Monday, October 18, 2021

Not entirely Good News - 6 Advance Australia Where?



Public Shame but private investment - This crowd funded billboard in New York's Times Square initiated by comedian, Dan Ilic (see below) expresses public dissatisfaction with inaction on climate by the Australian government, but private investment in renewables is soaring.

 

As a largely arid country which is especially vulnerable to climate change, the consequences of which many citizens have already experienced at first hand, it's not surprising that large segments of the Australian population expect their government to do more to prevent further warming. A vague plan to do something by 2050 simply won't cut it any more. As mining billionaire Andrew Forrest (see below) points out, waiting too long will not only have environmental consequences but serious economic ones as well.

Although a comparatively small emitter by global standards, it does have a large per capita footprint by virtue of its small population, great distances both within and to markets outside the country and its reliance on extractive industries and agriculture for much of its livelihood. It is also the world's largest exporter of coking coal and the second-largest for thermal coal. UK energy think tank Ember, found that emissions from Australian coal burnt overseas, were double those of Australia’s own emissions in 2020. For more on why immediate action is needed now, read Bloomberg NEF’s analysis here.

The Australian Government has bumbled for eight years on emission reduction. After its one seat election win, it continues to approve new coalmines and subsidise coal and gas projects. Now disgruntled people are voting with their wallets.

 

 

 

 

  •   Thirty per cent of households have solar panels on their roof,  making it the highest per capita uptake of solar in the world. Some states which independently subsidise solar panels and storage such as South Australia, have done even better, reaching 40%. 
  • On  the 11th of August 2020, Australia achieved zero emissions from electricity generation for the first time. It could have been even higher but some wind turbines had to be turned off to prevent overloading the national power grid. Although the record was broken only briefly, both coal and gas generation are in steep long term decline with coal providing only an average of 57% of Australia’s power needs and gas a mere 6% in the first half  of 2021.
    Another record was set on the 6th of October when generation from renewable sources peaked at 9,104 MW or one third of  the total energy supply.

  •  After 11 years of struggle by community groups, the proposal for the Hume Coalmine near Berrima in NSW was finally rejected by the NSW Planning Department because of concerns about groundwater contamination. However, an extension of  Whitehaven's Vickery mine, was recently approved, overturning an earlier injunction instigated by eight teenagers and a nun.
  •  Individual states are also taking the initiative and supporting green hydrogen development within their states. The NSW government, the nation's biggest exporter of coal, has just announced $3 billion in incentives to establish hydrogen hubs in major coal mining regions such as the Hunter Valley and the Illawara. The measures include tax exemptions and an $AU 70 million investment and will ensure continued employment in the region.

  • Sunny Queensland is poised to start building a green hydrogen hub for the production of green ammonia in conjunction with mining billionaire Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Future Industries and Incitec Pivot. It has already committed $AU 25 million to this end and will initially employ 300 people. When completed it is expected to employ thousands of Australians and be the largest green hydrogen manufacturing facility in the world.

  • Victoria, the second most populous state, is aiming for a 28 -33% emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030  and 50% by 2050. At 30% it already has the most jobs in the renewable economy and is working towards having all its public transport running on renewable energy, along with having solar panels on schools, hospitals and government buildings. It is encouraging the uptake of more roof top solar, hot water and batteries through the use of rebates and will have a government fleet of 400 zero emission cars. It will also promote energy efficiency in homes and businesses and reduce emissions from landfill.

  • Further south, the state of Tasmania has just announced that it will reach net zero by 2030. Thanks to its hydro schemes it has already been carbon negative in power generation for six out of the last seven years.

  • At local government level, the City of Cairns installed mini solar farms on all its buildings between  2017 to 2018 resulting in reduction of greenhouse gases of 47% over 2005 levels. It is now installing mini solar plants on its sewerage works to generate an additional 2.2 GW of power. This will not only reduce its emissions by 7% but save it $AU 417,000 per year.

Businesses have also seen the writing on the wall.There are now at least 13 solar farms which produce more than 50 MW, with many more in the pipeline.  Sun Cable’s proposed solar farm in the Northern Territory with the capacity to generate 20 GW of energy and store between 30 and 42 GW will be the largest in the country and will generate power not only for the Northern Territory but for neighbouring countries as well. 

