Climate clippings 84

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Again I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition is mostly about the doings of our new government, prospective EU targets, a statement by religious leaders and a couple of items on health implications.

1. Greg Hunt’s role diminished

Whether or not Greg Hunt gets to go to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw from 11 to 22 November. Julie Bishop will henceforth be the lead negotiator in international climate talks.

The story in the AFR says Hunt has been “stripped of responsibility for global climate change negotiations”. He still gets to go and hang out at the talks. One might say that Australia’s representation has been upgraded. Suspicious minds might also think that Hunt couldn’t be trusted. He actually believes human activity causes global warming and might join the warmist urgers if not kept on a tight leash.

2. Emissions target easier to reach than thought

The main point of the article in the AFR’s was that departmental briefings have advised Hunt that the 5% target may be easier to meet than previously thought. The carbon price may have been doing some work but other things are at play. Rising electricity prices for reasons other than carbon pricing are an incentive to use less and to increase energy efficiency. Over a million homes have installed solar panels. The RET (Renewable Energy Target) of 20% is actually a number (41TWh), not a percentage. In the context of falling usage 41TWh could amount to 28%. Before the election the LNP supported that target.

Forestry activity is said to have declined.

It may just be possible with clean energy technology starting to grip that the LNP may reach the targets by doing nothing. The general stance seems to be that Abbott’s Australia will be a reluctant follower rather than a leader. As a high per capita emitter that is simply reprehensible.

We have to face the prospect, however, that those in charge of the asylum may be actively engaged in destroying the renewable energy industry, as Giles Parkinson warned back in June.

3. Dangerous thinking

Before the election Giles Parkinson warned about the new sources of advice behind the LNP’s thinking on renewable energy.

Many in the LNP look to the Institute of Public Affairs which is chock full of climate deniers.

Greg Hunt has been using the work of Bjorn Lomborg who is:

known for downplaying the dangers of climate change, for arguing that renewable energy should not be deployed until costs are reduced in research labs, and for suggesting that wacky “geo-engineering” schemes such as cloud whitening should be priorities.

Then there is their new “star” candidate Angus Taylor, the anti-wind campaigner elected in the seat of Hume in NSW. He’s been pushing a document which was put together under the banner of Port Jackson Partners, the consultancy where Taylor used to work.

The central theme of the report is that the Coalition could drop the renewable energy target entirely (and immediately), save up to $3.2 billion (or up to $300 a household) by 2020 and still meet emissions reduction targets. But it’s based around a whole series of false assumptions. It is more likely to push up costs by around $1 billion a year.

With access to all that advice clearly there is no need for the Climate Commission!

They’ve also stripped up to $500 million out of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), established in October 2011 to assist the implementation of renewable energy technologies and picked up in the Direct Action plan.

4. Europe weighing 40% emissions target by 2030

Meanwhile the Europeans are looking to the longer term according to Reuters at Climate Spectator.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one source said the Commission was considering two legal targets to follow the three green energy goals that expire at the end of this decade.

They would be a 40 per cent carbon-reduction goal and a 30 per cent renewable energy use target. That compares with the 2020 targets of a 20 per cent carbon cut from 1990 levels, a 20 per cent share of renewable energy and a target to improve energy savings to 20 per cent.

There is division, however, with Poland saying the EU should not make any promises until there is a global deal, which is not expected until 2015.

5. Religious leaders make climate change an election issue

Religious leaders representing the Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Catholic faith traditions entered the election campaign debate by calling on both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott to wind back coal exports and recognise the moral implications of inaction on climate change.

I heard it on the radio just before the election, but the open letter, organised by The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), dates from the late June.

6. South Australia’s perfect energy mix

Cleaner, greener, cheaper, we are told.

I don’t know where we go with all this. For one thing the situation differs from state to state. SA has more utility-scale renewables, Qld has more rooftop solar. The cost of grid upgrades to meet exceptional demand are spread over reduced sales of grid electricity. I know that adequate mathematical models to produce optimal pricing don’t exist because I know people who are working on them.

The current mob in charge may decide to go down the path of Spain and the Czech Republic and tax the solar electricity you produce on your roof.

