It’s called co-design in the academic world – where you build the research with community partners. And we know that it’s the most powerful form of creating a pathway to new knowledge. “You go slower, but you produce new ideas.”

Australia has been in panic mode on climate for a decade, and has gone backwards, according to post-doctoral Fellow and lead researcher at the Sydney Policy Lab Dr Amanda Tattersall.

Dr Tattersall says a different approach is needed to be successful in solving the climate change crisis, rather than than the cultivation of fear, denial and dichotomies of economy or environment that currently dominate.

Inspired by the onslaught of green responses to the COVID-19 pandemic emerging globally, she has co-designed –  as part of a coalition encompassing more than 10 organisations – The Real Deal.

“We wanted to come at this with a different pace in mind a bit more slow thinking rather than fast thinking in response to the crisis,” she said.

“We saw the problem was that there was no substantive political framework by which we can measure and approach policy work.”

This means there is no way of evaluating policies presented by both government and non-government organisations.

“There is a percentage of people who are aware that climate change is a problem and there is another percentage of people who are scared about the implications of climate change,” she said.

“Panic-policy doesn’t bring them on board, it polarises them away.”

The Real Deal calls for a drastic change

Dr Tattersall said the solutions to a thriving economy developed in the 20th century no longer work. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted stark inequalities which have long existed, and it has put government policy and spending in an unforgiving spotlight.

But, Dr Tattersall says, it has also highlighted the enormous capacity society has to respond to a crisis.

The coalition argues the economy needs to be drastically altered to avert climate change and overcome longstanding inequalities.

The Real Deal encompasses five benchmarks to reimagine the political landscape and foster participatory power rather than top down traditional structures that, Dr Tattersall argues, has failed to listen to groups on the frontline.

The plan suggests that while stimulus spending is important, it is insufficient to address the critical issues the country is facing

“No good policy is invented by squeezing it out of the brains of a bureaucrat in Canberra,” she said.

“One of the values that has come out of Covid is this recognition that no one can do this on their own, we all need to work together.”

The benchmarks “distinguish a real deal on the basis of whether it is genuinely transformative, addresses inequality and insecurity, makes plans for meeting social and environmental needs, and is both participatory and collaborative,” the researchers state in their paper.

The Real Deal isn’t just a blueprint for a better political landscape, it has real world solutions for the economy and climate crisis based on partner research and initiatives.

From health industry superfund HESTA’s Climate Change Transition Plan to 700 per cent renewables comes a goal to harness the nation’s excess of renewable energy capacity and become a leading exporter.

It draws attention to Cooperative Power, an energy retailer operating in Victoria, South-East Queensland, NSW, the ACT, and South Australia, owned by community and environmental groups that rather than chase profits, use the collective power of its members to source and support clean energy at affordable prices.

Voices for Power is a campaign which brings together often unheard voices –  the Pacific, South Asian, Vietnamese, Philippine, Muslim, Middle Eastern Christian, and Jewish communities – to find solutions to energy stress for low socio-economic groups residing in the hottest parts of Sydney.

The Real Deal highlights that increased government expenditure alone is not enough.

“There can never be a unified Australia without Indigenous justice, economic justice, racial justice and climate justice,” the paper states.

The researchers claim bold plans are needed to break down “siloed and segmented approaches” to big problems, and argue that investment and policymaking need to integrate social, cultural and environmental co-benefits.

The wins, the researchers state, are multiple.

An example provided is the betterment of societal wellbeing, and closing of the gender pay gap by investing in the skills and wages of care workers.

Another highlights that multifaceted policy can build better quality housing while moving Australia towards a zero carbon economy.

“Public investment needs to be guided by economic and wellbeing considerations, not partisan calculations,” the paper states.

Panic doesn’t get anyone anywhere, least of all out of a crisis

Realising most organisations, businesses and political parties respond to a crisis by “jumping to quick-fix solutions”, the researchers wanted to put forth an “original and distinctive contribution”, Dr Tattersall said.

“Most people move towards fast thinking, in a panic, when there is a crisis,” she said.

“One of the big questions during the real deal was thinking about what can our distinctive and original contribution be… what’s the most useful thing we can bring to this debate that isn’t being done already.”

Dr Tattersall said she has been fighting for a “slower process” to tackle the climate catastrophe for the past decade and the evidence is in: “we’ve tried fast thinking for a decade and the issue has just failed”. 

As the researchers began to build the Real Deal, consulting with dozens of organisations, they realised work “on a deeper level” was largely being ignored.

“It’s called co-design in the academic world, where you build the research with community partners. And we know that from journals like Nature, which we cite in the document, that it’s the most powerful form of creating a pathway to create new knowledge,” Dr Tattersall said.

“You go slower, but you produce new ideas, because of the way in which you bring so many different perspectives and views to the table.

“We thought that could be the different thing that we can bring to the conversation.”

‘COVID-19 has laid bare cracks in our society’

The Real Deal is brought together by academics and leading voices from the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Climate Justice Union, GetUp!, Jesuit Social Services, Queensland Community Alliance, Sydney Alliance, Tomorrow Movement, United Workers Union, Victoria Trades Hall and many more.

Matt Rose, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s economist says the Real Deal “puts climate change at the centre”.

“It says we need to take action but in the context of justice for people who have been left behind in other recessions,” he said.

“Bold plans for renewables will help transform many existing industries and secure their future, and a clean energy export industry will create new jobs and opportunities across the country.”

To him, the notion of slower thinking lies in putting more thought into infrastructure and long-term investment, and “creating a vision”.

“Short term solutions are often technological like solar panels and wind farms –  which are very relevant and very important ­– but we also need to demonstrate to the community that the work we do to address climate change is going to create less pollution, greener cities and more comfortable and affordable places to live.

“That stuff has a longer arc.”

Sydney Policy Lab director, Professor Marc Stears said the Real Deal calls for a “business not as usual” mindset, and more opportunities for people with lived experience of issues to be involved in solution-oriented decision-making.

Another case study in the report flags the  housing justice organisation which quickly recognised the ramifications COVID-19 would have on housing vulnerability.

Run by people with lived experience of housing stress, homelessness, family and domestic violence, they coordinated an emergency response with the local council, which resulted in immediate housing for 18 local people, as well as wraparound mental health, food, and transport services.  

“COVID-19 has laid bare cracks in our society, with already vulnerable populations bearing the brunt of the suffering,” professor Stears said.

“The Real Deal presents a long-term approach that transcends politics, and, if implemented, would make the country safer, fairer and healthier for everyone.”

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