Posts Tagged ‘Gas’

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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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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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Australia embraces Paris Hilton’s energy policy

24 December 2012

The Australian government last month released the final version of its long-awaited Energy White Paper. Energy Minister Martin Ferguson’s speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) launching the White Paper was interrupted by Quit Coal protesters, one playing a fictional mining magnate thanking Ferguson for supporting the coal industry. After the protesters were removed from the stage, the audience (evidently a bunch of dinosaurs) applauded Ferguson’s retort that the demonstration said something about the education of young people and he would resume discussing “how we create wealth to create economic opportunities for those young people”. Let’s look at how the government intends to do this.

The Energy White Paper is a dry document, in more than one sense of the word. Once again I am struck by the contrast between the way the Labor government is portrayed by the likes of News Corporation, and the government’s true policies and priorities.

On the surface, the final White Paper somewhat improves on the draft version (and on the dogmatic anti-renewables stance Labor took in Multi-Party Climate Change Committee negotiations) by acknowledging the falling prices and growing role of renewables and proposing demand-management measures. This is possibly thanks to the increasing clout of the renewable energy lobby. It’s certainly an improvement on the Howard government’s 2004 Energy White Paper, which placed all of its climate eggs in the CCS basket (mainly through a $500 million Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Program which has been perpetually delayed). But instead of advocating further action as is urgently needed, the White Paper merely reaffirms inadequate existing climate policies, claiming “the Australian Government has already put in place the key mechanisms to drive a transformation to cleaner energy”.

The big picture is that the government’s fossil fuel addiction remains as strong as ever. The Energy White Paper’s key priorities include “developing Australia’s critical energy resources, particularly gas resources” (p xviii). It plans to facilitate the expansion of fossil fuel mining and export industries at a time when they should be phased out as fast as possible. It boldly says (p. 66): “Coal is, and will remain an integral part of Australia’s economy.” Gas and coal rate far more mentions in the White Paper than any renewable energy technology. In a nutshell, the shift from Howard’s Energy White Paper to Gillard’s one is from a fossil-fuel-only approach to an all-of-the-above policy analogous to Obama’s, which seems to have originated from a spoof campaign video by Paris Hilton, of all people. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The fossil-fuelled war on renewables

24 October 2012

In recent months, ~2 GW of Australian coal-fired electricity generation has been closed temporarily or permanently (~2.5 GW in winter), comparable to the 2 GW that would have been closed by the abandoned policy of contracts-for closure. Some might conclude Australia is finally beginning its transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy, and we can sit back and watch the federal carbon price and Renewable Energy Target (RET) drive it. But even if decarbonization was occurring fast enough (which is nowhere near the case), now is not the time to sit back, because the established electricity companies see their traditional business model disappearing down the drain, and they are fighting back. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Laggard to Leader

11 September 2012

A landmark report was launched a few weeks ago by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), Laggard to Leader: How Australia Can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity.

Laggard to Leader is at its heart a response to the oft-heard arguments that Australia is too small for our actions to make a significant difference to global warming, but it is much more than that. The report debunks Australia’s claims to be taking meaningful action at home and in UN climate talks. It comprehensively outlines a whole different way of thinking about the role of individual countries in climate change than that of the Australian government and political elite. It challenges the economic excuses for inaction. And it proposes an innovative set of bold actions Australia should take to make a real difference.

The report is professionally presented but accessible, as it is mostly written in plain language. It sometimes seems to confuse CO2 with CO2-equivalent, but its arguments are convincing.

