The climate this week – 27 Oct 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: an offshore wind farm, photo by David Dixon (cc). The feasibility study for the “Star of the South” – which would be Australia’s first offshore wind farm – is currently under review. The proposed site is off the coast of South Gippsland (Victoria).

It’s election time!

Elections are the name of the game at the moment: the ACT result was 10 Labor, 9 Liberal and 6 Greens. Thankfully, leader of the Greens, Shane Rattenbury, has rejected the idea of a gas-led recovery as the best way out of a recession. He promised his party will push for a renewables-led recovery instead.

Queensland goes to the polls on Saturday 31 October. Labor is slightly ahead in the polls, having won favour with some older voters for keeping Covid largely at bay. However, its support for (or at best, ambivalence on) coal mining may drive many younger voters in the southeast towards the Greens.

At least in the US there is a clear choice on the climate issue between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. If re-elected, President Trump will see the US out of the Paris Agreement on November 4. In the opposite scenario, Joe Biden will fully integrate climate action into US foreign policy and national security strategies, as well as adopt a zero-net emissions policy by 2050.

A missed opportunity

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Government is pushing for its gas-led-recovery-out-of-the-recession policy, having ignored the advice of its own Climate Change Authority (CCA)  to focus on renewables. Indeed, the CCA told the government in July that Covid-related stimulus measures could be calibrated to “build Australia’s resilience to the economic impacts of a changing climate and position Australia to take advantage of our abundant clean energy resources and emerging low-emissions technologies”. It would be a win-win-win strategy for economic recovery, the CCA said.

Gas no more?

A likely spanner in the works of Australian trade will be Japan’s expected announcement this week that it will adopt a zero-net emissions by 2050 policy. This will inevitably require a rapid move away from coal and gas/LNG and possible cancellation of annual imports of Australian LNG. These amounted to 29.5 million tons over the last financial year. This event is hardly conducive to a “gas-led economic recovery” for Australia.

Funds waiting for a plan

Despite 2.1 million electric vehicles (EVs) being sold around the world last year, our federal government is dragging its heels on EV strategy. A paper describing the Government’s official policy will not be due out until mid next year. To be sure, the Department of Industry had $400,000 alloocated in last year’s budget to produce one. The most recent budget had a much larger sum allocated to EVs development. Unfortunately, without a strategy the money will remain unspent. Meanwhile, the investment bank UBS has predicted that by 2024 the production cost of electric cars will equal that of internal combustion engine ones.

The Bushfire Royal Commission will hand its final report to government on Wednesday. In its interim report, the commission said floods and fires were expected to become more intense as the Earth warmed. Now, former NSW fire chief Greg Mullins, joined by the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ECLA), says he wants to see the inquiry recommend more action on curbing emissions.

Technology moves fast

There’s a fair amount of good news on the climate front this week.

  • Australia’s first offshore wind farm – to be built off the coast of South Gippsland – could provide about 8,000 direct and indirect jobs and invest about $8.7 billion into Victoria over its 30-year lifetime.
  • Researchers at a South Korean university have improved the means of charging lithium ion batteries. The development will allow electric cars to be charged up to 90% in only six minutes.
  • Researchers at three Australian universities have made a breakthrough which may solve the problems of instability in metal-halide perovskite, the great hope for more efficient solar cells.
  • On October 11, South Australia relied on 100% renewable power for a whole hour.

Hot waters

Before we get too complacent, however, for the first time since records began the Arctic sea ice in the Laptev Sea off Siberia has yet to start forming in late October. This has been caused by unusually protracted warmth in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters. Ocean temperatures in the area recently climbed to more than 5C above average. There may be flow-on effects to the whole polar region, climate scientists warn.

Finally, don’t forget to watch the third and final episode Craig Reucassel’s excellent “Big Weather (and how to survive it)” on ABC-TV on Tuesday at 8.30pm. If you missed earlier episodes, you can find them here.

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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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