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Aid agencies rebuke Development Minister for misleading views on development assistance
by ACFID, World Vision, Oxfam, agencies
Apr. 2018
Major Australian aid agencies have criticised as “unfortunate and inaccurate” a government minister’s comments that Australia’s foreign aid commitment could not be increased, disputing her claim that ''the public'' opposed more humanitarian spending on developing nations.
The idea of increasing Australia’s foreign aid commitment is opposed by 80% of Australians, the minister for international development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, has told a UK audience, arguing any increase in foreign spending would be politically untenable in the current economy.
The minister’s comments were immediately condemned by the aid sector, which said Australia’s support in the Asia-Pacific region had been diminished by successive deep cuts to foreign aid spending.
Australia’s foreign aid commitment stands at its lowest ever level as a proportion of the budget: 0.22% of gross national income.
In 1974-75 that figure was 0.47%. Aid spending has declined precipitously since 2013, when the conservative Liberal National Government came to power.
Fierravanti-Wells, was speaking at the Overseas Development Institute, and was repeatedly challenged over Australia’s falling aid budget, as she called on the UK to increase its aid to the Pacific region.
The minister said Australia’s aid budget could not be increased until the “economy was back on a sustainable footing”.
But even with a stronger economic base, Fierravanti-Wells claimed, increasing aid spending would be politically difficult because of public opposition. She revealed conservative manipulated polling claiming widespread opposition to increasing Australia’s foreign aid commitment.
“In Australia we had some research done where it showed that about 80% of Australians believe that we should not be spending more on foreign aid or that what we spend is about right,” Fierravanti-Wells said.
She claimed there was a “schism” between broad public opinion, which was sceptical about the benefit of aid, and those involved in the aid sector, who believe “the complete opposite”.
The chief executive of the Australian Council for International Development, Marc Purcell, said the minister’s comments were “unfortunate and inaccurate”.
“The government should take its lead from the Australian people. Australians are sticking by longstanding values of a fair-go, equity for those doing it tough and generosity to help others.”
The UK, where the minister was speaking, has ring-fenced its aid spending at 0.7% of GNI, despite significantly higher public debt than Australia and a decade of government austerity measures.
The director of policy and international programs for Save the Children, Mat Tinkler, said the level of need in Australia’s region and globally was acute, with threats posed by terrorism, climate change and large-scale displacement from places such as Syria and Myanmar. He said a robust foreign aid program was demonstrably in Australia’s interest and that, as a wealthy, stable nation in a developing region, Australia had an obligation to assist.
“When Australians are given the facts about the levels of need and the reality of Australia’s level of investment in overseas aid, which stands at just 20c out of every $100 in gross national income, we believe they support a strong role for Australia’s aid program and certainly don’t support the aid budget being raided again,”
Matt Darvas, campaign director for christian aid charity Micah Australia, said the minister’s response was “incredibly disheartening” and that it was untrue to say Australia did not care about foreign aid.
“This minister who’s made these comments is meant to be the representative and the ambassador for Australia in Australian aid spending. The minister should be championing the cause and highlighting the benefits of Australian aid to the Australian community.”
Micah Australia is calling on the Australian government to significantly re-invest in its foreign aid budget. “We are absolutely at rock bottom as a nation in terms of our generosity, when it comes to foreign aid,” Darvas said. “So we’re calling on the government to rebuild that''.
Teresa Ayles, the acting CEO of WaterAid Australia, similarly called on the government to increase its aid output. “WaterAid sees firsthand the difference foreign aids makes in the communities where we work and therefore believes a wealthy country like Australia should commit to a strong foreign aid program,” Ayles said.
“The current freeze on the aid budget already presents a challenge to progress being made towards a world in which everyone has access to the basic rights of water and sanitation.”
Apr. 2018
Oxfam calls for political leadership on aid
Responding to remarks made overnight in London by Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific that “it could be politically difficult to increase aid spending” because of a perceived lack of public support, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke said:
“Oxfam is alarmed by claims made overnight by Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in London that a majority of Australians don’t support an increase to Australian aid.
“Her comments expose three weaknesses in the Government’s view of our support of the world’s poorest people. Firstly, when Australians are given the facts about the number of people needing assistance in the world and that aid spending is actually very low, the level of public support for aid increases.
“As our peak body ACFID has pointed out, last year, the biggest share of online charity giving in Australia was to aid and humanitarian charities, with over 1.6 million Australians giving $920m from their own pockets.
“Currently, Australian aid accounts for less than 1 per cent of all budget spending and is only 22 cents in every one hundred dollars of gross national income.
