Climate Action Now! Australian Socialists Adopt Climate Charter

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“Change the system, not the climate: A safe climate is not possible unless an informed and mobilised community fights for it.”

2010 Climate Charter adopted by Australia’s Socialist Alliance and supported by SA candidates in the country’s current General Election.

July 2010 — For years, climate scientists have warned us that we need to act on climate change. Now, science is saying that climate change is taking place more rapidly than everyone previously thought.

The warning signs are obvious. April and May were the world’s hottest months since records began. This year’s Arctic ice sheet melt is taking place at a pace never seen before.

Scientists say carbon pollution has made the world’s oceans more acidic than they have been for at least 20 million years.

There is already too much carbon in the atmosphere. The warming already in the system risks the crossing of various natural “tipping points” that would raise temperatures further and faster.

If these points are crossed, it would bring average temperatures to levels that have not existed for millions of years, and to which today’s nature is simply not adapted.

In a warmer world, most existing species would die out. Large-scale agriculture would be difficult or impossible.

As we confront global warming, the existence of our civilisation, and perhaps of the human species itself, is at stake.

Bringing greenhouse gas emissions under control will require deep changes and immense effort at every level – international, national, local and personal. Climate scientists say we have just 10 years to make the necessary cuts to our emissions.

Achieving the targets in time will be a huge challenge, but it must be done.

Labor promised to take action on climate change, but has backtracked on its promise in government. By postponing its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) for years, Labor can’t even pretend it takes climate change seriously any longer.

But carbon trading was never a real solution. These schemes are riddled with loopholes and are a dangerous distraction from genuine measures. The CPRS was not designed to achieve the major cuts in greenhouse gases needed within 10 years.

Instead, the scheme would have given billions to polluters – money that could be spent on public investment in renewables.

However, real options do exist. Australia has the economic power to change quickly: we could abandon fossil fuels. We have enough sun and wind to provide all our energy.

We also have the wealth to develop a renewable energy manufacturing industry and other appropriate technology. We can also export this technology to poor nations, from Bolivia to Papua New Guinea. This is only fair: it is simply a repayment of Australia’s climate debt.

Such a program would revitalise Australia’s dying manufacturing industry. It would provide quality, skilled jobs for tens of thousands.

It would also put Australia in a position to go from one of the worst climate offenders in the world to being an important part of the solution.

Business-as-usual, capitalist politics cannot solve this crisis. We need to look at radical measures adequate to the challenge.

This charter outlines the climate change policies of Socialist Alliance, and the strategies needed to implement them.

An emergency plan

A series of massive projects are needed to tackle the problem sector by sector. The technology for a zero-emissions economy already exists. But the fundamental block to action is not the lack of technology.

The real problem is that government and industry are stopping serious climate action.

A serious response to the climate emergency would have to include these steps.

Phase out coal, build renewables now

Coal burning makes up about 36% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Mining, handling and exporting coal adds even more. A plan for phasing out coalmining and export must be developed, and this must involve creating new jobs for miners in sustainable industries.

No new coal mines or coal-fired power plants should be approved.

Australia could meet its basic energy needs from a combination of non-fossil fuel sources, especially solar thermal with storage and wind power. Biomass from agricultural wastes, tidal power and geothermal power (hot rocks beneath the Earth’s surface) could also be used.

Australia should set a target to source all its energy from renewables by 2020.

Beyond Zero Emissions has produced a detailed plan for this transition. It shows Australia can move quickly to zero-carbon energy in a decade. The $370 billion cost is less than 4% of annual GDP – by 2040, the investment in renewables would save the economy $1.6 trillion in energy costs.

Set strong targets to cut emissions fast

Socialist Alliance supports a safe climate target of 300-325 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide – down from 390ppm, and rising, today. This can be achieved by moving to zero carbon emissions throughout the economy and then reducing carbon already in the atmosphere.

Immediate economy-wide and sector-by-sector planning is required to move as rapidly as possible to eliminate all greenhouse pollution. Australia’s yearly emission reduction targets must be at least 5% and may need to be much higher. Beyond Zero Emissions is developing a plan to fully decarbonise the Australian economy by 2020.

Businesses, local councils and government departments should all be required to commit to reducing their emissions to zero as soon as possible as part of a national plan.

