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Australia must quit coal by 2035 to meet emissions targets, says Climate Institute

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Australia will need to rid itself of coal power generation completely by 2035 if it has any hope of meeting its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, the Climate Institute has warned in a submission on the nation’s climate policy framework tabled on Wednesday.

The Climate Institute issued the “hurry along” to the federal government in the wake of new global temperature and emissions records, calling on it ratchet up policy to replace coal-fired power with clean energy by 2035 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

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In its submission to the Climate Change Authority’s review of Australia’s policy framework, the Climate Institute said that – in the absence of a carbon pricing mechanism – this would be the only policy consistent with Australia’s commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.

“To set Australia on a credible path to net zero emissions, existing high emissions generation needs to be replaced with zero emissions power generation,” the submission reads.

“A domestic carbon price of >$70-$120/tonne would be needed during the 2020s to begin an orderly transition.

“Yet, signalling a domestic carbon price of this magnitude seems to be politically infeasible over the next couple of years.

To be serious about its recent Paris climate commitments, it said, Australia needed a targeted strategy to replace traditional coal fired power with clean energy by 2035 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“Global temperatures are smashing records right now and Australia’s emissions are rising again,” said Climate Institute CEO John Connor.

“The nation’s climate and energy policies lack the credible objectives, the tools and the urgency needed to back recent international commitments, let alone build an innovative, safer, zero pollution Australian economy.”

“We need to move beyond arguments about the value of carbon pricing and provide a policy framework that can do the job.

“There can be no durable policy framework without an objective for zero emissions; carbon budget analysis; and electricity market direct action to replace our ageing and inefficient coal burning power stations with clean energy,” Connor said.

The Climate Institute’s call to quit coal in less than 20 years follows the Queensland Labor government’s endorsement, overnight, of the development of Adani’s massive Carmichael coal mine.

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Greenpeace Australia, who described the show of support as “unbelievable”, said in a statement that the government had seemingly forgotten that it the Carmichael mine gets built, the coal will be burnt.

Meanwhile, carbon market analysts RepuTex released new research on Tuesday which suggested that more than half of Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction task could be met using “cheap and abundant” domestic abatement methods.

“Australia has got its own source of really low-cost credits, which means there is potentially no need to use international credits,” Reputex executive director Hugh Grossman told RE. “We can focus Australian policy on local emissions reduction and do it low-cost.”

But focusing Australian climate policy on mechanisms that actually do something has proven difficult for the federal Coalition, even after a change of Prime Minister.

Rather than responding with urgency, environment minister Greg Hunt recently made the “extraordinary” – and unsupported – claim that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions actually “peaked” 10 years ago.

“My best estimate is that we are unlikely as a nation ever to surpass [2005 levels] … In my best judgment, the advice, the information from the department, we reached peak emissions in 2005-06 … and the course of history to come for Australia is that we will continue to be below that figure.”

Of course, this is not the case, as the Climate Institute’s Connor notes.

“Here in Australia there is drift and uncertainty in climate and energy policy. The Emissions Reduction Fund is reportedly losing budget support and ‘safeguard mechanisms’ impose little or no limits or responsibility on big emitters. Emissions are rising again.

“There are some welcome new initiatives under investigation but investors, business and citizens face a long delay potentially till the end of next year for a planned review to be concluded. The ALP has important elements like a net zero objective by 2050, but is yet to release a comprehensive strategy,” he said.

“Committing to pursue efforts to keep global warming below 1.5˚C – 2˚C above pre-industrial levels means we have to achieve net zero emissions well before mid-century. You can’t achieve that objective, and the Paris commitments, without an orderly and timely plan to modernise and clean up our electricity system.”

“Failure to deliver a policy framework aligned with a credible pathway to net zero emissions risks prolonging investment uncertainty and a much more rapid and disruptive change at a later date. There’s no plan for climate change, no plan for our future, without a plan for a zero carbon Australia backed by modern, smart and clean energy.”


  

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  • Why would we need a carbon price of >$70-$120/tonne during the 2020s to begin an orderly transition when we are being told that the LCOE for renewables is already competitive and reducing when compared with new fossil fuels fired generators.
    Also, as the majority of our coal fired power stations are already well past their used by date and should be substantially written off, why wouldn’t technology and competitive market pressure substantially drive this change over the next 20 years?
    Why would anyone want to risk building a very capital intensive new coal fired power station in Australia?

    • Ronald Brakels

      David H, no one is going to build a new coal fired power station in Australia. It is not economical and it would not be possible to get financing for it. However, while building new coal power stations is very expensive and can’t compete with new renewables, keeping existing coal power plants operating is not. Black coal prices are now very low and brown coal prices have always been low with Victorian brown coal burners only paying a marginal cost of a few dollars a tonne. Back when Australia did have a carbon price Victorian power stations kept operating even when receiving an average of less than 2 cents a kilowatt-hour. So the way to get existing coal generators to shut down is with a carbon price and this will result in the most carbon intensive ones shutting down first. Without a carbon price, existing coal power stations will have to be shut down by some form of regulation which tends to be less efficient. This regulation could be direct, such as forced retirements of coal power stations, or indirect such as increased feed-in tariffs for solar power.

      If nothing is done, Australia’s coal power plants will eventually all be shut down, but that could take a long time and will result, stochastically at least, in a large number of dead babies. Dead adults too. So either a carbon price or some form of regulation is required to kill fewer babies.

      • Ronald, Thanks for the response.
        A carbon tax can be passed on to consumers as can and is the Renewable Energy Certificates, so that leaves legislation.
        The USA seem to be quite successful in closing coal power stations at no cost to the the tax payer by tightening environmental legislation. We could do a lot in this regard as our coal power stations at best use bag filters to remove particulates only. If for example they were required to meet tighter emission limits requiring flue gas scrubbing systems then most coal power stations would not make this investment and shut down.
        The Chinese have been doing it another way by requiring higher energy inefficiencies resulting in lower emissions, which progressively removes the polluting coal power stations.

  • John Saint-Smith

    Isn’t Hunt correct when he says that emissions peaked (so far) in 2005? Since then emissions have fallen as electricity demand has fallen, due more to the infra-structure investment guarantee – paid for by consumers, many of who chose to reduce their use of electricity, or add solar panels, or insulation. With a million newly minted insulations courtesy of the ‘pink batts fiasco’ – an abject failure that saves several million tonnes of emissions every year., the total demand for heating and cooling would decline. The carbon tax re-ignited the downward trend in consumption and emissions.
    But the moment the Carbon Tax was repealed, emissions began to climb due to increased use of brown coal generation – with demand still falling, and then levelling off. Whether the emissions will rise to 2005 levels again before 2020 is a moot point.
    No-one has been more aware of the actual fall in emissions than Greg Hunt.
    Can you imagine the conversation in Abbott’s office when Hunt revealed his cunning plan to put a fig-leaf over emissions reduction – because the hard work in 5% emissions reduction had been done long before the Coal-ition came to government.
    Hunt: there’s so much emissions reduction already in the system, we could even increase emissions and still hit the 5% mark!

  • Mike Dill

    In Australia, the states are moving much faster than the federal government. New coal will not be happening, and old coal will be retired eventually. Utilization rates at existing coal plants will continue to fall, making them uneconomic in the presence of growing wind and solar resources.
    The only question is how long it will take.