“Australians care about people doing it tough at home and abroad and know that we can support both and help our neighbours, whether they live in the house next door, the country next door, or other poorer parts of the world.
“Secondly, as the world grapples with extreme poverty, rising inequality and multiple humanitarian crises, it is unconscionable that the Government has said our support to the world’s poorest people is ‘politically difficult’ to justify and refused to commit to reversing cuts, even though Australia can afford them.
“People in the Pacific and beyond need our support to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change. Aid should be a priority for any government that is committed to building a safe and secure world free from poverty and inequality.
“Aid is “an investment, not a hand-out” and we ask her to follow through on her promise to show greater leadership in her portfolio and defend our work supporting the world’s poorest people and their communities.
“Lastly, we know that aid works. Aid paid for a global vaccination campaign that virtually eradicated polio, and the mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets in sub-Saharan Africa, which halved the mortality rate from malaria and saved the lives of millions of children.
“Australia needs a generous, time bound and stable aid program, that leaves no one behind, bolsters the capacity and responsibility of countries to provide for all their people, and helps to build resilience in an increasingly risky world.”
April 10, 2018
Australia sinks to 19th in global aid ranking (World Vision Australia)
Australia’s leading humanitarian agency, World Vision is calling on the Australian Government to boost aid, after Australia’s global aid ranking fell for the third consecutive year to 19th.
The latest OECD report of 29 wealthy countries shows Australia has dropped from 17th in last year’s rankings to 19th in terms of relative generosity; just 10 places above the lowest ranking country, Hungary.
World Vision Australia Chief Advocate Tim Costello says Australia’s ranking is disappointing, particularly compared with the United Kingdom, which is ranked three times as generous as Australia.
“The UK has maintained its aid levels over the past decade, despite economic challenges, because of a bipartisan commitment not to balance the budget on the back of the world’s most vulnerable people. Meanwhile Australia’s government has continuously slashed our aid budget, this year falling behind Italy to 19th in the OECD’s rankings,” Mr Costello said.
“There is always another way but yet again, Australia isn’t doing its fair share and it’s humiliating - for all the world to see.”
In just a few short years, Australia has gone from giving 33 cents for every $100 of Gross National Income generated in 2012-13 to record lows. Australia Now gives only 23 cents of every $100, according to the latest OECD data.
Based on the 2017-18 budget, the downward spiral is set to continue.
“What’s even more concerning are recent reports that the Australian Government may soon hand down further cuts to the aid budget at a time when we should be doing more not less.”
World Vision Australia is calling for the decimated aid budget to be restored to .33 per cent of GNI over the next six years. “It’s saddening that we aren’t on track to meet our international commitment but it’s not as if there isn’t hope,” Mr Costello said.
“Australian people are generous. Last year saw Australia rank sixth in the Charities Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index but our aid budget currently doesn’t reflect that level of generosity.
“The Australian Government can and does have the choice to turn this around and restore our reputation as a country that cares.”
Currently, 65 million people around the world are displaced – the largest number in recorded history. The challenges of the 21st Century are global in nature and preventable humanitarian tragedies are happening every day. Aid is part of the solution to solving these challenges.”


How not to save the world
by Andreas Sieber
Climate Tracker, agencies
Apr. 2018
Geoengineering technologies that fail to curb global warming are making a dangerous comeback in the climate debate.
In 2007, US climate campaigner Al Gore and Sir Richard Branson, the British founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, launched the ‘Virgin Earth Challenge’. They offered a $25 million prize to anyone who came up with a ‘commercially viable design’ to permanently remove greenhouse gases from the earth’s atmosphere.
Gore and Branson’s contest seemed to mark the peak of the hype surrounding geoengineering, an umbrella term for techniques aimed at ‘cooling’ global warming. The winner of the Virgin competition was chosen by the Canadian tar sands industry in Alberta. It soon became clear that geoengineering was little more than a PR coup for Branson.
For the tar sand companies that funded the contest, geoengineering was a get-out-of-jail-free card. The tar sands industry, which is busily making Canada’s virgin forests resemble JRR Tolkien’s Mordor, is one of the world’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and they may be the concept’s most ardent fans.
For a long time, the geoengineering fan club was fairly exclusive. Other members included oil giants like Shell – which has called it ‘a terrific debate’ – and coal companies like RWE, who view it as ‘pioneering’ and ‘progressive’.
That this swindle is now again being discussed is both absurd and worrying. We cannot protect the climate through geoengineering. Such an approach will only benefit the coal and oil industry.
