Monday, 23 October 2017

Is Climate Change Hollywood's New Supervillain?

The Guardian
Heavy weather … Gerard Butler in Geostorm. Photograph: Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros

In 2017, the desire to accelerate climate change – even in the name of brash, mass-market pop art – is quaint yet horrifying. The nagging feeling that humankind may already have zoomed past some sort of ecological tipping point thanks to our voracious appetites for cheap energy and consumer goods seems increasingly undeniable. Previously, we looked to the multiplex to vicariously experience the catastrophic aftermath of freak super-storms and monster tsunamis; now we see these images appear with increasing and distressing regularity in the news.

Similarly direct is An Inconvenient Sequel, the follow-up to Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The 2006 film was a crucial climate change primer that compiled scary collapsing icebergs and even scarier statistics (in short: tundra-enlightening, very, very frightening). Some reviews suggest the statesman’s sequel – which ponders how to tackle climate change in the increasingly science-sceptical era of Donald Trump – may have been unnecessary as well as inconvenient. But it is not as if the planet’s situation has improved, and Gore’s impassioned yet measured messaging bears repeating.
Postapocalyptic sci-fi will always be a popular film playground, but increasingly it seems as if we are being invited to look at worlds worn out rather that instantly shattered. Before it blasted into space, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar painted a plausible portrait of the US as a parched, crop-free dustbowl beyond resuscitation. Earlier this year, Logan presented a harsh, scrappy near future that looked as exhausted as its ailing hero, a planet teetering towards a more relatable kind of collapse than the apocalyptic threats of superhero cinema.
The central message of Aronofsky's Mother! is consistent: what is wrong with these people?
Even the imagery and palette of screen dystopias seems informed by freakish weather that climate change has made commonplace. The whooping, bestial carnival of Mad Max: Fury Road seems like one of the only sane responses in a world where 18-wheelers are dwarfed by electrified dust-devil storms that block out the sun. The crimson-choked Las Vegas of Blade Runner 2049, meanwhile, might not even be three decades away; cinematographer Roger Deakins was inspired by the Australian storms of 2009 that gave the Sydney Opera House a Martian makeover (in reality, red topsoil scooped up from the heart of Oz).
A shared anxiety about how we have abused our planet and how it might ultimately retaliate has seeped into recent cinema in other intriguing ways. Darren Aronofsky’s densely allegorical Mother! encourages any number of environmental interpretations, with Jennifer Lawrence as a barefoot earth mother whose Edenic dream home is invaded by selfish, rapacious squatters – an intensifying nightmare that leaves her traumatised but mostly bewildered. Despite its surreal, disorientating escalations, the central message is consistent: what is wrong with these people? How can they do this?
Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon in Downsizing. Photograph: courtesy of the Venice film festival
In the forthcoming Downsizing, Oscar-winning writer-director Alexander Payne imagines a near future where eco-conscious Norwegians have developed a sci-fi shrink-ray that can zap people, such as stressed everyman Matt Damon, down to just five inches in height. Everything about this growing community of nu-Lilliputians is smaller – particularly their carbon footprint. In the film, the procedure is marketed as a quasi-altruistic lifestyle choice that doubles as a lottery win, suggesting participants will improve the planet’s sustainability as well as artificially extending their savings.
Payne’s movie is a sociocomic parable that has the reassuring presence of Damon at its centre, an actor audiences have seen surviving in tough environments. But with the shrinking process irreversible, Downsizing seems to make a subtle but important point, one arguably as frightening as any large-scale disaster movie where a catastrophe annihilates humanity. Any real-world solution to our inescapable climate change problem is likely to be similarly and uncomfortably extreme – an even more inconvenient truth. Until we overcome our indifference to this monumental problem, the outlook is only going to get worse. Where’s Gerard Butler when you need him?


