In recent times the biggest pivot in climate change action has undoubtedly been the election of Joe Biden and President of the United States, whose vision and plans have been described as ‘breathtaking’. More of that later.
However, here in Oz a number of things changed within a 24 hour period.
There was a seeming capitulation by Labor to the demands of Joel Fitzgibbon to get rid of Mark Butler in the climate change portfolio,
An ad hoc group including John Hewson and Will Steffen, the Climate Targets Panel, released a report that took a look at what Australia’s fair contribution to the Paris Agreement should be,
The National Party issued a report arguing the necessity of building coal-fired power stations, inter alia,
and Dr Andrew Forrest AO delivered the first Boyer Lecture 2020 on Rebooting Australia — How ethical entrepreneurs can help shape a better future.
Seriously, Forrest’s lecture was amazing, and the Dr is not honorary, he actually completed a PhD in marine ecology last year.
He plots two futures, one where we continue to degrade the planet, another more optimistic, where human societies could navigate current threats, achieve a sustainable future, and inaugurate a future more marvellous than what was achieved in the Holocene. He is interested in humans becoming electronic beings, which I’d see as a dystopia. Nevertheless, if humans act together, in the interest of the the broad ecology, including our species as a whole, our future could be bright.
In the real world we take action within nation states, which typically put the nation’s interest, however derived, ahead of other nations or indeed ahead humanity as a whole.
Internationally through the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) we are offered scenarios on climate change where, at best, the already bad will get worse. In the case of the latest IPCC 1.5°C report we are offered a 50% chance of avoiding the worst of a dangerous climate. Meanwhile, even if ‘successful’ sea levels will continue to rise, the Great Barrier Reef will be devastated, bad weather, droughts, floods and wildfires will get worse.
Unfortunately in Australia we have a government in power that intends to meet it’s commitments through cheap accounting tricks, where its environment department sees emissions continuing to rise through to 2030. Given that we are one of the largest per capita emitters in the OECD, our Paris commitments are exceptionally modest at 26-28% from 2005 levels. Those were initial commitments. A point overlooked is that under the Paris Agreement parties we undertook to ratchet up our commitments post 2020.
a revised worst-case sea-level rise scenario of 2.5 metres by 2100, 5.5 metres by 2150 and 9.7 metres by 2200. It says sea level science has “advanced significantly over the last few years, especially (for) land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica under global warming”, and hence the “correspondingly larger range of possible 21st century rise in sea level than previously thought”.
When Elon Musk dramatically promised to build a grid-scale battery in South Australia, the media was enthralled. Share traders and a string of Australian fund managers smirked. They’d seen it all before, and were shorting him in the market.
In that very week he was in the market with plans to raise $US1.15 billion in equity and convertible notes. I understand also that Tesla has gone strangely quiet about SA since then. Continue reading Climate clippings 201→
The countries’ 2030 emissions reduction targets (otherwise known as its INDCs) were about half ‘inadequate’ and half ‘medium’. The categories ‘sufficient’ and ‘role model’ were nowhere to be found. Australia was ranked ‘inadequate’. Continue reading Climate clippings 182→
His boss, Pauline Hanson, thinks he has the “true facts”, and in denialists quarters he has gained a reputation for exposing corruption in the IPCC, the CSIRO and elsewhere. Continue reading Climate clippings 177→
The Climate Change Authority has been a thorn in the side for the Abbott Government, as we’ve seen over time. The Abbott government tried to kill the Authority, but was thwarted by the Senate.
Now Bernie Fraser, John Quiggin, David Karoly and other good people have been replaced by a bunch who support Direct Action as a policy and seem less than enthusiastic about renewable energy. If the comment by Larissa Waters at the end of the linked piece is correct the Nationals did a “deal with Malcolm Turnbull to keep Tony Abbott’s woeful climate policies in exchange for support.” Continue reading Climate clippings 154→
When the first named cyclone in July appeared off the Queensland coast some asked whether this was caused by climate change. My response would be that a single event is weather. Climate is about changes in the patterns of weather over time.
At its December meeting of ministers in Paris the UNFCCC will strike a post-Kyoto international deal on climate mitigation post 2020. Countries were asked to put forward their draft plans by the end of March. Abbott deliberately ignored the deadline, putting forward a discussion paper (see Emissions reduction the Abbott way) with a submissions deadline of 24 April. Australia will submit its proposals in May. In this way Abbott has the chance to look at everyone else’s homework before he writes his own. Continue reading Abbott is making Australia a joke on climate change→
He says he’s not a denier or a sceptic, so let’s just call him a fruitcake. In the recent ministerial reshuffle Bob Baldwin has been moved from Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry to Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister.
