Climate change is a shared challenge that requires a combination of global and local solutions

Data plays a critical role in understanding and addressing the challenges of climate change. This is because data and insights allow us to track things like greenhouse gas emissions, monitor the impacts of climate change on our communities and environments, and develop effective policies and strategies to mitigate and adapt to its effects. Additionally, the importance of data extends beyond the realm of science and policy, as climate change intersects with human rights in a multitude of ways. We can already see examples of how climate change is exacerbating existing inequities and vulnerabilities, particularly among marginalized communities who often have limited access to resources and information – think places like Vanuatu, Manila, Haiti, and Yemen. Furthermore, efforts to address climate change can have serious impacts on human rights, such as the right to food and water.  In Australia, we know too well the multi-generational effects natural disasters and extreme weather can have on communities, but what should we make of the international conversations being had deciding who is responsible for the loss and damages caused by climate change? Is it practical to establish systems wherein data are used in ways that uphold human rights and what’s being done to fill the data gap on heat related deaths in Australia?


Rhetta Chappell (host): Hi, and welcome to Show Me the Data, a podcast where we discuss evidence-based decision making and the ways in which our lives interact with and create data. I’m Rhetta, your host for today and I’m a Data Scientist at Griffith University. Show Me the Data acknowledges the Jagera peoples who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we are recording today. And we pay respect to the elders past, present and emerging. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with two guests. Firstly, we have Professor Susan Harris Rimmer, the director of Griffith’s Policy Innovation Hub. Susan is an expert in human rights, gender equity, international law and their intersection with climate change. Secondly, we have Dr. Tom Verhelst, director of the Relational Insights Data Lab and my boss. Tom and I have been looking forward to speaking with Susan, as she and her team just launched the Climate Justice Observatory. The observatory is the Queensland based online resource enabling citizens to monitor and map local climate issues and crowdsource potential solutions. RIDL was a collaborator on this project. And really excitingly, the World Economic Forum has named it as a top innovator in terms of our contributions to climate justice. We could go on and continue to introduce both Tom and Susan, but I think we’d better get into it. So let’s get started. Hello, and welcome, Susan. And, Tom, thank you both for being here today. I’m going to jump right in and start by asking you, Susan, could you please explain what climate justice is and why we should consider human rights as interconnected with climate change in action?

Professor Susan Harris Rimmer: Sure thing. So climate change is often talked about as a scientific phenomenon, something that’s changing weather systems, it’s about an excessive carbon in the atmosphere that’s causing a range of impacts. But what that means is that there will be a whole heap of things happening to ecosystems, including human ecosystems. When policymakers are saying we need a fair transition that we need to adapt to climate impacts in a fair way, there’s not a lot of detail about what is that going to mean? So at the international level, I’ve talked about climate justice as being between those states that created carbon emissions during the industrial revolutions, and mainly the, the technologically advanced Western Europe, America, Australia. So high emitting countries who are creating devastating consequences for low emitting countries like the Pacific Islands. So that’s one element of climate justice between states between those who cause the problem and those who are experiencing the problem. Then there’s issues between communities that are feeling the impacts first, so poorer communities, so if you think about those parts of America that are very poor, and are getting extreme cyclone damage or fire damage, as opposed to maybe the richer Americans that own the fossil fuel industries that are not feeling those effects. So there’s, there’s climate justice in that sense of accountability. And then there’s issues around well, how are we going to adapt in a fair way? What does it mean for people who are experiencing energy poverty? How are we going to get people who rent to have renewable energy? How are we going to help people who are elderly deal with extreme heat, who are much more vulnerable to extreme heat? All those types of issues. So it’s a multitude of issues. And we haven’t really talked about anything but targets and you know, emissions trading schemes and, you know, transitions to renewables, but there’s going to be these huge human story under each of these issues. So when we say a fair transition, it should be measured by human rights standards. And that’s where we come in.

Dr Tom Verhelst: What are the three most pressing issues related to climate, gender, and human rights for 2023?

Susan: At the top level, its issues around loss and damage at the international negotiation stage. So you heard in Egypt, that they finally got an agreement that they were going to think about what does loss and compensation for loss and damage due to climate impacts mean? That’s hugely important at the international, it’s about who’s going to pay compensation. So to care for Tuvalu if their islands become uninhabitable. So there’s a kind of be meta issue. And that will inform the next series of Conference of Parties. And then the other big issue at the international level, is that the beautiful Vanuatu Diplomatic Corps, I should say, have been fighting very hard for many years to get the numbers in the General Assembly to ask the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on what should be the law and climate impacts on small islands. And that is about to come down. And if that happens, and the ICJ gives an advisory opinion that will change the state of international law. So we don’t know what they’ll come up with yet. There is an Australian judge on the ICJ and that’s professor, Hilary Charlesworth, she was my PhD supervisor, and I adore her I’m a total stan. So it’s very exciting to think that an Australian judge is going to be part of this historical moment. And then we’re going to have all just all this extreme weather in 2023. So Australia is going to have a heap of extreme weather. It’s already flooding all over the place still, but we know at the end of the year, there’s going to be extreme heat and bushfire risk. So you know, Australia’s just had one rolling climate crisis after another for years now. And I think we just have to understand this is the new normal and start dealing with that. So they’re the three I would nominate. And in terms of gender, it’s always about making sure that gender equality is part of the equation and whatever decisions that we’re taking around climate impacts. And that’s still not really the case at either the international or the national level.

