territory governments and the federal government. For example, the COAG has instituted a process for streamlining mitigation and adaptation strategies based on broad principles of complementarity; however, each government is free to interpret COAG’s recommendations, suggesting the process will be difficulty harmonized (Kember et al., 2013). Therefore, dispersion and duplication of responsibilities, jurisdictional disputes, and lack of trust usually occur within and among government levels (Mukheibir et al., 2013; Howes et al., 2015). This leads to the creation of isolated areas for intervention, and inhibits an integrated response to climate change across levels and sectors. In the Australian government system, furthermore, shortterm electoral mandates do not coincide with the necessity for long-term decisions about climate change.

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Therefore, politics is often reluctant in proactively undertaking initiatives for responding to climate change (Mukheibir et al., 2013; Forino et al., 2017). Notwithstanding this, different aspects of the federal portfolio including environmental issues, natural resource management, and foreign affairs were mainstreamed into the goal of addressing climate changeerelated issues. Meanwhile, state/territory governments and local governments, together with social, economic, and environmental stakeholders, started to be interested in these issues (Bulkeley, 2001), and since the late 1980s mitigation strategies were promoted to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by reducing the carbon dependence of the national economy. Additionally, in the last decade adaptation strategies started to be considered, particularly for coping with hazards such as sea level rise and floods. Against this background, this chapter provides a brief overview of the main mitigation and adaptation strategies by the Australia federal government.

9.2 SIGNIFICANT MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION STRATEGIES BY THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT One of the first strategies1 enacted by the federal government to cope with climate change issues was the “Interim Planning Target,” adopted in 1990 and aimed at reducing GHG emissions to 1988 levels by 1990 and at cutting emissions by a further 20% by the year 2005. These targets were accompanied by the intention of not triggering adverse effects on the Australian economy, and particularly upon trade competitiveness, in the absence of similar actions by other countries (Bulkeley, 2001). In 1992, the launch of the National Greenhouse Response Strategy followed (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992), was a milestone occasion for promoting initial research and assessment of climate change-related vulnerability into regions and economic sector of Australia, as well as for applying related findings into planning practice and environmental management (Howes et al., 2012). In 1998, the National Greenhouse Strategy (Commonwealth of Australia, 1998) proposed a national framework combining mitigation and adaptation to be applied in and assessed for different regions and economic sectors; however, it targeted just some key strategic sectors, missing the opportunity for providing for the first time an integrated perspective to the national climate change response (Howes et al., 2012). In 2005, a National Climate Change Adaptation Programme made available AUD14 million over 4 years, to be linked to the strategy National Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability: Promoting an Efficient Adaptation Response in Australia (Australian Government, 2005). This program identified vulnerable sectors/systems/regions, which required the assessment of climate changeerelated impacts and the support of their adaptation priorities to increase coping capacities (Forino et al., 2017). In 2007, the milestone National Climate Change Adaptation Framework (COAG, 2007) identified key sectors/regions with potential areas for promoting adaptation. This framework aimed at identifying and implementing adaptive capacities and providing specific strategic direction to address adaptation and reducing vulnerability (Forino et al., 2017). In 2008, the Australian Government created the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) 2008e13 (2014-2017 at the time of writing) to prepare for and manage the risks posed by climate changeerelated hazards. The NCCARF addresses the adaptation needs of decision makers and practitioners in order to deal with projected impacts such as more frequent and more intense heatwaves, increasing risk of sea level rise and flooding from rivers and the sea, and increasing coastal erosion.2 Selected themes include terrestrial, marine, and freshwater biodiversity, human health, settlements and infrastructure, emergency management, primary industries, indigenous communities, and social, economic, and institutional dimensions. In 2009, the Australian Government assessed main climate changerelated risks in coastal areas (Australian Government, 2009) and identified main areas threatened by climate change and main challenges and priorities for promoting an effective response also through CCA (Howes et al., 2012; Forino et al., 2017). In 2011, the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (COAG, 2011) recognized climate change as one of the drivers of disaster risk, and proposed the implementation of mitigation measures and the support to adaptive capacities by local communities. On December 2, 2015, the Australian Government released a National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy to address climate-related risks for the benefit of the community, economy, and environment. This strategy combines mitigation (to avoid risks of a changing climate by reducing the emission of GHGs) and adaptation (to manage risks caused by climate change already locked in and from the potential for more severe changes), and looks at strategies across key sectors, including: coasts; cities and the built environment; 1

For a more comprehensive list of climate and climate change strategies in Australia, see Talberg et al. (2015).





agriculture, forestry, and fisheries; water resources; natural ecosystems; health and well-being; disaster risk management; and, resilient and secure regions (Australian Government, 2015a).