Rich countries must take the load

Australia produces only 1.5% of global emissions, but our coal-powered economy has the highest emission rate per person in the industrialised world: about five times the global average.

Australia has a moral obligation to take the lead on actions to combat climate change as it has the financial and natural resources that poor, underdeveloped countries do not have.

The rich countries have created the problem, so we must contribute the most to fixing it.

Australia should support demands by island states and poor nations to limit warming to no more than 1°C-1.5°C. A new international treaty should aim for 90% emissions cuts (from 1990 levels) by 2030.

Rich nations like Australia must help poor nations develop without high-pollution industries and introduce renewable energy. Australia must also accept a fair share of the environmental refugees displaced by climate change. This assistance is just part of repaying our ecological debt for our historical high emissions.

Increase energy efficiency – aim for zero waste

One of the easiest ways to reduce emissions is to increase efficiency and reduce waste. More efficient appliances, insulating homes, better recycling, improved and more efficient public transport, locally-produced goods – these are some of the simple but effective changes we can make right now.

To begin the transition to sustainability, we must set energy efficiency as a national goal, and then develop ambitious targets, standards, regulations and national and local campaigns to achieve it.

The Australian government should design sustainable energy household conversion plans, with annual targets for solar power and heating installation made compulsory for energy companies.

Industry and business must undergo systematic energy audits and achieve compliance deadlines. Firms that don’t upgrade to low-emissions technology and processes would have to close or be taken over.

The plan must include the phasing out of the $9 billion in government subsidies to energy-hungry industries like aluminium refining.

The ultimate aim should be a zero-waste economy, whereby products are designed so that they can be repaired, re-used and disassembled for recycling.

Boost organic farming and reforestation

Agriculture accounts for 16% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Our current agricultural practices – based on growing and harvesting of single crops and the use of artificial fertilisers – consume huge quantities of fossil fuels.

Livestock farming is extremely energy intensive and water intensive. Australia needs to reduce its flocks of sheep and cattle drastically, as part of a comprehensive reduction in methane emissions that will aid in rapidly cooling the Earth.

We must start a transition to carbon-neutral and organic farming. The use of naturally arid areas to grow water-intensive crops, such as rice and cotton, must end. Existing farming communities should be encouraged with financial support, resources and training to make the transition to organic agriculture.

Land management and agriculture should aim to lock carbon into the soil and into the ecosystem, in what could be called “carbon farming”.

Land clearing and outdated forestry practices such as old-growth logging, which account for 6% of national emissions, must end now. Native forests that have not been logged store up to three times more carbon than forests that have been logged. To increase this “carbon sink” capacity, extensive programs of native forest planting must be initiated.

Food production should be decentralised and localised to reduce the energy needed to transport and refrigerate foods.

Government-subsidised urban agriculture should be developed in our cities.

Organic waste, including green waste and sewage, should be composted and the methane gas by-product harnessed for energy. This avoids methane gas escaping into the atmosphere from landfills, as currently occurs.

Agricultural methods such as mulching, organic compost use, and no-tillage or low-tillage farming, should be rolled out on a large scale through development grants and incentives to farmers. All these methods help the soil to hold carbon, and are often very productive farming methods in their own right.

Make public transport free, frequent and accessible

Transport is responsible for 14% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport makes up about 90% of that share.

To reverse this, we have to put public transport at the centre of our urban development plans.

Trains are about 40 times more energy efficient than cars. We need a huge investment in public and rail freight transport to make it a real option for commuters and industry.

A successful public transport system will have reliable, free and frequent services available to everyone within five minutes walk of a service, especially in outer metropolitan regions. It will have to be a publicly owned, integrated system of heavy rail, light rail, ferry and bus services.

For every 10% switch from car and truck and into public transport, the costs of air pollution, greenhouse gas emission, car accidents, traffic congestion, motor vehicle waste disposal, noise pollution and road maintenance would drop by at least $1.4 billion.

Free and frequent public transport, combined with policies that stimulate cycling and walking, is necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector.

Public ownership and democratic control

The “polluter pays” principle means the polluting companies should have to clean up the mess they have made.

Industries that will not stop polluting should be placed under public ownership and scrutiny. In this way, those operations that are essential can be identified and cleaned up, while non-essential aspects can be scaled back or shut down.

