What States Can Do - Part IX: Head towards zero waste

My rationale for this series of blogs has been about how different states in different nations can learn from each other by sharing policy ideas that work. Adopting and adapting policies from other jurisdictions has certainly paid dividends for South Australia over the decades. In Australia, the state of South Australia is often seen as a policy and reform leader but for many of our initiatives we have borrowed ideas from around the world.

One of those areas of leadership is waste management and recycling. South Australia has now achieved a recycling rate of nearly 80%. This means that last year 4.3 million tonnes of materials were diverted from landfill to recycling. On a per capita basis, this was the best result of any state in Australia. In an era of climate change this is important, preventing the equivalent of more than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. Environment Minister Paul Caica recently put this achievement into context saying our recycling efforts equate to taking about 300,000 passenger cars off our roads or planting 2 million trees, in a State with only 1.6 million people.

Back in the mid 1970s we were the first state in Australia to introduce container deposit legislation. We borrowed the idea from Oregon. We are still the only state, even though it has been a spectacular success.

It is not complicated. Consumers are given a 10 cent rebate on each bottle/can/drink container they return for recycling rather than throw away into the garbage. This has stimulated a strong local recycling industry. It has also proved a popular fundraising tool for sports clubs, community organisations and charities who send members out to collect cans and bottles that are taken to depots to exchange for cash. Most importantly, these incentives have resulted in much cleaner cities, roadsides and waterways.

In 2009, South Australia became the first state in Australia to ban the non-reusable plastic bags used in supermarket checkouts. Around Australia, 3.93 billion plastic bags are used and discarded every year. South Australia's share was about 400 million.

These bags can take hundreds of years to break down and can end up in the litter stream causing harmful effects to aquatic and terrestrial animals. Discarded plastic bags are also a highly visible, ugly blight within communities. They make cities and suburbs look shabby.

Banning plastic bags is a world wide movement. On July 1st, Pasadena joined other Californian cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, in banning the bags. On the same day Seattle embraced a city wide ban on carry out plastic bags. In Canada, Toronto recently decided to eliminate its unpopular 5 cent levy on plastic bags, replacing it with a total ban from January 2013.

When I announced our ban, the retail industry piled on the political pressure. We were told it would be a disaster for shoppers and for shops. It would make it very difficult for national retailers to have a different regime in our state rather than have a uniform approach across the continent. Jobs would be lost. Consumers would be angry.

None of this happened. We went ahead with the legislation even though all other Australian states caved in to retail pressure. Given plenty of time to prepare for the day when cloth 'green bags' replaced non-reusable plastic bags, the changeover went ahead without a hitch.

I was also warned by colleagues that there would be a political backlash from South Australian voters. This didn't happen either. In fact, the ban proved immensely popular. People were proud to do the right thing for the environment. Polling shows 80% of South Australians support the ban and the figures for young people were even higher. There is also a high level of compliance by shoppers bringing their own 'green bags' to grocery stores. It has now become a habit and shoppers have proven smart at estimating how many bags they need for larger shopping trips. Stores that resisted the move now boast about their green credentials.

Electronic waste is becoming a real problem around the world. Yet much of what is used to make computers can be recycled. Around 1.5 million computers are dumped in Australian landfill each year. Their reusable material includes ferrous and non ferrous materials, glass and various types of plastic. Computer cases are 90% steel while CRT tube monitors are 95% glass. Flat screens are made of glass, plastic and metal. All this can be recycled.

In December 2011 our state government agency Zero Waste SA, in association with a group of local government councils and a major brand owner Apple, coordinated a two day metropolitan wide E-Waste collection event. 607 tonnes of E-Waste was collected from almost 10,000 participants. Zero Waste SA is now working with a large number of councils to encourage E-Waste to be recycled.

The Southern Hemisphere's first television and computer glass screen recycling and processing plant has also been established following funding from Zero Waste SA.

In 2002 South Australia's local councils diverted only about 20% of kerbside collected garbage from going to landfill dumps. Through incentive grants provided to councils by Zero Waste SA, kerbside recycling has increased dramatically to around 50% with some councils achieving much higher rates.

In 2008/09 ten South Australian councils participated in a comprehensive pilot project designed to encourage the recycling of household kitchen waste. Householders in the program were given a bench top container for food waste such as peelings, vegetables and meat scraps. These were then transferred into the garden 'organics bin' for kerbside collection and processing. The pilot achieved diversion rates of up to 71% and strong householder support for food waste recycling. The program is now being expanded to help 155,500 householders increase their recycling efforts.

Zero Waste SA, again with the assistance of local government, is also undertaking free household hazardous waste drop off days. This is helping householders dispose of unwanted chemicals that are dangerous if not stored or disposed of safely.

In 2010, the work of Zero Waste SA was commended by a UN Habitat report entitled "Solid Waste Management in the World Cities'" which examines trends in waste management. Our linking of landfill revenue to Zero Waste SA funding was described as an integrated and innovative strategy and the plastic bag ban was mentioned as an excellent example of South Australia's leadership. Our three bin kerbside collection system was also praised by international experts.

Describing our waste and recycling system as best practice, the UN said South Australia had demonstrated "a high level of political commitment to 'stick its neck out' and implement policies and legislation upon which other administrations take a more conservative position".

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

 

What States Can Do - Part X: Better Planning For Our Cities

 

In Australia there is renewed national interest in cities after years of neglect.  The current Federal Government, in office for less than five years, has already invested more in urban public transport than all previous national governments combined since Australia's Federation in 1901.  It has also doubled its road budget during difficult economic times.

Australia, despite its outback image, is one of the world's most urbanised nations.  Just over half the world's population lives in cities. In Australia it's a massive 75%. 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coastline. Cities are also our biggest economic generators accounting for 80% of Australia's GDP and three out of every four of our workers.

And while four of Australia's cities - Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney - routinely rank in the top ten of the world's 140 most liveable cities, they are under increasing strain with growing but ageing populations, serious housing affordability problems, increasing congestion and urban sprawl.  Congestion problems alone, if not addressed, will cost the Australian economy some $20 billion a year in lost productivity by 2020.  That's not surprising given that freight movements will double by 2030.

So Australian governments - Federal, State and Territory - have committed to a reform process where city planning systems must meet nationally agreed criteria.  They must show how they are providing for nationally significant economic infrastructure such as transport corridors, airports and ports, intermodal connectors and utilities.  They must also show how they are providing for an appropriate balance between infill and greenfield development.  And they must demonstrate how they are planning for population growth, housing affordability and climate change mitigation. They must also show how they can better connect people to jobs given that working closer to home is better for everyone; more productive, less congestion, cleaner air and more time for families.

There is a significant carrot for States and cities to improve their planning systems.  Future federal infrastructure funding will be guided by where the reform process has been successfully embraced.

So what was our approach for Adelaide, South Australia's capital city, and why is it regarded by the Federal Government as best practise in Australia?

Ultimately it was about embracing a plan and showing resolve in implementing it.

In Adelaide, we have a Capital City Committee where the Premier (roughly equivalent to a US Governor) senior ministers and bureaucrats meet regularly with the Mayor of Adelaide, several councillors and the CEO to discuss important issues.  We also appointed a Minister for the City of Adelaide whose first incumbent, Dr Jane Lomax Smith, was herself a reformist Mayor.

One of the most significant moves we made as a government was the development of a 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide.  This involved a much more strategic approach to the future development of our city.

Most people, in Adelaide and in many US cities, are concerned about the impact of urban sprawl.  We have seen a pattern of development that has gobbled up huge tracts of green space in a so called effort to make housing more affordable. But this has too often proven to be fool's gold as residents in the outer suburbs of vast metropolitan areas become more dependent on cars, and expensive single occupancy travel.  This approach also has frightening implications for the budgets of local authorities when citizens demand better infrastructure and services.  So we embraced a longer term approach to planning to offer people greater choice on how they want to live.