Rhetta: Did they come to any sort of agreement with regards to the who pays the damages or takes responsibility for that? Or is that just breached as a topic?

Susan: It’s taken all this time. So the Kyoto protocols and the actual UNFCCC process has been go for 30, nearly 30 years, it’s taken all this time just to get lost and damaged in the communiqué. So now what happens next is a really huge issue and how they would calculate loss and damage. And what about non-economic losses a really big issue. So yeah, it’s a fight, it’s going to be a fight right to the end.

Rhetta: And are they trying to separate that from so there’s human or man-made impacts from climate change versus some sort of natural component or whatever that is, are they trying to separate or parse that out? Are they just saying, look at this as a whole, this community has these sorts of issues or these kinds of…

Susan: No they can do, they now, the European Court of Justice as basically talked about attribution for climate impacts are able to insurers and courts are able to think about attribution in quite sophisticated ways. Now we do have the science that can help us to say this is what would have happened. Now, Australia’s always had bushfires. But this is the climate impact on bushfires, for example, this is where the power of data is really important, because they can pretty accurately decide which countries but also which sectors. So there’s a big idea about polluter pays, that it should be the fossil fuel industries that are paying for the damage and how we do that, which is a whole ‘nother set of issues.

Rhetta: Yeah totally. That’s really interesting. And it kind of brings me to my next question with regards to the politics kind of side of this with the 2022 climate change bill that was sworn in by Albanese and the success of these Teal kind of independent candidates of the recent election. In what ways do you think political agendas today under the Labour government are the ones that are kind of existing or dictating the structure or reach of these current policies? And do you think there’s an area which there is agreement? Or is it still kind of red versus blue or liberal versus labour or…

Susan: That’s a really difficult one. The politics of it are affecting the ballot box very clearly now. So you saw that in the election that people were saying climate change affected their vote for both the teals and the greens, so it was definitely part of the election results. So that means that political parties need to take that seriously. And then you saw it again, in Victoria and in the Queensland election, as well for that seat of South Brisbane. So you know that it’s coming and that, but it is very difficult for parties to change, especially if they’re going from extreme position. So the Liberal and National Party in Australia, were coming from a very polarised position, and they’re still having that debate inside their party. So I think it will take a while for them to deal with that. But they’re all going to have to think about how they’re going to appeal to voters under 25. It’s not clear to me that that that any of them have really got that sorted, and then they’ve got issues with, in some cases, the finance industry, the business community, they’ve made their own decisions, oh, way ahead of government they’ve made they’ve made their own calculations. They were waiting for government really. And then you’ve got some issues where like the New South Wales Conservative government was very progressive on climate targets, because they were listening to the business community. So I think it doesn’t always follow normal, progressive political split. So you can you could be just the hard nosed economist and make certain calculations about climate change. So we will find out soon, how that’s gonna play out. But if it’s anything like America, or Europe, it’s an extremely polarising issue for most still, and still high levels of denial or winners and losers. And that also means community. So places that are dominated by fossil fuels or extractive industries, like Queensland have much more difficult politics than places like Victoria. But even there, you know, the coal gas station stuff that was there was a big issue in the election. We just don’t want those politics to get ugly. That’s all. We want to we want to have a civic conversation about climate adaptation and mitigation. And we don’t want communities to be left behind. It’s the adaptation space has not become mainstream. So in America, they’re in quite mature discussions, although very difficult discussions about communities that have to what they do what is called a managed retreat. So they are living in places that are no longer viable because of climate impacts, tidal surges, storms, fires, droughts, so places that are becoming uninhabitable or uninsurable because of climate impacts. And we have some of those places, Lismore should be having those discussions. Bribie Island, you know, Noosa, large parts of the islands off Queensland, even I think Labrador, in the Gold Coast, there are places that are becoming really difficult to insure and that the data is telling a story about in other countries that data would be leading to conversations about managed retreat. We’ve had one managed retreat in Queensland that was after the floods in Roma. In Grantham, they moved a community.

Rhetta: Okay. Didn’t know that. That’s interesting.

Tom: A small community.

Susan: Very small community. And they’ve moved a few people from one Whitsunday beach to a different, you know, which was a rezoning. But you know, we’re gonna have to talk about scale at some point and those conversations we’re just not having them. So this is where you can ignore data for a really long time, it turns out, and I think, because the insurance industry is different in America, they’re having those conversations now.

Tom: So talking about data, again, maybe keeping our Climate Justice Observatory in mind, what do you think are the biggest data gaps in Australia at the moment? Does it does it not exist? Is it too hard to access?

