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Life After Coal: The South Australian City Leading The Way

20 July, 2018 - 11:41
The Guardian

It was a coal town, predicted to be wiped out by the closure of two ageing power plants. Now Port Augusta has 13 renewable projects in train

The largest solar farm in the southern hemisphere lies on arid land at the foot of the Flinders Ranges, more than 300km north of Adelaide. If that sounds remote, it doesn’t do justice to how removed local residents feel from what currently qualifies as debate in Canberra.
As government MPs and national newspapers thundered over whether taxpayers should underwrite new coal-fired power, mauling advice from government agencies as they went, residents of South Australia’s Upper Spencer Gulf region have been left to ponder why decision-makers weren’t paying attention to what is happening in their backyard.
What’s happening here is going to be happening on the eastern seaboard in the next 10 years.
Sam Johnson, mayor of Port Augusta
In mid 2016, this region was on the brink, hit by the closure and near collapse of coal and steel plants. Now it’s on the cusp of a wave of construction that investors and community leaders say should place the region at the vanguard of green innovation – not just in Australia but globally. There has been an explosion in investment, with $5bn spread over the next five years. There are 13 projects in various stages of development, with more than 3,000 construction and 200 ongoing jobs. The economy of this once-deflated region has been transformed and those who live here are starting to feel hopeful again.
The Port Augusta mayor, Sam Johnson, a 32-year-old former Liberal member, is continually surprised at how resistant some are to the idea that the energy environment has changed. “You might choose to ignore what’s happening here now because we’re out of sight, out of mind, but the reality is that what’s happening here is going to be happening on the eastern seaboard in the next 10 years,” he says.
In simple terms, the Upper Spencer Gulf transition story goes like this. Port Augusta was a coal town, home to the state’s only two lignite – or brown coal – plants, Playford B and Northern. Playford B, ageing and failing, was mothballed in 2012. Northern, the larger and younger of the two, closed in May 2016 when owner Alinta Energy decided it was no longer economically viable. The Leigh Creek mine that supplied it, by then offering up mostly low-quality coal, shut at the same time. About 400 workers at the plant and the mine lost their jobs. Roughly a third retired, a third found other employment locally and a third had to leave town to find work.
At the same time, further around the gulf, the steel town of Whyalla was teetering precipitously after the owner, Arrium, put the mill in voluntary administration facing debts of more than $4bn.
A worker, Ben Williams, inspects the interconnector under construction to service the Lincoln Gap wind farm. Photograph: The Guardian  Yet as the doom hit, there were also rays of hope as several clean power projects were mooted for the surrounding area.
Two years on, the Port Augusta city council lists 13 projects at varying stages of development. And Whyalla has unearthed a potential saviour in British billionaire industrialist Sanjeev Gupta, who not only bought the steelworks but promised to expand it while also spending what will likely end up being $1.5bn in solar, hydro and batteries to make it viable.
Gupta says the logic behind his investment in solar and storage is simple: it’s now cheaper than coal.
Johnson says he expects the Upper Gulf region to receive $5bn in clean energy investment over the next five years. “My gut feel – and I’m an optimist – is that they will all go ahead,” he says. “They are different technologies and they are playing in different markets, so they are not competing for power purchase agreements.”
By any measure, the Bungala solar power plant is vast. Once its second stage is complete, 800,000 photovoltaic modules will cover an area the size of the Melbourne central business district. The scale is neatly summarised by Chris Rowe, the plant’s operations manager and, with maintenance officer Andrew Bartsch, our tour guide around the site. Both men recently returned to Port Augusta after working away to take up positions with Enel Green Power. One day Rowe decided to stroll back from the 275MW farm’s outer edge, weaving in and out of the rows of panels as he went. By the time he got back to his office, he had covered 12km. “At that point I thought, ‘gee, this is really something’,” he says.Bungala is nearing completion, with work on the $425m plant expected to be finished by January. Its first section started feeding into the national electricity grid in May. Further west, ground has been broken on the 59-turbine, 212MW Lincoln Gap wind farm, though progress has temporarily stalled after developer Nexif Energy discovered unexploded ordnance from historic military testing on site.
Australia's renewable energy capital
Some major projects under development or proposed for the Upper Spencer Gulf 

