The climate this week – 16 Feb 2021

The climate this week – 16 Feb 2021

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: Last week the European Parliament’s Environment Committee has endorsed a bill to introduce a carbon tariff. Its aim is to penalise the import of products with a high carbon footprint. Source: European Parliament.

More melting ice

Just after I sent out last week’s blog post, news came that a large chunk of a Himalayan glacier in northern India had broken off, crashing into a river. The flash flood killed at least 26 people and 170 were missing. The images were frightening to say the least. Regrettably, we can expect more incidents like this as the climate warms.

The US about to declare a climate emergency

Newly elected President Joe Biden is overturning many of Donald Trump’s more egregious decisions with respect to climate and environment. Biden is not alone. Three lawmakers, one of them Bernie Sanders, have introduced a bill that would direct President Biden to declare a climate emergency, arguing that a national mobilisation against the crisis is needed right now.

There is news also from the US for those who thought that carbon capture and storage (CCS) might save the day for fossil fuels. The last CCS coal plant will shut down indefinitely from June after operators deemed it no longer economic.

More on the international front. New research from Harvard University has found that air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for 8.7 million deaths globally in 2018, or one in five of all people who died that year. The main culprit is airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Asia is moving too

The news from India is mixed. Coal imports – including from Australia – are up. Nevertheless, a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) finds solar is likely to be the star of India’s future energy system and will overtake coal within ten years.

Meanwhile, South Korea, which a few months ago made a pledge of zero net emissions by 2050, has announced plans to build the world’s largest wind farm in the world. This will provide 8.2 gigawatts of power and accelerate the country’s transition to a clean-energy economy.

Europe is preparing a carbon tariff

In Europe, a carbon tariff proposal – otherwise known as “carbon border adjustment mechanism” – was endorsed by the European parliament’s environment committee last week and is expected to form the basis for a European Commission policy due in June. The cost on importers would be equivalent to that on the European carbon market, which is forecast to reach next year A$71 per tonne of CO2 emissions. The carbon fee is projected to reach A$139 by 2030. This is what Australian businesses that export to Europe will have to pay, unless the government imposes comparable emission reduction policies. Energy Minister Angus Taylor, inevitably, is unhappy.

The hot debate of the 2050 target

Here in Australia, the big kerfuffle of the week was generated by Nationals’ leader and Deputy PM Michael McCormack. He responded to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “maybe” mid-century zero net emissions target by asking for agriculture to be excluded. Interestingly, as well as unions and business, it was the agricultural sector that objected vehemently, recognising that acting on climate offered them new opportunities for income.

Former Resources Minister Matt Canavan threatened to cross the floor if the target was introduced to Federal Parliament. On the other hand, Nationals MP and Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester has called on his party to be “part of the solution” when it comes to emissions reductions, rather than “sideline ourselves from big debates”.
On the Labor side, new Shadow Minister for Climate Change Chris Bowen made a promising start by noting in a speech that coal’s future is not strong. On the contrary, he stated that the industry is under threat, and that coal miners and their communities are owed honesty on the matter by their political leaders. He also said that almost 80% of Australia’s thermal coal exports go to Japan, China and South Korea, which have all have committed to net zero emissions by 2050 (2060 in the case of China).

Meanwhile, the Productivity Commission is rightly concerned about the effects of climate change on Australia’s water supply and has called for submissions to an Inquiry. It has urged governments to make climate change a top consideration in water policy, as severe droughts and floods are predicted to increase.

Further resources

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

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