The climate this week – 23 Nov 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 large Tesla lithium-ion batteries of Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia. Further developments of these energy-storage stations are planned in both South Australia and Victoria (Source: Hornsdale Power Reserve – Facebook).

The slow transition

In the US, President Trump is still not conceding defeat, which inhibits President-elect Joe Biden from properly getting on with the transition. Nevertheless, Biden is putting together an impressive group of people to deal with climate and energy issues. Demonstrators in Washington railed against a couple of appointments of people with fossil fuel associations in the past. However, this may be a sop to the Congress Republicans, who could stall effective climate policy.

While in the Americas, spare a thought for the 200,000 people made homeless in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala from flooding following not one, but two, massive hurricanes. Scientists are now linking the increased severity, intensity and rainfall to the climate crisis.

Low grades for the lucky country

According to a global report by Climate Transparency released this week prior to the G20 virtual summit, Australia ranked in the bottom bracket in every climate policy area except one. The report mentions ‘no national policies to expand renewable energy, phase out coal, phase out fossil fuel cars, decarbonise heavy-duty vehicles, change the nature of mass public or freight transport, retrofit existing buildings or reduce deforestation’. Interestingly, it was on transport that Australia ranked last. UK PM Boris Johnson needs to have a word in his ear about the UK plan to ban all new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

The Federal Government continues to be outdone by the states and territories. For example, the new ACT government is showing the way with plans to offer interest-free loans to buy electric vehicles. Nevertheless, as former diplomat Patrick Suckling argues below, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison – being the pragmatist he is – may be a’changin’ on the climate and energy front. This would be the case despite continued resistance to introducing a net-zero emissions target for 2050. Morrison went to Japan and discussed hydrogen, no doubt aware that this is a means by which Australia can sell its considerable renewable energy resources overseas.

Ditch the trick!

At a dinner hosted by the Business Council, the Prime Minister has mooted that he will drop the wretched Kyoto carry-over credits. The use of the Kyoto carry-over credits has been proposed by Government officials – most notably Energy Minister Angus Taylor – as a way to achieve without achieving its international commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Australia’s current 2030 (paltry) target under the Paris Agreement is to reduce emissions by 26-28% compared to 2005 levels. Unless stronger action is taken on climate change, those targets will not be met. Hence, a trick was proposed by claiming that Australia should be given a discount for its over-achieving on the targets under the Kyoto Protocol, which preceded the Paris Agreement. It effectively means we only need to reduce emissions by about 16 per cent, not 26-28%. What is often forgotten is that in 1997 in Kyoto, Environment Minister Robert Hill negotiated for Australia an 8 per cent increase in emissions on 1990 levels (for 2020), while industrialised nations agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2%. It was shameful, and environmentalists were duly scathing.

The Australia Institute (TAI), emergency leaders, and bushfire survivors have renewed calls for a Climate Levy on fossil fuel exports to help pay for increasing disasters due to climate change. The final bill on Black Summer continues to rise and it is only fair that those responsible for climate change (fossil -fuel producers) foot that bill, instead of taxpayers.

TAI has a very solid reputation but is treated in some quarters with suspicion because it is known as a “left-wing” think tank. Not so the Grattan Institute, also a think-tank but a “non-aligned” one. Both, however, put out reports on gas this week, and both fairly damning about that fossil fuel. Grattan said natural gas will inevitably decline as an energy source for industry and homes in Australia. TAI said the Morrison Government’s ‘gas-fired recovery’ will benefit gas exporters but not our manufacturing industry.

States of action

The NSW Government has announced a new Renewable Energy Zone in the Hunter. This is part of its $32 billion renewable energy roadmap, the centrepiece of which had been so far three Renewable Energy Zones (Central West, New England and south-west). This new Renewable Energy Zone will allow new investments in wind and solar projects to be coordinated alongside new investments in transmission network infrastructure. Importantly, this will help coal workers make the transition to less polluting jobs.

You will remember that PM Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor were pushing for a 1000MW gas-fired power station to replace the ageing coal-fired power station at Liddell on the NSW Central coast, due to be closed in 2022-23. With the Hunter REZ, however, AGL has delayed its plans to build the gas-fired station, saying the NSW energy roadmap would “distort the market”.

Meanwhile over in Adelaide, AGL announced on Monday it would build a large-scale battery on the site of the Torrens Island gas station, which is due to shut by 2022. (Maybe they could build a battery at Liddell as well?) But give AGL credit, the battery will have an eventual power capacity of up to 250 MW. We thought the first big battery at Hornsdale in SA was big (100MW, since enlarged to 150MW). The new one will be significantly bigger and will supply that much power over four hours, when needed.

Another state government, this time Victoria, is showing what can be done. Not only will it build a 300MW battery at Geelong. It has just announced it will invest $797 million in an energy saving package that will encourage Victorians to buy smart appliances and heating systems, boost the energy efficiency standards of new and existing homes, and expand the state’s solar and battery rebate scheme.

You’ve still got a few days to act

Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill has been referred to the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy. Submissions close on Friday 27 November (that’s this week!) For help in making a submission, go to the Inquiry webpage.

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

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