As Guardian Australia visited the region, the South Australian Liberal government gave final approval for a $600m hybrid wind-and-solar energy park on the south-eastern edge of Port Augusta that proponent DP Energy says will be the largest development of its kind in the country. A second stage with more solar and a 400MW battery is slated to follow.
At Cultana, just north of Whyalla, Energy Australia is investigating building the country’s first saltwater pumped hydro energy storage plant. It would draw water from the Spencer Gulf, pump it uphill when energy is plentiful and cheap, and convert it to hydro electricity at times of high demand. A decision on the project is expected in 2019.
All are potentially agenda setting, but none are as anticipated as the Aurora solar thermal power station. It is the culmination of a push that began in 2010. A research paper by advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions formed the basis for the creation of Repower Port Augusta, a community group that built widespread support for bringing the developing technology to the region among councils, business and unions
US developer SolarReserve took notice. It plans to use a field of mirrors to heat a molten salt system inside a 234-metre tower. It will both generate electricity and store eight hours of energy that can be sent out when the sun isn’t shining. The company says the $650m plant, to be built at the Carriewerloo sheep station about 30km north of Port Augusta, will be the world’s largest solar tower with storage and provide 5% of the state’s energy needs.
The planned Aurora solar thermal plant will both generate electricity and store eight hours of energy that can be sent out when the sun isn’t shining.  The SolarReserve vice-president, Mary Grikas, stresses the plant will operate “just like a conventional coal or gas power station, reliably generating electricity day and night – except without any emissions”.
With the increasing emphasis on “firming” power to back up variable renewables, solar thermal is seen as a potentially major player in filling the gaps, along with other fast-starting options such as pumped hydro, lithium-ion batteries and peaking gas. The 150MW Aurora plant is underpinned by a 20-year power supply contract with the South Australian government, but the company is still to finalise a $110m concessional loan with the federal government, the result of a deal with former senator Nick Xenophon in return for his support for company tax cuts.
Dan Spencer worked on the solar thermal campaign as an activist with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Solar Citizens, relocating from Adelaide for six months to help build local support. Now a campaigner with the Australian Services Union, he is still pinching himself that it is set to become a reality. “The transition from coal hasn’t been perfect, but in a couple of years we will be seeing this incredible project that people not that long ago thought was just pie in the sky,” he says. “The local community really deserves the credit.”
Aurora is not the only solar-thermal project linked to the region. Port Augusta is already home to a small concentrated solar-thermal plant owned by Sundrop Farms that it uses to run a hydroponic greenhouse that provides Coles with tomatoes.
Also on the horizon, and just as unique design-wise, is a proposal by Solastor, chaired by former Liberal party leader John Hewson. It promises new graphite-based technology to capture solar energy and store it in a load-shifting battery. Hewson says it will be a world-class project. “Solar thermal will take the market, there’s no doubt about that,” he says.
Why are developers choosing the Upper Spencer Gulf? Investors say it has several things going for it: great sunshine; a history of electricity generation that left strong connections into the national grid; nearby industry – particularly mine developments – demanding reliable energy; strong facilitating support from the Weatherill Labor government that has continued under the new Liberal premier, Steven Marshall.
Ross Garnaut is a former Labor climate policy adviser who is now the president of Zen Energy, a solar and battery firm that has projects in the region and is 51% owned by Gupta.
“The Upper Spencer Gulf happens to be a very good place to start,” Garnaut says. “Some coal generation regions have good renewables and others don’t, and no others have them as good as Port Augusta. [But] the Port Augusta developments could be replicated in any region that has good solar and wind resources.”
The inclusion of solar thermal is crucial as it means jobs on a semi-industrial scale. Wind and solar photovoltaic plants bring plenty of jobs in construction, but few in operation. Solar thermal has more in common in operation with coal, using steam to spin a turbine. SolarReserve expects to have a 50-strong permanent workforce at the Aurora plant.
It is an important point. While enthusiasm about the new projects in the gulf is high, the shift away from coal has not been seamless – less a transition than a period of loss followed by rebirth. There remains significant disappointment, in some cases anger, about what some consider the unnecessary pain caused by a failure to plan for life after coal.
‘My advice is: learn from the Port Augusta experience. I wish the federal government would,’ says Port Augusta mayor Sam Johnson. Photograph: Che Chorley for the Guardian Gary Rowbottom is a case in point. A mechanical technical officer at the town’s power stations for 17 years, he joined the Repower Port Augusta campaign in 2012 and became the public face of the campaign. He was persuaded that solar thermal was the future and hopeful Alinta would be persuaded to embrace the technology to replace coal. He says he was naive about how easy that would be. When the company announced Northern’s closure earlier than expected, he was 55 and left hunting for work.
Fifty job applications and 11 interviews later, he was still looking. After about 18 months he left town to take a position on a coal plant in central Queensland. He now sees his wife, Debbie, only every couple of months.
“It’s not been ideal,” he says. “I did my best to get a job that would have kept me home. I guess it was hurting me financially, watching my redundancy steadily getting eroded away, and I had a growing sense of failure. I worry that others are going through the same thing.”
Rowbottom is buoyed by the developments under way at home, and hopeful the Aurora solar thermal plant will provide his ticket back. “It’s great it is happening. We just wish it could have happened a bit sooner,” he says. “What is hard for many of us to understand is why the closure couldn’t have been organised as a proper transition.”
Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully for Xenophon’s SA Best party at the state election, says Port Augusta is set to be the renewable energy capital of the country, with more ongoing jobs if all proposed projects in the Upper Spencer Gulf go ahead than at the former coal plant.
But he says both the former Labor state and current Coalition federal governments failed to offer the community the support it needed when the coal plant closed. The ramifications of the rapid closure were significant. Some small businesses and shut. Dirt and coal ash continue to blanket Port Augusta when the wind blows from the south-east because the former coal plant site was not properly rehabilitated. Wholesale electricity prices across the state increased more than they would have had more significant replacement generation been readied earlier.
“I’d love for people to learn from what’s happened here [about] what not to do when you’re closing a power station,” Johnson says.
Whyalla seems to have fewer issues in the wake of Gupta’s arrival in July 2017. Seeing a business opportunity that governments and publicly listed companies did not, he promised to initially spend $1bn to double the steel mill’s production and convert it to a “green steel” model he has applied in other countries. This includes using more recycled steel and investing heavily in clean energy close to the plant. He is spending $700m building two farms of solar panels, a cogeneration plant to convert the waste gases from steel production into electricity, the country’s largest lithium-ion battery and up to three pumped hydro plants in disused mining pits in the Middlebank Ranges. He says more will follow.
Both Gupta and Johnson say the message for the rest of the country is: embrace change.
Gupta says: “Be braver. Be more entrepreneurial. Take risks … It is very difficult to change things in Australia. Everyone is too stuck in their ways.”
Johnson says: “You can resist change as much as you like, but the reality is, if you’re in a community that has a coal-fired power station, its days are numbered. The market is dictating that change whether we like it or not.
“My advice is: learn from the Port Augusta experience. I wish the federal government would.”

