The climate this week – 25 May 2021

The climate this week – 25 May 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: Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency. Dr Birol called for an immediate stop to new investments in fossil fuels. Credit: World Economic Forum (cc).

IEA says: “no more coal”

The big news of the week was the message from Fatih Birol, head of the normally conservative International Energy Agency (IEA). He said that “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.” This is a mantra that we need to adopt and try and persuade the Federal Government of such. Its decision to go ahead with the gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri has been panned by just about everyone (even The Australian!), not just climate activists. On Q&A on Thursday it was suggested that it will never be built, and it was simply a gesture in view of the then upcoming NSW State by-election in the Upper Hunter.

It was an effective gesture though, since the Nationals have retained the seat in the by-election. This is a pity for the climate, though the majority of the candidates were pro-coal mining in a region heavily dependent on it. Kirsty McConnell, whom Malcolm Turnbull backed for her anti-coal stance, won 8.9%. That made her a clear winner amongst the Independents, but not enough to get above the Nationals, ALP, One Nation, and Shooters, Farmers and Fishers.

Moving federal funds from renewables to fossil fuels

Energy and Emissions-reduction Minister Angus Taylor seems not to understand what “renewable energy” means. (It does NOT mean fossil fuels). Yet on Tuesday, Mr Taylor moved to open up the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to fund carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, and potentially gas projects in amendments to ARENA’s regulations. It is an outrage.

Climate action from councils

To off-set the dearth of real action at federal level, 46 (more than half of) Victoria’s councils have signed up to a new partnership. Their goal is to pool their energy contracts to tackle climate change and slash electricity prices by about 30%. They will source all their electricity needs from wind. The deal will remove the equivalent of emissions from 90,000 cars every year.

Various states are introducing Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) which have splendid potential for increasing the spread of zero-emissions energy. Queensland is no exception and is developing the North Queensland REZ. You might remember that a few weeks ago we criticised the Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt for vetoing the development of a wind farm. Now the Queensland government has stepped in and provided the $40 million needed for the project to proceed.

Students back on the streets

Last Friday students played truant to march in 47 locations across the country as part of the School Strike 4 Climate event. The theme was Fund Our Future – Not Coal. They called for more robust climate policies by the federal government and condemned the decision about the gas-fired plant at Kurri Kurri.

The market ditches coal and gas

Also on Friday, UK Cop26 president Alok Sharma called on all nations to abandon coal power and make this year’s UN COP26 climate talks in Glasgow the moment the world “consigns coal to history”. The market is helping to achieve the goal. Figures from the Australian Energy Regulator show that coal-fired power consumption in Australia hit a record low during the first three months of 2021. Additionally, gas generation crashed to the lowest level in 15 years, thanks largely to renewable energy and falling prices.

Public funding to farmers with the aim of increasing carbon abatement and biodiversity plantings is not a new policy. However, the federal government has now committed $32 million for a trial platform enabling the trading of biodiversity and emissions abatement credits from revegetation in the same package. This is a welcome move.

The Federal Government has received a lot of criticism for planning to spend $2 billion to keep our two remaining oil refineries open. While controversial, this might be a wise decision. The risk is that the oil supply to Australia might be severely affected, if tensions with China escalate and the shipping routes in and around the South China Sea get closed. At least in the near future, oil is a crucial resource for our economy. However, this situation makes evident the need for Australia to emancipate itself from imported oil by the development of an electric vehicles fleet.

Polar ice update

On a sombre note, new research has found that a significant part of the Greenland ice sheet is on the brink of a tipping point. Beyond this point, accelerated melting would become inevitable even if global heating is halted. Scientists say that ice equivalent to 1 to 2 metres of sea level rise is probably already doomed to melt.

More resources

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