The 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide is guiding the planning and delivery of services and infrastructure, such as transport, health, schools and community facilities.  The main aim of the Plan is to better balance population and economic growth with the preservation of our environment and the protection of the heritage and character of our city.

The Plan's aim is to help Adelaide become a more vibrant, liveable and inclusive city and to grow in a managed way that doesn't threaten key primary production land.  There was extensive consultation to produce a draft Plan.  The draft was then released and exhibited for some months during which the government held extensive briefings with citizens, community groups, local government and professional organisations.  A big commitment to consultation generated much debate - some of it heated - but this was crucial to getting the Plan right and enabling government to better appreciate how people wanted their city to grow and adapt during the next 30 years.

As a result of this consultation a series of changes were made to the draft including variations in the population targets for specific areas.  A principal challenge of the Plan was how we could cope with an estimated population increase of 560,000 over the next 30 years and in doing so how we would underpin the creation of at least 280,000 new jobs.  Much of the debate arising from the consultation process centred on the proposed distribution of people, housing and jobs.  Policies concerning climate change were strengthened. Additional safeguards were added to address the impact of population growth on primary production in peri-urban areas.

Even though 560,000 is a relatively modest population increase - around 350 people a week - compared to estimates for other Australian cities, the make-up of our city will be transformed.  There will be a greater proportion of people over 65, and a significant increase in households with one person or couples without children.  This requires early action to ensure there will be a sufficient supply of a range of accommodation close to shops, services and public transport.  The big growth in over 65s will also require long term planning for the expansion of health services and aged care facilities.

Perhaps the key recommendation of the Plan was there was an urgent need to create a more compact and efficient urban form that takes advantage of existing, as well as our planned improvements to transport networks and infrastructure.  We are extending and modernising our tram and suburban train system, investing record expenditure in new roads plus a fivefold increase in infrastructure funding compared to ten years ago.  We want to design Greater Adelaide to reduce car reliance and create more liveable, accessible and connected communities.  The 30 Year Plan involves a major rethink of how we plan and design new housing, new neighbourhoods, - to break the nexus between growth and unsustainable resource consumption. Unless we do so we will risk our competitive advantage through inefficient land supply and costly infrastructure requirements.

To achieve our goals we have committed to move from the existing 50/50 ratio of infill development to fringe development to a ratio of about 70/30 in the last years of the Plan period. This will involve a much greater concentration of new housing along designated transit corridors to promote easier access to jobs and services and reduce our reliance on cars.

New transit oriented developments along transport corridors are at the heart of the 30 Year Plan.  We want the vast majority of new dwellings to be within walking distance of public transport. To achieve this we will co-locate medium and high density residential housing, major retail and service outlets and major employers around railway and tram stations and bus interchanges.  This approach will revitalise urban areas, maintain village integrity and provide the critical mass of population needed to make the upgrading of infrastructure cost effective over the life of the Plan.

For greenfield developments a different approach is being adopted in order to create more mixed use communities, higher densities, more efficient land use, walkable neighbourhoods, a greater mixture of housing types and new suburbs that are contiguous to main transport corridors. 

The Plan will support a 25 year rolling supply of land for residential, industrial and commercial purposes.  There will be a 15 year supply of land zoned at any given time. This will ensure that the supply of land and housing will contribute to keeping housing affordable.  There will also be 5,300 hectares of new and regenerated land set aside to foster the creation of jobs.

The Plan will also support a more efficient planning system that will underpin economic performance and competitiveness, halving development times.  This will give investors greater certainty by making it clear what development can occur in key locations.

In the 21st century cities can no longer either be neglected or be allowed to grow in a way that is destructive to their culture, character, liveability and environment. People are at the heart of cities and their needs should be paramount.

Sustainable, vibrant cities don't just grow organically. To improve our cities requires a plan that demonstrates that strong economic, social and environmental outcomes are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately great cities need strong leadership, backed by a plan.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C. 

What States Can Do - Part VIII: Reforming mental health

 

Around the world, there is a burgeoning mental health crisis with governments at all levels struggling to cope, let alone improve services in a meaningful way. While a large number of governments moved in the 1980s to 'deinstitutionalise,' this only served to shift the problem to families, suburbs, city streets and shelters with insufficient support in the community.

In South Australia desperately needed root and branch reform of mental health had been delayed, put into the 'too hard basket'. While attention and massive financial resources had been invested in improving public hospitals to grapple with emergency department waiting times and surgery waiting lists successive governments had given insufficient attention to mental health. It was less politically 'visible', even though in Australia about 20% of the population is affected by mental ill health.

For decades mental health support had centred on hospital care - delivered when a person fell seriously ill. People suffering from mental ill health were also given inadequate levels of support in their homes either before or after hospitalisation. This was particularly emphasised to me by Lloyd Sederer, a psychiatrist and head of mental health in New York. During a visit to Adelaide he told me our system was too disproportionately focused on bed care for serious episodes of mental illness.

Many people with a mental illness would enter and then be discharged from psychiatric hospitals or wards back into their homes without any concerted attempt to break the cycle.

In 2005 I asked South Australia's Social Inclusion Commissioner, Monsignor David Cappo, to devise a reform strategy so that our state would be a leader in mental health not a follower. The result of his investigation was the "Stepping Up" report, released in February 2007. Cappo's report became our blueprint for a comprehensive 'ground up' revision of our mental health system. It is now influencing the national mental health agenda.

The key focus of Stepping Up was to add extra levels or 'steps' of care and support between acute hospital care and mental health support in the community. Rather than a 'one size fits all' approach 'consumers' of our mental health system are able to step up to more intensive health care if they are becoming unwell and step down to other graduated support services as they get better.

This approach makes sense for patients and for the system. It places less burden on the expensive, acute end of the health system including emergency departments in public hospitals. It also means that people with mental illness can receive a more appropriate level of care closer to where they actually live. Importantly it is our Community Mental Health Services agency - working closely with consumers and their families - which drives the transition or movement across the various levels of care.

Since the Stepping Up report was released more than $300 million has been invested into rebuilding, restructuring and renewing South Australia's mental health system so that it is better integrated and more balanced in delivering an improved quality of care. There is also now a bigger investment by the Federal Government in mental health. As a result of this cooperation more than 250 additional mental health beds and places will be available in South Australia within three years. 74 of those beds and places have already been delivered. In addition, 243 of 262 social houses, with attached mental health support for residents, have been built and tenanted.

A big capital works program is a key part of our mental health reform with a $142.6 million, 130 bed new acute mental health and substance abuse central hospital being built alongside beautiful but now totally unsuitable 19th century buildings. Buildings of the original Glenside psychiatric hospital were recently refurbished as the Adelaide Studios of the South Australian Film Corporation. This park-like location will become a shared campus with arts, housing and retail outlets next to the new purpose built mental health facilities. This approach is designed to help de-stigmatise mental illness. People with a mental illness are now being treated with greater dignity, part of our community. No longer locked behind barbed wire, the new buildings are better designed to keep patients safe without feeling like prisoners.

Extra beds are also being provided across metropolitan and country areas enabling patients and carers better access to services closer to their homes. In some cases hospital level services are even brought into a patient's home.

Very importantly, there has been a greater emphasis on new and much needed 'intermediate' steps to make the new system work. Each Intermediate Care Centre (ICC) is a fifteen-bed clinical service in a home-like setting. ICCs involve multi-disciplinary, nurse led teams with patients generally staying for up to two weeks. 92 places have been made available in metropolitan and country areas. We now also have Community Rehabilitation Centres which are housing clusters with on-site 24 hour support. In these centres consumers learn independent living skills with support provided to increase social and recreational opportunities. Patients stay between three and twelve months.

