News about climate change this week has been pretty hot and pretty cold, literally. We’ve heard from the International Renewable Energy Agency Conference in Abu Dhabi and from political and business leaders in the snow-capped Alps at the annual talkfest in Davos. Both groups were talking about climate change.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Renew Economy reports Australia chose not to send any elected government representatives to the first major post Paris climate change conference, as new data confirms how the Coalition government has effectively killed the renewable energy target as an effective policy mechanism. “While 58 countries are sending their energy, environment or other senior ministers including France, Germany, and India, Australia is sending only staff from the local embassy. Under Labor, Australia was a co-chair of IRENA and sent its energy minister.”
Had elected officials from Australia been there, they would have heard the Paris climate agreement kindled “a huge flame of hope”, establishing a new model of 21st-century diplomacy. In her first public reflections on the climate accord signed in December, Christiana Figueres, the UN climate change official, told the Guardian, that after two decades of meandering negotiations, countries had at last discovered their “higher purpose” and risen to the challenge of dealing with global warming. “Climate change is a very, very good example of how we are moving to a completely new social contract from the last century…. To have Paris is a huge flame of hope. We can really take some confidence from there that if we decide we want to do something, then we can,” said Figueres, who will step down this summer after guiding the negotiations for six years. “We are not bound by situations we are confronted with. We can rise above them. It’s fantastic.”
The conference was told it is boom time for clean energy, according to Fortune: “Despite the plunge in oil prices, investors and governments around the world put $330 billion into clean energy last year including solar farms and wind projects built on both land and sea”. The huge funding, as calculated by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, highlights the global shift by many countries to cleaner energy and away from certain fossil fuels like coal. The bulk of that funding (about $200 billion) went to industrial-sized projects that provide clean power to utilities. For example, power companies, banks, governments and other private investors funded a handful of large offshore wind farms off the coasts of England, China, and Germany last year. Investors also funded a big solar panel project in the U.S. Southwest and a large geothermal project in Turkey. Not surprisingly, about a third of the funding occurred in China amid increasingly aggressive support for solar and wind projects by the Chinese government to help the country reduce some of its pollution problem. Investors in the U.S. and European countries spent about half of China’s clean energy funding.” The boom, however, boom didn’t reach Australia, According to BNEF analysis published in the Sydney Morning Herald, just $15 million was invested in major projects last year that were not also supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), underlining the important role the government body plays in the industry.
Keeping on with the bad news from Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reports Australia's greenhouse gases from its power sector jumped by 3.8 million tonnes in 2015, potentially making it harder to meet the country's international promises to cut total emissions. “Pollution from power stations - which account for about a third of Australia's total carbon emissions - was up 2.4 per cent compared with 2014, according to data compiled by Pitt & Sherry and The Australia Institute. Emissions from electricity production, which was the prime target of the carbon tax, are now 5.1 per cent higher than in June 2014 - just before the scheme was scrapped by the Abbott government,” Peter Hannam reported.
There is some good news out of Australia. Renew Economy reports Australia ranks fifth in the world in small scale rooftop solar PV installations in 2015 with 713MW added at a cost of $2.2 billion. “The installations – which contrast to a big decline in large scale investments – means that Australia ranked 5th in the world in small scale solar installations in 2015. The 2015 effort meant that Australia now has 23.2 million solar panels installed, or the equivalent of one panel per person in the country. Green Energy Markets released data this week showing that 713MW of rooftop solar of 100kW or less was installed during the year, the equivalent of 144,667 new systems on the rooftops of homes and businesses,” Renew Economy reported.
Business and government leaders from many countries gathered in Davos, Switzerland and were greeted with a cheery report from the World Economic Forum on risks. “The longer-term concerns are more related to underlying physical and societal trends, such as the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, water crises and food crises. Interestingly, extreme weather events and social instability are considered a concern in both the short and long term, reflecting an expectation that the frequency and intensity of crises will continue to rise. One of the roles of this Report is to raise awareness about the importance of long-term thinking about global risks – especially significant when it comes to attempting to limit the extent of climate change and to adapt to the change that is already inevitable. Three risk clusters are discussed in more detail below: the cluster linking the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation with water crises and large-scale involuntary migration; the cluster linking large-scale involuntary migration with a range of risks related to social and economic stability; and the cluster linking economic global risks with uncertainty around the impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the forum’s statement said.
Barack Obama continued his end of second term crusade on climate change, last week halting new coal leases. Inside Climate News had an insightful take on the announcement. “The Obama administration's announcement on Friday that it will suspend new coal leasing on federal lands and overhaul the program to better reflect environmental costs could be a turning point in climate policy. It is a concrete measure toward leaving fossil fuels in the ground, as the science demands. But it was the invisible hand of the coal markets, not the inexorable thrust of the climate models that ultimately drove the federal government to this point. Coal companies have been going bankrupt, even as they have been granted access to a virtually limitless resource at almost negligible prices. So the federal government, as the steward of the public patrimony, could no longer justify business as usual.”
In science news this week, the Guardian reports there is now compelling evidence to show that humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife has pushed the world into a new geological epoch. Its article is based on new research from the UK and published in science. “The question of whether humans’ combined environmental impact has tipped the planet into an “Anthropocene” – ending the current Holocene which began around 12,000 years ago – will be put to the geological body that formally approves such time divisions later this year. The new study provides one of the strongest cases yet that from the amount of concrete mankind uses in building to the amount of plastic rubbish dumped in the oceans, Earth has entered a new geological epoch,” The Guardian reported. “We could be looking here at a stepchange from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said Dr Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and an author on the study published in Science. “What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age . This is a big deal.” You can here more in an interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast with Will Steffen, a researcher and co-author of a paper on the topic.
I love the final quote in the preceding paragraph. “This is a big deal.” A big deal indeed. Now that’s an understatement.
Editorial note: A brief note of apology and explanation for the late filing of this edition. It is normally out Thursday day but this week is out Monday. Your correspondent and his son were visited by tonsillitis for a nasty but thankfully brief four days last week. This bulletin covers events up until Thursday morning last week Australian time and what’s happened since then will be contained in this week’s bulletin as to maintain continuity.
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This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm