Jenny’s jottings – the climate this week: 22 Sept 2020

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).

#FundOurFutureNotGas

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.

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The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.

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