CliFi – A New Way To Talk About Climate Change

The Guardian

If you’re not familiar with the new genre of climate fiction, you might be soon.
People shop in the newly opened Amazon Books on May 25, 2017 in New York City. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Cli-Fi refers to “climate fiction;” it is a term coined by journalist Dan Bloom. These are fictional books that somehow or someway bring real climate change science to the reader. What is really interesting is that Cli-Fi books often present real science in a credible way. They become fun teaching tools. There are some really well known authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi and Margaret Atwood among others. A list of other candidate Cli-Fi novels was provided by Sarah Holding in the Guardian.
What makes a Cli-Fi novel good? Well in my opinion, it has to have some real science in it. And it has to get the science right. Second, it has to be fun to read. When done correctly, Cli-Fi can connect people to their world; it can help us understand what future climate may be like, or what current climate effects are.
As I write this, we are getting a steady stream of stories out of Puerto Rico the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. It is hard to imagine the devastation, what life is like without electricity, food, or water. What is life like on an island of 3 million people, each fending for themselves, just trying to survive.
Another thing that is hard to imagine is the future. What will the world be like decades from now when Earth temperatures have continued to rise? What will agriculture be like? What will coastal communities be like? What will international relations and armed conflict be like?
It is also hard to imagine what living a subsistence agriculture life is like, today. What happens to lives and communities when the rains change, or don’t come at all? What would that world look like?
Cli-Fi stories are vehicles that can help us imagine. The authors get us to think about these what ifs – these future Earths. Cli-Fi novels (and movies for that matter) can make experiences far more real than endless graphs or plots of temperature variations. And that, perhaps, is the most important contribution Cli-Fi can make to the discussion of climate change in our everyday lives. These authors get us to imagine what experiences are or would be like.
One recent example of Cli-Fi literature is South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby. In this book we follow an artist, Cooper Gosling, who is traveling to a research location on Antarctica to create paintings. Yes, an artist is sent to live with researchers and crew – with funding from the National Science Foundation. After arriving at the South Pole, Cooper has to become acquainted with the strange social system that exists there. Ashley writes the book in such a way that you actually feel you are huddled in the cold with her and her co-workers.
Cooper doesn’t uplift her life to travel to the South Pole on a whim. It is an outcome of a family tragedy and a history that involves romanticized stories of adventure to this remote place. While Cooper is stationed at the pole, she hears news that a radical scientist is coming. This scientist claims that climate change is a hoax – and his presence further upsets the delicate social balance that exists at the research location.
You see the expected reaction of the regular scientists when this climate denier arrives to perform his research. There is backstabbing and sabotage where in the end we find Copper helping this climate-denying scientist carry out an experiment. The experiment goes awry and there are repercussions all the way back to the US mainland, and the halls of Congress.
I liked this book because I don’t like fiction. That is, I find it really hard to get into fictional books because my mind always runs back to science, or my email, or papers to grade, or kids’ soccer practices to get to. I never feel like I have time to just read for fun. But this book was really engaging. It was the first fictional book in a decade that I didn’t want to put down.
It is funny with really quick-witted humor that made me laugh. At the same time, I was impressed by how I felt like I was there – working amongst the staff and scientists. I enjoyed how Ashely weaved in threads of real and accurate science. And this, perhaps, is what makes the Cli-Fi genre so important. We can unintentionally learn real science.
Ashley’s book is at the edge of this genre. It is not “dystopian” and it is not about a post-apocalyptic world resulting from climate change. It is topical and, though fiction, is as present-day as a news headline. This book is about what people, dedicated to facts, are really doing today. It doesn’t seem futuristic. It seems like we are at a point when a bunch of scientists and friends of facts could take over a research station and say, “Stop the madness!”
Salman Rushdie recently said that in the present day the country is so filled with lies and fantasy and fiction surrounding the truth, that it might require the fiction writer to plainly lay out what is reality and what is not. I think Ashley’s book fits that notion.
So, take a look at this new (newish?) form of literature. Particularly if you want a break from the usual genres. If you find something you like that I didn’t mention, please send it to me.