9.3 BEYOND MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION: CLIMATE CHANGE AS A CONTESTED POLITICAL ISSUE The mitigation and adaptation strategies briefly presented are just some among the most significant promoted by the federal government. The reduction of GHG emissions, the identification of key vulnerable social, economic, and environmental sectors, as well as the recent consideration of climate change within a resilience framework, represent promising strategies that ensure the long-term commitment of Australia in tackling climate change-related issues. Nevertheless, reflections are necessary about the contradictions into the Australian society, as on the one side it urges mitigation and adaptation, while on the other side it still promotes an economic growth driven by fossil fuel extraction and GHG emissions production, therefore largely contributing to global climate change. For example, in 2005, Australia ranked 15th in the global production of GHG emissions, as well as in 2010e11 its per capita emissions were the highest among countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Head et al., 2014). In 2013e14, oil represented the largest share of national energy consumption (38%), while coal remained the second largest primary consumed fuel (black and brown coal accounted for 32% of total energy consumption) (Department of Industry and Science, 2015). Conversely, renewable energy sources accounted just for 6% of total energy consumption in 2013e14 (Department of Industry and Science, 2015). Australia is also one of the major net exporters of energy by fossil fuels, and the global largest exporter of coal. In 2007e08, Australia exported more than two-thirds of the geologically stored energy that it extracted (Hobday and McDonald, 2014; Forino et al., 2017). In 2013e14, black coal exports increased by 12% (Department of Industry and Science, 2015) with global demand stimulating investment capacity. The Australian government is also approving further development for coal and coal seam gas mining activities, particularly in areas devoted to agriculture or presenting high environmental values, therefore exacerbating conflicts between different forms of local economies and leading to further stress to ecosystems and biodiversity (Hobday and McDonald, 2014). Therefore, this contradiction makes mitigation and adaptation in Australia as highly volatile and polarized issues that have undergone several reversals (Forino et al., 2014, 2017), based on the positions about climate change expressed by the two major political parties, the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia (Head et al., 2014). Across electoral mandates of these major political parties, indeed, significant and tangible advancements in mitigation and adaptation strategies alternated with regressions or mere political statements by both parties’ governments (Talberg et al., 2015). An enlightening example is that of the “Carbon Tax,” a mitigation strategy under the form of a carbon-pricing scheme which was effective from July 1, 2012. This scheme was part of the Clean Energy Plan reform, which aimed at reducing GHG emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020, and 80% below 2000 levels by 2050. Such a scheme required Australia’s largest polluters to buy permits for CO2 emissions. The price for such permits was initially fixed for 3 years, after which it would have been regulated by the market (Head et al., 2014; Forino et al., 2017). The scheme was strongly opposed by the Liberals supported by oil and energy corporations. With the shift in the federal government from Labor to Liberal in 2013, the Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott prioritized the repeal of the Carbon Tax into the government agenda. Abbott initially dismantled the Department of Climate Change, and incorporated climate change issues and related mitigation and adaptation strategies within the Environment Department. Eventually, on July 17, 2014, the Carbon Tax was repealed (Forino et al., 2017). Likewise, in 2016 the federal government (under the ad interim Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) did pressures on the UNESCO to remove emblematic Australian cultural heritage sites (such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Kakadu and Tasmanian forests) from those considered as severely threatened by climate change within the report World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate (Markham et al., 2016), claiming that these mentions could compromise the national tourism sector (Forino et al., 2016; Slezak, 2016). In July 2016, Malcolm Turnbull was elected prime minister. One of the main climate changeerelated challenges for his electoral mandate and the whole of Australia in the near future will be that of meeting the mitigation economy-wide targets defined by the Paris Agreement following the Conference of Parties by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These targets aim at reducing GHG emissions by 26% e28% below 2005 levels by 2030, in order to contribute to the global UNFCCC’s objective of limiting global average temperature rise to below 2 C (Australian Government, 2015b).




9.4 CONCLUSIONS: WHICH APPROACH FOR MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION IN AUSTRALIA? In Australia, the combination of mitigation and adaptation strategies by the federal government moves toward the achievement of ambitious targets such as those claimed under the Paris agreement and the ultimate provision of benefits for the well-being of local communities. Such combination, therefore, has been and will continue to be pivotal in strengthening coping capacities of the Australian society at all the government levels and for all stakeholders. Mitigation strategies such as reducing GHG emissions by e.g., the transition toward a low-carbon economy, the increasing use of renewable energy, and the reactivation of a carbon-pricing scheme may provide effective results in the short term. Similarly, strategies for adapting to, e.g., floods and sea level rise risks through structural measures, building design, or land-use planning able to minimize risks, become necessary particularly for medium-large urban areas. Such strategies would also require strengthening the collaboration and the mutual exchange among different levels of government (federal, states and territories, and local governments) as well as the involvement of local communities and of the broad range of economic actors, particularly those who mostly contribute to GHG emissions. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile mentioning that a leading role by the federal government (Measham et al., 2011; Head et al., 2014; Nalau et al., 2015) in driving and supporting the contributions by multi-level governments, local communities, and market actors is imperative to achieve mitigation and adaptation goals and targets. Such leadership is also required for promoting an approach able to understand the contribution of the current Australian economic paradigm and its related productive system to climate change (Forino et al., 2017). This should ultimately lead to reflect about new (and certainly unpopular) socioeconomic trajectories of production and consumption, able to move immediately and quickly away from the use of fossil fuels and to represent environmentally viable and sustainable long-term solutions for ensuring well-being to individuals and communities, particularly to the most disadvantaged ones (e.g., the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, see Reisinger et al., 2014). If such leadership persists to be missed, mitigation and adaptation strategies such as those described herein will just provide limited and impromptu results, which will not address the long-term challenges posed by the current production system on places and communities across Australia.

Acknowledgments Giuseppe Forino is supported by a Ph.D. scholarship from the University of Newcastle.

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