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Paris, COP21: Australia digs in on fossil fuels, sees coal as solution to hunger

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One of the big themes of the Paris climate talks has been the focus on renewable energy – wind and solar in particular – as a means to reach emission reduction pledges, and cut pollution in the cities.

Australia’s Coalition government, however, is sticking to a familiar theme: it has invested heavily in fossil fuels with long-life assets it is keen to retain and, anyway, coal is still good for humanity.

Foreign minister Julie Bishop used a forum hosted by Indonesia called “Pathways to a Sustainable Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Economy” to push the case for Australian fossil fuels.

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“Right now we are in a transition phase,” Bishop said. “Traditional energy sources, fossil fuels like coal, will remain a significant part of the global energy mix for the foreseeable future.

“Barring some technological breakthrough fossil fuels will remain critical to promoting prosperity, growing economies and alleviating hunger for years to come.”

Hunger? It seems a variation of the “coal is good for humanity” theme, despite repeated estimates by the likes of the IEA, the World Bank and others that suggest the needs of poor countries are probably best served by renewable energy.

The comments yet again underline the disconnect between Australia’s apparent support for a global target of “well below 2°C” and its lack of policies to get its economy beyond the fossil fuel age – few renewables are being built and none of the major coal generators are being closed.

Bishop suggested this would be the status quo.

“It is a fact that energy is the mainstay of our respective countries’ export markets and underpins economic growth,” she said. “The capital stock and infrastructure we have in stock to create and supply energy, both fossil fuels and renewables, have long life spans.” So no early closures then.

The case for higher targets

One thing you won’t hear the Australia government talking about here is the need for long-term targets. All that went when the carbon price was trashed by Team Abbott, and they don’t look likely to be reinstalled any time soon.

In contrast, the US is talking about the need to cut emissions by between 80 and 100 per cent. At least that was the opinion of energy secretary Ernest Moniz, in a presentation on Tuesday that also highlighted the plunging cost of solar and wind technologies, as well as LEDs.

Bishop, on the other hand, lamented the fact that, until recently, solar panels were a bit dodgy. “Not long ago solar power needed massive and inefficient solar panels that stopped working when they got too hot,” she told the forum. “Now we’re on the cusp of using solar fabrics to power a mobile phone.”

Moniz’ talk of 80 per cent reductions puts the US closer to the camp of the Australian Greens than it does to Turnbull’s Coalition. Greens leader Richard di Natale, in Paris for the final week of talks, says the conversation in Australia misses international developments completely.

“The Prime Minister has been given a lot of credit for not being Tony Abbott, but we really have not contributed much  on driving the level of ambition required.” Indeed, it seems that the Greens’ own policies are not as radical in the international arena as they are made out to be in Australia.

“What we calling for is absolutely mainstream on the world stage, yet in Australia it is branded as unattainable and too costly.”

Di Natale said of Bishop’s remarks: “You can’t be serious about a serious agreement on climate change, without a plan for a rapid transition away from coal. It’s not just about tackling global warming, we are missing a huge opportunity for the economy.”

You can hear the full interview with Richard Di Natale here;

Australia rated among worst in world for climate action

Meanwhile, a German think tank rated Australia near the bottom of more than 60 countries on their climate change policies and actions. The Climate Change Performance Index, produced by GermanWatch and the Climate Action Network Europe, ranked Australia 59th –  just ahead of Kazakhstan and oil producer Saudi Arabia, one spot higher than its position last year.

Saudi Arabia has distinguished itself at these talks by seeking to downplay any ambitious emissions reduction targets, and trying to derail French efforts at a negotiated settlement by insisting on the issues being resolved on the plenary floor. Tellingly, they have been shouted down on those issues by other developing countries, such as The Philippines and South Africa.

In the climate performance survey, Australia got a “very poor”, the lowest of five possible rankings for climate policy, energy efficiency and renewable energy, with a “moderate” ranking for development of emissions. Australia came in last in the OECD group of wealthy nations and well below neighbours New Zealand, ranked 42 and Indonesia ranked 24.

“This again proves that Australia’s rhetoric in Paris does not match its actions. It is an embarrassment to Australians and a worrying sign to our neighbours, many of whom are suffering the worst impacts of climate change,” Oxfam Australia CEO, Helen Szoke, said.

Paris talks wait for French text

There’s a lot of speculation about what may or may not be included in the final text, but a clear indication will be given at around noon on Wednesday (around 10pm Sydney time) when the French release their version of the text.

Expect it to be a lot simpler than the 20 pages handed to them on the weekend, with most of the brackets removed apart from some key issues yet to be resolved by the ministers.

Those issues may include the ongoing choice/combination of 2°C and 1.5°C, the definition of decarbonisation/net zero emissions/carbon neutrality, the timing of periodic reviews, finance, and the old thorny issue of differentiation (i.e. the split of responsibility between developed and developing countries.