Jane Goodall Talks Her New Movie And Empowering Youth On Climate Change

International Business Times

World renowned primatologist Jane Goodall has for decades promoted conservation efforts -- and she’s not done yet, especially as humans contribute to climate change.
Goodall spoke about her ongoing efforts to protect the planet after a special screening of the National Geographic film “JANE” last month in New York City. The documentary, based on over 100 hours of unseen footage that was believed to have been lost, was released in limited theaters on Friday. The film, directed by Oscar and Emmy-nominated director Brett Morgen, was put together with 16mm footage rediscovered in 2014 and shows a young Goodall in Gombe, Tanzania.
David Greybeard was the first chimp to lose his fear of Jane, eventually coming to her camp to steal bananas and allowing Jane to touch and groom him. As the film JANE depicts, Jane and the other Gombe researchers later discontinued feeding and touching the wild chimps. The feature documentary JANE will be released in select theaters October 2017. Photo: National Geographic Creative/ Hugo van Lawick
Goodall, 83, warned humans are destroying the planet that all animals co-exist in. She said the biggest difference between men and chimps is the “explosive development” of human's intellect, “like sending people to the moon.”
“Chimps, elephants are way more intelligent than anyone used to think but it doesn't stand up to the intelligence of humans, so why is it that this most intellectual creature is destroying its only home?” said Goodall during a Q&A after the film’s screening. “It seems to me there is a disconnect between the clever brain and the human heart, which is love and compassion.”
Goodall is currently traveling around the world talking about climate change, conservation, pollution and other damages to the planet, she told International Business Times after the event.
Goodall stressed the importance of supporting, listening and empowering young people to “roll up their sleeves and take action.”
“They’re my greatest hope for the future,” she told IBT.
The Jane Goodall Institute is working with groups made up of individuals from kindergarten to university levels in 100 countries through its Roots and Shoots project, the primatologist said.
“Every group has its main message every individual makes a difference every single day and what choice will you make, what difference will you make,” Goodall said. “Climate change is still key, human population growth, poverty and unsustainable lifestyle those are the key issues.”
Chimpanzee "Flint" peeks into a tent at Jane Goodall. The feature documentary JANE will be released in select theaters October 2017. Photo: National Geographic Creative / Hugo van Lawick
Jane Goodall As A Young Researcher In Gombe
Goodall, who had no training or degree, was sent by paleontologist Louis Leakey to learn about chimpanzees in the 60s. Leakey had been “looking for someone who had an open mind” and “monumental patience,” Goodall said in the film, making her the perfect choice.
The documentary shows Goodall at age 26 starting out her research in 1960. She’s seen searching, climbing and walking throughout the area to see chimpanzees, as well as waiting for long times in the heat and rain to catch a glimpse of them. Her patience garnered the animals’ trust and soon began to play and feed them, while jotting down her observations of the little-known mammals for the rest of the world to soon find out. Her research made headlines, while others tried to discredit her work for being a young woman in a male-dominated field.
Her mother’s strong support for Goodall’s love for animals was also visible in the film as she accompanied the young researcher to Gombe.
“I was very, very lucky to have a mother who was so supportive,” Goodall told IBT. “Being supportive is the key thing, whether you’re a chimp or a human mother.”
The film also shows Goodall’s interactions with Dutch filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, who was sent by National Geographic to document her work in 1964. The two ended up getting married and had a son, Grub.
Jane Goodall watches as Hugo van Lawick operates a film camera. The feature documentary JANE will be released in select theaters October 2017. Photo: Jane Goodall Institute
Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick during their wedding. The feature documentary JANE will be released in select theaters October 2017. Photo: Jane Goodall Institute
Jane Goodall kisses her son Grub. The feature documentary JANE will be released in select theaters October 2017. Photo: Jane Goodall Institute/Hugo van Lawick
However, the movie also shows some of the more difficult parts of Goodall’s life, including watching a chimpanzee community plagued by polio, as well as a subsequent war within the group after the death of Flo, a female chimpanzee with whom Goodall became close. Goodall’s divorce with van Lawick and her heart-breaking choice to leave her son in England for schooling while she studied animals is also documented.


