VIEW: Climate change – where does it start and end?

Climate change is in the headlines every day. Yet, there are still major divides within communities, corporates and governments on how serious this issue actually is.

We asked a range of experts for their views on exactly how extreme climate change is, what the research tells us, how they have or have not impacted the recent bushfire tragedies in Australia, and why there is still so much debate on the issue overall.

How is climate change impacting our planet?

Sanaa Hobeichi, Post doctoral research associate at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Sanaa Hobeichi, Post doctoral research associate at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Sydney:

“Climate change has already started to devastate our planet. The signs of climate change include not only rising global temperatures, but also more frequent damaging weather events such as floods, droughts, intense storms and heatwaves; melting glaciers and icesheets, sea level rise, and a wide range of other impacts.

While we do see public debate around whether climate change is a natural phase or caused by human activities, this is not a debate in the scientific community… Where there is a division of views, it tends to be around the scale of the consequences.

For over a century, scientists have provided evidence on the contribution of human activity to current earth warming and climate change. Heat-trapping and long-lasting carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel burning has been found to be the most important contributor to global warming.

The Paris Agreement (2015) is the first universal and legally binding agreement that aims to tackle climate change following the recommendations of the IPCC. It aims at achieving more than a 70% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of the century. More than 180 countries have now agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and many have set emissions targets to achieve this.”

Valentina Petrone, Senior Environmental Consultant, Encycle Consulting:

“People have always thought that climate change was something happening really far away from their backyards – something that scientists would take care of… Nowadays the tragic bushfire season in Australia is clearly demonstrating that climate change is already affecting us and unfortunately quite badly. Additionally, the result of the last election clearly demonstrated that Australians are not aware about the risks and impacts of Climate Change and the need of a strong shift in the Australian environmental policies.”

Where are the misunderstandings around climate change and sustainability stemming from?

Daniela Cox, Plura Consulting CEO:

“Many people believe that climate change means only the planet warming up, but the truth is that changes in climate will occur beyond that. It will be affecting the local dynamic of nature depending on each ecosystem.”

Carmel Zein, Founder, Amina Rose:

Carmel Zein, Founder, Amina Rose

“People tend to shy away from new or ‘extreme’ movements, and unfortunately the majority of society still see vegans as radicalists when really the message they are spreading is for the better of the environment.

People see sustainability as a privilege, that is too expensive for the average person e.g buying organic, natural produce. On the contrary, living a sustainable life is much more cost effective, it just requires more time and understanding.”

Valentina Petrone, Senior Environmental Consultant, Encycle Consulting:

Valentina Petrone, Senior Environmental Consultant, Encycle Consulting

“There have been a mix of reports/articles on the news saying that the terrible Australian bushfire situation isn’t related to Climate Change. I think that’s due to the fact that Climate Change is a very sensitive topic in Australia being clearly linked to our fossil fuel industry and to our political decisions in regards to renewable energies and reduction on green house gases emissions. Additionally, people usually prefer to avoid conversations that might drive big changes and conspiracy theories are always a good excuse to avoid facing the reality.

Climate Change is a theory that clearly brings the responsibility back to everyone of us, everywhere in the world. It is deeply linked to our everyday habits and particularly to our linear economy where we just make (mainly using non-renewable fossil fuels), use and dispose. Climate Change is telling us we need to change and this scares people. Some people are more open to changes and have less economic interests in keeping the status quo, others are too worried to admit the truth and/or don’t want to lose their prosperity.

Particularly, the Australian economy is deeply based on fossil fuels, being the world’s largest coal exporter, therefore reducing GHG emissions will have a big impact on the nation.”

Sanaa Hobeichi, Post doctoral research associate at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Sydney:

“Climate change has been always perceived as an environmental issue, however, given its huge consequences to the economy it is actually an economic issue. Climate change affects the economy and limits its growth through impacts on critical infrastructure, transport systems, public health, water resources, productivity and tourism. Global warming intensifies extreme events and thus leads to more catastrophic damages.

Scientists said that the Australian bushfires conditions in late 2019 have been made worse by climate change. At the moment, extreme weather events driven by climate change are costing Australia about 1.8 billion dollars.”

What options do we have for limiting any negative impacts of climate change and living sustainably?

