COSS Network Statement: Climate

The national, state and territory Councils of Social Service advocate to end poverty, inequality and exclusion, and to create an Australia where everyone participates in and benefits from social and economic life, and can exercise their human rights.

Climate change and a slow, poorly managed transition to zero net emissions is a major threat to achieving our vision.

Climate change is not only a threat to our environment, it threatens people’s homes, livelihoods, health, quality of life, employment and increases risks and burdens for future generations. It is a social justice and intergenerational equity issue.

Climate change hits people living on low incomes or experiencing disadvantage first and hardest. They have the fewest protections from climate change impacts and live in the most affected places. People with fewer resources and capabilities have less money, choice, power and social connections to cope, adapt or recover. Failing to halt climate change will cause greater poverty and inequality in the future.

People who experience poverty and disadvantage are also worse off if the transition to a clean economy is poorly managed and inequitable. This is because they always pay disproportionately more of their incomes on essential services and have less choice and control to reduce costs.

Australia has committed to achieving the Paris Agreement to limit global temperate increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursue 1.5 degrees. As a developed nation, we have a responsibility to lead by responding more rapidly than less developed countries. Australia is currently not on track to meet this goal.

Principles

The Councils of Social Service agree on the following principles to respond to climate change:

  1. Australia must act to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Based on the available evidence, this means reducing our net domestic emissions to zero before 2050 and by at least 45% on 2005 levels by 2030. Based on the available evidence, delaying action now will require faster, more expensive and more disruptive change in the future, while heightening risks of more dangerous climate change.
  2. Climate change is already occurring, and more change is already locked in. We must protect people from the impacts of climate change, including by building climate resilient communities.
  3. Australia’s response to climate change should support a more just, inclusive, equitable and sustainable nation. This will require tailoring our responses to the individual needs of people and communities, so they can be resilient to change and thrive in the future.
  4. Taken together, policies to achieve zero net domestic emissions must be enduring,
    operate across the whole economy, and not impose unnecessary costs.
  5. Any costs incurred in responding to climate change must be allocated equitably, ensuring that people on low incomes are not financially worse off, and ideally are better off.
  6. Governments, businesses, the not-for-profit sector, and the community each have a role in responding to climate change. Community sector organisations must be supported to reduce their emissions and improve their resilience to better support vulnerable people.
Priority Policy Changes

The Councils of Social Service have identified the following policy changes as a high priority:

  1. Plan a smooth transition to an affordable clean energy system — Our energy system has the greatest capacity to reduce emissions rapidly using current technology, and must be prioritised for fast, early emissions reductions. Energy costs are disproportionately higher for people on low incomes or experiencing disadvantage, who have least capacity to reduce their energy use. These people must be protected from additional hardship because of increased costs during the transition, and supported to reduce their energy bills.
  2. Ensure a just transition — Some people and communities will experience negative effects from our response to climate change, such as those depending heavily on burning or extracting fossil fuels. Successful transition plans must be place-based, and include developing new economic opportunities, and the skills and support to exploit them.
  3. Provide equitable incomes to improve people’s quality of life — Three million Australians live in poverty, and many cannot provide for essential needs, including food, housing, energy, healthcare and protection from climate change impacts. To meaningfully manage the transition and support resilience, social security payments must increase to meet an adequate standard of living.
  4. Ensure people live in affordable, quality homes — More affordable, accessible and good quality homes must be provided, including by improving their energy efficiency and thermal comfort to reduce energy use and costs, and increase resilience to climate change impacts.
  5. Provide affordable, sustainable transport options — Transport contributes to Australia’s emissions, imposes costs on people on low incomes and experiencing disadvantage, and is essential for people’s access to social and economic opportunities. Expanding affordable, sustainable mobility options, like public and active transport, lowers costs, improves health and reduces emissions.
  6. Protect people’s wellbeing and promote their resilience — People on low incomes and experiencing disadvantage struggle the most to cope, adapt and recover from climate change impacts. Their needs must be incorporated into national and local climate change adaptation, resilience and emergency management strategies, including a focus on health, inclusion, communication, and recovery services. Enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to continue to live on or near their traditional lands should also be incorporated in climate adaptation strategies and programs, as well as acknowledging the crucial role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people play in reducing emissions and climate change impacts.
  7. Help community organisations respond to climate change — Community sector organisations play a critical role in disaster preparedness, management and recovery, especially for vulnerable people, but are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events. They must be supported to reduce emissions and improve organisational resilience to better provide help in times of need.