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Judge Throws Out New York Climate Lawsuit

20 July, 2018 - 09:34
New York TimesJohn Schwartz

A federal judge has dismissed a suit brought by the city that would have forced fossil fuel companies to pay for some costs of climate change.
A power plant in Brooklyn viewed through the Manhattan Bridge. A judge ruled that climate change must be addressed by the executive branch and Congress, not by the courts. Credit Justin Lane/EPA, via ShutterstockA federal judge has rejected New York City’s lawsuit to make fossil fuel companies help pay the costs of dealing with climate change.
Judge John F. Keenan of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York wrote that climate change must be addressed by the executive branch and Congress, not by the courts.
While climate change “is a fact of life,” Judge Keenan wrote, “the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”
The 23-page decision is a second defeat for local and state governments seeking to use the judiciary to address problems caused by climate change. The first was in a case brought by San Francisco and Oakland that was thrown out last month by Judge William H. Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco.
The cases, which have generally been considered long shots, rely on the area of public nuisance under state common law, which allows courts to hold parties responsible for actions that interfere with the use of property.
Earlier attempts to use nuisance claims in lawsuits about climate change have been brought unsuccessfully under federal law in cases like American Electric Power v. Connecticut. In a unanimous 2011 decision, the Supreme Court said that the Clean Air Act displaced the federal common law of nuisance and gave jurisdiction over the issues to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The cases brought by New York, San Francisco and other governments around the country have taken a different route, pursuing nuisance doctrine at the state level. The cases argue that state common law has not been similarly displaced.
In Thursday’s New York decision, Judge Keenan ruled that the city’s federal common law claim was, in fact, displaced by the Clean Air Act, and he rejected the notion that state law could be used to address the issue, writing that it would be “illogical” to allow the claims under state law “when courts have found that these matters are areas of federal concern that have been delegated to the executive branch as they require a uniform, national solution.”
Using domestic courts to litigate issues of international greenhouse gas emissions, he wrote, “would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. government.”
Judge Keenan sounded skeptical in a hearing about the case last month, arguing with a lawyer for the city, Matthew Pawa, over the role of users of fossil fuels in causing climate change — including, the judge stressed, the city itself.
“I mean, aren’t the plaintiffs using the product that is being the subject of the lawsuit and haven’t they been using it and aren’t they continuing to use it?” he asked. He cited the city’s tens of thousands of police cars, sanitation trucks, fire trucks and more. “If you go out the door and over to Foley Square,” he said, “you’re going to find police cars.”
The companies did not deny in their filings that climate change is occurring or that humans are to blame, and Judge Keenan’s opinion reflected this scientific evidence. He acknowledged that “climate science clearly demonstrates that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change.” He also noted that the industry knew the risks of climate change from the 1950s onward, but “engaged in an overt public relations campaign intended to cast doubt on climate science.”
Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., the lead lawyer for Chevron in these suits, said “Judge Keenan got it exactly right.Trying to resolve a complex, global policy issue like climate change through litigation is ‘illogical,’ and would intrude on the powers of Congress and the executive branch to address these issues as part of the democratic process.”
In addition to Chevron, the defendants in the case were BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.
This is not the end of the line of cases. San Francisco has announced that it will appeal Judge Alsup’s decision.Other local governments around the United States have filed similar suits, and Rhode Island this month became the first state to begin litigation.
Seth Stein, a spokesman for the New York City, said: “The mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City. We intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change.”

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National Farmers Federation Says Electricity Best Place To Make Emissions Cuts

20 July, 2018 - 09:07
