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What will shake Malcolm Turnbull from his climate coma?

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First, the good news. According to the International Energy Agency, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stayed flat for the second year in a row in 2015 – a clear sign that the nexus between economic growth and increasing energy emissions has been broken.

The IEA says that the two biggest economies and energy consumers, the US and China, both achieved significant cuts in the last year (by 2 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively), as coal-fired generation was replaced by gas in the US, and by wind and solar and energy efficiency in both countries.

iea emissionsAnd the world can do more, says the International Renewable Energy Agency. By doubling its capacity in renewable energy – principally wind and solar – by 2030, the world can keep on track to meet its Paris climate targets, save $4.2 trillion in fuel, boost its GDP by $1.3 trillion and generate some 9 million jobs. Too easy.

But here’s the bad news. While the world’s two biggest emitters are managing to bring their energy emissions under control, those of Australia are continuing to soar – by around 4.5 per cent since the Coalition government dumped the carbon price nearly two years ago.

Coal generation, declining in US and China, is rebounding in Australia. Large-scale renewable energy investment has come to a complete standstill under any policy over which the Coalition government has control.

Indeed, it is nearly a year since a compromise deal was reached on the large-scale renewable energy target – cutting it from 42,000GWh to 33,000GWh, and more than six months since Malcolm Turnbull raised hopes of a turnaround when he became prime minister.

Turnbull declares himself entirely satisfied with the status quo, possibly encouraged by the fact that while 47 per cent of people say that climate and clean energy policies might influence their vote, more than half say it won’t.

“We have effective and responsible climate change policies that are working,” Turnbull told parliament on Wednesday. “We are on track to beat and meet our 2020 emission reduction target. Our 2030 target is responsible and in line with that of comparable countries.”

Turnbull was speaking in response to a question from Greens MP Adam Bandt, who asked if Turnbull agreed with the assessment of chief scientist Alan Finkel, who on the same day that new data showed a stunning rise in average global temperatures, said that under current policies we are losing the battle against climate change?

Turnbull responded by doing a passable, if less succinct, impression of his predecessor, Tony Abbott.

“We are transitioning from an old economy or an older economy to a new one – a 21st century economy, one that is grounded in innovation, in technology, in competition – and every lever of our policy is pulling in that direction.”

Turnbull then said that the government was “reducing emissions with our Emissions Reduction Fund” (which is not true), and “promoting energy efficiency and clean energy innovation; and we are investing in large-scale renewable energy, particularly large-scale solar and storage” (which is only happening via agencies that the government says should be dismantled).

Turnbull’s inaction in climate speaks of the lingering influence of the hard right in the Coalition and the delicate politics of ditching Abbott-era policies. But it is not clear that Turnbull, even if re-elected, would shift his actual policies to the more moderate position that his rhetoric suggests.

What the Coalition government – in fact all mainstream parties – have failed to understand is that coal is effectively dead, as a current or future investment. China and the US have used the power of regulation to throw their coal industries into reverse, and the world’s biggest coal miner, Peabody, is facing bankruptcy.

In Germany, the value of 46,000MW of coal plants will be written off to zero if the country gets serious about meeting the Paris targets, which demand a much tighter timeframe than even those contemplated by the Merkel government in its “energiewende” of energy transition.

The same is true of Australia, which is offering a meagre 26-28 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 – well below what any independent analyst is suggesting as the minimum required reduction – with no clear policy of how to get there.

The Climate Institute said this week that Australia’s last coal plant will need to be shuttered by 2035 at the latest, but coal generators such as AGL Energy insist they run for at least another decade.

The IEA report said global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stood at 32.1 billion tonnes in 2015, having remained essentially flat since 2013. It says renewables have played a critical role, having accounted for around 90 per cent of new electricity generation in 2015.

Wind, alone, produced more than half of new electricity generation. In parallel, the global economy continued to grow by more than 3 per cent, offering further evidence that the link between economic growth and emissions growth is weakening.