The latest electricity storage idea uses ancient steam engine technology. I doubt that would help in a week of rain, however.

7. Living with wind turbines

It’s not so bad, according to farm hosts who are deriving an income from wind farms.

Australian filmmaker Neil Barrett has made a film in which 15 hosts and some of their neighbours from the central Victorian district near the town of Waubra tell what it’s like to live surrounded by large turbines.

Hosts get $8,000 per turbine and with 10 turbines you can effectively drought-proof your farm. So money seems an effective cure for “wind turbine syndrome”. Plus resentment that the name of the town has been appropriated by a feral group of anti-wind lobbyists, none of whom live within 125km of the town.

The author goes on to discuss other evidence about this supposed phenomenon.

8. Cleaner air from tackling climate change ‘would save millions of lives’

Finally, action on climate change can be justified on grounds of health alone.

West’s team compared two futures, one in which climate change is stabilised by aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and one in which emissions are not curbed. The scientists then modelled how this affected air pollutants and the consequent effects on health.

They found that 300,000-700,000 premature deaths a year would be avoided in 2030, 800,000 – 1.8 million in 2050 and 1.4 million to 3 million in 2100.

And here’s the money equation:

A key finding was that the value of the health benefits delivered by cutting a tonne of CO2 emissions was $50-$380, greater than the projected cost of cutting carbon in the next few decades. The benefits do not accrue from reductions in CO2 per se but because of associated pollutants released from burning fossil fuels.

10 thoughts on “Climate clippings 84”

  1. Don’t blame me! I didn’t vote for them!

    Thanks for that news about wind turbines. I’m surrounded by farmers and graziers who applauded the ditching of Tim Flannery (listening just now to news about his lateral tactic of Commission to Council 🙂 ). Not even $8000 for each unit would persuade them to allow wind turbines on their properties.

    There’s a Nobel Prize for Medicine waiting to be snatched by the first brilliant researcher who establishes a credible link between wind turbine syndrome and suburban train syndrome – although verifiable evidence for lip-quivering among echidnas living near Sydney suburban trainlines seems hard to find at present.

  2. I like the steam engine idea. Partly, I admit, because it’s relatively small scale – it looks like the sort of thing a rural collective could install.

    And possibly use the excess power in the summer to run a Haber-Bosch cycle or similar to produce fertiliser. Mind you, as soon as that starts happening the anti-tourist types will get very excited (“my farm produces ammonium nitrate and biodiesel… for peace!”).

    I am quite tempted to go down the path we went in NZ at one stage, and just buy to objecting people out. Ideally by pulling together Australian Bush Heritage with some pro-wind types to buy land to do bush regen on and help fund it by installing wind turbines. I’m sure there’s a business case there.

    We went to a community solar presentation the other day and someone in council mentioned that one problem that community solar groups face is that their business case is very strong. So they do a lot of work to identify a site, get everyone on board, even do design work and find suppliers, then the site owner ditches the community group and does the deal directly.

  3. Ronson, thanks for the link.

    GB, if you are where I think you are the farmers probably wouldn’t get $8,000 for each turbine. The wind blows best in southern Australia.

  4. Brian @ 4:
    Yes, you’re right about this location 🙂

    However, an enterprising gentleman bought some hilly land on the Capricorn Coast, away from residential areas, after reasonable examination of its wind farm potential …. and the rest is history, unfortunately.

    The biggest obstacle to wind power, solar power and ultra-low power is old-fashioned human obstinacy and timidity.

  5. “ultra-low power” , I love that term Graham. If it’s your own, congratulations and it will probably become widely used.