FairfaxNicole Hasham

The National Farmers Federation has taken a veiled swipe at the Turnbull government's signature energy plan, suggesting proposed emissions cuts in the electricity sector lack ambition and may have unfair consequences for agriculture. 
The comments add weight to criticism that the National Energy Guarantee shifts the burden of climate action to other parts of the economy where emissions reduction is more expensive and difficult.
The new national energy policy would set emission caps and and reliability standards for electricity retailers. The government says this will reduce the risk of blackouts, curb dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and deliver lower electricity prices by encouraging more investment and supply.
The National Farmers Federation has suggested emissions reduction imposed on agriculture could have unfair consequences. Photo: Simon O'DwyerIt would impose a 26 per cent emissions reduction target on the electricity sector by 2030, based on a 2005 baseline.
In submissions to the Energy Security Board, which devised the policy on behalf of the government, the Farmers Federation acknowledged that the target was in line with Australia’s international obligations.
But current and future conditions meant emission reductions in the electricity sector “will be larger than 26 per cent by 2020 and that further reductions in the electricity sector are likely between 2020 and 2030,” it said.
“The [federation] urges governments to be guided by the many credible and independent studies on what is likely in the electricity sector,” it said.
Reputex modelling has concluded the National Energy Guarantee will allow coal to continue its market dominance and drive up prices. Photo: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg“Given the current trajectory of the electricity sector, opportunities for further emission reduction are available, provided they continue to meet the reliability and affordability thresholds that headline the NEG.”
Agriculture emissions largely stem from livestock and manure, and the release of nitrous oxide from pastures and crops through fertiliser use. Reducing such emissions is considered challenging and costly.
The federation’s submission said the government "should appreciate the agriculture sector has taken significant steps in reducing its carbon emissions footprint".
It said a robust emissions target “is about fairness” and the electricity sector represented “the most cost-effective ways to reduce our emissions”.
“Other sectors of the economy, such as farmers and small businesses, are price takers and would not be able to pass on the cost of an imposed emissions reductions scheme,” it said.
The federation stopped short of calling for more stringent emissions cuts for electricity but said 26 per cent “should be the minimum target”.
The Agricultural Industries Energy Taskforce echoed the concerns, saying when emissions targets were set “it is important that appropriate consideration be given to outcomes which do not unfairly shift the burden of reductions onto other sectors”.
The taskforce comprises prominent agriculture bodies including the National Irrigators Council and Cotton Australia.
Labor's spokesman on climate change and energy, Mark Butler, said the NEG would place an unfair burden on other sectors. Photo: Joe CastroLabor’s climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler said the 26 per cent target ignored the fact that electricity emissions had fallen since 2005 due to the renewable energy target, while other emissions in other sectors had risen.
“Under the government’s approach, the electricity sector - which has the opportunities for the least cost pollution cuts - does 10 times less than sectors like agriculture and manufacturing, that don’t have many cost effective options to cut pollution,” he said.
“This is not only unfair, it is economically irresponsible and even the electricity sector itself is calling for more ambitious pollution cuts.”
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the 26 per cent target was “a pro-rata contribution out of the electricity sector as part of our overall Paris agreement”.
“We have a strong track record on meeting our international emissions reduction targets,” he said, adding that required emissions reductions to meet the 2030 target fell by 60 per cent over the past two years.
Meantime, analysis by energy market consultants Reputex, to be released on Friday, claims coal will continue to dominate the electricity market under the national energy guarantee and the 26 per cent emissions reduction target will not lower power prices.
The modelling, commissioned by Greenpeace, also found that the 45 per cent target proposed by Labor would imply a constraint on coal-fired emissions and encourage renewable investment, pushing wholesale prices down.

