An important part of climate action is understanding how everyone can help to reduce their carbon footprint. Suzanne Harter, a Climate Change Campaigner at Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) talks with GVI about the important changes everyone can take to help work towards a more environmentally sustainable world…
Firstly, is any part of your organisation going to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris?
Yes, ACF’s CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy, and our climate change campaigns manager, Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, are both going.
According to your website, The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) wants to “get to the heart of environmental problems by tackling the underlying social and economic causes.” On this understanding, ideally, what are the changes you want to see at the summit? Why are these changes so important?
We are hoping to see increased commitment to climate action at the negotiations. Current emissions reductions commitments still have global warming increasing to 2.7°C which is much too high. We would like to see international governments collectively committing to targets and a review process that will keep global warming at much less than 2°C. We are pushing for 1.5°C, which is a much safer limit. Also we are hoping to see greater assistance to developing nations that need help both mitigating and adapting to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Climate finance and pushing for a 1.5°C ceiling will be important topics especially for many of our low-lying neighbours who are facing some of the most difficult impacts of climate change. (Kiribati’s) President, Anote Tong, has made it clear they are going to be under water if we don’t get climate change under control.
How will the decisions at the Climate Change conference affect Australia and the wider community?
There are two things happening in Paris: There are the negotiations, but there are also communities, businesses and non-state actors mobilizing, raising ambition and broadening the field of actors and actions. These broader actions and commitments are an important part of the Paris COP. The conference is also helping to shine a light on issues of concern such as the impact of coal and fossil fuels on our future. ACF is working to stop new coal mines being built in Australia, and that includes taking action to stop the Carmichael mine, which has recently been approved in the Galilee Basin. There will be many people in Paris that share our concern about such a massive new mine, which if developed would be one of the biggest in the world, responsible for billions of tons of carbon pollution and endangering the Great Barrier Reef.
What are the main issues you are facing with climate change in Australia?
Fossil fuels are at the heart of our energy sector and this need to change. The government needs to shift its allegiance and support clean energy rather than subsidising fossil fuels and acting as a barrier to a clean future. The current government removed the carbon price scheme, which was having a positive impact. It has now been dismantled and replaced by the ineffective direct action plan, which is not working. There has been no strong commitment to climate action by the current government.
How can the UN Climate Change Conference help ACF’s voice be heard?
It can help get the government to take stronger action. It can also help build a stronger movement. Because of the added focus on climate change, we are seeing a range of sectors– unions, health and medical, youth and aboriginal sectors—getting involved in the broader movement and raising their voice because they understand how climate change is affecting their communities. This big voice is being transferred to Paris. It shows our government and other governments around the world how strong, broad and committed the climate movement has become. For example, the People’s Climate March wouldn’t have occurred without the conference. People are mobilising and sending a message about stronger action on climate change. The conference is also putting pressure on big polluting companies and mobilizing more responsible companies. We have seen some positive actions from big business globally, including those that have signed on to “We Mean Business” commitments. Recently 12 businesses in Australia signed on to a range of commitments sending a positive message about businesses that understand the need to take action.
Now I just wanted to talk to you about your view on environmental sustainability. How can individual behaviour demonstrate environmental sustainability values?
In a whole lot of ways. There are simple things that people can do every single day. For example, by choosing products produced sustainably, the heating and cooling of homes, light and energy use, investment in solar power. Individuals can also support sustainability by pushing governments for more public transport or by walking or cycling. It can also be through the way we eat. For example, eating meat is a high carbon food so it’s not the best from a sustainability perspective. We need to think about sustainable food and patterns – what we eat, wear what transport we use and what we advocate from government.
What about at the organisational level?
I’ve seen several different organisations implementing green initiatives including simple things like reducing what is printed and not printing in colour; creating practices related to the kitchen like composting and recycling; and increasing the sustainability or their buildings. For example, the building I’m in now has an efficient way of heating and cooling with air flow, efficient water and light usage. Decisions about how to be green through our built environment are important but so is building a culture around it.
What about the system or governmental level?
The government itself is a big purchaser so governments can support sustainability through their purchasing decisions. Government operations also need to be as low emissions as possible. Finally, the policies implemented by government need to have long-term, positive environmental impacts. In general, governments should have sustainability goals and pathways to achieve them, including transparent, credible and just policies and purchasing agreements.