Sunday, 22 October 2017

Behind Closed Doors At The Energy Briefing: A Rocky Start To Turnbull's Energy Pitch

Fairfax - Peter Hannam

There was a moment of stunned silence at a hastily arranged teleconference of energy ministers on Tuesday evening, just hours after the government's long-awaited electricity scheme had been released.
Some of those present at the meeting – described as "testy" by several participants – had requested more detail on the plan. All they had received were two briefing papers – 12 pages in total – and a media release.

PM's policy sell
Amid opposition from State leaders over the government's new energy policy, Malcolm Turnbull has some work to do, to get them to agree.

But Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told the ministers, "You all have everything I have".
"There was a startling lack of detail and information," Queensland's Labor Energy Minister Mark Bailey said. "That's a small amount [of detail] for such an important issue."
"What we were given was not undercooked – it hadn't even seen the inside of an oven," said a senior energy official who was on the call.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had succeeded in steering his plan through the Coalition party room, it soon hit the shoals of state and territory opposition.
The 45-minute meeting of energy ministers had begun in chaotic fashion with Frydenberg excusing himself briefly for a Parliament division, and handing over the conference to Kerry Schott, the chair of the Energy Security Board.
"Kerry Schott said the plan was very conceptual and needed a lot of work from COAG," said Shane Rattenbury, the energy minister in ACT's Labor-Greens government.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with energy regulators at Tuesday's press conference. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
 Illustration: Matt Golding. 
Rattenbury compared the proposal – which requires electricity retailers to ensure yet-to-be-determined levels of emissions reduction and reliability – to the eight-month effort behind the Finkel Review, led by chief scientist Alan Finkel.
Finkel held meetings around Australia, journeyed to the US and Europe for research, assembled an expert panel and conducted modelling for a Clean Energy Target, "in a perfectly plausible and practical way", Rattenbury said.
"Now it's been ditched for something pulled together in two or three weeks. It shows how weak this proposal is and how desperate [the Turnbull government] is.
Frydenberg declined to comment on the teleconference, but said the scheme relied on "the best advice from experts".
"We are seeking to implement the [plan] to deliver a more affordable and reliable energy to Australian households and businesses,"  he says.

Business backing
The proposal has some support from the business community, keen for the end of partisan "climate wars".
"The more we look at it, the more comfortable we are with it," one executive at a major retailer told Fairfax Media.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a respected consultancy, also found the scheme "innovative and elegant", saying it could steer as much renewable energy into the market by 2030 as the 42 per cent share envisaged by the Finkel Review.
And even federal Labor is indicating it has left the door open to accepting a plan that the Prime Minister calls "game changing". Even so, the lack of a regulatory impact statement for so wide-ranging a policy shift is just one of the concerns within Labor.

'Fundamentally opposed'
But it is up to the states and territories to approve any plan since COAG consensus is needed for changes of this scope. A quirk in the way the National Electricity Market was set up means it must also pass through the South Australian legislature.
South Australia's Labor Premier Jay Weatherill has been the most outspoken, telling the media on Thursday, "We're not going to support this because it reduces incentives and support for renewable energy".
"It cuts our state-based renewable energy target and it subsidises the coal industry at the expense of renewable energy," he said. "At a fundamental level, we're opposed to it."
Lily D'Ambrosio, Victoria's Labor Energy Minister, was also highly critical. "[Turnbull's] modelling is dodgy and his claims about reducing power prices [by $100-$115 a year for average consumers] can't be believed," she said.
Ministers from Coalition-led NSW and Tasmania were largely silent in the Tuesday call, several Labor counterparts said. NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin declined to comment.
"He's not really saying anything, and as the energy minister from the biggest jurisdiction, that's odd," one of the officials present on the Tuesday call said. "But it's not like they're cheering about what the feds are doing."