Our mental health system has now embraced a Housing and Accommodation Support Partnership which provides long term affordable housing with up to 24 hour support. This allows people with mental illness to live more successfully in the community with close assistance at hand when necessary to help prevent them returning to hospital.

In addition to the new stepped system of care, South Australia is also developing six Community Mental Health Centres. These new Centres replace the large number of fragmented services, integrating them into a single site. The Centres provide mental health information; advice; support; assessment; crisis response; outreach; assistance to people presenting to emergency departments; assistance to people in need of rehabilitation support; and counselling.

Each centre employs a team of mental health professionals working in partnership with consumers, their carers, their GP or nominated health care workers to provide co-ordinated care.

Our Assessment Crisis Intervention Service (ACIS) has been expanded to run 24 hours, 7 days a week which we hope will take pressure off hospital emergency departments.

I appointed our first ever Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. This move was designed to give mental health a sharper focus and more 'grunt' within government.

The Stepping Up report and ensuing programs have attracted considerable positive attention. In an unprecedented move nationally Monsignor Cappo and fellow mental health reformers Pat McGorry and Frank Quinlan, were last year asked to address the Prime Minister and all Australian Premiers and Chief Ministers at the Council of Australian Governments.

I am pleased that the Federal Government has announced that mental health reform is a key second term priority with a record $2.2 billion committed for its Delivering Mental Health Reform Package. It will also significantly boost the availability of mental health services for up to 72,000 young people each year through its headspace program at 90 sites around Australia. In any one year 1 in 4 young Australians will experience some kind of mental health disorder. Suicide is now the biggest killer of young Australians aged between 15 and 24, causing 1 in 4 deaths.

The clear message to politicians is that early intervention gets better outcomes for patients and for taxpayers. It frees up resources for those with more serious and more protracted mental ill health. Waiting for a crisis costs lives, impedes recovery and further overloads an acute system that is not coping.

Early intervention with stepped care that is local is the way forward.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do - Part VII: Plant forests

 

Last month at The Climate Group's States and Regions Summit in Rio de Janeiro, a significant milestone was reached. Members comprising sub-national governments from around the world announced firm commitments to grow more than 500 million additional trees by 2015.

This result was two and a half years in the making. At our Climate Leaders Summit held in December 2009, as part of the UN's COP15 meeting, we called on world leaders gathering in Copenhagen - including President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao - to commit to planting 7 billion trees - one tree for every person on the planet.

They didn't heed our call for a forestry 'endowment' from Copenhagen. So I proposed that we, at the state and regional level, should again lead the way by committing to plant 1 billion trees ourselves by the same target date. The move, strongly supported at the meeting by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, was endorsed unanimously by all leaders and ministers present.

Quebec and Scotland led the charge with a commitment to each plant 100 million trees by 2015. Both of these pledges are being delivered. Many other governments have joined the campaign including Aragon, Catalonia, Manitoba, Ontario, North Rhine Westphalia, Poitou Charentes, South Australia and Wales.

Under our 1 Billion Tree Initiative only plantings that would not have otherwise occurred are counted. Normal forestry operations and reafforestation projects already announced are not included in the tally.

At Rio I was delighted that Member States and Regions have now passed the halfway point in reaching our 1 Billion Trees target, with a combination of new planting commitments or increases to their original pledges.

A number of new members making commitments included the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, the French island region of La Reunion and KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Sao Paulo announced that it would add 200 million trees by 2015 through native forest restoration in its own territory ensuring both climate protection and biodiversity. This commitment comprises one fifth of the total 1 billion target and Sao Paulo has also announced it will build on this pledge with another 200 million trees by 2020.

One of the delights of our conference was hearing about KwaZulu Natal's plans to plant a fruit tree for every child in homes and schools.

At Rio, South Australian Environment Minister Paul Caica, representing the driest state on the driest continent, announced an additional commitment of 6.7 million trees to bring his state's total to 7.9 million trees.

Reafforestation projects need not only occur in rural areas. Greening programs in cities such as New York are gaining strong public and political support.

Back in 2003, as Premier of South Australia, I established our Urban Forest Program which aimed to plant 1 million native trees and shrubs across the Adelaide metropolitan area in a series of urban forests. This target, to help further green our city, was achieved in 2006 with the help of local government, schools, industry and volunteers.

We extended the program, increased the State Government's funding and raised our target to plant 3 million native trees and plants by 2014 across 300 project sites, ranging from large habitat restoration projects to smaller amenity gardens and local biodiversity projects. More than ten thousand people have participated including thousands of children and adults who have attended well publicised community planting days. We are delighted that twenty one local government councils have partnered with the State Government to improve our capital city.

The program aims to restore around 2,000 hectares of native vegetation using suitable areas of public open space including parks, reserves, transport corridors, schools, water courses, coastline and council land.

We believe our Urban Forest Program will result in a more beautiful, cooler and more liveable city. It will improve air and water quality and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 600,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents. There is also a very strong educational component designed to raise the community's environmental awareness and actively involve people through workshops, talks, plantings and school projects.

Significantly, our Urban Forests Program is also creating and conserving habitat for precious wildlife. A report published in 2001 revealed that 97.3% of Adelaide's original vegetation has been cleared since European settlement in 1836. Land clearance and urban development had impacted significantly on native flora and fauna, with many species now locally extinct or threatened. So our program is also about preventing species loss.

Only indigenous trees and shrubs, native to the local area, are planted. Not only is this about ensuring that the genetic integrity of our native flora is preserved but it also helps reduce water use. Exotic or imported plants often require greater watering and support to survive our searing hot and dry summers.

After my return from Rio, I phoned Paul Caica's office to enquire about progress. I was pleased to learn that the program was on track to reach the 3 million target on time with 2,370,000 trees and shrubs already planted. The three inaugural winners of The Climate Group's Climate Change Leadership Award, Schwarzenegger, Charest and Salmond, will all have mini urban forests in Adelaide bearing their names. There is already one named after veteran Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki, who has inspired me over the decades.

I hope states and cities around the world will join us in similar urban forest campaigns.

 

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

Ecological Sequestration: two words to remember

Until the global financial crisis diverted attention there was the strongest international focus by the world’s political leaders, public and media on global warming. There were the strongest calls for sacrifices to be made for future generations, although more often than not people preferred those sacrifices to be made by others. Euro zone crises, a continuing recession in the United States and turbulent stock markets, have not diminished the climate perils facing our planet.

Let me recap. If the current rate of increasing emissions is maintained the world is on track for a 4c increase in average temperatures by the end of the century. An increase of more than 2c is considered by the United Nations to be intolerably dangerous.

Along with 'cap and trade’ programs (and I'm proud that Australia has now set a price on carbon) and a big drive on renewables and energy efficiency projects, there has been some attention given by governments, mining and energy sectors to 'geological sequestration'. This involves capturing CO² from coal and gas fired power stations and other industrial sources, pumping it to suitable sites and then injecting the CO² deep underground where it would be stored permanently. Suitable repositories would include the vast geological cavities left over from oil and gas exploitation.

A substantial impediment to a much larger deployment of 'carbon capture and storage' is the often massive infrastructure costs of pumping and piping compressed CO² from cities to remote areas.

Here at Rio+20 conferences and events, there is real interest in the technologies and rewards involved in ecological sequestration. With this different approach, CO² emissions are seen as a rich resource rather than a costly waste to keep a lid on. Ecological sequestration involves capturing the CO² from industrial processes, including power plants, but then transforming it into fertiliser to help make local farm lands more fertile.

