Archive for the ‘News’ Category

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Greens denounce Gillard Labor government

19 February 2013

The Greens have publicly distanced themselves from the Labor government in the leadup to the Australian federal election on 14 September.

Last month, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott each launched their party’s election campaign with a National Press Club speech. (Gillard discussed economic policy, hinted at more budget cuts, and announced the election date; Abbott reiterated past promises including a budget surplus.) Today, Greens leader Christine Milne similarly addressed the National Press Club. In a strong speech, Milne argued Labor has flouted the principles it agreed with the Greens in 2010: “transparency and accountable government”, “policies which promote the public interest”, and “policies which address climate change”.

The move is long overdue. As I’ve written before, the Greens’ support has given credibility to a government which has gotten away with: Read the rest of this entry ?

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Australia’s Minister for Greenwash

13 February 2013

Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke – or as the Greens call him, Minister Against the Environment – on Monday signed conditional approvals for three new coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mines in New South Wales.

The three projects are Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine (despite Burke having said last week he would defer that decision for months), Idemitsu’s Boggabri coal mine expansion, and AGL’s 110 CSG wells in Gloucester (the first stage of a potential 330-well project). Together, they would result in 47 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. (To make matters worse, on the same day the NSW state government gave conditional approval to BHP Billiton’s Dendrobium coal mine expansion, and on Tuesday the Queensland government lifted a moratorium on shale oil.)

Burke says his decision is intended to cut the NSW government out of the process, after NSW Resources Minister Chris Hartcher leaked a confidential letter from Burke expressing an intention to approve the three projects. Burke claims his new approvals come with unusually stringent conditions:

For the areas that are not yet resolved, instead of giving a normal approval and say these are the conditions, I’ve said these further issues need to be worked through to my satisfaction before we know whether the project can actually go ahead. So it’s quite – even though it’s just being reported as approvals, it’s actually quite a different set of conditions to what would normally occur. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Good news from China (maybe)

7 February 2013

Last week China announced what might be a rare bit of good news on climate change – or is it too good to be true?

The Chinese government State Council has set a cap on total energy use for 2011-2015, which it claims will cause Chinese coal consumption to peak below 4 billion tonnes per year, a target that has been rumored for a while. According to the Chinese government, coal-fired electricity generation would continue to grow at a slower pace while the steel industry would suffer.

Last year China burned 3.9 billion tonnes of coal, a 163% increase since 2000 and nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. Greenpeace recently identified the projected expansion of coal mining in northwestern Chinese provinces as the world’s largest “carbon bomb” (followed by Australian coal export expansion).

coal Read the rest of this entry ?

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Aussie coal exports 2nd biggest “carbon bomb”

24 January 2013

A new report by consultancy Ecofys for Greenpeace, called Point of No Return, details 14 proposed fossil fuel projects, dubbed “carbon bombs”, that would together effectively lock in dangerous climate change.

Carbon bombs map

If the 14 projects go ahead, they would add 6.3 Gt/year (greater than present US emissions) to global CO2 emissions in 2020, a 20% increase at a time when we urgently need to cut global emissions as fast as possible. They would add 300 Gt CO2 to the atmosphere by 2050, about a third of the carbon budget for 2010-2050 required for a 75% chance of avoiding 2°C of global warming, the level which the world’s governments have agreed to prevent. They would keep us on the business-as-usual pathway that leads to an unimaginably catastrophic 6°C by 2100. Thus it is imperative that these fossil fuels be left in the ground. Read the rest of this entry ?

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It’s high time we talked about coal

19 January 2013

Gillard two-faced

As Australia bakes in record-breaking heat and burns in devastating fires, the country’s political and media elites have yet again lined up to defend the industry driving global warming and cast those who speak out against it as extremists. Read the rest of this entry ?

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2012: The year the world snoozed

31 December 2012

The Guardian described 2006 as “The year the world woke up” to climate change. If that’s the case then I guess 2007 was the year we rolled over and went back to sleep. Our alarm clock has continued to ring ever more loudly and clearly, but we just keep on hitting the snooze button – if we even hear the alarm at all. The events of 2012 have continued the pattern, both in Australia and around the world.

January

A diverse group of organizations warned there is a “carbon bubble” in global financial markets. Yawn… oh look, Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open!

