Monday 08 Mar 2021 | 08:23 | SYDNEY
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Climate change

Australia’s place in a decarbonising world economy

A welcome change is underway in the international effort to combat dangerous global warming. It will have big implications for the Australian economy. The United States, European Union and China – the world’s three biggest emitters – are now all targeting net zero emissions by mid-century (

Book review: The Ministry for the Future

Book review: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future (Hachette, 2020) The Ministry for the Future is a novel set in the near future which describes the disastrous consequences of a warming planet and the steps humanity takes to mitigate them. It is ultimately an optimistic story about

Climate change, a constant battle

2020 had a whole lot up its sleeve. When the year started, there was one big, burning issue in Australia: the bushfires ripping through swaths of countryside, torching towns and choking cities with smoke. Alex Oliver, Lowy’s Director of Research, had a close encounter during what was supposed to

The case for going all-in on renewables

Current perceptions of renewables have been driven by the need to address climate change, a narrow view that overlooks benefits such as reducing our reliance on imported energy and creating thousands of high-tech jobs. As countries grapple with the outwardly ineffective efforts to pass climate

Changing the narrative of climate change

Few people would recognise respiratory failure as a critical threat to their health without also placing Covid-19 – an amplifier of respiratory failure – in the same category. Yet, this is essentially the way many Australians view climate change and its impacts, according to the 2020 Lowy

China’s vision of sovereignty for the next world order

President Xi Jinping grabbed headlines last month with the announcement that China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is aiming for carbon neutrality within 40 years. Xi’s speech, to the UN General Assembly, gave no details about how this would be achieved, beyond a

A dose of climate realism about China’s carbon pledge

In 2009 China was blamed for destroying the Copenhagen conference on climate change, leaving the world with no successor to the Kyoto Protocol. In 2015, along with France and the United States, its leadership helped make the Paris Agreement a reality. And in 2020, China is the first major greenhouse

Working one for the planet

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and impotent in the face of the manifold problems that currently confront the world. Pandemics, persistent poverty, great power rivalry, not to mention the spectre of runaway climate change (which will undoubtedly make all of the above worse and possibly trigger the

World order in the time of coronavirus

The liberal order faces its greatest crisis since the end of the Cold War. Liberalism is in retreat around the world. The United States is led by a president whose America-first realpolitik contradicts the very idea of rules-based governance. Europe has seen the rise of “illiberal democracies”.

Chinese dams and the Mekong drought

The latest reports from the Lower Mekong Basin are cause for growing concern that another period of drought will succeed that of 2019, affecting Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Expected rainfall from late May through June and July has not arrived, and the level of water flowing in the river is

The most important American election ever?

When Donald Trump and Joe Biden compete for the American presidency in November, it may prove to be the most consequential election the world has ever seen. Yes – that is a bit hyperbolic, but let’s consider what’s at stake. First, it’s not entirely certain that Trump will lose, despite

A force to combat climate change?

The Defence Strategic Update 2020 has provoked a significant amount of debate in Australia. The reaction across the Tasman in New Zealand has been much more subdued, but Defence Minister Ron Mark reportedly suggested that increases in Australian capability would increase the ability to respond to

Australia’s shifting mood on climate change

At the beginning of 2020, Australia’s national conversation was dominated by the catastrophic bushfires raging throughout the country. The fires killed at least 34 people, burned through more than 11 million hectares and destroyed nearly 6000 buildings. In March, the first scientific assessment of

Climate change makes Covid-19 politics look easy

Covid-19 has been an extremely difficult challenge for national policymakers. If policy and politics are about managing competing interests and prioritising different constituencies, the varied national Covid-19 responses point to the acute challenges of getting this balance right. How do we

Bob May – Professor of Everything

I have known two “professors of everything”: George Seddon and Robert May. Seddon, who ended his days in Fremantle, Western Australia, had chairs in geology, English, environment, and philosophy. The connection, he told me, was language. May’s fields were chemical engineering, physics, maths,

Solastalgia: A malady for our age?