Ecological sequestration is not some theoretical model. Indeed, the 'farming of CO²' is occurring right now in Australia with huge opportunities for millions of hectares of farmlands to sequester countless millions of tonnes of CO² as soil carbon each year. Soil carbon sequestration at Clover Estate in the south east of South Australia has demonstrated that this approach can be a win-win for the Australian economy, for farmers and for the environment, as well as producing more and healthier foods by reducing the use of chemical fertilisers while at the same time improving soil fertility.

The global champion of ecological sequestration is Peter Head, an award winning engineer and leader of the sustainable cities movement. Until recently he was a senior executive with Arup in London and directed work in China's ambitious Dongtan Eco City planning project. In 2008 he was named by Time magazine as one of the world's eco-heroes and by Britain's Guardian as one of the 50 people who could save the planet.

What is exciting for so many industrialists and policy makers about ecological sequestration is that it doesn't involve shutting down power stations. Instead CO² is harvested and transformed through technologies such as algal bioreactors into fertiliser and bio-fuels. This concept also embraces urban agriculture linked to water capture, compost and nutrients from waste digestion, including hydroponic greenhouse growing. The aim is to produce better quality local food and create jobs in a struggling community.

Through UK based NGO, the Ecological Sequestration Trust, Peter Head's team is actively pursuing a series of large scale demonstration projects in India, Africa, China and elsewhere to prove that resilient urbanisation can progress using coal and gas for base load power but with very low net carbon emissions. The Trust wants to accelerate the deployment of integrated new technologies to sequester carbon and advanced anaerobic digestors to produce valuable new revenue streams.

Through a series of 'demonstrator cities' the Trust wants to establish low carbon exemplars for sustainability and resilience. Already project sites have been selected at Chongming Island, Shanghai, China; Surat in Gujarat, India and Kigali, Rwanda in Africa. Each demonstrator location will involve a new Eco-City development, a new industrial zone as well as an area of rapid urban development close to an existing mega city. There is already high level political backing for these projects and I was pleased to join the Trust in discussions over Surat with Gujarat's Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, in Ahmedebad in February.

The Trust is ambitious. It has to be. In the past 120 years the world's population has increased five fold but our resource consumption has grown twenty fold. By 2050, 75% of humanity will live in cities compared with just over 50% now. Cities still only occupy 2% of the world's surface but require vast 'footprints' to sustain them. Sprawling London, my birthplace, is said to require 125 times its own area to keep it functioning.

I believe the health and design of cities-trying to make them work better for people- will be a central policy challenge of this century for every level of government. Integrated design will be the engine of innovation for cities.

Through its regional projects the Ecological Sequestration Trust wants to demonstrate how to build cities with:

• Energy demand reduced by 50% over today's business as usual

• 30% of power station energy obtained from local biomass

• 40% of power station emissions harnessed productively

• Local food production increased by 30%

• Greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 80% over business as usual

• Improved health and well being indices.

I am not an engineer but smart policy makers embrace, and test, innovation. They measure results. They also see opportunities in challenges, even crises. I am convinced we will be hearing a lot more about ecological sequestration and its mission to turn CO² into a resource for good rather than our planet's poison.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website. 

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

 

What States Can Do - Part VI: The Clean Revolution

In my first blog post in this series, I wrote about how South Australia, a dry state with no hydropower, had embraced renewable energy moving in less than ten years from no wind power to having 26% (compared to 3% nationally) of its electricity derived from wind, now exceeding coal generation for the first time. I also mentioned how we followed California and Washington in changing our emission intensity standards to effectively preclude the building of future coal fired power stations.

Later this week I will be travelling to Rio de Janeiro to attend The Climate Group's Clean Revolution Leadership summit. The Clean Revolution, launched by Tony Blair and Mark Kenber in New York last September, is promoting a swift and massive scaling up of clean technologies and infrastructure as well as changes in design and behaviour, to boost energy efficiency and achieve the most sustainable use of our natural resources. While the plan aims to secure steep reductions in CO² emissions, the Clean Revolution would simultaneously create jobs and boost the green economy. The Climate Group is acting as a bridge between governments and industry worldwide in embracing a lower carbon economy, by encouraging policy changes and new profitable business models for the future.

In Rio, I will also be chairing a session of The Climate Group's summit of leaders from States and Regions around the world. For some years these regular meetings have shared best practice policies to enable jurisdictions to adapt 'ideas that work' to their own circumstances. While media attention often focuses on the climate policies and international negotiations of nations, or more locally the greening of cities, the role of state, regional and provincial governments is critical to progress. A number of studies have shown that the majority of decisions affecting the environment are made at the regional level. Increasingly state governments are also working closely with cities to help them reduce their carbon footprints.

In Rio, I expect sub national governments to again set the agenda for nations in not only planning but implementing innovative ways of tackling climate change, just as we did in Copenhagen in 2009 with our '1 billion trees' initiative.

There are already some outstanding examples.

Last October, the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, was awarded The Climate Group's international leadership award. It was well deserved. Scotland has committed to reduce its emissions 42% on 1990 levels by 2020. Scotland has a big commitment to onshore and offshore wind, wave and tidal power, as well as carbon capture and storage. Right now, Scotland is producing 35% of its electricity from renewables. It is aiming for 100% by 2020. With the potential to massively exceed its own domestic needs, Scotland is now planning to become a huge exporter of renewable energy with enormous dividends for its economy.

At The Climate Group's meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2010 sub national governments honoured Quebec Premier Jean Charest for his extraordinary leadership in tackling climate change. At that meeting Quebec, like Scotland, committed to plant an extra 100 million trees. Quebec is now delivering a range of innovative policies to reduce its emissions by 20% by 2020 from 1990 levels. This would be a first in North America and is similar to the EU target. Given 97% of Quebec's electricity comes from hydro, most of its emissions need to be cut in the transport, housing and industry sectors. The province is now implementing a world leading Electric Vehicle Action Plan with the vision of achieving full 'sustainable mobility'. Quebec aims for plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles to comprise 25% of new light passenger vehicle sales by 2020.

In Manitoba hydroelectricity currently provides 97.4% of the province's energy needs. Its Premier, Greg Selinger wants to go further by making local power plants more efficient. Manitoba Hydro's energy conservation programs have already saved over 500 megawatt hours of electricity with big savings in emissions.

In California, where 40% of the state's emissions come from transport, its Advanced Clean Cars program is also spurring dramatic improvements in battery, fuel cell and related technologies. New rules require that one out of seven new vehicle sales in California be zero-emission by 2025. On the east coast not only has New York collaborated with neighbouring states in the development and implementation of the United States' first cap and trade emissions scheme, but has now helped launch the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network to promote clean vehicles and fuels, and electric vehicle charging stations.

La Rèunion, the French island region off the coast of Africa, is investing in experimental marine thermal pilot projects and providing €3,000 energy cheques to households for the installation of photovoltaic panels with smart storage batteries. In Brittany, the Regional Council has committed to cut growth in energy consumption by a third with a big investment in renewable energy, including solar, marine, wind and biomass.

Upper Austria has a strong network of 160 companies, employing 7,200 people, actively involved in the business of renewable energy and energy efficiency. In a big boost to Upper Austria's economy this innovative cluster is now exporting to more than 60 countries. In neighbouring Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia is a leader in energy research, with around 400 medium sized companies and research institutes working on fuel cell technologies and hydrogen fuels. It is also a leader in energy efficient construction and wind energy. Its geothermal sector has generated nearly 5,000 jobs.

Jämtland, a province in central Sweden, aims to be fossil fuel free by 2030. Already less than 8% of its carbon footprint comes from energy, and none from coal, oil or gas. It is a big exporter of excess renewable energy to other parts of Sweden and Europe.