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Local, County And State Governments Are Suing Oil Companies Over Climate Change

19 July, 2018 - 15:08
The Conversation*
  • Local governments are suing big oil companies, alleging that higher sea levels brought about by climate change are a public nuisance.
  • California, Washington state, and New York City are hoping lawsuits will force these companies to foot the bill for the effects of climate change. 
  • Rhode Island became the first state to take this step, when it sued 21 oil and gas companies "for knowingly contributing to climate change and the catastrophic consequences to the State and its residents, economy, eco-system, and infrastructure."
  • Several researchers have concluded that sea level rise and a warming ocean played a major role in making Superstorm Sandy so catastrophic.
Superstorm Sandy wrecked these Rhode Island cottages in 2012. AP Photo/Steven SenneThanks to climate change, sea levels are rising and storm surges are becoming more costly and frequent. Since most American state and local governments are cash-strapped, cities and counties fear that they won’t be able to afford all the construction it will take to protect their people and property.
So some communities in California and Washington state, as well as New York City, are suing oil companies in a bid to force them to foot the bill. Recently, Rhode Island became the first state to take this step, when it sued 21 oil and gas companies “for knowingly contributing to climate change and the catastrophic consequences to the State and its residents, economy, eco-system, and infrastructure.”
Does it make sense to hold the industries responsible for global warming liable for the price – in dollars and cents – that everyone will have to pay to adapt to a changed climate?
As a scholar of environmental law, I believe climate liability cases like these have merit.
Chevron, one of the five oil majors being sued, objected to San Francisco and Oakland's claims of nuisance law, and sought to transfer lawsuit to a federal district court. Jonathan Bachman/Reuters A public nuisance
Superstorm Sandy caused over $60 billion in damage along the New Jersey and New York coasts. Lucas Jackson/Reuters The local governments asking the courts to intervene allege that higher sea levels brought about by climate change are a public nuisance. That may sound odd at first, but I believe that is fair to say. It is also the legal basis on which similar liability lawsuits have been filed before.
The sea level along California’s coasts may have risen about 8 inches in the past century. Scientists project that they may rise by as much as 55 inches by the end of this century.
That worst-case scenario would put nearly half a million people at risk of flooding by 2100, and threaten US$100 billion in property and infrastructure, including roadways, buildings, hazardous waste sites, power plants, parks and tourist destinations.
Superstorm Sandy caused over $60 billion in damage along the New Jersey and New York coasts. Several researchers have concluded that sea level rise and a warming ocean played a major role in making that storm so catastrophic.
The Trump administration has released a national climate change assessment, confirming that extreme weather events – storms on steroids – are becoming more frequent and intense.
If anything, characterizing these catastrophes as a public nuisance is an understatement.