'Monumental' task
The mood of the states and territories wasn't helped, either, with Frydenberg giving them just 24 hours to comment on the modelling the Turnbull government wants Schott and the board to complete by November 13.
Analyst Dylan McConnell from Melbourne University said the proposal suggests the Australian Energy Markets Commission would have to complete a "monumental" amount of work, effectively redoing the Finkel modelling.
 Another likely bone of contention for the states will be Frydenberg's request to model the impact of the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme – still little more than an incomplete feasibility of a scheme that could cost $4 billion – while all of their various renewable energy targets have been omitted.
"Assuming Snowy Hydro will be operational in the period is more than optimistic," one Labor insider said. "I get [the need to model] a sensitivity, but in the main policy case, as seems to be implied - [but] that's putting a lot of faith in a project that hasn't passed any assessment phase."
"The government is adamant that the NEG is cheaper than an Energy Intensive Scheme or a Clean Energy Target," he said, referring to two policy options dismissed by the Turnbull government. "You'd think this is the opportunity to prove that claim."

The manner of the Turnbull government's approach to the energy plan has also raised concerns about the use of public servants. The Energy Security Board, set up as one of the agreed recommendations of the Finkel Review – was on its first public outing.
"It's unfair to compromise these highly regarded public servants to seek a fix to [Turnbull's] own internal issues," one senior state official said. "This work is not part of [the board's] terms of reference."
Bailey, Queensland's energy minister, agrees: "The Turnbull government has put the board in an awkward position."


How Rooftop Solar Is Saving Billions On Energy Bills For All Consumers

RenewEconomy - 

A major new study has underlined the crucial role played by rooftop solar in moderating energy prices: without it, the study says, the aggregate cost of electricity would have been several billion dollars higher over the past year.
The study by Energy Synapse, commissioned by the community lobby group Solar Citizens, reinforces previous estimates of the broad benefits of the more than 6GW of rooftop solar installed on more than 1.7 million household and business rooftops.
That capacity is ,often demonised by vested interests as “free-loading” on the network and other consumers, but the study proves otherwise.
It notes that in NSW alone the savings from rooftop solar – by reducing demand at crucial times and challenging the dominance of the big generators in the wholesale market – were between $2.3 billion and $3.3 billion in the 12 months to April, 2017.
That’s how much the wholesale price is lowered from what they would have been if rooftop solar was not present in the market. Even though rooftop solar only provides 2 per cent of total generation, the study found it clipped prices by $29-44/MWh – up to 50 per cent higher than the actual price.
That stands to reason. Major generators have long complained about how solar is “clipping their margins”, and networks have also underscored the other major finding of the Energy Synapse study by pointing out that rooftop solar is narrowing and lowering the periods of peak demand.
Mark Byrne, from the Total Environment Centre, points that if the estimates are right, then the benefits to all energy consumers each year are twice the cost of the up-front support for rooftop solar, in the form of rebates and the STC market.
“That means all consumers got a return of at least double their investment in a single year – and the beauty of solar is that it should keep delivering benefits for an average of 20 years,” Byrne says.
“That’s a massively good investment in constraining wholesale prices for all consumers, including those without their own PV. And the returns in respect of merit order impacts will get better as more people put solar on west facing roofs and install solar batteries.”
It is also important in the context of Australia’s energy debate. The Coalition government appears poised to release a new policy designed to inhibit the roll out of at least large scale renewables, despite even the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission finding that more competition would likely cut prices.
The ACCC report was a perfectly times riposte to the Coalition and conservative argument that renewables are forcing up prices.
“The consumer watchdog has belled the cat. Power prices are going through the roof because big companies are gaming the system, not because of renewable energy targets,” said The Greens energy spokesman Adam Bandt.
But the ACCC report – commissioned by the Coalition government – is breathtaking in its cynicism of what can and should be done about it.