Daniela Cox, Plura Consulting CEO

Daniela Cox, Plura Consulting CEO:

“Australia’s extreme climate conditions must urge politicians to understand their country land dynamic, challenges, and management from a closer approach. Who better to ask and count on to share their millenary insights than their indigenous peoples, the knowledgeable Aboriginal Australians.”

Carmel Zein, Founder, Amina Rose:

“Stop giving business to large corporations and start shopping local. The less business they have, the more we foster a sense of community and give opportunities to people who can help us live more sustainability e.g  buying fruit and veg from a market rather than shopping at Coles or Woolies. Getting coffee from your local rather than Starbucks or McDonalds. Of course this might mean compromising on convenience.

Diet – I have recently been challenging myself to eat more of a plant-based diet. There is no denying that meat production has huge environmental impacts such as water use, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and much more! If everyone is able to reduce their intake, it will help the sustainability fight.

Stop supporting fast fashion and pay attention to the sharing economy.”

Where to from here?

Valentina Petrone, Senior Environmental Consultant, Encycle Consulting:

“My advice to Australian politicians is to stop finding excuses and/or blaming each other, but to learn from this catastrophic bushfire season and seriously work on a Climate Change policy that will reduce the GHG emissions and promote a shift to a Circular Economy. Indeed, according to a report from the Ellen MacArthur foundation, current strategies to reduce gas emissions causing climate change (focused on a transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions) can only address 55% of emissions. A shift to a circular economy can contribute to completing the picture of emissions reduction by transforming the way we make and use products and create more liveable cities.”

Sanaa Hobeichi, Post doctoral research associate at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Sydney:

“While many governments accept the evidence on climate change, some don’t include it in their political agenda. One reason could be that addressing climate change is overwhelming. It could be that they see it as too challenging to maintain the economic growth during the transition period from carbon-economy to clean-energy economy. Solutions will require developing climate policies and a big investment in the infrastructure, science, skill development and technology.

Recent research adds to this. It was revealed that to successfully achieve our carbon emissions targets we don’t just have to stop emissions but we need to reverse them. This requires developing solutions that actually take CO2 from the atmosphere. A study in Nature explored the currently available technologies for CO2 to achieve zero emissions and found limitations across all of them.”

About the experts

Sanaa Hobeichi, Post doctoral research associate at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Sydney:

Sanaa Hobeichi has a multi-disciplinary background in climate science, Environmental Science, Mathematics and Computer Science. She received her PhD in climate science from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales Sydney, and she is a research associate at the same centre. Her research explores how space observations of land-atmosphere interactions can be constrained with in-situ observations of these processes. Sanaa is a previous International Baccalaureate teacher in Math and has a great passion to encourage female high school students to choose STEM career path.

Daniela Cox, Plura Consulting CEO:

Third generation Galapagos islander, Sustainable Business (MA) in Australia, Marine Ecologist (BA) in Ecuador, naturalist guide, ex municipal environmental management director, ex alternate representative of Galapagos at the National Assembly of Ecuador at 22, and presenter for Galapagos organizations since age 12.

Daniela has ten years of experience in Galapagos, coordinating and implementing sustainable community projects together with local and international stakeholders. Also advocating transparency, empowerment, and local participation in decision-making processes.

Valentina Petrone, Senior Environmental Consultant, Encycle Consulting:

With 14 years’ work experience in the construction industry, working across Europe and South-East Asia, Valentina has demonstrated excellent design and environmental sustainability skills along with an in-depth knowledge of Climate Change and Circular Economy key principles.

Her sustainability expertise combined with her passion for driving changes enabled Valentina to successfully develop and implement corporate and community sustainability education programs to facilitate behaviour change and help building socially sustainable communities and more liveable cities.

Carmel Zein, Founder, Amina Rose:

Carmel Zein has been a content and brand marketing professional for over 7 years, specifically in ecommerce sectors. She has built a career around fostering meaningful relationships, supporting initiatives around diversity and inclusion, women in tech and mums in business all whilst maintaining a healthy lifestyle and being a mother to her daughter.

Since becoming a mother, Carmel developed a passion around living a sustainable, healthy and fit lifestyle and in honour of this, set out to create a business that makes it easy for others to live within this ethos, whilst still remaining stylish and current with ecommerce trends.