Posts tagged global warming

Coalition to axe Renewable Energy Target?

The one pillar of existing climate policy the Coalition has promised to keep is the Renewable Energy Target (RET), to have 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity generated by renewables by 2020. This is widely regarded as a vital driver of change, because power companies must meet this target. This may be because the RET was a Howard government policy, not a Labor one, and still has strong support in the Liberal party.

However, It seems there are many within the Coalition who want the RET scrapped, or at least put back until 2025. And just before Christmas Tony Abbott also fired a warning shot across the bows of the RET, saying the scheme is “causing pretty significant price pressure”  and needed to be reviewed.

Abbott said he would also “consult closely” with his Business Advisory Council, chaired by Maurice Newman, a climate sceptic and vocal opponent of windfarms who is on record as saying the RET should be scrapped. Abbott seems to be using Newman as his mouthpiece for what most people believe is Abbott’s own continuing climate scepticism.

The Coalition also made an election promise to conduct an enquiry into the health impacts of wind turbines, with many of its supporters pushing for a ban on wind turbines close to residential areas. Funnily enough, Maurice Newman is among a group of landowners threatening to sue their neighbour for installing wind turbines if it affects the value of their properties.

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Climate wars interview

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Terrifying new book

I’ve just started reading a book called Climate Wars, by Gwynne Dyer. I chanced on an advance copy, but look out for it in a month or so. The author, a respected international affairs journalist, starts from the position that we need immediate global co-operative action in the next two decades to prevent serious global warming, and that isn’t very likely. So he has looked at what global warming is likely to do to international relations, talking to military analysts and geopolitical commentators, and then mapping out some potential scenarios.

And his conclusions are scary. Damn scary. I’ll post more when I finish the book, but a central theme is that continued population growth married with changing weather patterns will lead to terrible global food shortages.

Just one example. If the Himalayan glaciers melt, it will dramatically reduce water flow in the Ganges, Indrus, Mekong, Yellow River and Yangtze – rivers that feed a quarter of the world’s population.

That means hundreds of million of refugees and/or countries full of starving people which are prepared to go to any lengths to secure a food supply, including invasion of neighbouring nations. 

China, it should be noted, has never recognised Russia’s claim to Siberia – which Russia only annexed about 100 years ago under the Tsars. So China, unable to feed its population, will be eying off the now-productive agricultural land of Siberia 

As I said, it’s scary stuff indeed. I’ll post some more when I finish the book, but I’d recommend you get yourself a copy.

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climate sceptics and water photograhs

I’ve posted a new briefing paper on Climate Scepticism on EcoDirectory.com.au. While researching it, I came across this cool page of photographs by Corby Beck – have a look at both links.

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Climate sceptic myths

Climate scepticism recalls the way the tobacco industry aimed to sow doubt about the science linking smoking and illness to maintain their sales. This article in the Sydney Morning Herald explores the link between the oil industry and climate sceptics.

In related coverage, these Herald articles examine the current state of scientific opinion on climate change and looks at the common myths being put about by climate sceptics.

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Two reasons why a carbon trading scheme won’t work

Here are two examples of the problems with carbon trading.

Firstly, the Government has said it will exclude emissions from agriculture.

Why? Cows and sheep are estimated to account for 15 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse emissions – quite a significant contribution, so you’d think it would be important to reduce them. They have been excluded because it is too hard to measure these emissions with sufficient accuracy to be able to sell emissions permits. It’s not that these emissions can’t be reduced – cattle can be breed to produce less methane, for instance. It’s just that they can’t be traded. 

And in a carbon trading scheme, being able to trade is more important than actually reducing emissions. 

Secondly, the rules of the carbon trading market determine how it works, and these rules are often based on politics, not science. Today’s example: Kevin Rudd has said excise on petrol will be cut so the cost of road transport won’t rise. Yet carbon trading will push up rail costs. So the price signals will drive commuters and freight away from trains and onto the roads. Yet rail transport produces far fewer emissons than road travel. The scheme produces exactly the wrong outcome. Read the full article in The Australian.

A carbon trading scheme is going to be very hard to get right.

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Compensation will be key to Emissions Trading Scheme’s success

Compensation will be a key issue in the success of the Rudd Government’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), in two ways. Firstly, as the European experience showed, if too many (or perhaps, any) free emission permits are handed out to industries that manage to lobby for special concessions, it reduced their incentive to reduce emissions. They simple carry on as normal, paying a few fines if they exceed their quotas.

There’s also an argument for compensation to poorer households hit by rising fuel and food costs. (It looks likely that farming will be directly excluded from the scheme anyway, but food prices will still rise because of the oil used in food transport, farm machinery, etc.)

The idea of an emissions scheme is an overall quota cuts the total emissions, forcing industry to switch to cleaner technology (which costs more) or pay to buy emission permits from other busineesses that are reducing emissions (which, again, costs money). This pushes up prices. The government, having raised revenue by auctioning off the permits each year, gives this money back to consumers to cushion them from the impact of rising prices.

This has some merit as a political strategy. The fear is that without compensation, the government won’t be able to sell the scheme to the voting public, leaving the door open for a populist appeal by the opposition to throw out the whole scheme. Brendan Nelson clearly has this in mind already. 

In theory too, compensation doesn’t matter. Because the number of permits issued each year is less than the year before, total emissions has to fall.

In practice, it rarely works so smoothly. Emissions are, literally, like hot air -almost impossible to quantify accurately. And given a lot of businesses will have an interest in not being accurate about how much they are emitting, it’s likely to be an inexact science. So it’s important that at the same time the scheme is used in a way that encourages people towards low-carbon lifestyles.

Hence, rather than hand out tax and excise rebates so people can keep buying petrol and using electricity as before, the revenue from the sale of permits should be used to fund schemes that drive behaviour change to energy-efficiency and renewable energy. These can be directed towards poorer households by means-testing them.

For instance, increased grants for insulation, solar hot water, solar panels and energy-saving appliances will help households and businesses reduce their electricity bills to offset the rise in electricity prices.

And improved, subsidised public transport such as buses, trams and light rail to car-dependent outer suburbs such as Sydney’s north-west will mitigate increased petrol costs.

Using compensation this way will reinforce the core aim of the emissions scheme – to wean Australians off their dependency on greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels.

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