Its major findings – that the absurd cost of electricity paid for by consumers is the result mostly of the “gold plating” of the network, followed by soaring wholesale prices and retail costs – is not new. Environmental schemes account for just 7 per cent of the total bills (see bill above).
ACCC chairman Rod Sims says the high costs – they have risen by 63 per cent more than the cost of inflation over the last decade – is because customers are effectively getting screwed by the networks and the generators and retailers.
But then, extraordinarily, he says nothing can be done.
He defends the actions of the big generators as “rational, profit maximising behaviour” that is “consistent with the National Electricity Rules (NER)”.
Of the network costs (which account for half household bills and largely explain the difference between Australia and other countries) Sims says these are “locked in”, refusing to countenance the argument that may be the network should take a write-down on the value of what he admits are their over-inflated asset bases.
In fact, the only measure that ACCC appears to recommend is for the government NOT to introduce a Clean Energy Target, despite the pleas of the Finkel Review and everyone apart from people associated with the Coalition, the Minerals Council of Australia and the Institute of Public Affairs.
The ACCC report itself recognises that increased competition from renewables is one of the principal ways to help reduce prices and challenge the incumbents. But Sims argues against this, saying that the costs of such initiatives are “smeared” across the consumer base.
This has been the argument of the incumbents for the best part of the decade, and it is truly shocking and disturbing, but not unexpected, that Australia’s main pricing regulator should repeat them.
Like so many other regulatory assessments, it ignores the considerable benefits of renewables, and rooftop solar in particular, and the fact that these considerable benefits are also “smeared” across the consumer base.
Energy Synapse’s analysis shows that rooftop solar mitigates prices because of the “merit order effect” – by creating electricity at zero marginal cost, it moves the “bidding stack” to the left and lowers prices.
Anyone doubting the ability of small amounts of demand can influence prices need only look at the Australian Energy Regulator reports which highlights how the big generators game the FCAS markets, pushing “availability” down just one MW below requirements so only high prices capacity comes into the market.
The most significant impact is felt in summer (see graph above), when the generators are at their most rampant, pushing up prices in the face of soaring demand in the summer heat as air-conditioners are switched on and gas and coal fired capacity is withdrawn or fails due to heat stress.
But small scale solar is also saving money on most days. This graph below illustrates an average day in NSW.
“It is worth noting that small solar was able to continue to put significant downward pressure on prices in the late afternoon around 4pm, even though the output of these systems was only at about 40% of max generation,” the report says.
There is one potential gremlin in the system – around 6pm. The report explains:
“The other interesting point is that our lower estimate for the 6pm Trading Interval shows an average price reduction of -$12/MWh, meaning that small solar could have produced a higher price (and hence increased cost) in this interval.
“This is due to our adjustment of bid stacks at high levels of demand to account for peaker plants operating for more hours. Despite this one Trading Interval, the overall effect of small solar PV is to significantly reduce wholesale pricing.”
Byrne points out that even if the Energy Synapse estimate is out by a factor of two, it still represents an extraordinarily good return for the rooftop solar support scheme.
One other graph from the ACCC that is worth noting is the average spot price on state-based wholesale electricity markets over the past decade.
As has often been said, but rarely recognised, South Australia’s high wholesale prices are historical, and pre-date the state’s big push into renewables. In 2007, the state’s electricity prices were nearly double that of other states – and that’s before it had any significant wind power.
That renewable capacity added in subsequent years actually helped moderate prices, and they have only jumped in the last two years – as in other states – when the big generators exercised their unfettered market power.
That renewable capacity actually helped moderate prices, and they have only jumped in the last two years – as in other states – when the big generators exercised their unfettered market power, or as Sims prefers to describe it – acted in an economically “rational” manner.


