Paris, COP21: Australia ignoring energy transition as emissions soar

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What clean energy transition? Turnbull govt says emissions targets are about targets, not changing economy; Greens say Coalition has head in sand; scientists say Great Barrier Reef needs 1.5°C target; Branson calls for big carbon tax; and climate talks end week 1 full of optimism.

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Australia is being put on the spot at the Paris climate talks about its treatment of surplus credits from the Kyoto Protocol, and the fact that it will more than likely meet its short- and mid-term targets without actually reducing its industrial emissions.

Indeed, it seems that the Turnbull government – like those before it since the Kyoto Treaty was first signed in 1997 – is insisting that its focus remain on accounting and ticking boxes, rather than reducing industrial and energy emissions and preparing the country to decarbonise its economy.

That rise in industrial emissions is one reason why Australia will not be following the example of five European countries and cancelling their Kyoto surplus.

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On Friday, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain announced that they will cancel 634.6 million excess Kyoto credits that they could have counted towards their Kyoto targets for 202. They decided to do this as part of a bid to remove what has been described as a giant “hot air” loophole that has favoured some countries.

“By cancelling surplus units we hope to send a strong positive signal of support for an ambitious global climate agreement here in Paris,” the European nations said in a joint statement.

But don’t expect Australia to follow suit. Australia is still intent on using its surplus of 128 million units to meet its modest 2020 targets, which it will do despite it becoming increasingly clear that its industrial emissions, and its power sector emissions in particular, will continue to rise.

That doesn’t appear to faze the Turnbull government.

When RenewEconomy asked environment minister Greg Hunt on Friday if the government was worried that its approach would not position Australia to decarbonise its economy and compete with other countries committed to doing so, Hunt simply said that the critical thing for Australia was to meet its targets.

Its Direct Action program is buying emissions abatement through its emissions reduction fund, and $2.55 billion of taxpayer money – but as quickly as it is doing this, emissions are rising in the electricity sector and elsewhere.

A new report from Pitt & Sherry says electricity emissions alone are rising 10 per cent, and estimates by Reputex put the increase in industrial emissions at 6 per cent by 2020.

2°C not enough to save the reef

It’s not the industry that becomes affected. Saturday night featured the first in a three-part series on the Great Barrier Reef by Sir David Attenborough. The key theme, scientists noted in a panel session before the screening, was that the GreatBarrierReefreef would be unlikely to survive if global warming increased over pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5°C.

“We can save the Great Barrier Reef According to the best science, the upper limit for the long-term survival of coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef is about 1.5°C in the long-term. That is what the science tells us. If we don’t deal with this problem of climate change, the work on sediments won’t save the barrier reef.”

This further underlines the disconnect between what Australia says and does. It seems that Australia is not opposed to including 1.5°C in the text, but only as a “reference” – acknowledging the concerns of vulnerable nations (120 nations want this tighter target) – but not as a target in itself.

WWF Kellie Caught highlighted the apparent disconnect from the government’s support of the reef, the mention of 1.5°C, and the current policy measures.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters also focused on this point in an interview with RenewEconomy, noting that the big lesson from Paris was the need to transition to a clean energy economy.

“The world expects Australia to do better and Australians expect Australia to do better,” Waters said. “We just hope the government is not going to put its head in the sand on this matter.”

Hear the full interview with Senator Waters here:

Branson calls for a deep global carbon tax

The need for a carbon price has been a common theme at these talks. Sir Richard Branson added his voice at the film screening, saying that their “could not be a better time to have a carbon tax.”

He said 2°C was too high a target. He suggested getting rid of all subsidies, to ensure that the clean energy revolution could take place. Now is the perfect time to do it, because the price of fuel is $40/barrel, and may go down to $20/barrel.

Branson noted that airline companies like his had been dealing with oil prices of more than $120/barrel only a year or two ago, and survived. “There could not be better time to bring in a deep global carbon tax,” he said.

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Climate talks are already 280 pages ahead of Copenhagen

Indeed, 1.5°C is still on the cards at the Paris climate talks. In a draft agreement released on Saturday the text included two potential long-term targets: To hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 1.5°C] [or] [well below 2°C].

The options for the text also include decarbonisation “as soon as possible” after the middle of the century. That effectively means very high penetration of renewable energy and a focus on energy efficiency.

The fact that the text has been reduced to just 20 pages – compared to 300 pages in Copenhagen – without any real drama, has boosted optimism that a deal will be struck. The question remains, what sort of deal?

A range of options still exist – from good to bad – on nearly every sticking point, including finance, loss and damage, verification, and future assessments of mitigation, a key plank in a system of five-yearly reviews to ensure that the target, be it 2°C or 1.5°C, is actually met.

This has been the focus for environmental groups. “On the ratchet mechanism, as Facebook would say, it’s complicated,” said Liz Gallagher, of E3G. “This is the least mature area of the negotiations, since we’re trying to do something fresh and new to create ambition in Paris.

“We know that the renewables revolution will proceed faster than we can imagine. We know extreme weather will become worse than we ever imagined. That’s why we need to make sure we review our pledges before 2020, and keep from locking ourselves out of ambitious action.”

This week, the task of resolving those issues will turn to ministers who will oversee the negotiations. Foreign minister Julie Bishop will take over Australia’s negotiating team from today.


Fossil of the Day to OPEC countries

The latest fossil of the day award went to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, who have been trying to remove any reference to “decarbonisation” in the text of the Paris climate agreement. Venezuela, a major oil exporter, calls it a “slogan”. Saudi Arabia and others have also been pushing to have the 2°C long-term goal removed as well, as more vulnerable countries push the target to be tighter to 1.5°C.

