Opinion: Carbon Offsetting Is Much More Than Just A Band-Aid Solution For Australia

It's been a tough few weeks for those of us keeping track of climate news. Firstly, we learnt that monsoon rains, rains that are made much more severe by climate change, have displaced 9.6 million people across South Asia since the wet season began in June. This brings home the injustice of climate change - where the people who contribute the least, are the most impacted.

Then, Australia's National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) put forward their recommendation for a "gas-led" recovery. Gas is a fossil fuel with a warming potential greater than that of coal. The NCCC put forward this recommendation despite calls from virtually all sectors of our economy for a recovery that addresses the climate crisis as well as the economic fallout from COVID-19.

With bad news on the back of bad news, it can be easy to lose hope. But, in the words of Christiana Figueres, renowned orchestrator of the Paris Agreement, I remain 'stubbornly optimistic', and I think you should too. Firstly, because anger and despair do not serve us. Being stubbornly optimistic is one way to make sure that we keep fighting, and that we do not lay down in defeat. Secondly, because I don't believe that we need to put all of our eggs into the "Australian emissions" basket. Let's face it, Australia has voted in a Government who is not willing to take action on climate change and until we vote in a government who is willing to do more, it's going to be tough getting things done. We need to be creative. I believe we can effectively eliminate our contribution to climate change much sooner than the most ambitious climate plans that I have seen proposed, despite the bad news of the last few weeks.

Climate change is a global problem, and it can be solved with global solutions. Under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (the "rulebook" on this article is still being finalised), we can achieve domestic emissions reduction targets with international projects, agreed between the two participating governments. If we can't move to 100% renewables right now, let's fund renewables elsewhere while fighting for a transition to clean energy. It's so important that Australia reaches zero emissions domestically, but while we do that, we can start moving in the right direction and eliminate any further contribution to climate change now. And we can do this by investing in renewable energy in countries that need financial aid to advance climate solutions. After all, the atmosphere doesn't care where the emissions come from, just that they stop.

It might sound far-fetched, but we already do this. We have spent over $1 billion of foreign aid on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the last five years. And this is woefully short of what Australia should be contributing under the Paris Agreement, which sets out a global commitment of US$100 billion of climate finance to 'Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States' a year by 2020. Under this agreement, Australia should be providing additional foreign aid of between US$2.4 billion and US$3.2 billion each year.

What's more, carbon offsets are available in international renewable energy projects (wind, solar and hydro) for as little as $0.60/tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent. This means that, in theory at least, we could remove the equivalent of Australia's carbon emissions this financial year for as little as $318 million. That's $22.26 per individual taxpayer each year to reach net-zero emissions from now. While not saying that this would mean we can stop trying to stop carbon production at the source on home soil, (we need to be carbon negative, after all the damage we've already done over the years), I would pay that $22.26 in a heartbeat to help secure my children's futures! I'm sure I'm not alone.

On top of that, 61% of the world's electricity is still generated from coal and gas. There is incredible scope to help the rest of the world decarbonise. And if we are to solve the climate crisis, the entire world must decarbonise. I can understand the tendency to want to focus domestically and put pressure on our government to reduce our own emissions, rather than pursue international opportunities. We absolutely should be decarbonising as quickly as possible. But, even if we were to reduce our emissions by 55% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 -- targets beyond what our current government has committed to -- we will still be putting 5.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while we transition, when we have an alternative that will put net-zero tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (by preventing carbon from going into the atmosphere via renewable energy in a different location). People are being affected by climate change now. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to pollute our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, however noble our intentions are.

This is much more than a band-aid solution - it can be a golden ticket solution. It's affordable, and it demonstrates climate justice by helping other nations transition out of fossil fuels. What's more, it can get us to net-zero immediately -- we need to pull out all stops now, we don't have time for a drawn out transition -- and this is something we can pressure our government to do now. It will also help buy us time to decarbonise our own economy without causing further suffering whilst we do so.

Reaching net-zero emissions now sounds unimaginable, I know. But when you look at our international commitments, the economics of decarbonisation, and the urgency with which the entire world must transition, it's absolutely possible, even essential. We can do this, and I will continue to be stubbornly optimistic that we will do this. I'm asking you not to give up either, do not let the bad news of the last few weeks deter you. Write to your member of parliament and demand that this government takes meaningful climate action, either within our borders, or outside of our borders. Because we must solve this, anything else is simply not an option.

Written by Erin Remblance, Sydney mum-of-three and climate activist

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Header photo: Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

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