Some of the most notorious members of the G77 – namely Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia – sought to derail the French diplomatic machine on Monday night with a series of procedural moves. They wanted to work through the text on a big screen, an idea dismissed by one negotiator as likely to take a lifetime.

But they got put firmly in their place, firstly by Marshall Islands and then by South Africa. There is still strong optimism on a good deal, it just depends how much has to be diluted to get everyone on board.

But as Howard Bamsey – the former Australian climate ambassador and head of delegation who has been to 19 of these COPs – told RenewEconomy, things have changed. COP21, away from the negotiating rooms, now resembles more of a giant trade show, with business deals being done all over the place, strong indications that what the governments do matters less, the technology is now driving change.

Africa attracts $10 billion in finance for wind and solar plan

One such deal announced on Tuesday was $US10 billion worth of funding for the initiative to build 10,000MW of additional renewable energy on the African continent by 2020. Germany will contribute $US3.25 billion, France $US2.2 billion, Sweden $US500 million and Canada $C110 million to the initiative.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Africa’s renewable energy revolution will ensure access to clean, reliable and efficient energy, while ensuring we do not add to the greenhouse gas emissions we are gathered here in Paris to reduce.” In other words not so much coal.&MaxW=640&imageVersion=default&AR-151009509
African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina said, “Africa is tired of being in the dark. The Lack of electricity has put the brakes on Africa’s industrialization. Through the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, we can sustain fast economic growth in Africa and on a low-carbon development pathway.”
The initiative calls for a total of 300,000MW of renewable energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal, to be built in Africa by 2030.
Climate deniers court more controversy
The influence of the fossil fuel industry continues to loom large over the talks, and some governments. An extraordinary story unfolded on Tuesday when Greenpeace revealed that an undercover investigation had exposed how fossil fuel companies can secretly pay academics at leading American universities to write research that sows doubt about climate science and promotes the companies’ commercial interests.


 

Greenpeace says its investigators, posing as representatives of oil and coal companies, asked academics from Princeton and Penn State to write papers promoting the benefits of CO2 and the use of coal in developing countries. It said the professors agreed to write the reports and said they did not need to disclose the source of the funding.

Greenpeace said the investigation exposes a “network of academics-for-hire and a back channel that lets fossil fuel companies secretly influence the climate debate while keeping their fingerprints off.

“The question now is very simple. Down the years, how many scientific reports that sowed public doubt on climate change were actually funded by oil, coal and gas companies? This investigation shows how they do it, now we need to know when and where they did it. It’s time for the sceptics to come clean.”

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  • suthnsun

    Sigh! The Shame continues.. when will LIBLAB vomit up their coal bile?

    • Ian Cutten

      When? Hopefully after the next federal election, for if Australia sticks with the current attitude to fossil fuels it (we) will be left in the (coal) dust as most of the world embraces new fuel/energy systems and is rewarded by the enormous employment opportunities required to build those systems.

  • https://www.solarpowerservices.com.au/ Find Solar Power

    coal a solution to hunger? so destroying fertile farm lands for mining, burning coal damaging the environment somehow make people LESS in danger of poverty?

    amazing I never new the answer was so simple

  • Rob G

    LNP = Minimal action on climate change. Why would anyone, with the future in mind, EVER vote for them. They just don’t get it.

    • Peter Campbell

      It’s tribal. After an acquaintance was bemoaning the lack of action on climate change and various other appalling actions of the Libs, I asked him whether he would be voting for another party. “Oh no, I couldn’t do that, you see I am in small business.” He could not get it that he did not need to support his ‘team’, even when he had himself made the case cogently for why they didn’t deserve support.

      • solarguy

        Oh yes Peter, I’ve heard that balmy claim before by Lib diehards. I’m a small business owner myself and I know first hand that the Libs are not the friend of anyone else but BIG BUSINESS. Unfortunately there are a lot of weak heads in the Lib government and the delusional nits who can’t tell black from white voting for them. I for one am sick of waking up in Noddy Land every day.

  • Horst

    Argh
    what we need is a solution for stupidity.

    • Miles Harding

      I’m afraid there’s cure for that, however we can do something for ignorance.

    • Doug Cutler

      Simply feel I must . . .

      According to Einstein, the difference between genius and stupidity: genius has limits.

  • trackdaze

    One presumes the current talk from the government means the loonies have tasked the csiro with making coal edible now that its definetly unburnable.

  • david_fta

    but but but … how can we sell coal to them, if they spend all their money on solar panels and wind turbines ?

    Looks like the Tony Path to Prosperity is closed.

    • Diego Matter

      Yep, money talks in Australia, not moral obligations to drowning neighbouring islands.

