Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

LISTEN | The Critical Decade 2013

Recently, Linda attended a seminar with the Climate Commission which presented findings from the report The Critical Decade 2013: Climate Change Science, Risks and Responses, authored by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes. The seminar also addressed some issues about communicating climate change and climate science in the community.

In recognising that action in the current decade was essential for addressing climate change, Climate Commissioner Dr Tim Flannery reminded the audience that now, in 2013, we are one quarter through ‘the critical decade’. He said that governments worldwide are showing leadership and taking necessary actions as carbon emissions generally take a downwards turn with 35 countries having introduced emissions trading schemes.

Australian communities remain vulnerable to climate change impacts such as heatwaves, bushfires, sea level rise and changing rainfall patterns. For Queensland, specific impacts will mean increased intensity of tropical cyclones and sea level rises. Such impacts will be felt by the tourism industry, and will result in biodiversity risks especially in significant areas like the Great Barrier Reef. The report does not note other humanitarian or health impacts such as changing epidemiology and ‘environmental refugees’ who are forced to flee their homes as a result of climate change impacts and conflicts triggered by resource shortages.

Professor Hughes also stressed that last summer was the hottest on record and that Queensland is generally facing a long term drying trend. The changing climate poses substantial risks for health, property, infrastructure, agriculture and natural ecosystems. Hughes also stressed that the broadly agreed upper limit of 2 degrees temperate rise would see a stable climate rather than a safe climate and that humans have never experienced this level of temperate throughout our evolution.

In a discussion about communication and climate change, it was noted that 69-83% of Australians believe that climate change is happening and that humans play a role. However, the level of concern about climate change has declined, particularly among conservative voters. There is a need to shift the public narrative and response through relevant messages, trusted voices and consistency. Such approaches will enable an informed and considered dialogue about climate change risks and attitudes at the community level.

The government has been very active in releasing reports about and responses to climate change this year with a number of key statements made available. First, the first ever national Sustainable Australia Report was released by National Sustainability Council as part of the Measuring Sustainability Program. In the report, Sustainable Australia – Conversations with the Future, the Council found a number of key issues and challenges including:

  • Population, cultural diversity and migration has seen significant changes
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experience inequality and disadvantage
  • Planning for an ageing population
  • Education levels have not increased uniformly across the Australian population
  • Sustainable growth and prosperity through innovation and engagement
  • Sustainable cities and spatial or locational disadvantage
  • Regional Australia experiences specific sustainability challenges
  • Climate change impacts on wellbeing, biodiversity, productivity and prosperity
  • Reducing the environmental impact of economic growth
  • Food and agriculture production and sustainability in a changing landscape
  • Inequality and disadvantage implications for wellbeing and sustainability
The Department of Climate Change has also released The Climate Adaptation Outlook: A Proposed National Adaptation Assessment Framework, which is the first of a structured series of reports on how well-placed Australia is to manage the impacts of unavoidable climate change. With a broad agreement to a 2 degree temperature increase, climate change is locked in or unavoidable. Human health and wellbeing is intimately connected to environment health and stability. The Framework considers drivers, activities and outcomes, with a view to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (‘mitigation’) and managing the impacts of unavoidable climate change (‘adaptation’) as complementary strategies in dealing with the challenge of climate change.

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