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Our climate is changing. Can the waste sector help?

By Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting Group

Despite clear and overwhelming evidence that our climate is changing right now, the appetite for action at a political level is diminishing. In Australia, the Climate Council was defunded, the carbon tax abolished, and a general sense seems to be settling in that climate change doesn’t really matter.

Globally it’s even worse. Climate change is an opinion, a Chinese hoax, a conspiracy. Politicians here and overseas make straight faced assertions that the evidence doesn’t exist, or that it has been manipulated.

As it would happen, the skeptical politicians are wrong. The scientific consensus is overwhelming. The evidence for climate change does exist. It is very real. It is changing how we live, and it is steadily diminishing the options for our future.

Our climate is changing whether we like it or not

Take for instance the recent announcement by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that 2016 world temperatures hit an all-time high for the third year in a row. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported that Australia had its fourth warmest year on record and the World Meteorological Organization estimates that global warming is now around 1.2°C into the 1.5°C target for warming set in the Paris Agreement that came into effect in November 2016. It is also 60% into the 2°C red line for “dangerous” climate contained in the Paris Agreement.

NASA is collecting key data showing the impact of increasing heat in the atmosphere. The space agency is observing that global sea levels are rising at a rate of 3.4mm per year due to a combination of ice melt and thermal expansion, and the extent of global sea ice at its September minimum is shrinking by 13.3% per decade. The Bureau of Meteorology reports that ocean temperatures in the Australian region were the warmest on record in 2016.

All of this means that the horror predictions that accompanied climate change scenarios are now happening. More heat in the atmosphere leads to more heat waves, more bushfires, floods and extreme maximum temperatures. Storms and king tides that devastate coastal areasWinds that blow over transmission towersThe Great Barrier Reef suffering widespread bleaching.

The fact of our climate changing is very hard to relate to and very easy to write off as just a modern manifestation of Australia’s “droughts and flooding rain”. But climate change is having an impact.

We can do better

As a society we can do it better and in so doing, we can create the green economy that sustains us into the future. As a waste industry, we can lead the way.

It is through focusing on waste (solid waste, but also wasted water and energy) that we can create the step change needed for our economy. We can create jobs and wealth by ceaselessly exploring opportunities to do better.

The book Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century is just the latest book to describe the extent of the opportunity to be realised in rethinking how we use resources. It talks of the deep disruption that comes from innovators relentlessly tracking down waste and designing it out.

It is no hyperbole to assert that the waste industry can lead the way to creating the sustainable, low carbon future we need. By focusing on profitably eliminating wasted resources, we can make climate change action happen. Rather than focusing on how to get rid of resources, the waste industry can apply its insights to decoupling economic growth from resources.

Climate change needs to be pushed up the priority list for governments to deal with. Taking action on climate change is vitally important, both to protect us from the impacts of a warming planet, but also to exploit the opportunities that are abundant in a low carbon economy. All of us have the responsibility to make our politicians aware of what is at stake, to make our politicians act.

This is an opportunity that rests right in front of us all and we at MRA look forward to bringing it to life.

For further information, please contact MRA at As always, we welcome your feedback on this, or any other topic on ‘The Tipping Point’.

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