Earlier last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published yet another report. It declared, in the strongest terms such a body can muster, that internationally, efforts to tackle climate change must be ramped up significantly, and that global warming poses a grave risk to humanity. In other words, pull your fingers out and actually start to significantly reduce your carbon emissions pretty smartly, folks, or we’re stuffed.
Within days of this news being released, it, too, was being used to wrap rubbish. That is, if you still have an actual hard copy newspaper. But before this latest news gets buried in the junk pile, let’s just hit pause for a moment and consider what the IPCC’s trying to bring to our attention.
You’re probably pretty much aware of the fact that since the industrial revolution, our world has already warmed up by one degree, due to increasing greenhouse gas pollution from the burning of oil, coal and gas. In Australia, this increase has led directly to more frequent, longer lasting and more intense heatwaves, coastal flooding and longer and more dangerous bushfire seasons. The IPCC says we must keep any temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, as agreed by 125 nations at the COP21 convention in Paris three years ago.
This week alone, you may have read that the ice covering the Antarctic is melting faster than anticipated, with permafrost in the Arctic melting at ridiculously fast rates, releasing methane and carbon dioxide. As it melts, poisonous mercury and microbes locked up in the ice are released, with a ripple down effect – like warping roads and creating sinkholes and craters, not to mention rising sea levels which drowned an island off Hawaii last month.
Closer to home, NSW has had record harsh droughts and hotter temperatures, with heat stress seriously affecting older people, animals and babies. Energy costs are rising. Changing rainfall patterns are negatively impacting agriculture, and our beaches are slowly disappearing.
So what’s actually happened in Australia since the Paris agreement? Not much – just heaps of hot air, particularly from the federal level of our various governments and political leaders. But locally, it’s another matter.
At Zero Emmission Byron’s BIG U TURN AHEAD event, the Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen was asked how much time was left before Australian businesses, industry, government and households reach the peak emissions point of no return, and what to do. His view: phase out all fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas by 2040, and start to reduce our emissions within two years. Why? To avert the collapse of modern civilisation.
Some people are listening. At the last Byron Shire Council meeting, a State of Climate Emergency was declared, proposed by Cr Cate Coorey. It urges other Northern Rivers councils to follow suit and call for swift action on climate change.
As Cr Coorey puts it: ‘All the latest science is telling us we have a very short window to act before irreversible and catastrophic impacts from global warming start to take effect. In a shire like Byron, that will mean sea level rise and a likely increase in floods, droughts, fires and extreme weather events such as damaging storms. We may not be able to have a direct impact on political decisions at the state and federal level, but we can show some leadership locally and start taking action.’
Byron Council’s now convened a community-led Climate Emergency Guidance Group to develop a shire-wide Climate Emergency Plan. ‘Reversing climate change may seem like an insurmountable problem but if every council, every community, every individual does their bit then at least we can say we have done something,’ Councillor Coorey said.
Want to make a start? Around 40 per cent of the Shire’s emissions comes from electricity use. Go to Repower Byron and flick fossil fuels forever.