      It was just heartbreaking seeing the pacific island people marching at the People’s Climate March in Brisbane to fight for their survival. It really hit it home for me that time and big ambitions are of essence in the fight against global warming.

  • John Saint-Smith

    We live in interesting times…

    Ms (Alice-in-Wonderland) Bishop and the Turnbull tuned up LNP don’t though, they live in a different time zone on another (mythical) planet entirely – where coal is good for humanity.

    God! What an embarrassment! I thought she couldn’t top berating Obama over our failure to protect the GBR from climate change – by reducing fertilizer and soil run-off – both of which might just increase CO2 capture through algal blooms…. sigh.

  • John McKeon

    “Australia rated among worst in world for climate action”

    … a classic example of how private international capital calls the shots – and bugger the national polity. Greenhouse Mafia indeed.

  • Ken Dyer

    Memo Julie Bishop. You cannot eat coal.

  • Robert Comerford

    This ‘coal alleviates hunger’ spin is just to make Australians feel good about exporting thermal coal and the jobs that go with it..

    • trackdaze

      And the groundwork for fat juicy political donations next year. Trouble is the coal barons dont have as much to give.

      • Peter Campbell

        Fin Review today said that globally 65% of coal mines were running at a loss.

  • Island fisher

    Julie Bishop should now be forced to present to parliment detailed analisis and peer reviewed research on the nutritional value of the little black rock. Failure to do so is a breach of parlimentery privilege

  • Jo

    It is clearly visible in the name: COALition

  • john

    Quote { Bishop, on the other hand, lamented the fact that, until recently, solar panels were a bit dodgy. “Not long ago solar power needed massive and inefficient solar panels that stopped working when they got too hot,” she told the forum. “Now we’re on the cusp of using solar fabrics to power a mobile phone.” }
    Some one advising the minister has little knowledge indeed.
    The output does degrade as temperature rises above 25c they do not stop working, What will trip the system is over voltage due to high supply voltage and high resistance in the connections to a system.
    The simple mobile charge system is a fact not some in the future idea.
    It is important when one is speaking on behalf of a country to be informed and not make such lamentable mistakes it really underlines the inadequate preparation on the subject at hand.

  • Geoff

    oh FFS!!! how awful a troll she is. I wonder where she got the “stop hunger” slogan from? probably from Tony’s bag of tricks.
    the worst thing about all of this is that the LNP and ALP are just as bad as each other. just look at the ALP in QLD and what they are doing up there in regards to CSG. you think the ALP at the federal level is any better with their empty slogans of 45% with no plan to back it up?
    Australia is in a real position to completely isolate themselves from the rest of the world around energy, effectively bouncing us out of new markets and investment. our economy will tank and quality of life will fall.

  • Cooma Doug

    The Australian government has access to science and quality advice on all matters. To run this argument and policy disaster is criminal negligence. It isn’t a mistake of bad judgement. They know what they are doing. They are aware of the dangers.
    If a hospital chose to ignore dangerous conditions and put lives at risk by sprouting BS, someone would go to gaol.

  • Tim Buckley

    Julie Bishop sounds like she not only wants Australia to utilise our existing coal export rail and coal port infrastructure, but thinks it is a wise investment for Australia to build even more coal export capacity, and more stranded assets. We haven’t done enough to drive down the global coal price; we should expand production by approving 50 million tonnes of new coal mines in NSW alone. Oh, too late, we have already had Greg Hunt and Mike Baird approve them. Lets flood the market with a product Australia supplies in such excess volume that it generates a zero profit margin – profitless prosperity! By exporting ever more coal we make it cheaper for import nations like Japan and Korea. Selfless actions by Australian coal companies supported by Australian taxpayer subsidies. There’s a good idea, not!

  • Farmer Dave

    Where can I buy some black coal? I’d like to mail a lump to Julie Bishop, and I’m sure I can find a few friends to also send her some. Perhaps a hashtag #SendJulieSome Coal might get a run. Afterall, she needs to eat …

    • Peter Campbell

      Years ago, I needed a small amount of coal for an experimental lesson with high school science students. The local historical steam train society told me where a little bit had been spilled on a siding near the local train station and I could easily find a few lumps to pick up for the class.

  • Humanitarian Solar

    Well done Greenpeace. Academics-for-hire need to disclose their funding sources. If funding sources are not disclosed, is reasonable to suggest a “conflict of interest” may be present, leading to personal bias inherent in the interpretation of the data. If an undisclosed “conflict-of-interest” occurred where data was misrepresented, academics may have contributed to crimes against humanity and they are responsible to their profession and their professions code of ethics. Great work Greenpeace, for contributing to a culture of honesty and transparency and hence accuracy of our sciences.