February

Mining magnate and climate change denier Gina Rinehart tried to take over an Australian newspaper chain. Business news is so dreary… wow, congratulations to Queen Elizabeth II for reaching her Diamond Jubilee!

Australian ex-PM Kevin Rudd attempted to regain the top job and lock in a meaningless greenhouse gas emissions target. Hey, someone leaked a video of him saying the F-word!

March

Greenpeace exposed Australia’s plans to multiply its already-world-beating coal exports on a scale dwarfing its emissions at home, to which the government responded by passionately defending the industry. Soporific stuff… look, Clive Palmer is fighting with his soccer team!

Australia introduced a tax on coal mining profits that failed to raise any revenue. How dull… whoa, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century in cricket! Read the rest of this entry ?

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Response to RET Review

19 December 2012

Today the Climate Change Authority (CCA) released the final report of its Renewable Energy Target review. It repeats all the same arguments I debunked in my response to the discussion paper released in October, and makes similar recommendations (though some of the details have been refined).

The RET Review fails to acknowledge that Australia and the world urgently need to phase out fossil fuel burning to avoid dangerous climate change, and the policies in place are completely inadequate to do so. Instead, on most matters it insists the status quo must be maintained to minimize policy uncertainty. But climate policy will be subject to uncertainty for the foreseeable future anyway, because it challenges powerful interests, so the best way to design the RET is to send the strongest signal possible to incentivize investment in renewable energy. The reason for the existence of a Climate Change Authority and regularly scheduled reviews is to provide regular opportunities to strengthen Australia’s climate policies and thus accelerate decarbonization over time. CCA’s rigid determination to recommend little change is creating the ludicrous situation where the body is making itself irrelevant.

CCA refuses to recommend increasing or strengthening the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). It recommends future reviews be scheduled at four-year instead of two-year intervals (though fortunately unscheduled reviews can be commissioned at any time by the Minister, the Parliament, or CCA itself). It envisages the 2016 review will consider the issue of post-2020 targets, and rules out consideration of accelerating renewable energy deployment before 2020 except “in the event of extenuating circumstances” (p. xi); it is unclear what would qualify as such a circumstance. The problem with this is that the RET is currently inadequate, a higher target is needed to incentivize new projects, and accelerating action cannot wait until 2016 or 2020. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Doha climate talks: Gateway to hell?

15 December 2012

The Doha climate talks (COP18) reached an agreement on Saturday night. They’re calling it the “Doha Climate Gateway”. To me it looks like a gateway to probable inaction and climate catastrophe.

Delegates blatantly ignored the urgent warnings being screamed at them from all directions, and put off consideration of ramping up ambition until next year, or the one after that. They agreed an extension of Kyoto with meaninglessly weak 2020 targets and enough carried-over surplus permits to lock in business-as-usual for many countries until at least 2020. They failed to agree a pathway for global emissions or significant finance for poor countries. Meanwhile, our governments still expect us to wait until 2020 for a possible global binding regime. In the showdown between developed countries and small island states in Doha, rich countries won hands down. Ultimately, we all lose.

One of the most depressing parts of humanity’s annual cycle of procrastination on the climate crisis is that after the conference fails to achieve much of significance, 195 government spin machines kick into action to sell the outcome as a step forward. This time the main justification is that Doha “crossed the bridge” to a new regime. Ministers say things like “where would we be if we had failed to agree and the process had collapsed?” While of course I don’t want the climate talks to collapse, I don’t think it has ever been likely and it occurs to me that it would have a bright side: there would no longer be a false sense of security that the climate crisis is being addressed.

The message that progress is being made is seductive to those of us desperate for climate action, but one we must see through. After the high-profile failure of Copenhagen, governments have gone into Cancun, Durban, and Doha conveying low expectations, which in many cases I suspect was a deliberate public relations strategy so that at any hint of incremental progress they could reemerge proclaiming they met or exceeded those expectations. It’s a psychological manipulation technique called “under-promise and over-deliver”. Judging outcomes relative to the expectations governments set for themselves is playing into the hands of the delayers. Instead outcomes must be judged on real-world merit, and in this context the Doha Climate Gateway is worse than nothing.

The climate talks have gone on my entire life, yet despite the negotiators’ constant claims they are making progress, the situation has deteriorated at an accelerating rate. Global fossil fuel CO2 emissions have risen by 58% since 1990 and 2.6% this year (with most of the recent growth in China), and the Earth is headed for a catastrophic 4-6°C global warming by 2100, plus potentially large feedbacks and post-2100 warming. If we allow anywhere near that level of warming, humanity faces a very uncertain future. To be sure of preserving a habitable climate and avoiding feedbacks that could send climate change spiraling out of our control, we must aim to reduce CO2 to ~350 ppm (limiting warming to ~1°C). That means we must phase out fossil fuels globally as fast as possible. Politically, this has never looked more impossible. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Doha climate talks: Dreadful deal on the table

7 December 2012

There are just a few hours to go until the Doha climate talks (COP18) are scheduled to finish (though they are likely to go into overtime). Drafts of the key decisions have been released, and the outlook is very black indeed.

The most important draft text, agreeing a second period of Kyoto, is still filled with brackets and options to be pared down in last-minute negotiations. This may be because the Alliance of Small Island States rightly challenged its pathetic emissions targets for countries it binds, access to offsets for countries it excludes, carryover of surplus permits, and eight-year length – all of which threaten to lock in meaningless action. The EU reportedly sorted out its internal division in talks with Poland on Thursday night, but with the wrong outcome: an agreement to not cancel surplus permits. Reportedly, the specifics of the deal are the surplus permits will be carried over but only tradable with countries in Kyoto. Regardless of trade restrictions, surplus permits will not only sabotage Kyoto but also dilute any post-2020 regime, allowing business-as-usual to continue indefinitely.

(UPDATE 8 December 2012: A revised Kyoto text has been released with the brackets and options removed. It amends the Kyoto Protocol to create a second period, but merely “recognizes” countries “may” provisionally apply the amendment before it is ratified and legally enters into force. It decides Kyoto 2 will drag on until 2020, and the aggregate target is only 18% below 1990 averaged over 2013-2020, albeit with a ministerial roundtable in 2014 where each party “may” raise its ambition toward at least 25-40% below 1990 by 2020. The US, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia are out. The conditions for Australia, Norway, and Switzerland to increase their pledges will not be binding. The “Australia clause”, which allows creative accounting on land use, remains in effect. On the bright side, if I understand correctly access of Kyoto offsets will be restricted to countries with binding targets. I’m still trying to understand what it means for surplus permits, which I consider make-or-break for the integrity of Kyoto 2, but in any case there has been a whole day’s worth of dispute over that issue since this version of the text was made available.) Read the rest of this entry ?

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Climate deregulation still on agenda

6 December 2012

It’s called the COAG Taskforce on Regulatory and Competition Reform, and don’t be fooled by the boring name: it could be the gravestone of Australian climate policies and environmental regulation. Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets with the unelected Business Advisory Forum (BAF), and tomorrow with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), to advance this radical corporate-driven deregulation agenda.

I was going to write that the federal government intended to hand over its environmental approval powers to the states tomorrow. Fortunately that has been delayed following a campaign by the Greens and environmental groups, though it remains very much on the agenda. Instead this blog post will focus on another, even more important aspect of the COAG Taskforce program, which has received less attention but presumably rolls on inexorably toward an imminent conclusion: reviewing almost all climate policies with a view to axing them.

The process is completely opaque and undemocratic. Federal and state governments are advised by business lobbyists, with no comparable consultation of anyone else, and the public are not told what is happening apart from vague communiqués following decisions at BAF and COAG meetings.

It is not even clear why the BAF was created in the first place, though I can offer an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. Throughout 2011, business lobbyists campaigned against the Gillard government for daring to rock the boat even slightly by introducing a carbon price (never mind that it was full of holes). Some supported the Liberals’ campaign for an election and no carbon price, and I imagine behind the scenes some supported Kevin Rudd’s leadership plot in return for Rudd’s promise to weaken the carbon price. When Rudd was decisively defeated, the Business Council of Australia called for “a renewed commitment to make Australia more competitive and productive” including “a regulatory environment that encourages business to invest, adapt, and innovate”. Within a week, Gillard announced the formation of the Business Advisory Forum. The whole thing had a vibe of Gillard desperately trying to win the support of business. And what better way to atone for the carbon price than to dismantle all other climate and environment policies? Read the rest of this entry ?