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Climate Leaders Striving For A Clean Energy Future

11/12/2015 11:13 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Wind Turbines on a Wind farm produce clean energy. Taken in Wyoming.

This week people around the world are speaking up for a strong climate agreement in Paris. Many Australians are adding their voices to the chorus. They are bringing focus to the local and global impacts of climate change and the solutions that are rapidly overtaking the out-dated polluting fuels of the past.

Here are a few standout leaders in the fields of science, policy, advocacy and faith.

Science -- Dr Pep Canadell

Dr Pep Canadell is the Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, an international research project to study the interactions between the carbon cycle, climate and human activities. He is a research scientist based at CSIRO in Canberra, providing information on how we are tracking with emissions. The just-released 2015 Global Carbon Budget shows that Australia emitted over 1 percent of the world's total carbon emissions from fossil fuels, making it the 14th largest contributor globally.

The Global Carbon Project report looks at future emissions pathways that could keep global average temperature increase below 2°C this century. According to its findings, we can emit a further 865 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which then needs to be sliced and diced between all the people on the planet, current and future, in order to have a reasonable (but by no means certain) chance of keeping warming under 2°C. Dr Canadell states that there is a "need for higher ambition in decoupling economic growth from emissions growth if the 2°C threshold were to be avoided."

The take-home message from this research is that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aggressively now or there may be no option to stabilise the climate at the 2°C limit.

Economics and policy -- Professor Frank Jotzo

Professor Frank Jotzo is the Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University, where he focuses on the economics and policy of climate change and energy.

He describes Australia's climate policy and energy transition as a rollercoaster ride, going through radical changes from strong commitment on climate action to dismantling of climate policy, reflecting the deep conflict between our inherent interests in strong climate change action and our large coal resources.

Professor Jotzo's research and the Deep Decarbonisation report from ClimateWorks show that we could get close to 100 percent renewable power by mid-century, indicating that Australia can enjoy both economic growth and environmental protection. Professor Jotzo believes we can move to a world of sustainable prosperity.

"Australia doesn't need to make a choice between a thriving economy and its environmental future," he said. "We already have technologies that tread lightly on the earth. We could make all of our electricity from renewable power, use electricity rather than fossil fuels for transport, recycle a large share of water, use farming practices that are friendly to the environment."

The nub of his argument is that the old ways of doing things are only cheaper if you do not account for the damage it will do to society.

Activism -- Blair Palase

Blair Palase heads up 350 Australia, one part of a global movement taking action to halt the climate crisis. Last week, they helped coordinate the People's Parliament, a peaceful occupation by 300 people including Aboriginal community leaders, farmers, doctors, faith leaders and members of cities and towns fighting coal and gas projects at Parliament House. The connection between those working for climate change action and those fighting fossil fuel projects in their communities is an important new step to address both the issue and the impacts these projects are having in our communities around Australia.

Palase has also helped cities and towns around the country divest from fossil fuels, with local councils alone pooling $5.5 billion covered by divestment motions. Newcastle City Council, home to the biggest coal port in the world, also divested in 2015, with the City of Melbourne Council following suit.

Universities are also taking note, with Swinburne University of Technology the most recent to announce divestment plans with a new responsible investment charter. The charter will commit the university to take "account of environmental and social impacts" and provide transparency and annual reporting of its investment holdings carbon emissions.

Faith -- Jacqui Rémond

Jacqui Rémond, Director of Catholic Earthcare Australia, was working as a climate ambassador in the Kimberley, where she participated in Al Gore's Climate Reality Project. As a result, she was invited to work with bishops around the country and took part in the Multi-Faith Climate Convergence and the Religions for the Earth conference.

Rémond recalls six of the participants started talking via Skype on a Tuesday night and "we ended up engaging the whole catholic community across the globe with the Global Catholic Climate Movement. It has been an incredible journey."

Rémond was the Australian delegate who met His Holiness Pope Francis at the Global Catholic Climate Movement to discuss ways to share the encyclical on the environment released earlier this year. "He speaks from the heart, thinks of the poor and lives simply. It is time for us all to live simply. It is time for transformation in every sense," she said.

A critical moment

We are at a critical time in the history of climate change. The monumental delegation in Paris is the most significant round of climate negotiations for the past two decades. Millions of people are hoping for a result that will ensure the wellbeing of our world.

According to the Climate Change Performance Index, Australia is ranked third last among major emitters for progress transitioning to a low-emissions economy. The report prepared by the think tank Germanwatch and the Climate Action Network Europe argues that Australia will require significant policy changes on climate to play its part.

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have failed to provide genuine action. Current policies have swapped the style but not the substance of the Abbott regime. We are all inhabitants of the earth and we are at a turning point. We all want to leave a healthy and prosperous future for our children and for those who come after them. The time has come for Australia to commit to binding emissions reductions and step firmly on the path to a better future for all.

We can choose a future with clean air, healthy communities and locally sourced energy from the wind and sun. Our scientists, advisors, people of faith and action are making that choice possible. They are getting a clean energy future into our grasp.

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