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: After being inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden has lost no time in taking critical action on the climate. Source: instagram/potus.
A new era has started
Oh! What relief to have Joe Biden inaugurated as US President this week without incident. And then further relief when within hours he restored the US to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, pledged to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050, and revoked permission for the fourth stage (Keystone XL) of the pipeline that brings oil to the US refineries from Alberta in Canada. Keystone XL attracted opposition from environmentalists, not least Bill McKibben. President Obama had blocked it, then Trump approved it, now Biden has blocked it again. Biden also halted oil and gas drilling at two vast national monuments in Utah, as well as in the Arctic national wildlife refuge wilderness, which Trump only recently allowed.
In Australia, lack of leadership at the top
The new target of zero net emissions by 2050 by the US government puts increasing pressure on PM Scott Morrison to follow suit. So far, however, all the federal government is doing is promising to meet its (pathetic) Paris targets of 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030 on 2005 levels. It’s worth noting that some sub-national jurisdictions do understand the need for carbon neutrality by 2050. The latest is Hawkesbury City Council – you can read their strategy here.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not giving clues about the need to phase out coal and gas quickly. Not only did he claim this week that coal exports would continue to create wealth for Australia for decades to come. He also promoted his new deal with three major gas exporters. He argued that this deal would lower power prices and create manufacturing jobs, even though this is nothing more than a continuation of existing arrangements.
Bravo instead to the Vice-Chancellor of ANU and Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt, for saying at a major climate conference that Australia must not shirk from its “moral obligation” of tackling climate change.
Nevertheless, Morrison did allocate $11m to the Copperstring 2.0 project in Queensland, a high-voltage transmission line that will connect Mount Isa and the North West Minerals Province to the National Electricity Grid. It will deliver opportunities for new industrial facilities and large agricultural and renewable energy projects.
No more excuses
A few years ago, when a carbon price was in place following approval by the Gillard government, the main argument against it was that it made our industries uncompetitive if other nations did not put a price on carbon as well. Now the European Union is proposing a carbon border charge, which is deemed essential to the survival of its own industries. The EU will impose the levy on non-EU competitors unless they commit to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions.
Why we need to push for immediate action
The Corey Bradshaw et al paper on a “ghastly future” mentioned in last week’s bulletin said that, even if all nations met their Paris commitment, temperatures would still rise by 2.6 to 3.1oC over pre-industrial levels by end of century. If every nation’s targets were as paltry as Australia, however, we would reach 3oC much sooner.
3oC is not an option! Scientists agree that the changes in the environment will not allow us to adapt to that level of warming. Large additional commitments to reducing emissions must be made and fulfilled, so warming is restricted to less than 2oC. If you want some chilling reading, buy Mark Lynas’s latest book “Our final warning: six degrees of climate emergency”. In this book, his warnings are even more stark than his 2007 book “Six degrees”. He now believes that, at three degrees warming, human civilisation will be seriously imperilled with the world’s tropical reefs long gone, the vast Amazon forest destroyed, and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting, causing dangerous sea-level rise.
Time for green mining
After a mammoth overseas trip visiting 47 countries, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, the chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, the iron ore company he founded 18 years ago, noted that his company generates more than the entire emissions of Bhutan. “The answer isn’t to stop mining iron ore — which is critical to the production of steel and to humanity. The answer is… green iron ore and steel — made using green, zero-emissions energy,” he said. He referred to green hydrogen. You can hear his Boyer lecture delivered last week.
And while you’re in the listening mode, the Saturday Paper’s 7am podcast feed has run a series Climate change will kill you. Listen here on their website.
There is a climate rally at 9am, 2 February at Parliament House, speakers will include Prof Will Steffen, footballer and climate activist David Pocock and Dr John Hewson.
Finally, don’t forget to give your opinion as part of the Parliamentary petition against the ‘gas recovery’.
- Net-zero America can be achieved by 2050, if not sooner, says study. Princeton study says the US can reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner and, if properly managed, it won’t break the bank.
- Building a green economy could stop ‘nightmare’ degradation of Amazon The Amazon will be transformed into a “highly degraded nightmare” unless a sustainable biodiversity-based economy develops which properly values ecosystem services and products produced by the rainforest, a leading scientist has warned.
- Climate change puts hundreds of coastal airports at risk of flooding Newcastle University scientists have found that 269 airports are at risk of coastal flooding now. A temperature rise of 2C – consistent with the Paris Agreement – would lead to 100 airports being below mean sea level and 364 airports at risk of flooding. If global mean temperature rise exceeds this then as many as 572 airports will be at risk by 2100, leading to major disruptions without appropriate adaptation.
- Are we really going to let Scott Morrison cook the country? It was just about the first action the new President of the United States took – rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. And it was one quick way to signal exactly the path the Biden presidency will take on the biggest challenge of our times. Pandemics come and go, but climate change is a one-way ticket to a catastrophe no vaccine can help us avoid.
- How long will coal remain king in India? India isn’t ditching coal. But its use could plateau and even decline with the right blend of policies and technologies.
- Human activity is responsible for nearly all global warming, new research says. An international team of researchers has found nearly all global warming can be directly contributed to human activity.
- Forget about the trade spat – coal is passé in much of China, and that’s a bigger problem for Australia Australian coal exports to China plummeted last year. While this is due in part to recent trade tensions between Australia and China, our research suggests coal plant closures are a bigger threat to Australia’s export coal in the long term.
- Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced. Exclusive: first factory production means recharging could soon be as fast as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.
- Russian chemists developed polymer cathodes for ultrafast batteries. Russian researchers have synthesized and tested new polymer-based cathode materials for lithium dual-ion batteries. The tests showed that the new cathodes withstand up to 25,000 operating cycles and charge in a matter of seconds, thus outperforming lithium-ion batteries. The cathodes can also be used to produce less expensive potassium dual-ion batteries.
- Engineers have built machines to scrub CO₂ from the air. But will it halt climate change? On Wednesday this week, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was measured at at 415 parts per million (ppm). The level is the highest in human history, and is growing each year.
The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.