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: John Kerry, former US Secretary of State and Presidential Nominee. US President-elect Joe Biden appointed him as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Photo by Al-Jazeera English (cc).
Summer is coming
We’re meant to be in a La Niña weather environment, which gives us wetter and cooler conditions. However, the country has experienced record-breaking temperatures this week. Sydney just had its hottest November night on record (25.3C). Many towns across three states have had temperatures in the mid-40s for several days, while grassfires and bushfires are burning everywhere. Let us hope that the rains and cooler weather will come soon, at least once the crops are in. Scientists warn, however, that this La Niña may not prevent another mass coral bleaching event.
Kerry on with the job
It looks increasingly like US President Trump will finally acknowledge he lost and move out of the White House. He can still do a lot of damage before he goes, however, not least allow the drilling for oil in the 78,000 sq km Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaskan north slope. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden is putting together his Cabinet. His Special Presidential Envoy for Climate will be John Kerry with, importantly, a seat on the National Security Council. “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” said Kerry. Bravo! One of his first jobs will be to get the US back into the Paris Agreement.
Here in Australia, the imminence of a Biden presidency is making PM Morrison a bit more circumspect about climate change. There is even a chance that he will adopt the net-zero emissions target by 2050. That target was integral to the Climate Bills introduced to Parliament by Zali Steggall, MP for Warringah, and sent to the House Standing Committee on Environment and Energy for public inquiry.
Those are targets for 2050, but the Paris Agreement had targets for 2030 as well. Australia is committed to 26-28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels – paltry is the word. The US targets were similar. Now, it looks like Biden may strengthen his to 38-54% reduction, the EU to 55%, and the UK is looking at 70% reduction!! And now that New Zealand PM’s party can rule in its own right, it is free to declare a Climate Emergency. COP26 in Glasgow is less than a year away and Australia will be left behind, unless it pulls up its socks.
Not Kean on more gas
Before we get too excited about the PM changing his tune in order to get on with his new US ally, his Environment Minister Sussan Ley approved the Narrabri gas project. The Morrison government has long voiced support for the project as a key element of its so-called ‘gas-fired recovery’, and a means of ensuring power when the Liddell coal-fired power station closes in 2023-24. The NSW government had also approved this project. However, thanks largely to the efforts of Environment Minister Matt Kean, it also passed its splendid Renewable Energy Roadmap legislation this week. This sets up Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) in three parts of the state. Reputex, in a report has found that the gas project is no longer needed to supply power when Liddell closes, because the renewable power supplied by the REZs can do it better.
And if you need any convincing that we need to keep within the 2C guardrail, read Mark Lynas’s latest book Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency. Lynas writes: “Two degrees Celsius, which will stress human societies and destroy many natural ecosystems such as rainforests and coral reefs, looms on the near horizon.” (Buy the book and give it to a climate denier for Christmas.) Lynas goes on to say that to meet the 1.5C target set in Paris, we would need to cut global emissions by nearly a half within a decade.
Yet even with the Covid-crisis curtailing travel and much economic activity, global concentrations of CO2 are not trending downwards. According to new figures from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), there will be a reduction in global CO2 emissions for 2020. However, that will not affect atmospheric levels of CO2 any more than normal year-to-year fluctuations. This is because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the oceans for even longer.
Leadership from the states
In the absence of coherent policies from the federal government, some states are really leading the way on climate action. NSW had a spectacular week. However, so did Victoria, first with its 2020-2021 Budget, that saw a record $1.6 billion investment in key climate and energy initiatives, including funding for six Renewable Energy Zones, as well as important transport initiatives. Then, later in the week, it announced its $108 million innovation fund for renewable energy and clean-tech with a focus on green hydrogen and off-shore wind.
And let’s not forget Tasmania, which has now joined the ACT, Scotland and a few other places around the world with electricity powered by 100% renewables. Moreover, in the last three weeks Tasmania legislated their 200% renewables by 2040 target (i.e. they intend to export their surplus).
Not to be outdone, Queensland will see a 300MW electrolyser in Townsville and production of more than 36,000 tonnes of green hydrogen a year for the export markets. If only the Palaszczuk government would withdraw support for the Adani coal mine, we could be happier about Queensland’s role in the energy transition.
