A weekly report on the politics, economics and science of climate action
By Jenny Goldie, CCL member from the electorate of Eden Monaro, NSW.
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.
- Fraction of money earmarked for COVID-19 recovery could boost climate efforts. Global stimulus plans for economic recovery after the pandemic could easily cover climate-friendly policies, suggests a new study.
- Explainer: what is the electricity transmission system, and why does it need fixing? Labor has pledged to create a A$20 billion corporation to upgrade Australia’s energy transmission system. So what’s this all about?
- The great unravelling: ‘I never thought I’d live to see the horror of planetary collapse’. It breaks my heart to watch the country I love irrevocably wounded because of the Australian government’s refusal to act on climate change.
- Australia must prepare now for climate-related disasters or pay more later, insurance regulator says. The cost of responding to bushfires, storms and cyclones after the fact is likely to be 11 times greater, APRA warns.
- Biggest threat to our prosperity is dumb, donor-driven govt decisions. Australia’s increasing habit of choosing losers was highlighted again in the past week. Anyone but the most blinkered global-heating denier knew that Chinese demand for Australian coal would fall as renewables got cheaper, and that China wants to take some leadership on emissions to fill the vacuum left by the US under Trump.
- For Australia’s sake, I hope Trump’s climate science denialism loses. US policy has emboldened Scott Morrison to be less ambitious on climate, just when so much is at stake.
- Restoring farmland could drastically slow extinctions, fight climate change. The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are intertwined: Storms and wildfires are worsening while as many as one million species are at risk of extinction. The solutions are not small or easy, but they exist, scientists say.
- Act now on wildfires, global climate change, human health, study says. Immediate actions are needed to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change that helps fuel wildfires, a new study says.
- Our abysmal climate record is on trial. Amid big news and in a world hardened to climate shock, a temperature record was almost forgotten.