In Wales, innovative policies are improving the energy performance of homes, particularly in disadvantaged areas, and in doing so boosting jobs, skills and economic regeneration. In partnership with energy companies and social housing providers, Carwyn Jones' government is working to improve home insulation as well as promoting the installation of solar panels and solar hot water systems. Last year, around 25,000 Welsh homes were improved and made cheaper to heat through upgrades to boilers and windows as well as other energy saving initiatives.

In Spain, the Basque Country's Appliance Replacement Scheme has seen, since 2008, around 30,000 old appliances replaced with much more energy efficient alternatives. This is saving households in their energy costs as well as reducing thousands of tonnes of CO² emissions each year. Catalonia, like South Australia, has embraced voluntary agreements with companies, local government and other institutions as a key mitigation tool in public climate policy.

In 2009, Sao Paulo in Brazil became the first state from an emerging economy to enact climate legislation introducing an absolute emission reduction target of 20% by 2020 and is a leader in aligning its climate change policies with all government practices. It is setting mandatory CO² reduction targets and its comprehensive Transportation Plan looks to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles and fuels including bioethanol and biodiesel.

Guandong province is a clear leader in China in pursuing a low carbon future. Earlier this year, its strategic plan for emerging industries was approved by the Chinese Government and is likely to become an exemplar for other regions in reducing its carbon intensity.

In South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal is developing a wide ranging Green Economy Strategy that includes a procurement policy that favours purchasing from 'green companies' as well as increasing the supply of renewable energy.

In Rio, members of The Climate Group's States and Regions Alliance will continue their important role of sharing ideas and acting as 'laboratories' for a lower carbon future. I am hopeful that in Rio sub national governments will jointly commit to an action plan for the future that will inspire the leaders of nations around the world to make a big step forward in the Clean Revolution.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do - Part V: The right start for our children

For all children, the earliest years are critically important for their physical and emotional health, for their social development and cognitive skills, and even for their later educational achievement and life chances.

This has been known for centuries. Five hundred years ago, the Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus said, "One cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of those first years for the course that a child will follow throughout his entire life".

In South Australia through our Thinkers in Residence program (www.thinkers.sa.gov.au), we asked Canadian early childhood expert, the late Dr Fraser Mustard, and more recently Professor Carla Rinaldi from Reggio Emilia in Italy, to advise us on how to improve early childhood education. It's a policy area we take very seriously. In South Australia every child aged 4 is entitled to government funded preschool education.

Fraser Mustard told us that states and nations with early childhood development programs beginning in the earliest years of infancy (birth to age 2) secured the highest scores in literacy and numeracy. These findings are compatible with what we now know about early brain development, language and literacy.

In Reggio Emilia, a northern Italian town with a worldwide reputation for advanced thinking in early childhood education, young children are viewed quite differently. They are treated as citizens with rights. They are not seen as just empty vessels to be filled up with knowledge by enthusiastic teachers. Instead there is a real emphasis on unlocking and respecting a child's imagination which can play a key role in problem solving and in a child's search for knowledge and understanding. A strong embrace of the visual arts encourages children to express themselves creatively. In doing so, it helps them develop their theoretical and analytical skills.

Just over a decade ago, Chicago Economist and Nobel Laureate Jim Heckman said "We cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults; nor can we wait until they reach school age – a time when it may be too late to intervene. Learning is a dynamic process and it is most effective when it begins at a very young age and continues throughout adulthood." In 2006, a major work for the Brookings Institution, outlined three important principles to improve early childhood development:

•    intervene early (at least at the time of birth)

•    intervene often

•    intervene effectively.

But its not just about better preschool education, as important as that is.

For governments, it makes sense to invest in these early years through better targeted health services. Not doing so often results in much bigger spending later in life when problems are harder to fix. Studies around the world show that a lack of investment in the early years can lead to significant social and mental health problems. The Rand Corporation estimated that for every $1 invested in early childhood and parent support programs, $7 could be saved in later life; in health, and criminal justice systems. Unfortunately, government Treasury officials seldom think this way.

The first few months of a baby's life are both important, as well as joyous and worrying, particularly for first time parents.

In South Australia, the state government in 2003 launched its ambitious 'Every Chance for Every Child' program. Funded by the state, it involves home visits by qualified paediatric nurses to virtually every baby in South Australia within four weeks of their birth. We call it a 'Universal Contact' visit. This service has proved to be not only popular but extraordinarily helpful for babies and parents alike, particularly for young mothers, single or otherwise, who often feel isolated in their homes and finding it hard to cope. Sometimes there are issues such as post-natal depression to deal with.

The first home visit under the 'Every Chance for Every Child' program is comprehensive. It includes conducting a child health check - a full physical examination, responding to the needs of parents and providing them with information and advice on bonding, feeding and settling their baby, and ensuring the best possible environment for the infant, including safe sleeping arrangements.

Last year 95% of South Australian parents with brand new babies received visits under this program.

This first visit enables the early identification of family and child development issues leading to early intervention and problem prevention. For many, the first visit is enough, but there is much more help available to assist families who need extra support. This can involve a series of follow up home visits or attendance at a Child and Family Health Service Clinic. First time parents are offered access to 'new parent' groups, a 6 week program 'Getting to Know Your Baby' facilitated by a Child and Family Health Service nurse.

An even more comprehensive family home visiting program is available to provide additional support for struggling families. Our Family Home Visiting scheme is a two year, nurse led preventative parenting program based on building a partnership between the child and specialist nurse, and the family, to provide a supportive environment and the best possible developmental start for children. The program has a multidisciplinary approach and includes Aboriginal cultural consultants to assist Indigenous Australian families.

The program focuses on the health and safety of young children, child development, relationships (especially between the child and parent) and community connection – linking the family into services in their local area. It's not a 'one size fits all' approach but is flexible, responsive and tailored to meet different needs and circumstances. Ongoing health checks, immunisations and hearing screening, are part of the program.

I would encourage policy makers to take a close look at the Reggio approach to early childhood education and the 'Every Chance for Every Child' infant health program in South Australia.

Getting the best start – at the start – makes sense for children, families, communities, states and nations.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do - Part IV: Promoting science

Governments, educationalists and business leaders around the world are keen to encourage young people to embrace science in school, at university and in their future careers. In Australia, a lack of interest in studying science in schools has been of real and growing concern.

Many of the best careers of the future will increasingly rely on scientific acumen. Even political leaders are now more frequently being forced to make decisions where weighing up scientific evidence is critically important for the best public policy outcomes. In recent times, for instance, congressional and parliamentary representatives have had to grapple with complex issues ranging from stem cell research and genetically modified crops to climate science and nuclear power.

In South Australia, the decline in students enrolling in science subjects had reached crisis point. So, we asked distinguished Oxford scientist Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, then Director of Britain's centuries old science education hub, the Royal Institution to spend three months with us as a Thinker in Residence (www.thinkers.sa.gov.au).

Baroness Greenfield advised my government on how we could foster a greater 'scientific literacy' in our community and encourage kids to be excited by science. She came up with a series of proposals, including twinning scientists in labs with science teachers in schools.

As a result of Baroness Greenfield's residency, we established the Australian Science Media Centre (www.smc.org.au) in 2005 and opened the RiAus (www.riaus.org.au) in 2009. Backed by millions of dollars from State and Federal governments and business, we located both organisations in the refurbished Stock Exchange building in inner city Adelaide. It has been renamed the Science Exchange.

For years, forced by the scrambling pace of voracious 24/7 media coverage, journalists often go to those who shout loudest in covering scientific issues. On climate change, for instance, it's easier for media to seek sound bites from highly politicised lobby groups - from environmental NGOs to climate change deniers - rather than search for world class scientists with real expertise on the subject matter at hand.

The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent organisation overseen by a management board consisting of senior executives from rival media companies, universities, government and business. It is backed by an expert Science Advisory Panel which includes nearly 30 of Australia's most eminent scientists.