Susan: Yeah. So if you think about extreme heat, we don’t currently have decent data on how extreme heat affects hospital admissions, and deaths. So we don’t actually keep that information in the Queensland Health system. So people are recorded as dying for whatever reason they died of, but we don’t put necessarily in their record that extreme heat was a reason that they were hospitalised in the first place. So that means we don’t know how many people die because of extreme heat events. Whereas we do in somewhere like Italy, they keep really good heat data, or so. So when you when they have an extreme heat event, they know exactly how many people that’s killed, for example, in that in the last summer. So that is a big problem for us. Because if you don’t know, then it’s hard to make claims that, you know, extreme heat is a serious health problem in Queensland, so that you can all they do is after an extreme heat event, they go backwards and try to figure it out. Was there a sudden spike? And so they do it retrospectively, as opposed to being able to predict it.

Tom: Yeah you’d look at expected deaths versus sees the communities are so small, in some of the rural places, it’s really difficult.

Susan: It’s really difficult. I mean, we saw it with COVID. You know, we should be getting much better at excess deaths, and which is a horrible phrase if you ask me. I thought, some, some horrible persons come up with that, I- medical people,

Rhetta: Just some technical person that never thought that people would be engaging with it…

Tom: It is good, I mean a nice tool to look at, you know, the holistic effect of your policies. I mean, it’s a horrible term.

Susan: Yeah, I know.

Tom: But if you want to see how badly you screwed up,

Susan: Well, even, I mean, I was thinking when we’re when I was an aid worker, and we the only information you find out about North Korea was satellite data. And you could just try and make some ideas about people moving around about if there was a more people or less people after a really rough winter. Like it was that bad, because you just didn’t know what was happening couldn’t find out. So I mean, that data gaps for very vulnerable people, the worst data gap is always very vulnerable people, people with disabilities, people are not citizens, people who are homeless, people whose lives just aren’t valued by whatever country they’re living in, they’re always the data gap. You know, the amount of stuff we don’t know about First Nations Australians is very large, because people didn’t, you know, the big, the big fights in this country. Counting indigenous people on the Census. And I still think that idea of counting people because they matter is still at the heart of a lot of our data gaps. I, of course, I would think that,

Rhetta: Yeah, I know that in the 2021 census, we met with the ABS prior to them going out. And they were really trying to account for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a lot of different ways than they tried before. And we had a quick look at the data around a couple of different LGA’s. And you can definitely see an increase in people that identify that way. But you don’t know why that is necessarily you can’t have that kind of causal suggestion within that data. But you do see those counts increasing across a number of key local government areas. But yeah, there’s still such a void there. And I think that kind of brings into our last question, we asked this to all of our guests. And you may have already answered it, but without any kind of moral or ethical or practical considerations kind of cast that aside, even cost. Is there a particular data set that you would love to have access to and gain insights from and why?

Susan: Well, yeah, it’d be the people who, you know, often get overlooked. People with disabilities, people who are homeless people who are queer, you know, so they have so much lived experience that we don’t count. And that you know, the census had serious issues around the gay community and this last one, I’m such a nerd or really Oh, like I’m an unbelievable nerd, like you’ve got no idea how deep the nerdom goes. But I was part of this collective of feminist academics here, used to fight with the census people ABS because of, they stopped doing time use data. So if you if you’re talking about unpaid labour that women do, the only way to find out how much unpaid labour women are doing are time use surveys, and they stopped doing it for a whole, so all this missing years of data around women’s time use so we just don’t know what the pay gap was and what the labour kind of unpaid labour looked like in Australia, so you couldn’t then make GDP projections and all that sort of stuff. So we had like, I think, 12 years. And I would love to get into my time machine, in my TARDIS and go back and force the ABS to do all that time use data so that we had a real basis of knowing, you know, what the actual economy actually looked like when you when you added in all this unpaid care work this very small, and we had this terrible acronym. Anyway, we won. And they finally brought back time use I think they just got so sick of us. They were like ok can’t handle this anymore.

Tom: Nagging them to death. Works. It’s good, there’s a lesson there.

Susan: I’ve been talking about time use survey we spent all this time to get them back! You know, again, cause they didn’t think it was important, and it was important! So yeah, that’s that sort of stuff that that kind of missing. That was always about we, you know, we that old saying, we measure what we value, right? So in the things that we don’t measure, we don’t value and we don’t count. That’s the stuff I’m always interested in?

Rhetta: Well, that’s a good answer, and very unique. So that’s a good one to add to our little I like to keep track of them and kind of say whatever is said as their missing dataset so that if we can at RIDL somehow, maybe get them, we can bring all these researchers in to do really interesting work together. So thank you. Thank you for your time today, Susan. And thank you, Tom. That’s it!

Tom: That was fun!

Rhetta: To listen to more episodes of show me the data, head to your favourite podcast provider, or visit our website, ridl.com.au and look for the podcast. We hope that by sharing these conversations about data and evidence-based decision making, we can help to inform a more inclusive, ethical and forward thinking future. Making data matter is what we’re all about. And we’d love to hear why data matters to you. To get in touch. You can tweet us @G_RIDL. Send us an email or if you prefer, just send us a letter by carrier pigeon. Thank you for listening. And that’s it till next time, take care and stay safe.