  6. Perhaps it is time we started defending the programs introduced during the Howard era and recognising the contribution direct action is and could make ro emission reduction.
    Standouts from the Howard era include the RET and lighting regulation.
    Our RET scheme is one of the few emission trading schemes in the world that is actually working. Better still, it is one of the few schemes that is not a defacto tax. As a result, its impact on power prices is much lower than that of the ineffective carbon tax. It is also worth noting that it makes sense to express the target in tWh/yr rather than %renewables. TWh/yr gives renewable investors more certainty.
    The efficient lighting scheme is also a world leader. It is a text book example of a case where simple regulation is far more cost effective than a carbon price based scheme.
    The FIT schemes driving investment in rooftop solar are a good example of both “putting a price on clean” and direct action. Any system based on setting up a long term contract for the supply of clean electricity is a clear example of direct action. The FIT schemes would be better if award of the contracts was based on some form of competitive bidding. (The ACT solar auction system does this for utility scale solar.)
    What other forms of direct action make sense?

  7. Salient Green @ 6:
    Don’t know if it is my own term – it simply came out of frustration at not being able to find a simple all-encompassing term.

  8. John D @ 7: Now you’ve given me something to ponder.
    Moz of Y @ 3: Ammonium nitrate is a terrific fertilizer (for those believe in the limited use of artificial fertilizers – I’m one). There are already plenty of creative measures to discourage its use in making IEDs so let’s go for it. (Oh, that’s right; if everyone started using home-made N fertilizer, the profits of the major fertilizer suppliers would take a tumble. Back to the drawing-board …. )

  9. John D @7: repeating yourself doesn’t make you any more convincing.

    There isn’t a shred of evidence that the carbon tax is “ineffective”. It has been in operation for slightly more than one year, and the evidence so far supports the view that it has had some impact. There’s good reason to suppose that, if it were allowed to continue unmolested, it will be effective in driving down emissions. You’re confusing your own bias with fact.

    The ban on incandescent lighting had the potential to be effective because there were readily available alternatives on the market. But what’s your basis for claiming that it’s more cost effective than a carbon price? Or even that it has been particularly effective at reducing emissions?

    My own suspicion is that the increase in electricity prices (from a range of factors, of which the carbon price is one but not necessarily the most significant) has been the main factor in reducing electricity consumption over the last few years, including from lighting. That (and the fact that most recent-era housing has halogen rather than traditional incandescent lighting), leads me to suspect that the ban on incandescent lighting was actually superfluous. But it’s just a suspicion. I won’t pretend it’s a fact.

    While I agree that the MRET scheme is a good one in general, you seem to consistently elide the enormous difficulties that have plagued the scheme since it was set up, because the way the scheme is structured has allowed it to be regularly undermined by political interference, causing constant instability in the price of RECs and a disruptive boom-bust cycle in renewable energy investment. The scheme has been a success because governments have (fortunately) made repeated decisions to increase the target, but the uncertainty and delays that have attended those decisions have caused regular episodes of chaos in the renewable energy industry.

    Moreover, the scheme’s ongoing success is still utterly dependent on present and future governments continuing to increase the target, and there is absolutely no certainty that this will occur. It’s also worth noting that although the MRET scheme has succeeded in increasing the renewable energy capacity in Australia, it has not put our emissions on a downward trajectory.

    IMHO the MRET scheme would actually be improved if it were made more like the carbon tax (i.e. with an independent statutory body setting and periodically increasing the target).

    If the FIT schemes are an example of “direct action”, they are certainly not a good one. They have been set in up,modified and abandoned in quick succession in an almost totally arbitrary manner, which has added to the chaos and uncertainty afflicting the renewable energy industry, and left domestic energy customers an in equal state of uncertainty. Good in theory, perhaps, but in practice, a big mess.

    The FIT schemes would be better if award of the contracts was based on some form of competitive bidding.

    They are. Potential FIT recipients choose their own renewable energy systems from a wide range of suppliers in a competitive market. Price is frequently the determinative factor. I would have thought that was perfectly obvious.

    Also, why not wake up and realise that “direct action” is just a slogan which provides a fig-leaf to the Abbott government’s do-nothing agenda. It does no good to the cause of reducing emissions by pretending that the rhetoric has meaning, or that the Howard era succeeded in reducing emissions. It did not.

    I agree we need to be closely looking at the range of options for reducing emissions in this difficult period, but that process should be based on a sensible appraisal of what works, what doesn’t and what could be improved in existing arrangements, not on some wrong-headed, “anything-but-the-carbon tax” fixation.

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