The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science stories and works with scientists to help them communicate more effectively with the media. The Centre has nearly 1,000 journalists, hundreds of newspapers, radio, television and online outlets, linked to over 3,000 scientists on its database. Universities, research institutes and academies and government science agencies are all actively co-operating with the service.

So, how does it work?

In March 2011, as we all remember, an earthquake triggered a tsunami off the coast of Japan causing devastation and massive loss of life. It also provoked a disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. There was worldwide concern about its implications including the likely impact of radiation release and what would happen if there was a 'nuclear meltdown'.

Journalists from around Australia and overseas contacted the AusSMC for expert opinion. The Centre ran media briefings involving nuclear scientists who gave journalists the background knowledge they needed. At a time when Japanese authorities were remaining silent, the Centre provided journalists with up to date expert commentary to help them decipher what was happening at the Fukushima plant. Interviews were arranged around the clock to help fit in with media needs and deadlines. Hundreds of journalists were linked to thirteen scientists who provided not only expert commentary, but also background and context. These experts were quoted in almost 4,000 news items internationally.

This is just one example. Since it opened, AusSMC has injected evidence based comment into more than 40,000 news reports worldwide. There is a real difference between journalism that relies on evidence based science rather than sensational claims.

While this not for profit service is often the first point of contact when a major science story 'breaks', the Centre is proactive as well as reactive. It provides regular media briefings including its Heads-up, an email service issued twice a week alerting the media about the most newsworthy science events, new research, and reports being published in scientific journals around the world.

The AusSMC proactively monitors the news for topical science issues and can quickly arrange briefings for journalists. These can involve panels of experts usually interviewed online. To enable journalists to get their heads around complex scientific issues (such as climate modelling or the current controversy in Australia over coal seam gas), detailed background briefings are also provided.

The AusSMC is also helping scientists become more media 'savvy' so that they better understand media pressures and can more effectively engage with journalists on and off air. The AusSMC has been spectacularly successful, applauded by journalists and scientists alike. It has certainly improved the quality of scientific content in media reporting.

Significantly, science media centres are now operating, not only in the UK and Australia, but in New Zealand, Canada and Japan, with others being considered for Denmark, China, Norway, Italy and Pakistan. I understand that a service, similar to Australia's, is now under consideration in the United States. It is hoped that a global network will be developed.

In the same heritage building, now rewired with state of the art media facilities, we have established the RiAus. It is independent but has a close relationship with its 'mother' organisation, the Royal Institution in London, established more than 200 years ago to bring science to the community and the community to science and producing a distinguished list of Nobel Prize winners along the way.

The RiAus aims to inspire and to educate a new generation of Australians about the importance of science to their health, the environment and to the Australian economy.

The RiAus has rapidly become a centre of dialogue and policy debate about science. Above all, it aims to make science more accessible, more valued and more relevant for Australians. It doesn't just preach to the converted and is by no means 'nerdy'.

The RiAus has a special charter to interact with those most disengaged from science, particularly young people. It works with schools and teachers to encourage career path choices in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It uses a range of technologies to do so, running programs online with a very active presence in social media, including Twitter, Facebook, E-newsletters and YouTube as well as staging live events, including plays, art/science exhibitions at festivals, 'Science in the Pub', producing films, sponsoring lectures by astronauts and Nobel Prize winners, even staging a sports science event in front of thousands during the halftime interval at a football stadium.

I am pleased that both the RiAus and AusSMC are now national institutions based in Adelaide.

Most governments invest in science. Successive state governments in South Australia have invested millions in establishing a specialist math and science high school; a bio science precinct and incubator, a functional genomics centre and plant accelerator and the world class Goyder Institute for water research. But unless we enthuse young people to look to science, as the Gemini and Apollo space programs did in the 1960s, we will be failing both our nations' futures.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

From slouch hat to blue beret: Australia's bid for Security Council

A senior official of the Bush Administration once said to me: "The thing about you Aussies is that you are impossible to offend. With other nations I have to watch my 'ps and qs', be on guard about offending sensibilities. Not with you guys. You like straight talk and even when we try an odd insult Australians just laugh. And you are so irreverent!" I took this as a compliment. Our larrikin spirit is alive and well. Aussies don't stand on ceremony and like to puncture pomposity with humour.

Irreverent, yes. Irrelevant, no. Few nations have sailed, flown or marched further in a good cause. There is nothing more reverential to Australians than the enduring symbol of an Australian soldier's (we call them diggers) 'slouch hat'. It is part of our story, critical to our sense of identity and self esteem. But in far flung corners of our troubled planet the Australian digger so often wears the blue beret of the UN.

Australians have never been isolationists. We did not turn away from genocide in Cambodia, tsunamis in Asia, earthquakes in Japan, famine in Africa, partition in Cyprus, conflict in East Timor. We are known for standing by our mates but Australians also make the supreme sacrifice for suffering strangers who have never heard of our country. We are not neutral in the face of crisis, calamity, terrorism or oppression. Neutrality is not part of the Australian psyche.

Like our kith and kin in New Zealand we are good citizens of the UN. As former Kiwi Prime Minister, Mike Moore and now Ambassador to the US, said of both Australia and New Zealand in a speech in Washington recently: "We pay our dues and more and deploy our people in peacekeeping and peacemaking...This is the rent we pay for our way of life. It is the cost of civilization... a world without walls cannot be a world without rules, standards and values".

Back in 1947 Australia was the first nation to contribute UN peacekeepers, to oversee the ceasefire between the emerging Indonesian Republic and the Dutch colonial occupiers. According to new Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr 65,000 Australians have served in more than 50 UN and other multilateral peace operations since 1947. Carr revealed that Australia is now the twelfth largest contributor to the UN's peacekeeping budget.

In October the 193 members of the UN will vote in a secret ballot to fill two seats on the Security Council for a two year term. Australia is one of three candidates in the "Western Europe and Others" group. The other contenders are Finland and Luxembourg.

The last time Australia sat at this table the Cold War had not ended. For forty years after the Second World War the Security Council was too often paralysed by the veto powers of the Big Five. That has changed. Today the Security Council has never been more relevant or active. That's why Australia now wants to play its part. Since Australia last served 90 other countries have had their turn, many of them a number of times. Japan and Brazil have served five times during this period. But it is not about forming a queue. Australia, a founding member of the UN, has much to contribute.

Last year our Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the UN in New York to discuss our bid with Ban Ki-moon and addressed 50 representatives of African nations. She explained how helpful Australia could be to small and medium sized countries, pointing out that Australia was one of the top ten contributors to key UN programs such as the World Health Organisation, its children's fund UNICEF and the High Commissioner for Refugees. Since then lobbying has been intense and last month during a visit to Singapore by Julia Gillard, Prime Minister Lee said his country and Australia shared a commitment to strong global institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, Asia Pacific Economic Co-Operation and the International Monetary Fund and was happy to support Australia's bid.

As former Foreign Minister (and former PM) Kevin Rudd has argued, Australia brings formidable assets to the table and a different perspective to our European colleagues. We are a stable democracy, a medium sized power on a vast island continent, with the world's third largest maritime zone strategically located in the Asia Pacific. Our economy is in the top dozen in the world and the fourth largest in Asia. Our military spend is the fifth biggest in Asia.

Twenty two of Australia's twenty four closest neighbours are developing countries. Many are emerging democracies, like Timor Leste where in 1999 an Australian led intervention, sanctioned by the Security Council, helped bring peace, stability, independence and democracy to its ravaged people. This year we are pleased to celebrate with our East Timorese friends the tenth anniversary of their independence. In Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands Australians have worked hard to restore peace.