Portuguese Kids Hit Climate Lawsuit Crowdfunding Milestone

Climate Home

Following the second bout of deadly forest fires this year, seven children are preparing to sue for stronger climate action through the European Court of Human Rights
Portuguese youth plaintiffs, from left to right: Simão and Leonor; Cláudia, Martim and Mariana; André and Sofia (Photos courtesy of GLAN)
Seven Portuguese children have hit their initial fundraising target to bring a climate lawsuit through the European Court of Human Rights.
A crowdfunding drive on Crowd Justice raised £20,000 ($26,000) in its first month for preliminary legal work. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), which is coordinating the effort, has set a new “stretch target” of £100,000.
Mariana (5), Leonor (8), André (9), Simão (11), Sofia (12), Martim (14) and Cláudia (18) are lining up to sue multiple governments for stronger climate action. Their surnames have not yet been released.
It comes as the death toll in Portugal from forest fires in June and October exceeds 100. The extent and severity of the wildfires has been linked to global warming.
“What worries me the most about climate change is the rise in temperatures, which has contributed to the number of fires taking place in our country,” Cláudia said in a statement.
She added that “older generations should invest in controlling more effectively the amount of dangerous gases that are released into the atmosphere” and that she was “taking in this case for the children and for the future generations who are not responsible for the current state of the environment”.
GLAN and barristers from London’s Garden Court Chambers acting on behalf of the children plan to argue inadequate climate policies jeopardise their human rights, primarily the right to life.
“We will be arguing that the court must base its conclusions as to the extent of the emissions cuts which each state we sue must make on the available climate change science,” said Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN.
As well as deeper emissions cuts, the legal team will be calling on governments to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The 47 countries signed up to the European Court of Human Justice are responsible for 15% of global emissions.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Australia Only Wealthy Nation Still Breaking Energy Emissions Records

