The climate this week – 26 Jan 2021

The climate this week – 26 Jan 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: 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’.

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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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