The government taketh from climate change - the government giveth to fossil fuels. OK, I know that’s the wrong way around but you know what I am getting at. Taking and giving was at the heart of the Australian government’s approach on climate change and energy policy for all of the wrong reasons this week - again.
First - the ‘taketh’. It was a week when outrage continued in media, public policy and scientific circles over the CSIRO’s decision to reduce its ocean, atmosphere, land and water teams by 350 positions over two years. This includes the loss of 100 full time positions out of the 140 scientists in the organisation’s climate modelling and monitoring units. It is shaping up for a long term battle. The Sydney Morning Herald, in an editorial, called for the cuts to be put on hold and for an independent review to occur on the basis of the precautionary principle: “The decision smacks of having been hastily conceived and poorly executed. It is not clear that the CSIRO board even met to discuss it. There appears to be no coherent plan for which jobs will go and why those, nor for the new hires in growth areas which are supposed to claw back the job losses over two years. Dr Marshall was poorly advised to justify the climate job cuts by saying the question of climate change "has been answered", and it's time to move on to how to mitigate it. Maintaining climate modelling and monitoring capability as we learn how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and identify climate risks has never been more important. For now, the nation's scientists are scrambling to find homes for crucial research programs and science personnel in other institutions.” You can’t get any more scathing than that.
And then there’s the ‘giveth’. The Australian Minister for Science and Innovation, Chris Pyne, led with the chin this week announcing a new growth centre will be established by the Australian Government will drive innovation, competitiveness and productivity across the oil, gas, coal and uranium sectors. Yes, fossil fuels and nuclear. “The Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre, to be known as National Energy Resources Australia (NERA), will promote collaboration and innovation across the energy resources sector,” Mr Pyne said. Here’s the sting: The Australian Government was investing $15.4 million over four years in the growth centre. On the one hand, the government is cutting scientific staff and on the other hand, funding research into fossil fuels and other carbon intensive fuels such uranium. The reaction has been as you would predict - outrage.
The government’s focus appears at odds with the market. Renew Economy reports the boss of Origin Energy, one of Australia’s big three energy companies, saying the world is moving quickly to renewables as solar costs plunge. “The world is moving more quickly towards renewable energy than people thought even a year ago, and Australia can expect an imminent boom in large-scale solar investment, according to Grant King, the CEO of Australian energy utility Origin Energy. King, speaking after releasing half-year results tarred by write-downs of fossil fuel investments, said the renewable energy market would be propelled by the outcome of the Paris climate agreement and the falling costs of wind and solar.”
Meanwhile, the boss of Australia’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases says his company needs to be out of the “CO2 emissions business” regardless of what they think of the science of climate change, simply to manage the financial risk. “We’re not necessarily out of the coal business and it’s not fossil fuels because we’ll still use gas. We need to be out of the CO2 emissions business,” Andrew Vesey, the chief executive of AGL told Guardian Australia. “We’ve done a lot of thinking around this and we believe our view of the future will be restraints on carbon emissions.” “It’s nothing to do with the science – it’s irrelevant what I believe. If markets believe it, if customers believe it, if investors believe it, if government is making policy, then what I have is a significant risk in my portfolio that I have to mitigate,” Vesey told Guardian Australia this week.
Overseas, the world’s top coal producer, and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, will shut down 1,000 coal-fired power plants this year. It’s a move that will simultaneously cool off China’s over-supply of dirty coal and help tackle the country’s air pollution crisis — with even deeper cuts to come. Grist reports the news was confirmed on Monday by China’s National Energy Administration, and first reported by Xinhua, the state-run outlet, after detailed plans to slash coal consumption were issued earlier this month by the country’s powerful executive body, the State Council. The move will accelerate China’s well-documented shift away from coal.
Climate Change News reports islanders will start leaving Kiribati in 2020 as rising seas make life too difficult, according to its president Anote Tong. “The government has built coastal walls and floating islands but they won’t be enough to stop emigration, he told a climate change meeting in Wellington, Radio New Zealand reported on Tuesday” the news service reported. “People are getting quite scared now and we need immediate solutions. This is why I want to rush the solutions so there will be a sense of comfort for our people,” President Tong said.
In science news this week, The Conversation reports the rise in extreme weather is a warning that eco systems are on the verge of collapse. “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, and heatwaves) are increasing as global temperatures rise. While we are starting to learn how these changes will affect people and individual species, we don’t yet know how ecosystems are likely to change. Research published in Nature, using 14 years of NASA satellite data, shows eastern Australia’s drylands are among the most sensitive ecosystems to these extreme events, alongside tropical rainforests and mountains. Central Australia’s desert ecosystems are also vulnerable, but for different reasons. As the world warms, this information can help us manage ecosystems and to anticipate irreversible changes or ecological collapse,” the Conversation reported.
The Guardian reports coral will become deformed and increasingly fall victim to outbreaks of herpes-like viruses as humans continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to two new studies. “Combined, the two effects suggest coral reefs will have trouble recovering from bleaching events, like the the world is currently experiencing. When carbon dioxide is emitted from factories, cars and power plants, about 30% of it is absorbed by the ocean. As that happens, the acidity of the oceans increases, which makes it harder for corals to build their alkaline skeletons.”
The Guardian reports the United Nations climate chief will step down in July, at the end of a six-year term, and praised governments for reaching a 195-nation deal in Paris in December to shift the world economy from fossil fuels to cleaner energies. Christiana Figueres, a 59-year-old Costa Rican, said she would not accept any extension of her term as head of the Bonn-based UN Climate Change Secretariat after what she called the historic Paris Agreement. “We now move into a phase of urgent implementation,” she wrote in a letter to governments, which agreed a goal in Paris to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2100 by shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy such as wind or solar power. “The journey that lies ahead will require continued determination, ingenuity and, above all, our collective sense of humanity and purpose,” she wrote in the letter, dated 12 February and made public on Friday. You can read the letter at Scribd. She also spoke at TED in Vancouver.
Finally, Al Gore is truly optimistic about the future of humanity and our ability to address climate change. EcoWatch reports he admitted to the TED2016 audience in Vancouver last week that “every night on the news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.” But he maintained, “I am extremely optimistic. We are going to win this. We will prevail.” Forbes was so impressed, it ran the headline: “What Makes Al Gore's Latest Batch of Climate 'Truths' So Compelling” . You can watch the 25 minute table thumper from Al Gore on the TED website.
Al Gore, as always, is compelling.
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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