In a complete turnaround from its former position, powerful lobby group, the Minerals Council of Australia, which together with the Business Council of Australia effectively killed off the Carbon Tax initiated by the previous government, has put together its own modest plan for reducing emissions. “Not enough!” say environmentalists, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Business Council of Australia no doubt recognising both the opportunities and fearing the risk of suffering financial penalties if other jurisdictions start imposing carbon tariffs on exporters, is calling on the government to rapidly reduce emissions by 50%. It particularly wants to decarbonise the electricity sector because proven technology is already available and  the switch would become more costly if delayed. It predicts that the change would be worth $AU 890 billion to the economy and create 195,000 jobs over the next five decades. Perhaps public pressure and shareholder revolts in the USA against Exxon Mobil and Chevron and a court ruling against Royal Dutch Shell, also contributed to their change of heart.

Head of the International Energy Agency – a normally very conservative pro -fossil fuel group has also been critical of the Morrison government as has billionaire miner and head of Fortescue Metals, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest (see below). In May, another Aussie billionaire, Mike Cannon Brookes joined 102 Australian businesses including Unilever and Mirvac and the World Wildlife Fund in calling on the  Australian government to ramp up its efforts and set aside 1% of GDP to make Australia a leading exporter of renewables by 2030.

 

 

The Australian Retailers Association is also calling for more ambitious reduction targets. Citing customer demand, Coles, one of Australia's two major supermarket chains, has set itself the target of having all of its 2,500 stores running  on renewable energy within four years. Given the enormous potential for growth in renewable energy, I am surprised that unions and coal miners aren't pushing harder for a just transition as they have in European countries.

I also find it ironic that despite three years of public protest, one of India’s largest renewable energy companies, Adani has been given approval by the Queensland government to build Australia’s – and possibly the world’s largest coal mine here. If it really was about jobs, then they should be building giant solar hubs rather than compromising water supplies or further threatening the Great Barrier Reef, though Adani does have two smaller solar projects of around 100 MW in the pipeline.

 

Investors aren't waiting either

While the Australian government continues to pin its hopes on carbon capture and other unproven technology, investors aren't waiting either. Assets under management by ethical investment funds in Australia leapt by 30% last year to  $AU 877  billion and now account for 40 cents of all professionally managed investments. Half of the top 100 listed companies have committed to net zero targets, up from a fifth a year ago.Investment in solar alone now accounts for $4.9 billion with a further $3.6 billion in wind power. 

 A change of heart in the media*

Perhaps the biggest turnaround of all has been in the mainstream media most of which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who not only closed many of the smaller publications but has a virtual monopoly over those which are left. Whereas previously it was in denial about climate change, or presented a very biased picture, arguing that the climate has always been variable and that scientists and environmentalists are alarmists, or that any change in policy will cost us our jobs or living standards, it now acknowledges that Climate Change is happening, though not yet with any sense of urgency, in defiance of scientists who have been warning about it for forty years.

Comedian Sammy J outlines the new paradigm for Murdoch's  Newspapers. Warning: This is satire!


 *For the uninitiated the Harvey Norman  mentioned is a major electrical and housewares outlet which some other large corporations, failed to return about $AU 16 million in pandemic income support despite turning a huge profit. It also happens to be a major advertiser in News Corp. Newspapers
 
 
There have been many calls for a Royal Commission into press ownership in Australia, including by two former Prime Ministers from opposite sides of politics, but I have little faith. We have had them into Black Deaths in Custody, into Banking and into the disgraceful state of Aged Care in this country, yet in the end, little changes. Commissions and enquiries are stacked with “friendly” appointees and the scope and terms of reference are determined by the government in power.

Although other Anglophile countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK have a bit more media diversity, much the same applies which may explain their tardiness to act also.

Though progress is now being made, it is almost ten years too late. Imagine what could have been achieved had the Carbon Tax been allowed to continue and the government had played a more decisive role? See Vietnam (next post) for example, to see how the judicious use of government policy instruments has enabled it to literally power ahead. 

* Given the media landscape and political climate in Australia, our comedians are about the only ones left, except perhaps for the Guardian, who dare to call out poor performance by the Australian government. One, Friendlyjordies,  a.k.a. Jordon Shanks is still in court for daring to mention alleged corruption in the NSW government. [Our public broadcaster, the ABC continues to try hard to keep the public informed, but risks funding cuts and the imposition of  more directors and presenters favourably disposed towards the government line]. 

By the way, any country not counting its emissions from burning biomass, shipping thereof, and from shipping and aviation generally which together make up a good part of the 86% of emissions not yet accounted for had better look at themselves very hard too when pointing fingers at others.

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