Baldwin told the Chinese that the climate had been changing for millions of years and we wouldn’t have coal, oil or gas without climate change. That’s a typical denialist tack. Elsewhere he quoted that well-known authority on everything, Queensland radio shock-jock Michael Smith. If the atmosphere was a bridge a kilometre long, he said, the first 770 metres would be nitrogen, the next 210 metres oxygen, and so on until you come to CO2. Australia’s contribution of CO2 is the equivalent to 0.18 millimetres, the width of a human hair.
2. Bernie Fraser sends a Christmas message to Abbott
Basically, keep the Renewable Energy Target (RET), it all you’ve got, and the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) may not meet its initial target of 5% emissions reductions by 2020. In any case it is not scalable to meet the targets we are likely to be committed to post 2020.
The Climate Change Authority has just completed its review of the RET and a review of the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), as mandated in the establishing legislation. I’d recommend reading Bernie’s Chairman’s Statement.
The CCA recommends extending the achievement date of the RET by up to three years, but this is the big picture:
The Authority has argued consistently throughout its short life that an effective policy response to the risks of climate change requires favourable winds on at least two fronts:
• first, a broad community consensus that climate change poses real risks to the community; and
• secondly, a well-stocked toolbox to be able to tap into opportunities to reduce emissions wherever they occur.
Neither exists today. The earlier broad political consensus has ruptured in recent years, and no early repair is in prospect. And the tool box is feeling less weighty, with the removal of the carbon pricing mechanism, an unproven ERF, and an uncertain outlook for the RET.
Before Christmas when Tony Abbott was asked what he’d achieved as Minister for Women he nominated dumping the carbon tax. At the same time the Canadian PM Stephen Harper, Abbott’s soul-mate on climate policy, suggested that he was open to a country-wide carbon pricing scheme similar to the one implemented in Alberta.
In Alberta, energy heavy polluting companies are required to reduce their energy intensity, or improve their energy efficiency, annually. If they don’t, they must contribute to a technology fund at $15 a tonne for carbon emissions.
“I think it’s a model on which you could, on which you could go broader,” Harper said in Wednesday’s interview.
Tesla is opening a battery swap station between Los Angeles and San Francisco on a pilot basis to see whether the idea goes anywhere. Zachary Shahan, the author of the linked piece, suggests perhaps not. The swap must be done by appointment and although it may be completed in less than a minute it would cost almost as much as a tank of premium. The alternative is free Supercharging for Tesla owners.
5. Technology on the move
In the same issue of RenewEconomy as the Tesla battery swap item above were three other technology announcements.
The large investor Australian Super has been asking banks about their climate change risk policies. It sounds as though banks are pretending to be more active than they really are, but it is clear that the investment landscape has changed forever. If the banks have not been actively concerned, they soon will.
Former Coalition opposition leader John Hewson, who chairs the Asset Owners Disclosure Project
is considering “naming and shaming” how the world’s 1000 biggest banks are responding to carbon risk, something it already does for pension funds.
If we didn’t know before, we know now that Clive Palmer will do a deal with the devil. He’s going to vote for a scheme that he comprehensively rubbished, said was a complete waste of money and he would never vote for it.
Clive Palmer won a Government commitment to salvage the Climate Change Authority and to ask it to conduct an 18-month review of the PUP plan to legislate an emissions trading scheme (ETS) at a zero rate.
This is of course a good thing. I understand that the Climate Change Authority will have something to say about targets before we have to make commitments in Paris next December. And the review can take into account Paris outcomes. The review and the work of the CCA may provide a road to redemption for the backsliders in the LNP. Bernie Fraser sees his task in this light, as he was quoted on PM:
What you’ve heard today is perhaps the beginning, the beginnings of an emerging broad, broader political consensus on climate change and the need to take effective action. Because that’s what this country needs more than anything else – the development of a broad political consensus.
Of course, the Government needs six votes from the cross bench.
Victorian senators Ricky Muir and John Madigan and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon have also given their vote to the Government after negotiations.
To win the necessary support, the government has accepted a proposal by Senator Xenophon to put in place a “safeguard mechanism” to ensure companies comply with the scheme’s requirements.
Details of the safeguard mechanism will be mapped out later. Observers expect it to include some form of penalty for companies that fail to meet government-set benchmarks, although it remains uncertain what the penalties would be.
Uncertain too what the benchmarks will be.
Not included was Xenephon’s proposal to set aside $500 million to buy carbon offsets from abroad to ensure the target is met. No doubt that would be too much like carbon trading for the LNP to stomach.
Christine Milne slammed the direct action policy as “embarrassing”. She reminded us that Palmer helped the Government tear down the ETS. Here’s their Facebook entry.
“Tony Abbott has once again sold his soul to Clive Palmer and Australia will pay the price,” he said.
“This is a dirty deal that will send our country backwards.”
“Moreover, we are deeply concerned that the amendments to the CFI Bill fail to establish a climate policy that gives a reasonable chance of achieving even the lowest level of Australia’s 5-25 per cent 2020 target range, let along the deeper decarbonisation of the economy that will be needed beyond 2020. The Climate Change Authority has recommended Australia adopt a 2030 emission reduction target of 40-60 per cent below 2000 levels.”
