The climate this week – 20 Oct 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: The ACT legislative assembly, which will see a renewed Labor-Greens coalition following last week’s elections. Photo by Nick D (cc).

Good news from a State and a Territory…

Just prior to the brouhaha breaking about NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s secret affair with a disgraced former MP, the Liberal Member for Bega and NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance linked the summer bushfires to climate change. He called for action “to get carbon back into the ground”.

On Sunday the Labor was returned in the ACT elections with a slightly increased majority. The performance of the Greens was also noteworthy. Instead of just two, they will have five or six members in the 25-seat Legislative Assembly. One possible reason for their increased vote is their strong positions on the issue of climate change. While in coalition with Labor in the last Legislative Assembly, the Greens’ efforts helped ensure that 100% of the ACT’s electricity come from renewables. Full marks to both ACT Labor and Greens for showing it can be done.

… but less good from the Federal Government

At the national level, the government is still pushing its gas-led recovery of the nation’s economy, forgetting that gas/methane is a fossil fuel and that we have to move away from all fossil fuels. Nevertheless, last Friday Energy and Emissions-Reduction Minister Angus Taylor flew to the Northern Territory to visit the massive Beetaloo Basin, where Origin Energy and its partner Falcon Oil and Gas frack for gas. Minister Taylor said the Beetaloo Basin is the first of five key basins to be explored under the Government’s $28.3 million Strategic Basin Plans.

Unfortunately, world-wide emissions of methane (which makes up most of fracked gas) are on the rise according to satellite measurements. Much of this comes from fugitive emissions due to the fracking process. This is not good news because methane, measured over a 100 year time frame, is 36 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The Federal Government is also hanging on to coal, despite the rhetoric about gas being a transition fuel. Money in the recent Budget for propping up the coal-fired Vales Point power station is testament to that. However, rumours on Monday that several Chinese state-owned steel mills and energy providers had been told to stop importing Australian coal, would have had government economists retching. Within days, BHP – which had had deferment requests from Chinese coal customers – confirmed the freeze on Australian imports.

A revolution certified by the IEA

A couple of reports came out this week. The first is an international one, namely the World Energy Outlook (WEO) produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Ten years ago, the IEA called coal “the backbone of the global electricity system.” In its 2020 WEO, however, the IEA declared solar power “the new king of electricity”. It said solar is already cheaper than power generated by new coal and gas developments in most countries and is providing, “some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”. (Someone tell Angus.)

Action needed now

The second report was more local, coming from the Breakthrough Centre for Climate Restoration, based in Melbourne. Its latest publication Climate Reality Check 2020 makes for depressing, though necessary, reading. It quotes Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute, who says: “If we continue down the present path “there is a very big risk that we will just end our civilisation. The human species will survive somehow, but we will destroy almost everything we have built up over the last two thousand years.” Amonst other things, the report warns that:

  • the rate of temperature increase is speeding up;
  • breaking the 1.5C temperature increase above pre-industrial levels will come a decade earlier than predicted;
  • the 2C limit will be breached before mid-century;
  • there is a serious underestimation of future climate impacts;
  • vital ecosystems including the Great Barrier Reef are facing devastation now.

To reinforce that last point, a paper published on Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society says that the Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals, with a decline in the number of shallow and deep water corals across almost all species in the past two decades.

Eyes on Queensland

This is all relevant to the coming Queensland state elections on 31 October. Labor has produced a 10 year climate plan that includes a target of zero net emissions by 2050. Environmentalists have welcomed the plan, but are urging the government to commit to limiting warming to 1.5C, given the Reef will be gone at 2C warming over pre-industrial levels. Reconciling the 10 year plan with support for the Adani mega-coal mine must surely give Premier Palaszczuk a case of cognitive dissonance.

Hotter and hotter

It would have been no surprise to Californians who have spent the summer and beyond fighting massive wildfires: September has just been declared the warmest September on record (ie. since 1880) globally. The month was 0.02 degrees C warmer than the previous record, held jointly by September 2015 and 2016. This might not be a large increase, you might say, but there’s a lot of record-breaking going on. For example, July last year was the hottest month – of any month – ever.

Leadership from the business sector

Let’s not forget about the good news though. A new Climate League, made up by institutional investors and super funds, is calling on Australian insurers, banks and companies to sign up to a goal of reducing national emissions by about 45% by 2030. The current government policy is for 26-28% reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels. This was the minimum target recommended by the government’s own Climate Change Authority. The Climate League says action is needed now to put the country on a path to net zero emissions by 2050, a target to which the federal government has failed to commit.

Speaking of which, new economic modelling by the Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC) has found that Australia could unlock an investment boom of $63bn over the next five years. The catch? The country must align its climate policies with a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

More insights

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

Creating the political will for a liveable world