A question about jurisdiction
Oakland and San Francisco both sued five of the world’s largest oil companies in state court, asserting claims based on California’s own nuisance law. They are seeking billions of dollars for an abatement fund.
But Chevron, one of the five oil majors being sued, objected and sought to transfer the San Francisco and Oakland lawsuit to a federal district court, where Judge William Alsup recently dismissed the case.
Still, it wasn’t a clear win for oil companies.
Alsup accepted the scientific consensus that the defendants’ line of business is driving climate change and therefore poses a clear and present danger to coastal communities and others. But in his ruling, he also questioned whether it’s “fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded.”
And while the judge also acknowledged that federal courts have the authority “to fashion common law remedies for claims based on global warming” he opted to “stay his hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches.” In other words, he said it’s up to Congress and the White House to figure out whether oil companies ought to pay to, say, move San Francisco’s airport to higher ground.
Even if prospects for federal action on this front are next to nil for the foreseeable future, given the Trump administration’s warm embrace of oil, gas and coal, this is no legal dead end. I believe that Oakland and San Francisco will surely file an appeal to the 9th Circuit, which could rule differently.
Even more importantly, there is another case pending that is taking a different course. The counties of Marin and San Mateo and the City of Imperial Beach, California, are also suing oil companies with similar climate liability claims. Judge Vince Chhabria sees things differently than Alsup and ruled that state law, not federal law, should prevail.
He has ordered that case back to state court, a move that Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and the other oil company defendants are trying to prevent.
In addition to coastal communities concerned about rising sea levels, several Colorado counties filed their own climate liability cases in April 2018. Those lawsuits allege that oil companies should be held responsible for the higher temperatures now reducing the state’s snowpack. Getting less snow is jeopardizing Colorado’s agriculture, water supply and ski industry.

Several legal precedents
The oil industry has reportedly known for 60 years or longer that burning fossil fuels would eventually overheat the planet. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid I maintain that these cases do belong in state court because there are many relevant legal precedents.
U.S. courts have repeatedly held manufacturers liable for the damage their products wreak, especially when those companies knew full well that their products, used as intended, would cause that harm.
The biggest precedent is the tobacco industry’s 1998 settlement with the states, which called for companies to pay out $246 billion over the next 25 years.
In addition, there have been many judgments against oil companies and other corporations responsible for manufacturing a potentially cancer-causing chemical called MTBE that used to be a common gasoline additive and has contaminated public water supplies.
And a panel of California judges ordered paint companies to pay more than $1 billion to help get lead out of housing that remains contaminated decades after the government banned lead-laced paint. The companies are vowing to take the case to the Supreme Court if they can.
Currently, another new kind of liability lawsuit is emerging against opioid manufacturers. Ohio and at least six other states are seeking damages to help cover the expense of dealing with widespread addiction from the allegedly irresponsible marketing of prescription painkillers – which it says the companies should have known were being abused.

Exxon knew
As for the oil industry, it has evidently known for 60 years or longer that burning fossil fuels would eventually overheat the planet, with monumental consequences.
Rather than alert the public and engage in good-faith discussions to address the problem, oil majors like Exxon sought to mislead and deny what they knew about the risks of fossil fuels. Furthermore, the fossil fuel industries have sought to block any meaningful federal climate response by donating vast sums to the political campaigns of candidates who promised to oppose the requisite policies.
In a perfect world, the nation’s elected leaders at all levels of government would be hard at work passing laws and establishing programs to confront the existential threat of climate change and to help communities prepare for the unavoidable impacts that are already baked into the system.
Alas, that is not the case. The courts are the last line of defense in this epic struggle to deal with the effects of climate change – including the astronomically expensive costs of moving housing, businesses, schools and other structures out of harm’s way.

*Professor Patrick A. Parenteau, formerly director of Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center and of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, is recognized for his expertise regarding endangered species and biological diversity, water quality and wetlands, environmental policy and litigation, and climate change. The courses he currently teaches at Vermont Law School include Climate Change and the Law, Extinction and Climate Change, Water Quality and Environmental Litigation.

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Tender Will Allow Coalition To Dig Its Way Out Of Coal Hole

