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 open cut coal mine in the Hunter Valley, NSW. A coal-free future for this region needs to be planned. Source: Max Phillips.
Eight teenagers and a nun
Over the past few years, the Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has become one of the main symbols of the global fight against climate change. However, we have some inspiring young climate leaders of our own, not least 16-year-old Anjali Sharma who, with seven other teenagers and a nun, has taken Environment Minister Sussan Ley to court. They argue that the Government has a duty of care to all young people worldwide to not allow fossil fuels to worsen climate change.
Monday 8 March is International Women’s Day. Our thoughts are inevitably with those who have suffered sexual harassment or worse inside Parliament or out. However, we also think of women in poorer countries, who tend to be the ones hardest hit by climate change.
In Australia, many of the people hardest hit by climate change were those whose homes and properties were burnt by bushfires last summer. Mick Brosnan – chair of the Social Justice Advocate of the Sapphire Coast – testified to a Senate committee this week. He pointed out that 14 months after the fires in the Bega Valley, there are still people and families living without access to basic sanitation – toilets, water and showers. Adults are reduced to tears by their circumstances, while primary school children are found to be much more anxious than before the fires.
The Senate also heard from the executive director of the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA), Dr Sean Carmody. He warned that millions of Australians could be left uninsured because of the impacts of climate change. In fact, insurers and banks are preparing for worsening bushfire seasons and more extreme weather events. People could be left with no choice but to give up coverage, as insurers hike their premiums.
In the fight to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Victoria is leading the way for the states – though many are not too far behind. It has just enshrined the ban on fracking and coal seam gas drilling into the State’s constitution. Victoria has also experienced an influx of new wind and solar farms after a rapid four-fold increase in applications from renewable energy developers in four years. This happened thanks to the Victorian government investing more than half a billion dollars to fast-track a greater uptake of renewables. This has slashed daytime power prices and added to the pressure engulfing coal-fired power stations.
There was a lot of criticism directed at South Australia (and Victoria), when it proposed an electric vehicle (EV) road user tax. Critics thought the tax would discourage the uptake of EVs. The rationale for the tax, though, was that the rise of cleaner cars would reduce revenue from fuel excise paid on petrol and diesel, and someone needed to pay for roads maintenance. Now South Australia has delayed the tax until after the next election, to be held in March 2022.
As we all know, the Hunter Valley has to be weaned off coal and the workers provided the wherewithal to move to new cleaner jobs. Unfortunately, there are two proposals that both need to be defeated, despite claiming to be cleaner than coal.
The first is the transformation of Redbank coal-powered station into one that will operate using 100% biomass at a capacity of 151MW of electricity. This biomass is not just forest residues, it is the forests themselves, and every forest up and down NSW is threatened with logging for wood to feed the power station. Just because trees grow again does not make the whole project sustainable. Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time and causes a lot of damage, while the forests are re-growing. Of course, there are also biodiversity issues, not least involving the defence of koala habitat.
The second is the proposal for a gas-fired power station to be built at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley. Scott Morrison wanted to kill it off, but the Energy Minister Angus Taylor says the Federal Government will build it even if private firms will not. Meanwhile, the gas industry is touting a report that says keeping gas in the power generation system could reduce costs by as much as $7.5 billion a year, compared with depending on renewables 100%. This is a pushback against the AEMO’s Integrated Systems Plan (ISP) that sees a much smaller role for gas in the future.
UN secretary general: “stop coal now”
Good old UN secretary-general António Guterres called on Tuesday for all planned coal projects around the world to be cancelled to end the “deadly addiction” to the most polluting fossil fuel. “Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to tackle the climate crisis”, Guterres said. With this in mind, you may care to endorse, as an individual, the Coal Elimination Treaty.
If you have a couple of days to spare, there is an excellent conference coming up in two weeks’ time. The Council for the Human Future wishes to invite you to participate in a global online conference on the mega-risks facing humanity, with Will Steffen talking about climate change. If you wish to take part, please register here, by March 10. Note that the times and dates listed are Pacific time for US and Canada, which translates to 8am the next day here.
- Want to cut emissions that cause climate change? Tax carbon. Carbon taxes are cheaper, more efficient than other policies, study finds.
- ‘Best case’ goals for climate warming which could still result in massive wildfire risk. The landmark 2015 Paris Agreement resulted in multiple studies examining the impact of global temperature increases, but these rarely investigate the effect of warming on “fire weather” conditions. Now, in a new study, scientists have found that by projecting two different types of fire weather conditions, an additional half-degree of warming could drastically increase the likelihood and significance of blazes worldwide.
- AEMC looks beyond coal and gas to batteries and flexible grid to manage reliability. Market rule maker looks beyond coal, and even gas, to batteries and a flexible two-way grid in review of electricity reliability standards.
- Dig this: a tiny echidna moves 8 trailer-loads of soil a year, helping tackle climate change. After 200 years of European farming practices, Australian soils are in bad shape – depleted of nutrients and organic matter, including carbon. This is bad news for both soil health and efforts to address global warming.
- Equivalent of Covid emissions drop needed every two years – study. Equivalent falls in emissions over a decade required to keep to safe limits of global heating, experts say
- Blue carbon: how three Australian marine sites lock away 2bn tonnes of CO2. Greenhouse gas stored in country’s marine world heritage sites about same as four years of national emissions
- Batteries poised to reap rewards of renewable energy transition, says report. Big batteries, and grid-connected battery energy storage in general, are in prime position to cash in on renewable energy transition, a major new report has found.
- Origin to offer electric car fleets to business as it seeks a ride on energy transition. Origin will start offering business customers a fully-electric vehicle fleet service complete with charging infrastructure and carbon offsets.
- Global warming poses threat to food chains. Rising temperatures could reduce the efficiency of food chains and threaten the survival of larger animals, new research shows.
- Labor to support gas and CCS alongside zero carbon target in new policy platform. Labor balances commitment to zero emissions with support for gas and CCS in a proposed policy platform, ahead of a looming federal election.
- Book review: The unintended consequences of taming nature. In “Under a White Sky,” Elizabeth Kolbert explores the blowback from our attempts to control the environment.
The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.