In China, coal generated less than 70 per cent of electricity, 10 percentage points less than in 2011. Over the same period, low-carbon sources jumped from 19 per cent to 28 per cent, with hydro and wind accounting for most of the increase.

Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie said it is clear what Australia needs to do. “We need a plan to close our ageing and inefficient coal-fired power stations, which are some of the most polluting in the world, to make way for renewable energy.

“Without policies to facilitate this transition, Australians will not be protected from worsening extreme weather events and we will not be positioned to seize the economic opportunities of the global switch to clean energy.”

Bandt accused Turnbull of “waffling while the planet burns.”

“Malcolm Turnbull must live up to his past rhetoric on climate and ditch Tony Abbott’s weak and dangerous pollution targets and Direct Action policy. Malcolm Turnbull must commit to renewable energy and the end of coal.”


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  • D. John Hunwick

    What will shake Malcolm Turnbull? Losing the next election!

    • howardpatr

      The threat of losing the next election and therefore great personal loss for Cayman Turnbull in terms of his power, influence and ego.

      The Coalition is infested with right wing religious conservatives and climate change deniers epitomized by Mad Monk Abbott.

      As far as Turnbull is concerned the threat of this large rump of the Coalition is such that he will keep his back turned on anthrpogenic climate change and the renewable energy future unless he and his advisors consider the election propspects are threatened.

      • john

        He will do absolutely nothing now but come his election as leader of his party then he will be able to perhaps put a more moderate outlook on the present future situation facing humanity.
        One can only hope that Malcolm will be able to point out the situation to his party.

  • SM

    Real risk of loss of coalition seats at the next election is the only thing that will shake Turnbull out of his current torpor … Turnbull & Hunt have got away with repeating platitudes about the success of the current policies without ever having to explain why industrial emissions are still rising, we’re the only developed economy still allowing large scale clearing virgin scrub and a sleight of hand means were actually only holding emissions level by 2020.

  • Ron Horgan

    Every responsible nation and international agency now understands that decarbonizing
    industry is a strategic necessity to attempt to prevent runaway global heating.
    Except for a small cabal of Australian politicians who cannot survive beyond the next
    election. Must be something in the air here?

  • John Saint-Smith

    I had my doubts about Turnbull, even before he began his post-PM transformation, but even I wasn’t prepared for his total reversal. What we see now, looks like he has just turned his back dropped his pants and ‘mooned’ the electorate.
    Have we been duped by the smoothest ‘card trick’ ever played in the Australian Parliament?

    • Pete

      Yes John, he did drop his pants but he didn’t moon the electorate, he was royally shafted by the right wing of his party.

      The best thing he can do for us is give Abbott his job back and let the Libs get wiped out at the polls.

      • John Saint-Smith

        From my point of view, what he does with his right-wing mates is his own affair, I care what he does to Australia. He obviously didn’t get the job by fooling them, he got the job by screwing us!

        • Ian

          Listen Pell, how else can you get to the top?

  • Neville Bott

    If emissions from energy are stabilizing what is driving the increase in C02 levels ?

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

    (Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide)

    There is nothing here to suggest that total emissions are deviating from the long term trend.

    • Neville Bott

      A closer look shows last two years peaks are about the same, not much to be optimistic about until there are more data points
      But just maybe this is the start of a slow down in emissions, lets all hope this can continue as it must if our children are to have any chance of a decent life.

    • john

      It is being caused by the biota being changed by the situation that is faced due to a longer summer and an earlier spring.

    • Ian

      The acceleration in the amount of total emissions per year might have stopped but there is still a huge quantity each year, this is cumulative. That is the point, burning any fossil fuels will add to the total. Of course the earth has homeostatic mechanisms to deal with a certain amount of anthropomorphic CO2. But, the yearly emissions have for a number of years overwhelmed the earth’s ability to cope. The world’s nations need to reduce their emissions substantially before we can breath a sigh of relief. Can anyone say what the maximum yearly total of emissions can be to see a decrease in Carbon dioxide levels? That should be the quota initially. Has anyone actually calculated how much CO2 emissions the earth can handle. An estimate should not be hard to achieve. There must have been a time in human history when carbon dioxide levels did not increase from year to year, and the emissions at that time could be estimated and used as a basis for an emissions quota.

