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.
- Scientists: Native logging increases bushfire risk – not reduces it. The logging of native trees has been shown to increase the risk of bushfires rather than reducing it, according to new scientific evidence.
- Mr Morrison, please don’t make empty promises: enshrine our climate targets in law. In the lead-up to this year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, the Morrison government is inching towards adopting a net-zero emissions target for 2050. If Prime Minister Scott Morrison can resist internal party pressure to exempt some sectors from the commitment, the target would be welcome.
- Europe trade talks: Australia urged to be ‘more ambitious’ on climate. EU ambassador to Australia says climate action could be a sticking point in getting a trade deal ratified.
- Another refinery closure shines spotlight on Angus Taylor’s refusal to embrace EVs. Another refinery closure sharpens focus on Australia’s reliance on oil imports and Angus Taylor’s unwillingness to accelerate EVs.
- Shifting our nation past the fossil fuel era. The newly-launched Coal Impacts Index is an example of powerful teamwork from separate organisations acting together to achieve a common goal for the good of the country.
- Nats lose touch with the farmers who’ll be our climate saviours. The National Party wants to exclude agriculture from any commitment to net-zero emissions, even while farmers want to seize the chance.
- Soil carbon sequestration helps the planet as it helps our farmers. When Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor announced his five-point low-emissions technology plan last September, four of his priorities came as no surprise.
- Sea-level rise could threaten coastal nuclear waste facilities. Recent research suggests that as seas rise, some nuclear waste storage facilities are at risk of flooding or storm damage.
- Limiting warming to 2 C requires emissions reductions 80% above Paris Agreement targets. Even if all countries meet their Paris Agreement goals for reducing emissions, Earth has only a 5% chance of staying below 2 C warming this century, a 2017 study showed. But reductions about 80% more ambitious, or an average of 1.8% drop in emissions per year rather than 1% per year, would be enough to meet the agreement’s stated goal, analysis shows.
- Arctic permafrost releases more CO2 than once believed. There may be greater CO2 emissions associated with thawing Arctic permafrost than ever imagined. An international team of researchers has discovered that soil bacteria release CO2 previously thought to be trapped by iron. The finding presents a large new carbon footprint that is unaccounted for in current climate models.
The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.