If elected Australia would join the Security Council during a time when big issues will be on its plate...transition in Afghanistan, the ongoing UNSC engagement with North Korea, Iran, the Middle East, the continued fight against terrorism and closer to home the preparations for a referendum on the future of Bougainville.

In recent years Australia has been stepping up to the plate internationally through APEC, the G2O and other forums just as we did under Bob Hawke's leadership to work through the Commonwealth to bring an end to Apartheid in South Africa and through the UN to help sort out the mess that was Cambodia.

Nearly 70 years ago Australia helped draft the UN Charter. Australia is a shareholder which has made a big, long term investment in the UN. It's now time to join the board. A seat at the table will be good for Australia. It will be even better for the UN, our region and the world.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

 

 

What States Can Do – Part I: Climate Change Policy

 

Most attention in public policy focuses on what happens at the national level. That’s inevitable but states are often test beds for reform. In this series of blogs, I will look at what states can do to set the policy agenda.

Nowhere has the leadership role of states been more apparent than with climate change policy. That was certainly true in Australia until recently, with former conservative Prime Minister John Howard aligning himself with President Bush in first denying the scientific evidence for global warming and then decrying action to address climate change as contrary to the national interest. It was up to the states to fill the policy void.

In the US, we saw strong leadership by states such as California in embracing renewable energy and tougher emissions standards. We also saw clusters of states working together to establish emissions trading schemes such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative involving Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. These states have not only capped but will reduce CO² emissions from their power stations 10% by 2018.

States also took the lead in Australia, one of the nations at greatest risk from global warming with the potential loss of high production farming land as well as serious threats to our precious water resources. Action by states makes sense given the majority of decisions affecting both the environment and our climate are made at the regional level.

While Premier of South Australia, I was also Minister for Sustainability and Climate Change, as well as Minister for Economic Development. I wanted to demonstrate that a reformist government could be pro jobs and pro growth while at the same time being a leader in environmental protection. Through my role with The Climate Group and its States and Regions Network, I have worked closely with state governments internationally, including a number of US states, to share and sometimes steal policy ideas that work.

When I was elected Premier in 2002 there was not one single operating wind turbine in South Australia. Today, 26% of electricity generated in my state comes from wind, edging out coal fired power for the first time. How did this happen? We streamlined our regulatory environment to make it easier for energy companies to gain quicker approvals to build wind farms in order to take advantage of Federal schemes and quotas. This didn’t happen in other states where the wind was strong but not the political will.

We also campaigned aggressively to convince renewable energy companies we were hungry for their business and would make them welcome. We introduced payroll tax rebates for the construction of large-scale renewable energy projects. Now, with only 7.2% of Australia’s population, we have 54% of the nation’s installed wind power and about 90% of Australia’s geothermal hot rocks development. South Australia reached the Federal Government’s target of 20% of electricity coming from renewables by 2020, nine years ahead of schedule. We also had a 15% drop in emissions during the past five years despite strong economic and employment growth.

Inspired by matching Governor Schwarzenegger’s ambitious target, we are now on track to reach 33% of our power coming from renewables by 2020. With the help of Stanford Climatologist, the late Stephen Schneider, we passed Australia’s first climate change legislation which, in addition to setting targets, provided a framework for voluntary agreements with industry sectors to reduce their emissions. Groups as diverse as the cement industry, the Anglican Church, local government and even regions became partners. First to sign up was our wine industry which was keen to demonstrate to customers in the US and Europe that it could not only produce world class wines but be environmentally conscious doing so.

South Australia also passed Australia’s first solar feed-in legislation, which established a scheme that paid householders a premium rate for power generated from their roof top installations. This was successful in encouraging a more rapid take up of solar power than in other states. We also followed California and Washington state by changing emissions standards to effectively preclude the building of future coal fired power stations; again followed California in setting tougher efficiency standards for air conditioners that cause massive spikes in electricity usage on the hottest days, and following my visit to New York, we are looking at ‘cool roofs’ to deliver significant reductions in peak energy demand.

By sharing ideas, sub-national governments in the US, Australia and elsewhere have proven to the public and to federal policy makers that leadership and progress is possible. This has produced dividends in Australia with the national government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard embracing a new carbon pricing era designed to cut CO² pollution, drive investment in clean energy and make our nation’s biggest polluters pay for the greenhouse gas emissions they create.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do – Part III: Improving Our Schools

There is nothing more important for a nation's future, for its long term security and for opportunities for its citizens, than the health of its schools and the quality of education they offer.

Visiting New York in 2010, I was deeply impressed with the work of John Schnur and his team at the New Leaders for New Schools initiative. John is one of America's leading thinkers on improving school outcomes. He was a key adviser on education to Barack Obama both before and after his election as President. John led the development of the $4 billion Race to the Top program where Federal funds are used as a carrot to reward states that positively reform their education systems to get better outcomes from schools.

As in most worthwhile endeavours, success in schools is in most part due to leadership. We all know personally that individual teachers can have a profound impact on learning for students. But to keep doing better year after year, Schnur argues that effective principal leadership is by far the most important component of success, particularly for schools with low test scores and high poverty rates. He cites many examples of how previously poor performing schools had been ‘turned around’ quite quickly following a change to a better principal. I was told, for instance, about an elementary school in Baltimore where only 45% of its students met the basic standards of proficiency in math. Within two years, a high performing principal had boosted that result to 88% and is working on plans to ensure that 100% of her students make the grade.

New Leaders runs seminars that focus on diagnosis, data, instructional improvement, personal leadership, teams and school culture. Courses are taught by leading experts and ‘master principals’. There is also hands on training through one year paid, full time internships in an urban school, enabling teachers to work alongside outstanding principals who have turned around schools in disadvantaged areas. When these new leaders become principals they are given ongoing mentoring and support to help them get the best possible results. Research has shown that New Leader schools are twice as likely to have significantly improved student test scores compared with other schools, and with a lower drop out rate.

In South Australia, one area of real concern for us as a new government in 2002 was that there had been a serious drop in the school retention rate during the 1990s compared with the previous decade. We were concerned that by not completing their schooling, young people weren't just dropping out of school but dropping out of any real chance of securing meaningful careers. There is also a massive social as well as personal cost with declining retention rates linked to crime, drug and alcohol abuse as well as higher unemployment rates.

Coming up with an effective way of reversing increased dropout rates was an early reference to the State Government’s Social Inclusion Initiative. It was clear that a 'one size fits all' approach was deemed useless. So we looked at more targeted ways of re-engaging with those young people most at risk of dropping out of school or who had already done so. The method that was adopted is now being hailed in Australia and internationally as a 'best practice' social innovation which puts the local community at the centre of decision making.

Our program is formally known as the "Innovative Community Action Networks" but is more commonly know as ICAN. An ICAN is a local partnership that is given both the power and the resources to help tackle issues that contribute to young people dropping out of their education. Each local ICAN is quite different in its approach and in its membership, which in addition to the State funded ICAN Manager can also include parents, local police, Aboriginal youth workers, teachers, student councillors, NGOs and youth advisers. The key to ICANs success is recognising the complexity of needs each young person is facing and addressing those needs through an individualised case management approach. It involves community action that is flexible and innovative in helping young people at risk to re-engage with learning. Successful strategies draw upon the interests, strengths and aspirations of the young people themselves. They are given a voice and asked what they want and need to help them achieve their goals. It’s about a ‘tailor made’ curriculum which, at the same time, embraces a broader view of learning with pathways forward to further education and real jobs.

So, how does it work?

