Enough is enough! Time for honesty on climate and energy policy

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Recent weeks have seen unsurpassed dishonesty and irresponsibility from national political leaders on Australian climate and energy policy.

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Recent weeks have seen unsurpassed dishonesty and irresponsibility from national political leaders on Australian climate and energy policy – the biggest issue we now face.

The mantra trotted out continually by Government and Opposition alike is that “Coal is part of the national and international energy mix and will be so for decades to come[1], parrotting coal industry leaders and lobbyists. Strictly true, but it is a rapidly declining part if we are to meet the requirements of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which Australia ratified on 10th November.

The International Energy Agency’s latest analysis indicates global coal demand falling 50% by 2040 [2].  But facts are irrelevant as this mantra is used to spruik rapid expansion of our own coal production, to maintain “energy security” domestically for example in SA, and to “alleviate poverty” with international exports by developing numerous new coal mines including Adani’s megamine in the Queensland Galilee Basin.

The essential point ignored in this posturing is that we now face risks from global warming far beyond anything acknowledged officially here or overseas.

The Paris Agreement came into force on 4th November. It requires the 195 countries participating to hold global average temperature to “well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.50C” [3].

Any balanced assessment of the climate science and evidence accepts that that global warming is driven primarily by human carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and land clearing, superimposed on natural climate variability, and that it is happening faster and more extensively than previously anticipated.

In this context, scientists have long been concerned about the extreme “tipping point” risks of the climate system; non-linear positive feedbacks which trigger rapid, irreversible and catastrophic change.

These feedbacks are now kicking in.  For example, Arctic weather conditions are becoming increasingly unstable as jetstream fluctuations warm the region 200C or more above normal levels; sea ice is at an all-time low with increasing evidence of methane emissions from melting permafrost [4].  Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at worst-case rates [5], with the potential for several metre sea level rise this century.

The Antarctic Larsen ice sheet and Pine Island glacier are showing signs of major breakup as a result of warming Southern Ocean waters, a process which is probably now irreversible [6]. Coral reefs around the world, not least the Great Barrier Reef, are dying off as a result of record high sea temperatures. Major terrestrial carbon sinks are showing signs of becoming carbon emitters. And much more.

The social disruption and economic consequences are already devastating, leading to extensive forced migration and economic collapse in some countries.  The refugee crisis engulfing Europe, emanating from Syria and North Africa, is fundamentally climate change driven and a precursor of greater conflict ahead.

Without rapid carbon emission reductions far greater than Paris commitments, the planet will become ungovernable. Yet none of this rates a mention in our Orwellian parliamentary debates, which continue in blithe ignorance, or deliberate distortion, of the facts.

Dangerous climate change, which the Paris Agreement and its forerunners seek to avoid, is happening at the 1.20C increase already experienced.  It is now impossible to stay below the 1.50C Paris aspiration.  To have a realistic chance, say 90%, of staying below even 20C, means that no new fossil fuel projects can be built globally, that existing operations, particularly coal, have to be rapidly replaced with low carbon alternatives, and that carbon sequestration technologies which do not currently exist have to be rapidly deployed at scale [7] [8]. Most dangerously, the climate impact of investments made today do not manifest themselves for decades to come. If we wait for catastrophe to happen, as we are doing, it will be too late to act.

This transition is unprecedented. We have the technology, the expertise and wealth to make it happen. What we lack is the maturity to set aside political ideologies, short-term corporate expediency and sheer stupidity to cooperate in the national interest.

And most importantly, time. Any realistic chance of avoiding catastrophic outcomes, requires emergency action to force the pace of change, starting with a serious price on carbon to remove the massive subsidy propping up fossil fuels. The last thing the world needs is a new coal province as Adani proposes in Queensland.  Or any other new coal mines, CSG or oil and gas expansion.  Massive poverty would be created not alleviated.

The irony is that this transition is the greatest investment opportunity the world has ever seen, from which Australia is better placed to benefit than virtually any other country.

So what will break the stalemate created by dysfunctional politics and corporate vested interests so disgustingly on display in recent days?  Community anger, as natural disasters escalate, the true cost of this abysmal failure of national leadership becomes blindingly obvious and the future of our children and grandchildren is thrown away.

 

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is a Member of the Club of Rome.


References:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/nov/25/government-defends-coal-industry-ahead-of-unesco-report-on-reef

[2] World Energy Outlook 2016, IEA, Fig 5.1:

https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/november/world-energy-outlook-2016.html

[3] UNFCCC Paris Agreement Article 2:

https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

[4] https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2016/12/arctic-and-antarctic-at-record-low-levels/

[5] http://www.smh.com.au/environment/sealevel-expert-john-church-resurfaces-at-university-of-nsw-amid-new-warning-signs-from-greenland-20161207-gt5qje.html

[6] http://mashable.com/2016/12/03/nasa-photo-crack-larsen-c-ice-shelf/#GlKFT3rWbmqE

[7] “Climate Reality Check”, David Spratt, June 2016:

http://media.wix.com/ugd/148cb0_9c80333f46ec4da8a2e8d7ba41886df6.pdf

[8] The Sky’s Limit, Oil Change International, September 2016:

http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2016/09/OCI_the_skys_limit_2016_FINAL_2.pdf

 

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18 Comments
  1. suthnsun 3 years ago

    Ian Dunlop has a very good grasp of the situation, another good candidate for PM.

    • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

      … or President of Australia.

  2. Chris kime 3 years ago

    We cant let the lnp get away with these contemptuous lies and blind denial.any corporation would be raked over the coal for such behavior.turnball has shown he has no balls to face the rw fucks.they have to go.
    People will rise..

    • Steve Fuller 3 years ago

      People is the plural of person.

      Each person has to do something and only when enough make the commitment will the people be able to rise.

      Unless one or a few persons do something dramatic to effect change – unlikely.

      Meanwhile, each one of us must do our utmost to stop the war on our home.

      • Chris kime 3 years ago

        What does that even mean.war on home?re technolgy gives households the opportunity reduce power bills while increasing energy security.
        Aus energy networks have been screwing u and me for years.what dont you get?get your head out of your ass and edumacate yourself.

        • Steve Fuller 3 years ago

          I’m fairly edumacated but always willing to learn more.

          The war on our home is the unrelently pollution that we humans are putting into our atmosphere from burning fossils. The devastation from this war promises to be worse than the sum of all of our previous wars.

          While utilising technology at the individual level does help it isn’t enough to counter the broader forces waging the war.

          Ergo – the need for dramatic change IMHO.

          In searching my ass for my head I found a brown lump that may belong on your shoulders. Let me know if you’ve lost your noggin.

  3. DevMac 3 years ago

    I agree with pretty much everything written above, however this is news to me:
    “The refugee crisis engulfing Europe, emanating from Syria and North Africa, is fundamentally climate change driven”
    I didn’t think what’s going on in Syria was anything to do with climate change.

      • DevMac 3 years ago

        Many thanks for that link and information. I haven’t followed the Syria conflict with great attention, but even so, the climate change angle has never come up when I have been paying attention – until now.

        Very interesting also that numerous agencies have been looking at the potential effects in the years to come, which also isn’t something that hasn’t filtered very far into public knowledge.

        Positive evidence seems very quiet and un-advertised, whilst negative opinion seems broadcast loudly and frequently. Bitter irony.

        Thanks again.

    • trackdaze 3 years ago

      In part, perhaps
      You would have to say that Oil caused the instability in the first place.

      Double wammy then.

  4. Gary Rowbottom 3 years ago

    Well said Ian. I too am disgusted at the divisive bludgeon that this issue has been turned into by politicians. We know what the issue is. We know how to fix it. We have the tools to fix it. Get on with it.

  5. Mark Brown 3 years ago

    What turns me off the Climate Change story is that instead of sticking to plain facts the writers always over-cook issues & add such BS as well. The European Refugee boom is caused by civil war & an opportunity of citizens of 3rd world countries to migrate to countries that has everything their homeland has not. Stop the exaggerating an more people with life experience & commonsense may go with it.

    • neroden 3 years ago

      The refugee crisis was caused largely by climate change.

      Climate change caused a drought in Syria which caused food shortages which caused the anti-Assad protests, and I assume you know how those led to the refugee crisis?

      Do your research. I did. (Giles has a great link downthread explaining this in more detail.)

      • Mark Brown 3 years ago

        Been over there, (4 months) twice & am part of a school in Mid-North Uganda. I understand how they live, or should I say survive.
        Droughts have been part of our planet since creation.
        If you want to believe all this, good on you but I think these theories these people come up with does not do the cause one bit of good. People with life experience have heard all this doom & gloom all their lives & have gained Common sense.

        • Reuben Wilkes 3 years ago

          “The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work….

          Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

          Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution.

      • trackdaze 3 years ago

        As the pentagon suggests way back in 2003 climate change is a threat multiplier.

    • trackdaze 3 years ago

      Its over egged on both sides at the periphery wouldn’t you agree?

      • Mark Brown 3 years ago

        I share your point. I wish the media would give us facts & let us decide.

Comments are closed.

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