We will only halt climate change if we stop spending a whopping 6.5 per cent of our global gross national product on direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels.
German coal companies are especially excited about carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a process that separates carbon dioxide at combustion and stores it underground.
Unfortunately, when Cambridge University researcher David Reiner studied CCS projects around the world, he discovered that most of the projects were quickly ended – in one case after CCS had triggered earthquakes. The process is too expensive and hazardous, as there is a real risk of stored greenhouse gases leaking from the largest projects.
CCS is just one of many rather surreal ideas about how to manipulate the world’s climate. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have come up with the idea of designing enormous ships to shoot teardrops of seawater into the air. The result, they say, would be brighter clouds and more rays of sunlight reflected into space. Such a project would cost hundreds of millions of euros, but how it would affect the weather and climate remains nebulous.
In the US state of Arizona, researchers have focused on reflecting solar radiation. Their idea was to use special guns to shoot 16 billion silicon particles into space. What that would do for the weather and climate – let alone how this plan would be executed – is still unclear.
Geoengineering is not new. Back in the 1980s, US climate science pioneer Wallace Broecker – the man who coined the term ‘climate warming’ – wanted to use airplanes to blow large amounts of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. Some 20 years later, Dutch Nobel Prize winner for chemistry Paul Crutzen refined Broecker’s idea and proposed injecting 1.5 million tonnes of sulphur particles into the atmosphere.
The ensuing eruption – equivalent to a gigantic volcano – would likely cool the climate, but destroy the ozone layer in the process. It would have enormous consequences for regional climate zones, with possible catastrophic storms or droughts into the bargain.
Researchers at a polar and marine research institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, recently took six tonnes of iron to the Antarctic Ocean. They intended to fight climate change by extensively fertilising algae that would then absorb carbon dioxide and sink to the sea floor.
That, unfortunately, is not what happened. Instead, a type of sea scavenger known as amphipods gobbled up all the algae, having their fill of the experiment but not appreciably impacting the climate.
Bill Hare, founder and CEO of the Climate Analytics science and policy institute, has described the idea of manipulating solar radiation as ‘deeply unwise and deeply unhelpful […] We don’t understand the effects. What we do understand tells us that we must be profoundly concerned [about] these technologies.’
Existing geoengineering technologies more broadly either do not help protect the climate or pose catastrophic risks – or both. Yet this ridiculous concept is making a comeback in the climate debate, and a recent landmark international deal to curb global warming may be partly to blame.
The Paris Agreement’s goal of restricting global warming to 1.5 degrees, signed by 195 countries, has created enormous pressure to take action. Sometimes resulting in acting without thinking, it seems.
A forthcoming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the 1.5-degree goal has also rekindled interest in geoengineering. Leaks of the draft indicate that the limit will be exceeded even if all the signatories stick to the made agreements. According to the draft report, only negative emissions can adjust the dangerous temperature curve downwards.
And while it may be easy to write the technology of negative emissions into future scenarios, that doesn’t make these scenarios any more feasible.
A previous IPCC report for instance mentioned geoengineering scenarios such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This process absorbs greenhouse gases by cultivating vast amounts of fast-growing trees and other plants and then burning them. However, this process only works if carbon dioxide can be separated and stored underground using CCS, which remains a questionable technique in itself.
Has geoengineering become a last resort because time is pressing? In spite of all the uncertainties regarding these technologies, one thing is crystal-clear – not one of them is sufficiently advanced to make a real difference to the fight against global warming. False solutions could be fatal given the stakes and urgency of the problem.
Peter Riggs is a leading expert on ‘natural climate solutions’, or measures that generate negative emissions such as reforestation. For the IPCC report, he analysed the potential benefits of reforestation. Besides its many positive effects, reforestation has an obvious advantage over futuristic technologies like BECCS – natural climate solutions already exist.
Talking about geoengineering is talking for talk’s sake. It is a distraction from the chief challenge ahead – that ending our direct and indirect subsidies of fossil fuel sources is the only step that will stop climate change. We don’t need techniques like CCS to introduce 100 per cent renewable energies. Germany for instance already produces so much surplus electricity that it could decommission its coal-powered stations tomorrow.
Geoengineering will be a fig leaf for coal and oil companies for the foreseeable future. Anyone still in doubt need simply consider the many conservative think-tanks and lobby groups that never miss an opportunity to deny climate change, and constantly express their support for geoengineering efforts.
* Watch a real-time tracker showing the steady rise in global temperatures via the link below.

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