“Without access to international carbon permits, stronger domestic regulations will be needed to meet Australia’s emission goals. The ‘safeguard mechanisms’ in the legislation—the emission limits that companies will have to adhere to—will need to be very strong and get more stringent over time, and regulations to limit emissions and tighten energy efficiency standards across the economy will also be needed.”
Greg Jericho made the excellent point that the Abbott Government “has been extremely successful in making climate change policy more about electricity prices than about climate change.” Maybe Bernie Fraser and the CCA can gently nudge it in a different direction!
Update: Bret Harper and Hugh Grossman give the detail of the agreement on Direct Action. They include:
The government will also withdraw its Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2014 and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014 during the Spring 2014 parliamentary sittings.
The CCA will produce three reports, going into targets for Copenhagen as well as emissions trading schemes.
Hi. You might know me from such blogs as the late, great Larvatus Prodeo. For those of you who don’t, my day job is teaching software engineering at Monash University, but I’ve had a long-standing interest in public policy, and particularly the intersection between climate change and public policy. I hope you find my posts an interesting addition to the blog!
The (possibly reprieved) Climate Change Authority has continued to produce high-quality analysis that a sane federal government should examine very closely, and its latest report is no exception. It advocates for a mandatory emissions target for light vehicles (that is, vehicles you can drive on a car licence) sold in Australia, and proposes some design principles and options for implementation.
The proposed scheme would establish “fleet-wide” emissions targets for manufacturers, with an adjustment for vehicle footprint; that is, the target for a particular vehicle is adjusted by the size of that vehicle. As the report puts it,
The standard should differentiate obligations based on the size (footprint) of the vehicle, ensuring equity across suppliers while maintaining consumer choice and maximising flexibility. This approach ensures that the option to lightweight vehicles,
a major emissions reduction strategy in new vehicle design, is maintained.
I’m a bit ambivalent about this, and it shows one of the weaknesses in this kind of regulatory mandate as compared to alternative approaches like simply increasing fuel taxes. All things being equal, smaller vehicles are more fuel efficient than larger vehicles; encouraging people to make the switch away from vehicles than they need would actually be a good thing. But a flat target would encourage manufacturers who sell an above-average proportion of small cars to not do anything, as they will be able to meet their targets without actually improving their vehicles beyond business as usual.
In any case, what is most striking about this is how out of step with global practice Australia is; most other OECD countries have an enforceable fuel efficiency target of one kind or another. As Evan Beaver pointed out on Twitter, it was mostly another aspect of the multitude of small-beer decisions taken to protect the Australian car industry. Since the demise of Corolla production, Australia’s domestic producers have exclusively churned out large vehicles, mostly with large, not particularly sophisticated petrol engines. When combined with Australia’s low levels of fuel taxation, this further encouraged Australians to indulge their long-standing penchant for large, powerful and thirsty vehicles. The consequence of this is one of the most fuel-inefficient light vehicle fleets in the world, matched only by the USA with its love for Ford F-150s and Chevy Suburbans.
One of the great things about doing this is that it’s actually a net win for the country even ignoring the social costs of climate change; the extra costs of more fuel efficient technologies in vehicles are more than outweighed by the lifetime value of the fuel savings. As a society, the report estimates that rather than paying costs to avoid carbon emissions, every tonne of carbon emissions avoided through this policy would also result in a net saving of over $350. You might wonder why this policy is actually necessary; the short answer is that both consumers and businesses seem to undervalue emission savings when considering a new vehicle purchase. I’d prefer to fix this with fuel taxes and congestion charging, but if that’s not on the table it’s a reasonable alternative.
Even within a model range, the savings by simply changing the mix of drivetrain variants available are substantial. The Climate Change Authority compared the fuel efficiency of models available in both the UK and Australia, and found that, on average, the most efficient models available in Australia emit 20% more emissions than the most efficient models available in the UK. That probably overstates the difference between the typical models sold in Oz and Blighty, as many of the economy specials sold are heavily compromised to the point of impracticality and sell in tiny numbers. But even if you assume a 5% difference in the economy of your average Pommy Toyota Corolla and the Australian equivalent, that adds up to a lot of money.
Based on the data in the report and my assumption that Australian fuel usage is 5% higher than it might otherwise be purely because of the engine variant choices within a model range due to the lack of fuel economy targets, this results in Australian consumers and businesses burning about 1.2 billion litres more petrol than they otherwise might. At the current fuel price, that’s 1.8 billion dollars a year, every year, wasted, in that long and ultimately futile attempt to keep the Australian car industry alive.
The demise of the Australian car manufacturing industry represents an opportunity to fix a number of boneheaded transport policies. It would be nice if this anomaly was one of them.