Responding to climate change is a people problem

Jan 15, 2024
Climate change words

Climate experts have issued a grim warning for Australians this summer, predicting that 2023 will be the hottest year on record. While the Australian government has recognised the threat of climate change and has committed billions of dollars in disaster relief and the energy transition, the challenges and opportunities they present are unlikely to be met without a significant investment in the skills and qualifications needed.

As temperatures increase the likelihood of devastating fires and floods also increase, causing the loss of lives, properties and eco-systems and major trauma across communities that are affected and requiring substantial sums of money to rebuild and regenerate.

The current government has recognised the threat and are investing in an accelerated deployment of renewable energy through programs such as Powering Australia and Rewiring the Nation and the establishment of the $1 billion Disaster Ready Fund.
Despite these investments in climate change mitigation and adaptation there is an urgent need to inform and equip current and future generations with the skills and qualifications needed for the requisite economic and community transformation.

At the current trajectory, Australia faces an uphill battle to meet its emissions reduction targets. One reason is that we do not have the necessary numbers of climate ready graduates in training to design, build and operate the projects required to transition.

The urgency of this work cannot be overstated. The Universities Accord Interim Report’s focus on improving access and equity, as well as diversity, was welcome and overdue. However, the critical need to hardwire climate education into the sector, received only passing mention in this piece of work, completed last September – an oversight that will hopefully be rectified as we progress further through the higher education review process.

The Review Panel’s final report is now with the Federal Education Minister and while we await the Government’s response, it is imperative that climate education be a key driver in any future direction or decisions.

Deakin Energy Networks, part of Deakin University, is calling for a national Climate Education Strategy in its submission to the Universities Accord Review. This is a view shared by a diverse coalition including several universities, climate organisations and industry peak bodies, among others. Late last year, this coalition issued a joint Call To Action, urging a national strategy to embed career-linked climate skills in all relevant university courses.

Whilst STEM, technical and scientific skills and knowledge are essential, students in secondary schools and in other tertiary studies should be offered climate related study options because the green economy will affect all of us and all our jobs.
Planning, social licensing, heritage assessments, behaviour change, consumer perceptions, cluster development, business and community benefit models all inform the speed at which the energy transition can proceed.

The Intergenerational Report 23 (IGR23), released earlier in the year states (on page 94) that “Climate change will affect the shape of Australia’s economy, where and how Australians live, work and travel, the health of the population, migration patterns, food and energy security, and the state of our environment. These effects, and the way households, businesses and governments respond to them, will drive innumerable changes in the size and structure of Australia’s economy, presenting new opportunities and economic challenges. This all carries economic and fiscal implication.”

IGR23 suggests that the direct impacts of higher temperatures on labour productivity will reduce economic output over the next 40 years “by between $135 billion and $423 billion in today’s dollars.”

The economic transformation needed presents a major challenge. If we don’t fine tune our workforce pipelines, the resultant skill shortages could prevent us from reaching net zero by 2050, and opportunities to broaden our industrial base will be missed with severe implications for our international competitiveness. We must also ensure accessible pathways to the jobs created, particularly underrepresented cohorts and those workers in transitioning sectors.

A national Climate Education Strategy presents an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise the Australian education and training sector, making it fit for purpose. Working with industry and trade unions to develop a more diverse workforce and create sustainable employment for generations to come will be critical to our national wellbeing and to our prospects for addressing and mitigating the growing climate-based challenges on our horizon.

The start of a new year offers the ideal platform from which to work toward the necessary solutions with renewed urgency and optimism.

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