The year in review
For me the year began with the post Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now, wherein we were reminded that the time for significant action on climate change was now and that postponing such action would make things quite a lot harder.
This message was reinforced by the Climate Commission’s report The Critical Decade with the following message:
“This decade is critical. Unless effective action is taken, the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life.” “Without strong and rapid action there is a significant risk that climate change will undermine our society’s prosperity, health, stability and way of life.”
The urgency of action was reinforced with this graph:
This was followed by the Gillard Government’s Clean Energy Future (CEF) package, where we took the first tentative step towards significant climate mitigation.
In November the IEA World energy Outlook 2011 advised us that:
If internationally co-ordinated action is not taken by 2017, we project that … all new infrastructure from then … would need to be zero-carbon, unless emitting infrastructure is retired before the end of its economic lifetime to make headroom for new investment.
for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions. (Emphasis added)
At the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Durban in December, the countries of world decided to act in concert, but probably not until 2020.
The bottom line here is that however positively some construe the final outcomes of Durban we fluffed the opportunity of peaking world emissions by mid 2010s, and in doing so have made the task of dealing with climate change a whole lot more difficult. And dramatically lessened our chances of avoiding dangerous warming.
So it’s three out of ten from me at best and “must try harder”, definitely no koala stamp.
Some reviews of 2011
Gwynne Dyer includes climate change with the Arab spring and the euro crisis as the three big stories of 2011. He is scathing about the Durban conference:
It is not the first time that short-term self-interest has triumphed over the long-term common interest, but it may be the worst time. By 2020 it will probably be impossible to prevent the rise in average global temperature from exceeding 2°C, which is generally agreed to be the point of no return. After that, we will probably find ourselves in a new world of runaway warming. We know it, and yet we do nothing.
John Vidal at The Guardian describes 2011 as “another ecologically tumultuous year”. He does summarise some good news towards the end, including, as he sees it, the Durban conference.
Not everyone agrees about Durban, but this article (via Climate Spectator) gives six clear reasons why Durban was important, and contemplates what failure would have meant. It also makes the point that the level of ambition will be revisited in the light of the next IPCC report from 2013.
Jo Romm at Climate Progress picks Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security as the story of the year. Here’s a better image of the 33 commodity index graph.
According to Bloomberg renewable energy surpassed fossil fuels for the first time in new power-plant investments:
Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data.
We saw items like this in the MSM suggesting renewables were approaching cost competitiveness with fossil fuel power generation. As jumpy linked in the last thread, the solar industry is shaking out, but such is inevitable.
Climate Progress lists its Top 10 Clean Energy Stories of 2011 almost half of them about solar.
One might say that in 2011 renewables and solar in particular came of age.
Missed opportunities in Oz
Richard Dennis at environment360 explains to the world how he thinks we missed the boat with our “carbon tax”. It ignores the science, doesn’t go nearly far enough in reducing the nation’s CO2 emissions, and will not transform the way we produce and consume energy, he says.
I thought Fergus Green provided a more closely argued case. He goes through the numbers and concludes that we have opted for a “slightly less dirty energy future” package, which scarcely reduces emissions at all.
We need a change in mindset, he says. We need to start with the science. If we do we’ll conclude that:
He says a carbon market should be a “support mechanism that multiplies the effect of a whole range of other measures.”
A message from Curt Stager
I’ll end with a quote from Curt Stager’s book Deep Future: the next 100,000 years of life on earth:
In this new Age of Humans, our thoughts and desires have become powerful environmental forces in their own rights, and how we think and act can be as important to millions of other human (and other species) as to ourselves. The better we know and respect each other as people, the more we’re likely to learn from one another, the more likely we are to understand each other’s needs and goals, and the more likely we are to cooperate effectively for our mutual benefit. Greenhouse pollution problems will not be solved piecemeal, and there is also no way to avoid making a collective choice one way or the other. We’ll either decide to solve them as a self-aware global community or we’ll decide to suffer through them together as a disjointed mob of individuals. (Emphasis added)
Fergus Green above called for a change in the government’s mindset. Christine Milne came away from Durban with a worrying story about how Australia was perceived at the conference:
“They’re saying ‘Australia has done the right thing domestically. Why are they here in Durban not supporting higher action, not actually being on the right side in the negotiations?'”
It’s more than possible we are still stuck with a Quarry Vision. To be fair, go here and watch the video clip of what Greg Combet had to say under harassment from Chris Uhlmann. But remember, he does represent a coal mining electorate and Martin Ferguson is Minister for Resources.
If 2011 is a guide, the best we can look forward to is competent following, not leadership in the international context.