Even though we have record warm temperatures in Australia in April and May - it is snowing - snowing with news about climate, energy and conservation, thanks to the imminent calling of the election. While this is happening, the rest of the world keeps on turning and getting hotter with devastating impacts across all continents.
In Australia, we are on the eve of an election (due to be called Sunday 8 May for Saturday 2 July 2016) election and the good news is that there’s plenty of climate change and other environmental news at the centre of poll coverage. By way of disclosure, your correspondent is the endorsed Labor candidate for Warringah. The best way to start is with this summary from Renew Economy: “The Australian Greens have unveiled a seven-point policy plan to wean the Australian economy and electricity network off coal, including an immediate ban on all new coal and gas projects, a tax on coal exports and a carbon price.
Following on the heels of federal Labor’s Climate Change Action Plan, the Greens’ 7-point plan – released on Thursday – aims to put an “urgent brake” on Australia’s fossil fuel emissions, while also investing in large-scale clean energy. And it follows the ALP in calling for the reinstatement of a carbon price – although Greens Leader Richard di Natale has already ridiculed Labor’s proposed version, which he told the National Press Club on Wednesday equated to a carbon price of 3c a tonne. The Coalition, meanwhile, is busy disparaging both, with environment minister Greg Hunt dusting off the party’s tried and tested mantra on ABC Radio National on Thursday, that “the overarching point here is that this is an electricity tax,” Renew Economy reported.
The Guardian reports the Greens want millions of households to install renewable energy storage units, saying battery storage could “revolutionise” Australia’s energy system. “They have announced a five-year support package for 1.2m homes and 30,000 businesses, to encourage the take-up of solar storage across Australia. The Greens say the program - estimated to cost $2.9b - could be funded by scrapping concessions to fossil fuel-intensive industries, and are promising to make the policy central to their post-budget and post-election negotiations with the Coalition and Labor.”
The Federal Budget came down this week and Renew Economy was unimpressed: “Climate change, prime minister Malcom Turnbull once said, is the ultimate long-term problem that needs to be acted on urgently. But in his first budget as government leader, it is as though the issue does not exist. Climate change was not even mentioned as a word, or a concept, or even an issue – despite Tuesday’s budget apparently being about growth and jobs for the future. There was no new money for climate initiatives and the only mention renewable energy got was to confirm that $1.3 billion in funds would be stripped from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). On the other side of the chamber, Labor last night came out in support of the ARENA. As for Labor, it had to come make a commitment to ARENA this week. It is crucial that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has clear and long-term access to grant funding to deliver the renewable energy innovation that will create a 21st century energy system, the said today. Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton said there is a clear case for the Federal Government to provide capital grants through ARENA to support innovation in exciting new renewable energy and battery storage technologies. “We welcome last night’s commitment from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) for future capital grant funding for ARENA. While it is disappointing that this has not been cemented with a firm budgetary commitment, we look forward to working with the ALP to ensure it delivers the necessary level of funding, should the party be successful at the upcoming election,” Mr Thornton said. The Climate Institute didn’t think much of the budget: “ Climate funding cuts and uncertainties dominate in a budget that ignores the fact that if we do not invest in strong, effective action to reduce emissions now, it will simply cost us much more in the not too distant future. The consequences of ongoing failure to tackle climate change will be escalating energy, unemployment and other economic costs over the next few decades.”
Now let me try and make sense of news about the Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund:
- The AFR reports: “The Turnbull government has not topped up the $2.4 billion Emissions Reduction Fund – the centrepiece of its Direct Action climate change policy – despite it being expected to run out of money later this year.”
- EcoNews reports: “Fresh doubts have been raised about Australia’s ability to meet the 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET) promised by the conservative Liberal-National government after a new analysis found that $10 billion of extra investment is needed. That comes at a time when lenders are wary because of changing regulations. In research, released today by BIS Shrapnel, has determined it is “highly doubtful” the 2020 target of 33,000 gigawatt-hours (Gwh) of renewable energy output can be achieved given the stalling of investment over the past few years that means a huge catch-up effort is required. It expects the goal may only be reached one or two years late.”