From “no” to “low”
Australia’s green bank, The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), is set to make its first investment in grid infrastructure, offering $125 million to help TransGrid connect the Federal Government’s Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project to the main grid. Meanwhile, however, there is legislation before the Senate to create the Grid Reliability Fund. While this might sound like good news, it is likely the opposite. The key point of the legislation involves changes in the projects on which the CEFC will be allowed to invest. While currently investment is limited to “no emissions” projects, the proposed change will include also “low emissions” ones.
Finally, the State Bank of India may possibly loan Adani $1 billion to fund its mega coal-mine in Central Queensland, There has been a campaign against it this week, and two brave souls interrupted the Indian-Australian international cricket game to protest. Well done guys!
- ANU Climate Change Institute: Celebrating Antarctica: climate change, biodiversity, and science. Tuesday 1 December, 6-7:30pm. Register now.
- Te Mana o te Moana: Pacific Report Launch in Partnership with Greenpeace. Thursday 3 December 2020
5.30 – 7.00pm. Register here.
- (Slight conflict with above webinar time-wise). Australian Youth for International Climate Engagement. Promoting Collaboration for International Climate Ambition. Thursday 3 December 2020 6.00 – 7.30pm.Register here.
- Reputex (for Greenpeace Australia Pacific): Scenarios for the replacement of the Liddell power station. Download here.
- Nexus report: Nature Based Solutions to the Biodiversity and Climate Crisis. You can download the report here.
- Bureau of Meteorology: Summer climate outlook. Summary here.
- Cities Power Partnerships: Clean jobs for communities How local governments can create sustainable, strong economies. Download here.
- Climate Action Tracker: Scaling up climate action in Australia. Key opportunities for transitioning to a zero emissions society. Executive summary here.
- 350Australia: Captured State: the influence of the oil & gas lobby on WA government. Download report here.
- Centre for Future Work. The Australia Institute. Heat stress and work in the era of climate change: what we know, and what we need to learn. Download here.
- Monash Sustainable Development Institute: Transforming Australia. SDG Progress report 2020 Update. Download here.
- Satellite images confirm uneven impact of climate change. Researchers have been following vegetation trends across the planet’s driest areas using satellite imagery from recent decades. They have identified a troubling trend: Too little vegetation is sprouting up from rainwater in developing nations, whereas things are headed in the opposite direction in wealthier ones. As a result, the future could see food shortages and growing numbers of climate refugees.
- Tax on electric vehicles in South Australia and Victoria would slam brakes on sales by Trent Zimmerman. New road user charges sends a very strange signal and will set back efforts to reduce emissions from the transport sector.
- Investors head offshore as lack of zero emissions target delays Australian transition. Investors say the Morrison government’s refusal to adopt a zero emissions target is holding back investment and the transition away from fossil fuels.
- Labor committed to clean energy: Butler. Labor’s $20 billion energy policy showed the party was committed to clean power, long-time energy and climate change spokesman Mark Butler said, as Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese played down his party’s internal debate on climate targets.
- Black Summer bushfire health impact revealed in new report. Those living with asthma and other respiratory illnesses were among the hardest hit by the weather conditions generated by the summer’s bushfires. Now a new report has confirmed the toll the smoke haze and bushfires had on people’s health.
- Renewables were sole source of new US generating capacity in last quarter. Renewable energy sources were the sole source of new capacity added to the US grid between June and September.
- Global tariffs the only way to end Australia’s climate criminality. With a corrupted political process and a media industry pushing climate denialism, the chances of Australia embracing effective climate action appear slim. The rest of the world is therefore justified in punishing a country that is becoming a climate criminal.
- Think taxing electric vehicle use is a backward step? Here’s why it’s an important policy advance. The South Australian and Victorian governments have announced, and New South Wales is considering, road user charges on electric vehicles. This policy has drawn scorn from environmental advocates and motor vehicle lobbyists who fear it will slow the uptake of less-polluting vehicles. But, from a longer-term transport policy perspective, a distance-based road user charge on electric vehicles is an important step forward.
- Canavan leads “caravan” for coal, urging Nationals to bury future in fossil fuels. Canavan and Joyce lead the Nationals two day “caravan for coal” in the Hunter Valley, calling for new coal generators and saying bad things about wind and solar.
- Scott Morrison’s climate language has shifted – but actions speak louder than words. Analysis: The PM changed tone as soon as Joe Biden was projected likely next US president. Will a policy pivot follow?
The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.