One ICAN developed a specific program for young, teenage mothers who had dropped out of school and were living isolated and often impoverished lives, with part time or casual employment such as working in a take-away or as a cleaner. This ICAN purchased a bus to pick up the young mums and take them to school where on-site child care was available to allow the students to be close to their children, who were often babies. An ICAN Case Manager helps each student with an individual learning plan focussed on their goals. Apart from accredited classes to assist them to complete their schooling these young mothers also received tailored lessons around parenting skills, such as budget management, nutrition and resume writing. Importantly, case managers assist their students to stay on course with their education, helping them to deal with challenges so that they are not distracted from their studies.

It is important to stress that each ICAN can differ so that it can be a better fit for local and individual needs, cultures and circumstances. However, personal case management sits at the heart of the ICAN approach. Outcomes are closely monitored and program evaluation occurs regularly.

So what are the outcomes? Between 2004 and 2010 more than 9,000 teenage students were involved in ICAN, with the program achieving more than a 70% success rate. This means that more than 6,000 students, who would have otherwise left school, are learning and earning. By 2010, South Australia recorded a school retention rate of 84.2% - an increase from a low of 67.2% in 1999.

Another policy initiative that has proven very effective is the Premier’s Reading Challenge, which borrowed ideas from similar literacy initiatives around Australia and from the United States. In South Australia, our Reading Challenge has been embraced by more than 95% of our public, private and religious schools. I am told it has the highest participation of any reading initiative in the world. The Challenge involves students from the age of five until 14 reading a minimum of 12 books (but often many more) upon which they are tested for comprehension. If they successfully complete the program each student receives a signed certificate from the Premier in the first year, a bronze medal in the second year, then silver, then gold followed by "Legend" and "Hall of Fame" etc. Top sports stars, celebrities and children's authors go out to schools as Premier's Reading Challenge Ambassadors to promote the program and read to the students.

There is no doubt that the medals presented in end of year ceremonies in the schools plus the Ambassadors have played a major role in the success and extraordinary popularity of the Reading Challenge. At first the younger children love the idea of the medals but then they fall in love with the books! Because of our concerns about childhood obesity we established a similar program, the Premier's Be Active Challenge, to encourage fitness and have banned junk food from school canteens.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do – Part II: Social Innovation - Reducing homelessness

 

10 years ago, as a brand new government, we wanted to take a fresh look at how we could better tackle our most difficult social problems such as a mental health crisis; low retention rates in too many schools and gang related youth crime. We were concerned traditional ways of dealing with these problems weren't working as well as they should. We were frustrated that government agencies tended to operate in silos and too often dealt with complex, inter-related social issues separately; treating the symptoms not the causes. Our first priority was to tackle homelessness. Homelessness is not just a problem about a lack of affordable housing. It is much more about alcoholism, drug dependency; mental illness; unemployment, a lack of skills and self esteem and sometimes criminal behaviour. So, Monsignor David Cappo (www.david-cappo.com), a renowned social justice advocate, was appointed to head our pioneering Social Inclusion Initiative.

I asked him to look around the world for ‘ideas that work' and some of his best came from the United States.

We wanted him to confront the hardest end of homelessness, those ‘sleeping rough' in city parks, under bridges or dependent upon shelters for support. We found that government agencies and charities, while working hard to support homeless people, were too often operating in isolation. I am not diminishing their valuable work in providing food, shelter and care. But we wanted to take the next step by helping homeless people find a home and also move into a productive and fulfilling life.

Cappo proposed a series of programs including our Street to Home initiative, based on the successful New York model. It actively seeks out homeless people and connects them with the range of services they need to achieve a sustainable housing outcome. While finding a home is the main goal, addressing issues such as physical and mental health, substance abuse and other barriers to housing are equally important.

Street to Home workers engage with homeless people wherever they are – such as in a park or on the streets. Once contact is made, the person is assessed across different areas of their life. A Street to Home ‘key worker' will then work with them on a one-to-one basis for the duration of their support. They will work assertively with the person and not let go of them until sustainable housing is achieved. A comprehensive plan based on the person's goals is developed – in their own words. Street to Home makes finding housing the foremost priority so that services and supports can be delivered to the person in the one place.

Street to Home advocates on behalf of the client and coordinates with other services and resources. This way, everyone is on the same page and the person doesn't have to keep repeating their story to different agencies. Priority is also given to developing the person's capacities, such as financial management and domestic skills, to help ensure their housing is given the greatest chance of being long-term. Once housed, Street to Home maintains regular contact to assist with matters as they arise.

Now adopted around Australia, Street to Home is playing a significant role in Social Inclusion's efforts to reduce homelessness by 50% in the Adelaide CBD.

New York was also the inspiration for Common Ground with inner city apartments especially designed for homeless people who now live in a small ‘community' with other low income people including artists. They are supported by a range of specialist services on site to assist them to re-integrate into society. Common Ground was an initiative that followed the work in New York, of social entrepreneur Rosanne Haggerty. Like Street to Home, Common Ground has proven so successful that it has ‘gone national' attracting support from business and governments. The concept is to bring together a mix of people on low incomes into high quality residential complexes comprising well furnished, self contained apartments, communal areas plus office space for a range of support services and workshops. Common Ground's embrace of life skills to foster greater independence; the arts to build confidence; further education and training as a pathway to employment, has contributed to its success.

Last year I met a young woman, a long term resident of Common Ground, whose life from the age of 13 had been damaged by alcohol, drugs, couch surfing, homelessness, years of domestic violence and serious drug addiction. She nearly died of an accidental overdose in 2003. She is now clean of drugs, has completed a behavioural science degree and a second degree in biochemistry with a 1st class place, winning the Dean's commendation and the University Medal for academic excellence. She now has a scholarship and is completing a PhD with plans to do a medical degree as well. She wants to help others.

"I'm just one success story at Common Ground – there are many others. We have gifted musicians, artists and writers; People studying and working in all types of areas; People rebuilding their families. People with chronic health problems who are now getting the help they need. Some came to Common Ground very broken and mentally unwell. They found a safe, stable place to rebuild themselves, to heal.

Common Ground is more than just a roof over our heads – it's about believing that each person has something unique to offer if they are given the chance to stop just surviving and start growing. It's a place where people are not judged by their past, but supported into their future. Common Ground allows people to realise their potential, then pass their story, their success…onto others – like I am here today."

Hospitals are also playing a role in tackling homelessness.

For years homeless people, when they became ill, were taken to emergency departments. They were treated and discharged, usually back into homelessness. They would then get sick or injured again, treated and then discharged once more back on to the streets. This approach perpetuated the problem at high cost to the individual and taxpayers alike. So in 2004, we set up the Community Liaison Team (CLT) aimed at ‘joining up' health services with housing, mental health, drug and alcohol services. This approach is now embedded in the operations of the emergency departments of two of Adelaide's biggest public hospitals.

The CLT's first task is to identify homeless people -or those at risk of homelessness-who are admitted to hospital. If the person is assessed as needing accommodation upon their discharge, CLT staff will work closely with them to develop a case plan. This involves finding accommodation but also addresses physical and mental issues, substance misuse, family support and the person's financial and legal situation.

In devising and executing the plan the CLT joins up with other services and advocates on behalf of the client to achieve a smoother transition into accommodation. The CLT also provides outreach services. This may include attending appointments with the client, assisting their search for accommodation and following up with the client once they are in their new home. The team helps develop coping skills, including budgeting, meal planning and preparation, and relocation from temporary accommodation such as a 'transition bed' in a boarding house, to their new home. CLT engagement with a client is usually short term (a maximum of three months) during which a lead agency responsible for ongoing case management is then identified.

Between 2004 and June 2010, 1,132 people entering emergency departments were assisted into accommodation. A further 724 people at risk were assisted to prevent them falling into homelessness. Many of the people helped would have otherwise been discharged back into rough sleeping where their health and well being would have further deteriorated. This means that not only has the CLT helped to significantly reduce homelessness but it has also reduced the amount of repeat emergency department admissions by individuals who use the service.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.