      • Ian

        It seems silly to say, a tautology, but to reduce emissions, fossil fuel burning must reduce. That is shut down coal, gas and liquid fuelled power plants, remove Fossil fuelled transportation. Unless these are decommissioned, emissions will not drop. Every wind turbine and every solar panel installed takes us closer to that goal. Every drop of oil, lump of coal, and whiff of gas left in the ground means less CO2 pumped into the air. The only thing that blinds us to these facts is the love of money. How do you stop a person farting in a crowded lift? You name and shame them!

    • Gary

      Emissions have stabilised (ie stopped increasing) – we haven’t stopped emitting.
      We still emitted 30Gt of CO2 last year.

      • JeffJL

        It is easy when they give you a full toss.

    • Ken Fabian

      As the world warms existing natural Carbon sinks become less effective at taking up CO2. Ultimately some will begin releasing it back as temperatures warm. Also the Carbon Cycle and how much CO2 cycles between vegetation, soils, oceans and atmosphere vary year to year. You would need a more comprehensive assessment that includes these, rather than confined to energy related emissions alone. Ultimately we can expect releases from carbon sinks to continue in a warming world even past the point of zero emissions, until a new equilibrium is reached.

  • Cooma Doug

    My foot broke through a floor board as I listenned to the agent tell me about the wonderful pest control in the house for sale. Some other people there helped me get my leg out of the termite infested hole. As we struggled in full view of all involved in the open home inspection, the agent continued with his theme in total denial.

    Our country is in the hands of such dangerous personality traits.

  • Cooma Doug

    Surely this money mad LNP can smell the money in the transition boom now starting in this process of survival. Its wierd. We have the money mad libs at the wheel. We have the lives of our future families at stake. There are fortunes to be made. Still they support industries we know are doomed. This is king size denial.

  • phred01

    If Turncoat changes his mind the captain will make another call to challenge

  • MaxG

    I read “1984” … Orwellian the sound of politicians… and 50% of the voters don’t care anyway… so what do you expect?!

    • john

      I actually got 1984 again having lost it a long time ago and your correct the type of NewSpeak being used now is exactly as outlined in the book; rather amazing is it not?

  • Alistair Spong

    While so much can be said about Malcolm on climate change, and none of it good, the election will come down to a dozen or more marginals, does renewable energy and clinate change matter there?
    If the libs lose, at least Malcolm can say that it’s the policies that have been rejected and they would have lost by a lot more under Abbott. A reformation might take place. That would be good for bipartisan policy.
    If they scrape through, the old guard will cling to what power they have left, uncertainty for renewables will continue, Turnbull will have to stare down the right or face unbelievable ridicule & while he will still be a shadow of himself , I hope that another 3 years might bring a gutsier pm who is prepared to risk the dissent of his party – every day the case for climate action becomes stronger- is Malcolm like bamboo bending with the wind. Regardless ,the ALP have refound their united moral compass, the pressure is on – the libs can no longer hide behind the Murdoch press with glib 3 word slogans.

  • Pfitzy

    Some very good points on here.

    I have a small, and probably vain, seed of hope: that Malcolm is sitting tight with the status quo until he wins an election AS the Prime Minister.

    At that point, he will start to actually move in the direction we expected, rather than just take his foot off the accelerator that was the Abbott Bus.

    OK, you can stop laughing! :)

    All of us need to be a bit more politically active if we want to see this happen. I’m not 100% sure how, but I’ll definitely be hammering my local member and their challengers about it.

  • onesecond

    As long as you vote for the Coaltion parties, they won’t change, why should they?

  • Alastair Leith

    While CO2 may be flatlining, the much more rapidly climate forcing emissions of methane continue to rise dramatically. Main sources are ruminant agriculture and fugitive emissions from fossil gas and coal extraction, gas transmission, network pipelines, liquefaction and appliances.