Giles Parkinson is in Paris for COP21 and will be filing daily. Greg Foyster’s cartoons can be found at http://gregfoyster.com/cartoons-illustrations/

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16 Comments
  1. Rob G 3 years ago

    Here we have a situation where the Greens are the sensible ones and the LNP are out on the fringe. Out of step with the economics, out of step with the world, behind the technology times. Yet they still point to Labor and the Greens as being silly and dreamy with renewable ambitions. Such is the backwardness of those in power, could someone please send them a fax to bring them up to speed.

    • howardpatr 3 years ago

      Australians would do themselves a favor by voting to create a Greens/ALP Coalition.

    • John McKeon 3 years ago

      “… please send them a fax …”

      I dream of sending them a rocket …

  2. howardpatr 3 years ago

    Turnbull demonstrating his abject failure yet again but he seeks to cover this failure with an innovation statement. He has the chance to innovate on global warming and renewable energy but he must cringe at the very sound of these four words.

    • JohnM 3 years ago

      Lets not forget the LNP gets millions of dollars in ‘contributions’ from coal, oil and gas companies. Malcolm would be very cautious not to bite the hand, whatever his personal views. So we have corporate democracy.
      On the bright side, global investment is divesting like the proverbial rats, as renewables begin to outperform their dirty rivals. So the LNP may eventually have to find another dark overlord. But they do have a few spare.

      • MaxG 3 years ago

        Yes…. whoever tells me we are living in a democracy I will call out a fool.

        • John McKeon 3 years ago

          It’s not even a “corporate democracy”, it’s a dollar democracy. The most dollars wins the argument.

          • MaxG 3 years ago

            Yes, corporations use their money to lobby politicians to enable their programs/intentions. Come to elections, the corporations fund their respective side. Hence, the chosen name 🙂

  3. Michael Rynn 3 years ago

    I take seriously the more dismal views presented by climate scientists. Human beings generally have an optimism bias. The dismal view says, 2 degrees C target is crazy, and too dangerous. This 2 degree target was chosen by wealthy business people, mostly men, who tend to live in the northern hemisphere, and think that they can escape the consequences by using their societies wealth (often acquired from elsewhere) and skills, and hang the poor nations who are not responsible for the bulk of carbon emissions, but live in the most vulnerable zones, where some are being killed by the repercussions of 1 degree now. About 50% of current emissions are from the wealthiest 10% of the global population. This includes the US, and its military empire, the globes biggest carbon emitting agency, which is exempt from all discussion on emissions limits. Australia and the rest of the world need to ignore what the US is not going to do on global carbon emissions, and seek our own path to resilience. Amongst other measures, we need to plan to exclude Australia from paying the social and economic costs of the US oil wars, stop the bombing, cut down the military, deny the US the use of foreign bases, in Australia, and cutback on military expenditure, to devote more resources to adaptation for a low carbon emissions economy. Costa Rica abandoned having a military, and was able to build its 100% low carbon energy supply.
    Australia has to recognize that its high living days on a carbon economy are over. As a consequence of being dependent on mining boom investment, we no longer have rights over the use of land in our own nation. Its all being sold off to foreign corporations. The only way to have Australia back, is to stop trying to live off their money.

    • Colin Nicholson 3 years ago

      If only we were doing what the US is doing. I suggest you look through http://www.eia.gov for the facts

      • john 3 years ago

        just remember what has happened in the USA
        They have used gas which is a better alternative.
        Some of the states have actually put in place some regulations that have resulted in a lower emission situation.
        As to meeting their commitment I actually have no idea frankly.
        As I remember it no commitment was ratified after all the USA believes it is the centre of the world.

  4. Leigh Ryan 3 years ago

    As much as i believe the Greens are extremists and that they don’t give any consideration to anything other than their own fantasy world, i am thinking they will get my vote at the next election because the alternative is a world where my children and definitely my grandchildren are highly unlikely to survive.

    • MaxG 3 years ago

      You would do well in educating yourself a bit on the world, capitalism, imperialism through free trade, corporatocracy or plutocracy, US (imperial) foreign policy, etc. and you would quickly discover that the Greens are rather Saints than extremist. The latter is required to change this down-right rotten world we live in.

    • John McKeon 3 years ago

      Leigh, I was an active member of the Greens for most of 2 decades. One of my civic undertakings was to be the Greens federal candidate in the same seat as Pauline Hanson when she first came to the media’s attention. She was (and is) the social extremist that Everybody remembers, and then there was little old me representing the Greens.

      I just know that I do not live in any fantasy land and the Greens are an essential player in Australia and the world. Just give them some encouragement and vote One for them. They won’t bite you, I promise.

      For.Our.Grandchildren’s.Sakes.

  5. Ray Miller 3 years ago

    Go no further than looking at what Australia has been collectively spending on restoration of infrastructure and losses by, State and Federal budgets, Insurance, Business, disaster management, crop loss, hours of fire fighting aircraft … any measure you like to choose at our current 1% increase in global warming. There is no up side to this for Australia and to seriously vote for making it worse; now that is insane! (Better tell Julie, Greg and Malcolm this.)
    As has been pointed out in an ABC opinion piece today the new innovation policy fails to recognize the innovation/disrupted technology and the significant growth of renewables in the Australian energy sector and the need for this to be ratcheted up through more renewables and efficiency innovation.

  6. Robert Comerford 3 years ago

    I agree with Richard Branson, bring on (an effective) world wide carbon tax. However after the greens tunnel vision politics destroyed the chance we had to get one in that might have stuck because it would have been enacted by a govt seen as legitimate (unlike the Gillard one) I don’t see it happening in Oz any time soon. I also think any chance of a federally enacted one in the USA is about as likely as gun control.
    Most of this is just a sham.

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