Oxfam Australia responds on Better Power

August 28, 2015
Solar and wind renewable energy
Solar and wind renewable energy

This is a reply by Oxfam Australia's Climate Change Policy Advisor Simon Bradshaw to Andrea Bunting’s article “GetUp!-Oxfam’s Powershop partnership raises questions” in Green Left Weekly #1064.

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As a leading international development agency working around the world, Oxfam is seeing the world’s poorest people made even more vulnerable through the increasing risk of droughts, floods, hunger and disease due to climate change.

We’ve been working for a decade for stronger national and international responses to climate change. We will be sending a small delegation to the UN climate change negotiations in Paris later this year in order to help amplify the voices of vulnerable countries and communities, and to do our best to ensure that Paris sets us on the path to climate justice.

We did not enter into the relationship with Powershop lightly. We carried out due diligence and feel we have a strong values alignment with the company. We believe the relationship will help poor people who are bearing the brunt of climate change, both immediately by providing extra funding for programs to help them, and in the long term by reducing Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In the current funding environment, in order to continue our vital work to lift people out of poverty, we need to think outside the square in terms of how we raise money.

When people switch to Powershop through Oxfam, they are automatically put on to the standard offer, which is 100% carbon offset. Should people want to support renewable energy projects in Australia, they can choose to purchase GreenPower.

Bunting’s article is critical of this and suggests that Oxfam should only be supporting Greenpower. Yes, indeed we would love it if everyone chose Greenpower, but we recognise it’s an individual choice, and not everyone is able to make it.

We recognise that the work Powershop is doing towards moving us away from a reliance on fossil fuels and toward renewable energy will help lessen emissions, which in turn will help reduce the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest people.

Green Left Weekly also is critical of Oxfam’s support for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects.

We have been critical of offsets, given that sometimes projects supported by the CDM would have gone ahead in any case, which means they are not additional emissions-reducing projects.

The CDM also supports some projects to reduce the emissions from burning fossil fuels. Oxfam would prefer to see support go to renewable energy.

Also, in a small number of cases, CDM projects have been linked with human rights abuses, including projects that have resulted in people being displaced from their land.

However, we have done our due diligence and are satisfied that the projects that Powershop currently supports do not have any negative impacts on local communities.

One of these projects is a biogas project that captures the methane emitted by the wastewater from a tapioca starch manufacturing plant in Indonesia, which is then used to produce energy. The project stops methane (a potent greenhouse gas) from going into the atmosphere; by using it to produce energy, it reduces the plant’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Other projects are a landfill gas management project in Colombia and a landfill gas to electricity project in Thailand. We will continue to liaise with Powershop regarding any future projects, to ensure that no project will harm communities.

Bunting’s article makes the point that more generally, offsetting Australian emissions is problematic, and that it is worrying that some environmental NGOs are promoting this.

We couldn’t agree more, and our support for Powershop in no way means we do not think emissions reductions begin “at home”. As the worst per capita polluter among developed countries, Australia has a responsibility to drastically slash its own emissions and should not be outsourcing our responsibilities to developing countries.

The Australian government should also be doing much more to support renewable energy development in developing countries and help communities adapt to the escalating impacts of climate change. You might be interested to see our press release on the government’s post-2020 target announcement (archived by Internet Archive) earlier this week.

You also make the point that “to force governments to slash carbon emissions we need to build mass action — a people’s power movement”.

We agree, which is why we’re firmly focused on helping build a powerful movement for real action on climate change. In addition to campaigning and organising in Australia, working alongside a broad range of groups and organisations, we are also focused on supporting communities in the region, and particularly in the Pacific, in their determined efforts to hold the international community to account.

You might also be interested in our Powering Up Against Poverty (archived by Internet Archive) report, released recently, which challenged the spin of the coal industry and the government to reveal that coal is not good for humanity:

In short, Oxfam’s work to tackle climate change cuts across the entire agency, whether it is working with communities to help them adapt, to working to influence the policies of both governments and business.

Our relationship with Powershop is a small part of this work, and assists us in fundraising to help the most vulnerable.

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