Some words capture the zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times. We’ve been talking about “globalisation” for decades now, until it’s become a comfortable part of our intellectual furniture. Pretty soon we might have to get used to talking about “de-globalization”, though, as trade wars and

Learning from extinction

They called the last one Martha. I’d never heard of the passenger pigeon until a couple of years ago, these small birds that once flew in great nomadic flocks across North America in numbers dense enough to blacken the sky, taking hours to pass. Estimates suggest that anywhere between 3 and 5

Japan has struck low in climate ambition

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has repeatedly pledged that his country would lead global efforts to address climate change. Increasingly, however, Japan is facing scrutiny over the gap between its lofty rhetoric and the reality of its climate policies, which include ongoing support for coal-

Economic diplomacy: Two big-C issues

Change of pace If Australia’s bushfire crisis has done one thing to inadvertently calm the national zeitgeist during the holiday season, it is in the way climate change has suddenly returned to supplant China as the country’s biggest wicked problem. But in reality, these two big-C issues

Jakarta is flooding and its governor is sinking

Jakarta welcomed the new year with a new record — the heaviest rains in decades. The deluge left parts of the Indonesian capital under 5 metres of water, which triggered landslides and cut off whole neighbourhoods. Before the water finally receded this week, at least 60 people were dead and

Climate leadership: An idea whose time has come?

Julie Bishop’s seemingly belated call for Australian leadership on climate change has drawn some predictable criticism. Why, it might reasonably be asked, didn’t she do something about it when she had the chance as foreign minister? It’s a good question. The answer, and Bishop’s own defence

Best of The Interpreter 2019: The rising climate chorus

The annual Lowy Institute poll has tracked Australian attitudes on the environment for more than a decade, a mirror of the political vicissitudes in the country. The 2019 results led Matt McDonald to ask, are Australians more worried about climate change, or climate policy? One fascinating feature

Favourites of 2019: Ross Garnaut on climate

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films, or TV programs this year. Ross Garnaut’s Superpower has already been reviewed on The Intepreter. But can I include it in the context of “favourites for 2019”? This book marks not

Should you lie to your children about reality?

Is the world currently too awful to contemplate for the so-called “snowflake generation”, which apparently can’t face the realities of life in even the most fortunate of nations? Should responsible parents attempt to insulate their offspring from some of life’s less pleasing aspects for as

Chart of the week: The climate cost

Two years ago, Scott Morrison walked into the Australian parliament brandishing a lump of coal. “Don’t be afraid. Don't be scared. It won’t hurt you. It’s coal,” Morrison said, the nation’s treasurer at the time. We can only assume that he didn’t know then that in 2019 he would be

Book review: The chance to actually change the climate

Book Review: Ross Garnaut, Superpower: Australia’s Low-Carbon Opportunity, La Trobe University Press, 2019) If anyone in Australia deserves the somewhat overused epithets of “public intellectual” or even “policy entrepreneur”, it’s Ross Garnaut. Over a long and distinguished career, he

In Java, the water is running out

Indonesia’s dry season has never been easy. Dry winds blow from Australia and rainfall is almost nonexistent, which leads to major forest fires, choking air pollution, and searing heat, along with the energy-sapping effect the season has on residents. For many parts of Indonesia, one problem has

Keep calm and fly on … unless someone stops me

Shame is a powerful emotion, but is it powerful enough to save the planet? Almost certainly not. But the question has assumed unexpected prominence as the sensitive Scandinavians and the schoolgirl activist Greta Thunburg spearhead a campaign to encourage us to fly less, simply because it’s the

Climate change is a national security issue

If only a minister of the Morrison government would be as forthright in identifying climate change as a massive destabilising force in Australia’s region as the Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell has been. In a private speech in Bowral in June, General Campbell is reported to have sounded

Adapting to climate change: the priority for Australia

Adaptation to climate change was for a long time considered as an abstract issue for the future, something that would need to be worked out later by someone else. Adaptation, in short, is a process of preparing to live with a changing climate where most of our definitions of typical weather and

Just how green is the Belt and Road?

China is frequently hailed as a leader in international efforts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, playing a pivotal role in negotiating the Paris Agreement, and pledging that carbon emissions will peak by 2030 and decline rapidly thereafter. The country has quickly become one of the

Russian gas will not stop China’s air pollution

As Beijing clamps down on air pollution, it is seeking to replace coal power plants with cleaner natural gas, especially for heating during winter. Consequently, China has intensified relations with Russia, one of the world’s leading gas exporters, to expand energy ties. But although upping gas

Vietnam’s quandary: red or green?

A hand-crafted map on the wall of the Vietnam Academy of Agriculture Sciences (VAAS) neatly captures the country’s strategic vulnerabilities as it emerges as a dynamic new regional player. The map is fashioned out of grains of rice to demonstrate Vietnam’s agricultural production prowess, but it

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