- The Age reports more than half a billion dollars has been spent in the latest auction under the Turnbull government's Direct Action climate change plan, with the vast majority of the money committed to tree projects. “The results mean that about two-thirds of the $2.55 billion set aside under the government's climate change policy to pay farmers and business to cut greenhouse gas emissions has now been handed out. In the third auction of the emissions reduction fund – a central plank of the Direct Action scheme – about 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide savings were bought from 73 projects at an average price of $10.23 a tonne.”
- Australia’s emissions are continuing to rise and the Emissions Reduction Fund is largely spent, showing once again that it could only ever function as a supporting part of a broader climate change policy framework, The Climate Institute said today. “After three auctions, the Emissions Reduction Fund has now used up 67 per cent of its budget, but has contracted for only three per cent of the emission reductions needed for Australia to be on track meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement it has just signed,” said Climate Institute CEO, John Connor. “In fact, it achieves only seven per cent of the reductions needed to meet the government’s current inadequate 2030 target.”
Some good news in Renew Economy, the ACT government says it will better its 90 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, and will in fact source 100 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable energy by that date. The ACT’s minister for the environment and climate change Simon Corbell said the switch to 100 per cent renewables was both achievable and affordable. “As leaders in the renewable energy field the ACT is reaping the environmental and economic benefits of decarbonisation,” Corbell said. Importantly, Corbell said the ACT would retain its ranking as having the lowest electricity prices in the country, even with sourcing 100 per cent of its energy demand from renewable energy, Renew Economy reported.
Finally on Australia this week, the Sydney Morning Herald reports Australia faces a "perilous" water security future from climate change even as the Turnbull government eyes budget cuts to water programs and CSIRO halves climate investment, Rob Vertessy, the outgoing head of the Bureau of Meteorology, says. “Reservoirs in the Murray-Darling basin are now close to their lowest levels since the Millennium Drought and Tasmania is also facing "serious" issues", Dr Vertessy told Fairfax Media on Friday, his final day as the bureau's chief. "Water shortage is a problem and climate change is going to be intensifying the drought and flood cycle," he said, noting that water demand is increasing. "Australia faces a really perilous water security challenge in the future.”
To the weather now and Climate change will render parts of the Middle East and North Africa “uninhabitable” in a few decades, potentially resulting in a huge number of climate refugees, according to a story in EcoWatch. “A new study by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute confirmed a similar study from the World Bank, which also forecast a dramatic temperature increase in the region. Already, the number of extremely hot days has doubled since 1970 and could increase five fold by 2050. The region is home to more than 500 million people who will be affected by the change,” EcoWatch reported. In recent weeks, I am pretty sure every edition has mentioned drought and heatwaves. The bad news keeps on coming as India is in the grip of an early-summer heat wave, according to Reuters. It said the heat wave has killed more than 100 people and closed schools, halted construction and affected tourism in some parts. Meanwhile, Huffington Post reports climate change might be behind the terrible fires in Canada. “The conditions that made these wildfires possible — namely, the unusually warm and dry winter the region has experienced — almost certainly had a climate change component,” director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, told The Huffington Post on Wednesday.
Let’s end on some good news. Bloomberg reports solar power set another record-low price as renewable energy developers working in the United Arab Emirates shrugged off financial turmoil in the industry to promise projects costs that undercut even coal-fired generators.
“Developers bid as little as 2.99 cents a kilowatt-hour to develop 800 megawatts of solar-power projects for the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority, the utility for the Persian Gulf emirate, announced on Sunday. That’s 15 percent lower than the previous record set in Mexico last month. The lowest priced solar power has plunged almost 50 percent in the past year. Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power International set a record in January 2015 by offering to build a portion of the same Dubai solar park for power priced at 5.85 cents per kilowatt-hour. Records were subsequently set in Peru and Mexico before Dubai reclaimed its mantel as purveyor of the world’s cheapest solar power,” according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Only seven weeks of the election to go. It will be fascinating.
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