The report begins by summarizing the urgency of the climate crisis and contrasting it with the lack of achievement in international negotiations. Humanity must rapidly phase out fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, leaving the vast majority of the planet’s fossil carbon in the ground. The UN climate talks have gone on my entire life, but far from negotiators’ constant claims they are making progress, global fossil fuel CO2 emissions have risen by 50% since 1990 (and Australia’s emissions by 30%). The Kyoto Protocol has been sabotaged by offsets and creative accounting, and Canada has gotten away with completely flouting its obligations. Despite agreeing in 2010 to take urgent action to limit global warming to <2°C (a target which climatologists now realize is itself quite dangerous), countries’ national emissions targets do not remotely add up to that global objective, and the world remains on track for a catastrophic multiple degrees of warming. Most recently in Durban, they agreed to negotiate a global agreement that would not be implemented until 2020. But as the Australian government’s own Climate Commission says, this is the critical decade.

As the negotiations currently stand, the best-case outcome will be far too little far too late. BZE argue therefore we cannot rely on the UN process and its associated top-down model of climate action, which they describe as “Treaties, Targets, and Trading”. The aim of Treaties, Targets, and Trading is for all countries to agree a global binding treaty in which national emissions targets add up to achieve a safe global objective, and countries may trade pollution rights. (Laggard to Leader skips an important nuance here: this is Australia’s particular view of the ultimate aim of climate talks, as advised by Ross Garnaut.)

In accordance with UN accounting, Australia is generally considered responsible only for emissions occurring within its borders. The problem is we do not yet have a global framework in which national targets add up. Thus we need to look beyond our domestic emissions to a larger “sphere of influence”, which also encompasses emissions from the burning of fossil fuels we export and the manufacture of products we import. Global trade means countries have overlapping spheres of influence. This shared responsibility makes more sense from an ethical and practical point of view. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Australian climate policy: 10 revealing graphics

4 September 2012

I’ve written a great deal about the holes in Australian (and global) climate policy. As such discussions can get very complex and confusing, I decided it was time to try a more visual format for a change. The following graphics dramatically illustrate just how ineffective the Gillard government’s climate change policy is.

1) We’re heading for 4°C

Let’s start by putting Australian policies in their global context. Despite an international agreement to take urgent action to limit global warming to less than 2°C (a target which climatologists now realize is itself quite dangerous), countries’ national emissions targets do not remotely add up to that global objective. Even assuming countries meet their targets (which some don’t appear to be doing), the Climate Interactive scoreboard shows the Earth remains on a pathway to over 4°C global warming by 2100 (and feedbacks could cause more warming on top of that).

Australia is not aiming further than the rest of the world – indeed we are a laggard. Australia continues to play an obstructive role in global climate talks, and has pledged to cut emissions a mere 5% by 2020 (though legal emissions caps are yet to be recommended by the independent Climate Change Authority). And despite claiming to accept the science of climate change and having signed up to the 2°C target, the Australian Government seems unperturbed by the ambition gap.

If we allow several degrees of global warming, humanity faces a very uncertain future. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Not-So-Clean Energy Finance Corporation

25 June 2012

Today, the Australian Senate is considering legislation to set up a Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). CEFC is the last (but certainly not least) of the Not-So-Clean Energy Future policies agreed by the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee a year ago. It is supposed to complement Australia’s low carbon price by funding emerging renewable energy technologies. But will it?

I have been concerned about the slow progress of CEFC, in contrast with the carbon price which became law back in November. I am now reassured the Labor Government will not backslide on the promised funds, as the legislation guarantees $2 billion per year for CEFC from 2013 to 2017. The CEFC Board will decide when to spend the money provided by the Government, and is expected to leverage five times as much private investment. However, if a Liberal government is elected next year, it could still repeal the legislation before much money has been spent. For this reason, I think CEFC funding should begin immediately, and would prefer construction to begin on at least one project before the next election.

There are a number of problems with the legislation as it currently stands. Firstly, despite an AYCC petition signed by 16,540 people, CEFC-funded projects will not be additional to Australia’s existing Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 20% by 2020. This makes no sense, and is already being exploited as an argument against CEFC. Therefore, the legislation should be amended so that CEFC projects do not count towards the RET, and/or the RET should be significantly increased. Similarly, emissions cuts achieved by CEFC should be subtracted from the annual caps of the emissions trading scheme which will begin in 2015. Read the rest of this entry ?