Public ownership and control over energy generation and distribution is essential to bring this industry under an overall plan for greenhouse gas reduction and environmental sustainability.

Guarantee green jobs and a just transition

To be successful, a climate emergency plan must protect the welfare of workers and affected communities.

Workers are critical to identifying and eliminating waste and pollution in the workplace, closing down old industries and opening new ones.

Socialist Alliance proposes a massive program of converting energy infrastructure that will create thousands of green jobs. We will also need an expansion of free public education to provide sufficient numbers of skilled professionals to achieve the transition.

Change the system, not the climate

A safe climate is not possible unless an informed and mobilised community fights for it.

Australia’s greenhouse mafia won’t accept these measures. For years, they funded the climate deniers.

The Howard government tried to undermine the Kyoto Protocol and, despite all of the evidence, refused to take any action that would reduce the profits of the big polluters.

Under Tony Abbott, the Coalition has effectively embraced climate denial once again.

The big polluters also influence the Gillard government, which is fixated on “clean coal” and plans to expand Australia’s coal and uranium exports.

Both major parties cynically claim to be protecting jobs, but propose nothing to encourage a fast transition to green jobs. They offer little support for sustainable industries.

But the planet and the welfare of future generations must come before corporate profits. The greedy corporations that have resisted change have no right to take away our future.

To take on the vested interests, we need to strengthen a climate action movement that is independent of the big parties and that won’t compromise on the steps needed to avert runaway warming.

The movement to avert climate catastrophe must mean more than just voting for change. The campaign must also happen in the streets, workplaces, schools and universities to win wide public support and become an unstoppable force for sustainable change.

Making those changes also means challenging the capitalist market, which has failed to protect future generations and cannot be allowed to stop us from averting climate disaster.

The Socialist Alliance 10-point Climate Action Plan

  1. Set immediate emission cut targets to reduce net emissions to zero as soon as possible, including a target to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2020. Introduce emissions reduction targets of at least 5% a year.
  2. Begin new international treaty negotiations aimed to get all countries to agree on a global target of at least 90% emissions cuts on 1990 levels by 2030. Make cutting rich industrial nations’ emissions a priority, and increase aid to poorer countries to help them to use clean energy for their development.
  3. Start the transition to a zero-waste economy. Legislate to end industrial energy waste. Improve or ban wasteful consumer products, such as those with built-in obsolescence. Engage with workers and unions to redesign their products and jobs sustainably.
  4. Require advanced energy efficiency measures be fitted to existing houses and subsidise owner-occupiers for the costs. Allow renters to use the same system. Install photovoltaic solar panels and solar hot water heaters on home roofs, subsidised or owned by the electricity authority. Give all commercial buildings a deadline to meet six-star energy standards within two years, and 10-star standards within 10 years. Improve mandatory energy efficiency standards for all new buildings.
  5. Bring power industries under public ownership and democratic control. Begin phasing out coalmining and coal-fired power immediately. Provide guaranteed jobs and retraining on full pay for affected communities. New sustainable industries should be built in these areas, with voluntary paid redundancies and free retraining offered to all workers. Run the maximum possible base-load power from existing natural gas and/or hydro power stations instead of coal until renewable energy is available.
  6. Bring the car industry under public control. Re-tool this industry to manufacture wind turbines, public transport vehicles and infrastructure, solar hot water and solar photovoltaic cells. Subsidise the conversion of private cars to electric power.
  7. Build solar thermal with storage plants and wind farms in suitable areas now. Boost research into all renewable energy sources. Create localised power grids and upgrade the national grid to make it compatible with 100% renewable energy.
  8. Ban the logging of old-growth forests and begin an urgent program of reforestation, carbon farming and biodiversity protection.
  9. Phase out industrial farming based on fertilisers, pesticides and fuel sourced from petroleum. Restrict farming areas to ensure that threatened ecosystems return to healthy states. Encourage new farming practices including organic and urban farming. This process must allow for security of food supplies, and guarantee full employment and retraining for rural communities.
  10. Make all public transport free and upgrade services to enable all urban residents to use it for regular commuting. Nationalise and upgrade interstate train and ferry services. Rail freight must be prioritised. All rail, light rail and interstate freight to be electrified or to run on biofuels from waste. Encourage bicycle use through more cycleways and better facilities for cyclists. Implement free or low-cost bicycle rental networks.