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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

A Climate for Leadership: how Australia should respond to increasing disasters with retired Admiral Chris Barrie | Webinar

Australia Institute webinar with Richie Merzian and Chris Barrie

Climate change is increasingly a national security issue and in this Australia Institute webinar Former head of the Australian Defence Forces Chris Barrie and Head of climate and Energy at the Australia Institute Richie Merzian discuss the implications for responding to increasing climate related disasters involving the ADF and some of the National Security implications of failure of leadership to address climate change at the Federal Government level.

Richie Merzian outlines how Australia shaped an outline that countries could adopt for climate adaptation plans. Australia is helping to fund and implement plans with countries in our Pacific region, yet have failed to draw up a National Climate Adaptation Plan for our own country. 

So Australia has not worked out a risk assessment for estimates of the cost of climate change and climate driven weather disasters. "It has left us vulnerable and luching from one disaster to the next, when the majority of countries have undertaken developing these climate adaptation plans."

"It's extraordinary we are missing in action in Australia, when it is the security of our own people we should be concerned about. Worse than that, as Richie has pointed out, we have not learned anything from being involved in the processes, putting these adaptation plans together. It is almost like the leadership is absolutely vacant at the moment and I think this should concern all of us." said Chris Barrie.

Chris Barrie outlines some of the disaster events since the last Federal election in 2019: the Black Summer Bushfires, the Pandemic, and the floods. That the Lismore floods is the third 1 in 100 year flood in that area in the last 5 years. 

"As we said in the Missing in Action report, we need to prevent in the first instance the consequences of climate change impacts, then we need to prepare to deal with other things we haven't been able to prevent, and then finally we need to be able to protect our communities. This is a fundamental security responsibility of the Federal Government. 

"It is why we are saying today the next election is so important. Because the members of the parliament we elect in May are going to have to deal with this in the 3 year term of this parliament, because if they don't, the game is over."

The costs of climate disasters fall overwhelmingly on those in high risk areas, on all of our  insurance premiums, and all of us through the tax system. The 2011 Queensland floods used a temporary increase in taxation to raise money for the costs of recovery. 

"Those who don't pay... are the actual companies that profit from climate change, those who extract and sell fossil fuels. We know that fossil fuels are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and yet polluters have no responsibility to pay in Australia. So the Australia Institute has proposed a One dollar levy on the embedded emissions in every tonne of coal and gas that Australia exports. With that we can raise at least $1.5 billion every year that goes into a bucket that we can then spend on these relief arrangements, but more importantly to help adapt, prepare and minimize." said Richie Merzian.

"What we found with the most recent polling in the last 2 weeks is that 67 percent of Australians support this national disaster levy on fossil fuel exports. If anyone should be contributing to the bill, it is those who are profiting from the cause. ... Australia is the third largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world, after Russia and Saudi Arabia." (See Australia Institute: Polling: Majority of Australians want climate disaster levy and climate adaptation strategies

Discussion of Insurance:
  • High insurance in high risk areas, some areas you may not get insurance at all
  • Higher insurance premiums for low risk to cover the higher vulnerability and disperse the risk.
  • Government likely to move in as re-insurer for $10 billion in North Queensland for cyclones - just one vulnerable area.
  • If you are a business and can't get insurance this affects your ability to get a bank loan
  • "A decade of inaction is now coming home to roost"

Gas fired budget predicted

Richie is predicting a gas-fired budget with more money for fossil fuels with numerous announcements over the last few months. This included an announcement by the Minister for Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor for $50.3 million for 7 priority gas and Carbon Capture and Storage projects. 

There is over $10 billion in fossil fuel subsidies per year by the Federal and state  Government. "Just one fuel subsidy at the Federal level was larger than the Australian expenditure on the Australian Army in one year," said Merzian.

"We have got to do something about infrastructure. We are 15-20 years too late on this. We have got to get going on this and do it fast." said Chris Barrie.

The recent IPCC climate report on vulnerability and impacts highlighted in its pronouncement that the window of opportunity for taking action on climate to meet the 1.5C Paris Agreement target is closing fast. Without taking action, some adaptation becomes impossible.

A question on the hollowing out of the public service over the last two decades reducing the ability for planning and governance, and increased reliance on outside consultancies. Covid 19 Commission wasn't composed of public servants but of primarily fossil fuel and gas executives that recommended gas-fired recovery.

Ukraine war and importance of Energy Independence, electrifying transport

A couple of questions related to Ukraine war and importance of energy independence for national security.  Richie responded first highlighting the Federal Government undertook a review of liquid fuel security. It found that in 2019 Australia had only 20 days worth  of petrol and diesel at current consumption rates. Final version of that report was supposed to be released by the end of 2019, but has still not been published. Since then more refineries have shut down, so we have become even more insecure. 

"The lesson learned here is that Australia should become more independent when it comes to transport fuels."

"We could be making all the fuels we need to power our cars and trucks with sun, wind and with hydro. If we electrify our transport we get ourselves off foreign oil. Unfortunately all the efforts that are being made around liquid fuel security - shoring up more supply, securing new reserves in Texas - rather than in demand side in reducing our reliance in electrified transport, or even in improving the efficiency of vehicle. We have some of the most inefficient cars in the OECD, because we don't have standards on the CO2 coming out of the tailpipe. So there is so much we could be doing here." said Merzian.

A question on security and water resources and the mismanagement of water, non-inclusion of climate projections in the management of water resources and the implications for food security.

Funding of local government in dealing with climate disasters

I had a question to the panel near the end of the session: Many municipal and shire councils are pro-active in building community resilience and adaptation to climate disasters and climate mitigation but on very limited budgets. Should they be funded by other levels of government to support their work in this area perhaps as part of a national climate adaptation plan?

Richie Merzian: "The local government association have raised this. They are responsible for something like 25 percent of public assets but only really pull in 5 percent of revenue. So they have this huge responsibility with very little resources to respond to it. 

They are called on as the first port of call as they are there closest to those who live in the area that are feeling these impacts and they want to best respond. So there is this disparity and we've seen a lot of interest, we've seen Mayors come out in support of this Climate Disaster Levy. 

If we can find a way to tax polluters for the pollution they are causing, for the climate change they are causing, then the first area we should fund is local government responses, both to the impact, but then to help with their preparedness. That would be the best way to use that money we raise taxing fossil fuel exports and feeding it back into local governments."

Chris Barrie: "Of course local governments are about local communities. Its communities that are affected by the impacts of climate change. That is why it is really important. I happen to know because I work with someone who did a lot of the climate adaptation plans for local government authorities. Every local government authority in Australia has a climate change adaptation plan. When I have been involved and asked them how they are getting on with it: the plan sits on a piece of paper, it lacks funding as Richie has just pointed out. 

Just as we are saying we need a new approach to deal with the risks of climate change, it just seems to me we have also got to think about innovation and change when it comes to how we fund some of these things. You can't simply say to the rate payers of a shire or a council: 'You guys are going to have to pay for all this.' 

There has to be a different way. Maybe this approach to have a levy is one of them, but there may be other avenues. Fundamentally, its going to come down to how we set the priorities for what we want to do after the next election."

"Our leaders have to walk the talk" said Chris Barrie on a following question about why Australian government has been missing in action. "Real leadership cares about people". 

He identified Brad Banducci, CEO of Woolworths aIPCC climate report on vulnerability and impactss leadership in action.  Banducci went out to the floodzones days before the Federal Government was there, looking after his staff, his supermarkets, ensuring delivery of stock to supermarkets. "After the bushfires, after the pandemic, after the floods, we still haven't learned that lesson in this country."

Full Webinar video:

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