Climate Home -  Adam Morton

How did a country that launched one of the world’s first major carbon pricing schemes become a rogue polluter in just five years?
Around three-quarters of Australia's electricity comes from coal power plants such as Bayswater Power Station (Photo: Commons)
Australia prides itself on punching above its weight on the global stage, but a recent achievement received less-than-usual attention in the halls of parliament and the country’s parochial rightwing press.
According to a think-tank analysis, it is the sole wealthy nation where greenhouse gas emissions from energy combustion are at a record high.
Among what are known as Annex 1 countries, only Turkey – which straddles a grey zone between developed and developing status – joins Australia in having energy combustion emissions higher in 2017 than at any point since 1990, the baseline year under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The analysis by progressive think-tank the Australia Institute found the country’s energy emissions kicked up sharply this southern winter due to increased sales of petroleum products – particularly diesel, but also petrol.
Energy analyst Hugh Saddler, an honorary associate professor at the Australian National University, found it pushed the total above the previous record set in 2009, a recent decline in emissions from electricity generation notwithstanding.
Saddler told Climate Home it was extraordinary that an industrialised country’s energy emissions continued to climb.
“The rise now is due to increased use of petroleum, but a distinctive feature about Australia compared with other Annex 1 countries is that it continues to have a heavy reliance on coal,” he said. “We’re not doing enough quickly enough to reduce that heavy reliance.”
Saddler’s analysis, published in the thinktank’s quarterly audit of national energy emissions, found Australia’s energy emissions in June reached 383.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – a 49.5% increase since 1990.
Enele Sopoaga, prime minister of climate-vulnerable neighbour Tuvalu, told Fairfax Media last week: “While the rest of the world is moving ahead to renewable energy, Australia is stuck in the dark ages with its reliance on dirty fossil fuels. This is bad news for the Pacific”
Despite this, the country is on track to meet its 2020 Kyoto Protocol target – a 5% reduction below 2000 levels. This is largely due to a reduction in land clearing that had already happened when the target was announced, and generous carbon accounting rules that let it count carry over credits from beating its lenient target in the protocol’s first period.
Some European countries, including Germany and Britain, volunteered to cancel their carryover credits so meeting their targets reflected actual emission cuts. Australia declined.
Transport emissions have received relatively little political attention in Australia. In response to questions from Fairfax Media, the government said it had a ministerial forum on vehicle emissions to consider reforms on fuel efficiency and quality.
(Source: TAI)
Coal, on the other hand, is at the centre of heated political debate. The Liberal-National coalition government, which has a centre-right leader in prime minister Malcolm Turnbull but relies on the support of hardline conservative backbench MPs given voice by former leader Tony Abbott, is divided over whether it should be subsidising new coal generation or adopting policies that would support renewable and low-emissions technology.
Black coal and lignite still provide about three-quarters of national electricity, but a dozen old and failing coal generators have closed in the past five years. Amid concerns about potential supply shortages, business groups have led calls for a long-term national climate and energy policy to drive investment in new power plants.
Australia’s only existing policy to encourage private investment is a renewable energy target. Under Abbott in 2014 and 2015, the government reduced that target and abolished a 2012 carbon price scheme – described colloquially by opponents as a “carbon tax”, but actually a national emissions trading scheme that was one of the first of its kind. As yet, there is nothing to replace the renewable target when it lapses in 2020.
Earlier this year, a government-commissioned review by the nation’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, recommended a new policy – a clean energy target – that would effectively replace the renewable target, but broaden it to encourage other low-emissions technologies. The level of support available would be weighted by emissions intensity, with clean fuels receiving more.
Months on, it is unclear whether the government will adopt it. Turnbull and environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg have voiced support for Finkel, but face the challenge of crafting a policy that government MPs will vote for. Those who reject climate science – including Abbott, a vocal critic of Turnbull since being deposed by his party two years ago – have vowed to cross the floor to vote against any policy that subsidises clean energy ahead of coal.
While senior government members say they would welcome private investment in new coal power, they have softened expectations they will explicitly support it. In February, treasurer Scott Morrison brandished a lump of coal in Parliament, saying it had delivered prosperity for more than a century. By August, he was delivering a series of speeches warning the era of cheap coal-fired power was coming to an end. He warned new plants would be expensive and take years to build.
Instead, the government attempted to pressure energy company AGL to extend the life of the giant Liddell coal plant – 46-years-old and running below capacity due to operational problems – beyond its scheduled closure in 2022. The company resisted, instead promising to come up with a plan in 90 days to replace the 2-gigawatt capacity using other technologies.
AGL’s position on coal is consistent with the overwhelming majority of Australia energy companies and financiers. They consider coal power unbankable and, given Australia’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement, say the future is cleaner generation.
Australia’s pledge at Paris was a 26-28% emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. Several analyses have found they currently have no path to meet the existing goal, let alone the eventual increased target Turnbull and Frydenberg have acknowledged is implied under the global deal.
The Australia Institute analysis is not based on official emissions data, but drawn from monthly government agency statistics for national petroleum use and electricity and gas consumption in eastern states. Saddler’s assessment that Australia and Turkey are the only Annex I countries (those considered industrialised or “economies in transition” in the 1990s) to have hit a record high for energy emissions is based on extrapolation from the most recent data submitted to the UNFCCC in 2015, when those from other countries were either in decline or well below an earlier peak.
Turkey has seen a dramatic surge in energy combustion emissions in recent years, easily outstripping other Annex I countries. Heavy investment in coal power has seen its emissions from the energy industry rise 260% since 1990, from 38m tonnes in 1990 to 137m tonnes in 2015.
The country pledged at Paris only to reduce emissions 21% below business as usual by 2030, rather than an outright cut. In July, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would not be ratifying the agreement, citing Donald Trump’s announcement the US would abandon the deal.
Saddler said Turkey’s per capita emissions were less than a quarter of Australia’s, and its GDP per head less.


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