US president Barack Obama has released the final details of his ambitious Clean Power Plan, increasing his target for electricity sector emission cuts and renewable energy, just as his conservative counterparts in Australia hit the brakes on wind and solar.
Obama’s long awaited Clean Power Plan is more ambitious than his previous versions. The emissions reduction target from the electricity sector is lifted to 32 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, from 30 per cent, and the national renewable energy goal is lifted to 28 per cent from 22 per cent. That is from around 13 per cent now, half of it from hydro.
“We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change, and the last generation to be able to do something about it,” Obama said at the launch event, which was brought inside from the White House gardens due to the heat and humidity outside. “It’s not as if there’s nothing we can do about it. We can take action.”
Under the CPP, the US Environmental Protection Authority will set interim targets for emissions intensity for each state, and final targets in 2030 for both emissions intensity and total emissions. It will be up to each state to develop its own plan for how to meet these targets, but it will likely result in mass closures of coal-fired generators.
The proposals elicited a predictable response from the Republican Party, where only one of the 17 presidential candidates appears to accept the science of climate change – and he is trailing with less than 1 per cent of the vote – and whose surprising front-runner Donald Trump is as fiercely opposed to wind energy as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, two other likely nominees, and Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell – re-elected last year with a simple campaign slogan of “coal, guns, freedom” – have been damming, variously describing the proposals as “lawless”, a “triumph of blind ideology” and a “power grab.”
Cruz, like Abbott’s principal business advisor Maurice Newman, think climate change is a hoax to designed to exert “massive government control of the economy, the energy sector, and our lives.” House speaker John Boehner describes it as an “energy tax”, using the same language of the Australian conservative Coalition.
That huge divide between the left and right over climate policies and clean energy has now fully extended to Australia. Abbott has also declared he doesn’t like wind energy, and has said that 23.5 per cent renewable energy – the current target for 2020 – is more than enough, and he would like it cut further.
Last night, Coalition and cross bench members of a Senate inquiry into wind farms released a report that has recommended moves – including a five year limit on incentives – that will effectively cripple the industry in Australia. Labor dissented, describing the recommendations as “reckless, ridiculous and irresponsible”.
So, the veneer of bipartisanship has finally been removed in Australia, as it has in the US. In Australia, Labor has announced a 50 per cent renewable energy target for 2030, and a new poll suggests it has support from 65 per cent of the electorate. The Coalition, meanwhile, has hitched its wagon to the Republicans and the fossil fuel lobby, repeating the mantra that coal is “good for humanity” and that any other choice will force up prices to consumers.
The Obama move is seen as a big positive for a good outcome at the Paris climate talks in November. The Climate Institute described the initiatives as “historic” but said the US would need to move even further if the world was to meet its stated target of limiting average global warming to 2C.
The TCI’s John Connor said if Australia was to meet its share of achieving that goal, then it should set a target of a 45 per cent cut below 2005 levels by 2025. Australia’s target is likely to be released next week, with the betting on a target of around 16 per cent.
The Obama CPP allows for individual states to plan how they can meet their share of the national target, either through pollution controls on power plants, energy efficiency measures, renewable energy programs, emission trading schemes, or other measures.
Obama says the CPP will lower bills and other studies have come to similar conclusions. But he warned that critics would say the opposite.
“There will be cynics that say it cannot be done. Long before the details of this Clean Power Plan were even decided, the special interests and their allies in Congress were already mobilizing to oppose it with everything they’ve got,” Obama said.
“They will claim that this plan will cost you money—even though this plan, the analysis shows, will ultimately save the average American nearly $85 a year on their energy bills.”
Nicholas Stern pointed out that an International Monetary Fund report last week estimated that the failure by the US to take into account the full impacts of coal on human health and the environment represented a subsidy of more than $200 billion each year, or about 1 per cent of its GDP.
The EPA estimates that its proposal will These reductions will result in $25-45 billion in net climate and health benefits by 2030, according to the agency’s analysis.
Environmental groups want Australia to follow the US plan to impose emission limits on coal-fired generators, arguing that there is no other way to ensure that coal generators actually close. There is estimated to be up to 9GW of surplus coal fired generation in the market.
Environment Victoria said that by forcing the early retirement of heavily polluting coal-fired power stations, this paved the way for that output to be replaced by wind and solar power. The power stations that would be closed in the US are cleaner than Victoria’s Hazelwood and Yallourn power stations.
“There have been a number of coal power station closures across Australia in the past few years, as ageing generators become unprofitable. This process is inevitable, but there are two things we can do about it,” climate campaign manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said.
“Firstly, we can give industry certainty around closure timelines through mechanisms like emission standards that also ensure the dirtiest generators are retired first. Secondly, governments can start preparing now for these inevitable closures so communities are supported through the transition.”