A weekly report on the politics, economics and science of climate action
By Jenny Goldie, CCL member from the electorate of Eden Monaro, NSW.
Featured image: Ice breaking off the Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glacier in Northeast Greenland in a satellite image handed out on Aug. 27, 2020. Source: European Space Agency.
Ice on a run
In August, a study showed that Greenland lost a record amount of ice during 2019. The melt was big enough to cover the US state of California in more than 1.25 metres of water. This week, as further evidence that the Arctic is warming from rapid climate change, an 110 square kilometres section of the Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glacier in north-east Greenland broke off into the ocean.
California could have done with the water to douse its fires, which continue to rage in Oregon and Washington as well. Wildfires have killed over 35 people and burnt more than 2 million hectares of land. President Donald Trump dismissed a link between climate change and the fires. On the other hand, Democratic nominee Joe Biden said the fires are evidence that climate change is an ‘existential threat’. The governor of California Gavin Newsom issued a stark warning on climate, saying: “The facts are the facts.” The fires in the San Gabriel Mountains to the north-east of Los Angeles are causing evacuations.
There will be gas
Back in Australia, the Federal Government showed little more concern on climate than Trump, by introducing its ‘Gas Recovery Plan’ on Tuesday. This plan does not recognise the scientific fact that gas (largely methane) is a fossil fuel, and that any related project (like gas pipelines or gas-fired power stations) may end up as a stranded asset in a few years. The Prime Minister is suggesting the government might underwrite a gas plant near the aluminium smelter at Tomago (near Newcastle in the Hunter Valley). The latter will need power when AGL’s coal-fired Liddell power station closes in 2022. It mattered not that AGL has a whole range of renewable and battery projects to supply electricity once Liddell closes.
The Gas Recovery Plan drew mixed reactions. They were generally positive from the fossil-fuel industry and from Fox News. On the other hand, reactions were unremittingly negative from environmentalists and climate activists, who claim any gas project will see Australia missing its Paris targets. Interestingly, Greg Bourne, a former president of BP Australasia, said private money is currently fleeing the gas sector around the world. For this reason, he doubted that a new gas power station in the Hunter Valley would ever go ahead.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the government is going down the gas route, given the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) taskforce had recommended underwriting a huge gas expansion. Most of NCCC members (hand-picked by the PM) had connections to the fossil-fuel industry. A case of conflict of interest was clear, and never properly addressed by the Government. Now we find that the NCCC has been receiving “pro bono” advice from a lobbyist firm with links to the Saudi government and gas companies.
The controversial low high emissions of natural gas
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) are organisations that have successfully supported the advancement of renewable energy in this country. This happened despite repeated attempts by the Coalition governments over the years to dismantle them. Last Thursday, as part of its $1.9 billion Technology Roadmap package, the Federal Government decided to bolster funding for ARENA and CEFC, but to divert investment in wind and solar to “low emission” technologies, including carbon capture and storage (CCS).
This essentially changes the mandates of both ARENA and the CEFC. This will allow them to fit with the Government’s own Technology Roadmap to carbon-emissions reduction, which looks at technologies beyond wind and solar, thus including gas, hydrogen and CCS. Hydrogen is ok from a climate point of view if “green”, that is, made from electrolysis using renewables, but not if “brown” (using coal), or “blue” (using gas/methane). There is no guarantee that the government will choose only green hydrogen. There are very few sites for CCS, so a lot of good money may be thrown after bad.
The Santos Narrabri gas proposal has drawn widespread opposition, because of its negative impacts. These include greenhouse gas emissions, light pollution from flares, desecration of Gomeroi lands, the disposal of 430,000 tonnes of toxic salts, and the draw down and contamination of underground fresh water systems (such as the Great Artesian Basin). A NSW decision on the project is due next week, and a federal decision under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act will follow. Nevertheless, PM Morrison and his Gas Recovery Plan envision that this new gas field will go ahead, with a new pipeline running south to Newcastle to fuel the new gas-fired power station (above).
Meanwhile, this Friday is the first National Day of Action against gas by students participating in School Strike for Climate Australia (SS4CA). The theme is #FundOurFutureNotGas. If you can, take on the streets (while respecting socially distancing). Otherwise, show your enthusiastic support on social media.
- Scott Morrison’s power plan is nothing but a gas-fuelled calamity. The Coalition has royally stuffed up energy policy when Australia should be moving to fuels of the future
- Our coal-fondling PM switches his prop to gas, but is anything really different? The government has a plan for a plan on energy. So does the opposition. We deserve better.
- Now we’re cooking (ourselves) with gas. Just months after Australia endured its worst climate-fuelled bushfire season on record, the Morrison government is about to starve renewable energy of investment while showering the gas industry with taxpayer-funded subsidies.
- ‘A dose of reality’: Morrison government’s new $1.9 billion techno-fix for climate change is a small step. The Morrison government today announced A$1.9 billion over ten years to develop clean technology in industry, agriculture and transport. In some ways it’s a step in the right direction, but a far cry from what’s needed to drive Australia’s shift to a low emissions economy.
- Morrison signs up to the gas gospel, but the choir is not in tune. Taken as a whole and leaving aside the arguments about their efficacy, this week’s energy decisions have a clear political element. They are risk averse within the Coalition.
- Angus Taylor’s gas plan is an astoundingly bad idea, on so many levels. The federal government’s increasingly desperate and ideological energy market interventions are costing us all
- The Morrison government is sabotaging its renewable energy agency. This will undermine competitiveness, destroy innovation and prop up a failed polluting fossil fuel industry
- Scott Morrison’s gas plan is an arrogant, irresponsible disaster. The only rival to the arrogance of Morrison’s gas-led recovery strategy is its irresponsibility.
- ‘Gas-led recovery’ may actually deter energy investment: Experts. Climate change and clean energy campaigners were left dismayed at the federal government’s plans to spearhead a “gas-led recovery” from COVID-19, saying it will be ineffective and damage the prospects of meeting international emissions reduction commitments.
- Gas Gush: the toadies of mainstream media trot out government’s fossil fuel fracking campaign. Gas fracking and a new fossil fuel power plant got a big leg-up today as News Corp, Nine Entertainment, ABC News and Guardian Australia faithfully splashed with the latest government gas plan on their front pages today.