Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Climate for Change

When the media and politics talk climate change there's we hear a lot about renewable energy versus coal. Fair enough, electricity does account for 34% of our country's emissions.

But what about the rest? ABC's Four Corners program did this documentary about Australia's emissions, where we are compared to the rest of the world, and what can be done to improve.

Here is my quick summary. You can also watch it online, or read the transcript.


Transport

19% of emissions
Transport emissions are growing because our population is growing and our demand for transport is increasing. Our vehicles are improving but not quickly enough to match our increased use.

We currently have no emission standard on vehicles. In the USA and Europe vehicles are more efficient and cheaper to run.

Some countries have already started phasing out petrol and diesel cars in favour of electric vehicles. Norway is the leader with 31% of new cars being electric. In Australia it's 0.2%.

Even in the UK, there are 29 affordable models of electric cars (under 60,000 AUD). Here in Australia we have 4.

Industry

30% of emissions
Australia is the world biggest exporter of natural gas (LNG). If the countries that buy this gas are burning it instead of coal, that's good for world emissions. But Australia's emissions are higher because of the energy used to extract, liquefy and transport it.

The industry's rate of improvement in energy use and carbon intensity is at the bottom of world standards. Why?

Australia has a 'baseline' system where big polluters are each given an emissions cap. If they exceed that cap they are penalised - at least in theory. One-third of big polluters have been allowed increase their cap. Emissions from these polluters is up 12% in the last four years.

The rules around changing the cap we changed last month. Bizarrely, they make increasing the pollution cap even easier.

Agriculture

15% of emissions
Agricultural emissions is usually a hard area to find reductions. There are a lot of methane emissions from livestock. However, Australia's science agency CSIRO has discovered a natural feed-additive that reduces livestock emissions to almost zero.

Electricity

34% of emissions
Electricity emissions are trending down as renewables replace coal and gas. Transgrid, the network operator in NSW say the last time they connected a coal power station to the grid was 1992. Wind and solar are very affordable now.

French company Neoen started in Australia in 2012, and now have built half their global capacity here. They say a long term goal is needed and that such a goal is not a burden but a certainty for investors.

At the moment 2/3 of Australia's power still comes from coal. These power stations are old and due to close. We need to start soon and do so in an orderly fashion, so that they don't all close at once.

Current Policies

The current government buys carbon reductions by giving money to projects that reduce emissions. Sounds good in theory, but there are two issues.

As discussed earlier, companies are being allowed increase their pollution so this "emissions reduction fund" is not reducing emissions, just trying to make up for industry's increase.

Secondly, some projects would still occur without the government funding. So we're spending money on projects that would happen anyway.

In short we're spending money we don't have to spend and emissions aren't reducing.

International commitments

So how will we meet our Paris target of a 26% reduction in emissions? The current government is looking to use "credits" from a previous time period where we met our targets.

One of the experts on the documentary said it's like failing your year 12 exams and trying to increase your mark because you got excellent results in year 8.

Also the Paris meeting was held in 2015. Next year all the nations gather again and are expected to improve their targets. The way we're going we can hardly reach the weak targets we currently have.

Conclusion

Despite Australia doing so poorly at the moment, there is much hope when we see what is possible. One of the experts has the opinion that "when the debate is over, the economy and people will move forward and take a lot of advantage". I'm looking forward to that.

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