A weekly report on the politics, economics and science of climate action
By Jenny Goldie, CCL member from the electorate of Eden Monaro, NSW.
Climate Act… Now!
As the Covid crisis grinds on with nearly two million Australians unemployed, there are a few glimmers of hope. Among these, Zali Steggall is re-tabling her Climate Act Bill for 9 November. Also in Federal Parliament, Labor promised to oppose the government bill to open up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to fossil-fuel investments, particularly gas. However, what the Senate will do remains to be seen.
The government has pushed through the lower house changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. In doing so, it drew the wrath of cross-benchers for dismissing the prerogatives of Parliament. Zali Steggall described the government as a “bully in action”. The changes would hand powers of assessment from the Federal Government to the States. States are notoriously worse than the Commonwealth on environmental matters, so it’s bad news in some ways. On the other hand, in recent years the States have all been bolder than the federal government on climate and energy policy.
It was good news, though for the wrong reasons of Covid restrictions, that Australia’s carbon-dioxide emissions fell to their lowest levels since 1998. Energy Minister Angus Taylor said emissions from electricity generation were in “long-term structural decline” and agricultural emissions were also down, largely because of the lingering effects of the drought. Emissions from exports continued however to increase due largely to the growing Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) industry. Moreover, emissions are expected to grow to their pre-Covid levels in the next few months, as soon as the restrictions will be eased.
Meanwhile, Tim Baxter from the Climate Council estimates that Australia’s greenhouse-gas accounting underestimates national emissions by about 10%. This is largely due to a failure to properly recognise “fugitive” emissions of methane, released during extraction. Methane is estimated to be apporximately 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Get ready for the new season
It’s finally spring! However, there is little time to relax, as recent rain has meant that growing grass has produced a fire hazard. In some parts of the State – such as the Shoalhaven – the fire season started on 1 September, instead of the normal 1 October.
Speaking of fires, the Bushfire Royal Commission issued an interim report this week, calling for a national fuel-load database to be set up.
There’s the possibility that we might get a La Niña (opposite of El Niño) forming this Spring. This generally means more rain, though the likelihood and strength of cyclones and other extreme weather events might increase as well.
The Wentworth Group of Scientists issued a worrying report this week, claiming that two trillion litres of water had ‘gone missing’ from the Murray-Darling Basin. Irrigators taking too much water is only part of the story, however. Climate change is also presumed to be a culprit, although a precise estimate is hard to determine.
In a massive about-turn, the Australian Industry Group (AIG) is urging the government to spend $3.3 billion on renewables over the next ten years. Such good move has been greeted with derision in some quarters. In fact, the AIG has been for many years a drag on climate action.
Elsewhere in the business world, construction and mining industry super fund Cbus says it will slash emissions from its investments by 45% within the next 10 years. Fossil-fuel companies will need to demonstrate how they will cut greenhouse-gas emissions in order to stay within the fund’s $54bn portfolio. By failing to comply, Cbus will divest from them.
Another company doing the right thing is Alinta Energy. Alinta is looking to add a wind farm and more battery storage to the Pilbara (Western Australia) network that supplies some of the country’s biggest iron-ore mines.
States in action
While Victoria struggles to keep Covid in check, the State government is doing something worthwhile: providing a $600 million funding boost to large-scale renewable projects. The new capacity will repower all the state’s schools and hospitals as well asl Melbourne’s train network with solar and wind energy.
In South Australia, the Tesla lithium-ion battery at Hornsdale, near Jamestown, is now fully operational with its increased potential output of 150 megawatts (from 100 MW). Moreover, the ACT government – as always leading the way – has announced that the expansion to the Canberra Hospital will be powered by 100% renewables.
In NSW, “bravo” to a community-solar and battery project in Goulburn, who announced they will not use Siemens inverters. The reason? The connection of the German multinational with the controversial Adani Carmicheal coal-mine project.
ANU is conducting research into “eco-anxiety”, which is the impacts of climate change on the psychological wellbeing of people. It is currently seeking participants to complete a survey. To participate please click here. (There are rewards!)
Coming this week
- The virtual Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition on Sept 9 and 10 should be worthwhile. Info and registration here.
More info & news
- Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements: interim observations. This report outlines the interim observations from the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. The observations relate to some of the more pressing issues that the Commission expects to address in the final report, which is currently due for release in October 2020.
- California is on fire. From across the Pacific, Australians watch on and buckle up. California’s bushfire disaster is eerily reminiscent of Australia’s Black Summer. We share the same fiery fate, and must learn to adapt.
- Renewables through the roof, as small-scale solar heads to stunning new highs. Australia is on track to add a stunning 6.3GW of new renewable energy capacity in 2020, thanks largely to a rooftop solar market that has defied the odds of the Covid-19 pandemic and is headed to a record total of just under 3GW for the year.
- The mystery of 2 trillion litres of water missing from our most precious river system. An investigation by some of Australia’s top water scientists reveals the most expensive environmental program in our history is delivering much less water than expected.
- Big battery costs have reached a tipping point – and gas is struggling to compete. Cost deflation will ensure batteries pay a larger role in the power system at the expense of gas in the very short term.
- Cheaper, cleaner, more reliable: How renewables are winning energy trifecta. Last week, the three business lobby groups that did more than most to undermine the Labor-Greens carbon price, and who hoorayed loudly when Tony Abbott put it the sword in 2013, joined up with unions and super funds and research groups to urge the same Coalition government to aim for a zero emissions target by 2050.
- Wind and solar provide two-thirds of new capacity additions in 2019, BNEF says. Solar the most popular source of new generation in one-third of countries, as renewables represent 75 per cent of new capacity added in 2019.
- China’s costly, dirty and woeful expansion in coal generation. Investors, including the government owners, have lost around $A35 billion on their China coal expansion strategy in the past five years.
- Sea level rise from ice sheets track worst-case climate change scenario. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica whose melting rates are rapidly increasing have raised the global sea level by 1.8cm since the 1990s, and are matching the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s worst-case climate warming scenarios.
- Influx of renewables sees coal power plants run well below capacity increasing chance of closures. Coal generation at power plants in NSW and Queensland may be falling faster than anticipated, due to cheaper solar and wind energy.