In Australia, several environmental groups have banded together to encourage a new approach to climate action. They’re steering away from incremental approaches, which have largely failed, and instead are promoting a holistic Transition Decade.
Spearheaded by Friends of the Earth, Beyond Zero Emissions, Climate Emergency Network and the Sustainable Living Foundation, the Transition Decade (T10) presents a shared framework for individuals and community groups to develop, then implement initiatives to put Australia on the path of sustainability by 2020.
“The T10 alliance recognizes the urgent situation humanity faces as clearly outlined by the most current climate science,” says Beyond Zero Emissions Executive Director Matthew Wright. “It also recognizes that wholesale change is needed to set our society on a safe climate and ecologically sustainable path.”
The campaign starts with community mobilization, aiming to build a foundation to push for government policy change starting in 2012 and then for a greater economic shift toward sustainability starting in 2014. Building a campaign platform around a decade of transition helps bypass “incrementalist failure,” Wright said. The model establishes a timeline for the groups’ shared sustainability agendas, which he argues makes it easier for the business, economic and social communities to align their priorities, and much harder for the proposed policy mechanisms to be corrupted by vested interests.
“We won’t achieve sustainability or a safe climate future without large sections of society working together, sometimes in different ways, but towards the same goal,” Wright said.
The T10 Alliance was launched as the Labor government’s national climate agenda stalled. The Australian Senate has twice rejected the government’s key climate initiative, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), which seeks to establish a national cap-and-trade system. A third vote on the troubled bill has been delayed to May, but is likely to be rejected by a revitalized Opposition. Under the leadership of Tony Abbott, the Liberal and National parties have branded the emissions trading scheme “a great big tax” and vow to prevent any carbon-pricing measures from taking effect.
The Australian Greens add another layer of complexity to the political situation. The Greens challenge the Rudd government to “break the CPRS deadlock” by implementing an interim price on carbon. The proposal would impose a $20 per tonne “price” on carbon emissions for two years, starting from July this year. According to the Greens, the interim measure would allow Australia to start addressing its ballooning carbon emissions and provide the Parliament with enough time to resolve political differences over the emissions-trading legislation.
Wright argues that the climate policies presented by both the major political parties are inadequate given the scale of the challenge.
“The policy proposals from the Liberal and Labor parties completely ignore the climate science and will achieve nothing,” Wright warns. “The government and opposition have no direction. They take a pathetic approach and have no plan. They have no way forward for the Australian people.”
While both Wright and
Cam Walker, campaign coordinator for T10 member Friends of the Earth, recognize the Greens proposal as a political “circuit breaker” with the potential to provide a signal to investors and the community, it does not establish a long-term goal for decarbonization. Their qualified support for the measure comes with a reasoned skepticism towards the effectiveness of cap-and-trade policies, and a reminder that comprehensive climate policy will do more than just price carbon.
In contrast to the efforts of the larger environmental organizations that have mostly focused on the government’s emissions-trading agenda and the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations, the T10 Alliance presents a platform for collaboration. It emphasizes practical actions by citizens rather than targets and treaties.
“The incremental approach of the major environment groups is almost universally accepted as a failure,” contends Wright. “There was an expectation amongst the broader community that Copenhagen would set us on the right path but the UN process has also been a failure thus far. The people that understand climate change are looking for an alternative focus for action. T10 provides this focus together with a compelling vision and urgency.”
Walker says “T10 is attempting to break out of the climate change ‘ghetto’, and mobilize the majority of society.”
He argues that a broader and more collaborative approach to campaigning demanded an alliance of organizations that already use collaborative models. This was the rationale behind Friends of the Earth, Beyond Zero Emissions, Climate Emergency Network and the Sustainable Living Foundation forming the core of the alliance, “rather than [groups] overly focused on their own profile or badging,” Walker explains.
While the decade-long focus of the T10 Alliance is a first for the Australian climate movement, the United States has already seen the emergence of similar campaigns. The T10 Alliance cites the Repower America campaign as a key inspiration. Just as Repower America seeks for the U.S. to produce 100% of its electricity from renewable sources in a decade, core T10 ally Beyond Zero Emissions has used the alliance to launch its own initiative to achieve this aim.
The advocacy group is in the process of preparing a detailed Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan for Australia to transition to 100% renewable energy. “We have used the scientific evidence to decide on an end-point, the best engineers together to put a plan in place,” Wright said. “We present a blueprint for going from the polluting economy we have now to a zero emissions economy in 10 years.”
Walker agrees with the need to transition Australia’s energy system and believes it can be done in a way that reduces emissions while creating thousands of new jobs.
Whether the Transition Decade is able to reshape Australia and kick-start the stalled climate politics is still to be seen. Yet, even in its early stages, the T10 alliance and shared campaign platform represents a serious attempt by leading non-government organizations to develop then implement sustainable solutions in Australia.