19 July, 2018 - 11:31
FairfaxJohn Hewson*

The federal government desperately needs a cut-through strategy on energy policy. The divisions within the Liberal Party, and between the Liberal and National parties, won’t go away, even though they are costing them electoral support and may ultimately cost them government.
Perhaps the most direct and effective mechanism for the government to cut through, and demonstrate the authenticity of its claim to be “technology agnostic”, would be to announce a tender to meet its future, carefully specified, power requirements, establishing a genuine competitive process, encouraging all parties to give it their best shot.
Illustration: Matt Davidson
This could be the simplest and quickest mechanism to end the faux coal vs renewables contest, and should be seen as a genuinely conservative solution.
This would certainly be an effective fact-check, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of the multiplicity of claims and counterclaims and providing the most effective base on which to consider the recent ACCC recommendation that the government consider supporting and facilitating the development of new base load electricity capacity.
The detail of the various positions within the government debate tends to move around. Some just seize on virtually any argument or event to disrupt, while others claim an affinity with what they like to call an ideological position, or our national economic advantage.
Much of the debate turns on prejudice rather than analysis, expressed as preferences for particular resources and technologies. For example, the pro-coal/anti-renewables group makes several points. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal; it is a significant industry in terms of jobs and growth; burning coal to make electricity is cheap and provides reliable, 24/7, base load power. They pose the question: “Why should we sacrifice our global competitive position and source of 'cheap' and reliable power – indeed, why don’t we seek to exploit it further as our industrial and export base?"
They argue that we have been sacrificing all this by subsidising renewables, with the result that electricity prices paid by households and businesses have soared and reliability has been seriously compromised - that wind and solar can’t provide stable and dispatchable 24/7 base load. Indeed, that they have introduced an intermittency problem, being unable to consistently meet the morning and evening peaks in demand. They claim the business model for renewables hasn’t been proved in the absence of the subsidy from the renewable energy target.
Coal loading facilities at Port Waratah in Newcastle. Photo: Nic WalkerMostly, this pro-coal group ignores the climate challenge. Indeed, some of its members would have us withdraw from our Paris commitments on emissions reductions. They make a multiplicity of sub-points - Australia is only a small emitter by global standards, so our emission reductions won’t make much difference against the big emitters in the United States, China and India; if we don’t burn our coal, others will; others are continuing to build new coal-fired power plants.
Of course, such points ignore our position as near-to-the-highest per capita emitter and any global responsibilities we may have as the world’s third largest exporter of fossil fuels and the largest coal exporter.
To the extent that coal advocates acknowledge the need to reduce emissions, they pin their hopes on technologies such as carbon capture and storage that "promises” to catch the gas emitted from electricity generation, liquefy it, transport it and store it – even though this technology has not been demonstrated commercially, at scale, despite billions having been spent globally on its development. Ironically, carbon capture and storage might need a carbon price in excess of US$100 a tonne to be commercially viable.
What is most surprising is how resistant the coal industry and their political supporters have been to alternative technology solutions which would allow them to sustain coal more effectively through the transition phase.
I have worked with technologies that are Australian owned and proven (in one instance by the US government, at scale, in the 1980s) to clean up coal – all consistently eschewed by coal companies over the years that insist their business model is to “just dig and ship”.
Resistance to conversion technology has been, to say the least, odd, in a coal-rich country with dangerously low fuel security.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating such technologies, just making the point as to the blinkered absurdity of many in the pro-coal lobby who simply don’t want to acknowledge the need for any change.
The coal lobby also choose to ignore the rapidly mounting resistance of the finance community to finance or insure new coal-fired power plants – hence, they hope to push government to underwrite it.
The key point is that these transition arguments have become much less relevant as the unsubsidised cost of renewables and effective storage has dropped significantly so they can now deliver cost competitive, reliable and dispatchable 24/7 base load electricity, driving an effective transition to a low emissions industrial and societal base.
The proposed tender process would cut through all these claims and counterclaims and allow the government to be genuinely technology neutral. It would be able to avoid having to make some sort of side-deal on coal, sacrificing its neutrality, to get party room support for the National Energy Guarantee.
This would require the government to amalgamate its power and technical requirements, specifying magnitude and time profile and other desired network services, while being consistent with its Paris commitments. This would be the most effective way to have those who are advocating new ultra super critical coal-fired solutions demonstrate their bona fides against solar thermal, or wind/solar photovoltaics with effective storage.
A well specified tender process would force all sides to put up and shut up, hopefully once and for all.

*John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

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Climate Change Is Behind The Global Heat Wave. Why Won't The Media Say It?

19 July, 2018 - 11:15
Los Angeles Times*

The sun rises over Burbank on a triple digit day. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)Last week’s heat wave brought record temperatures to Southern California. Hot winds blew fire into my community in Santa Barbara County, ripping through a dozen homes and threatening hundreds more.
I tuned into the local news channel, where reporters reminded viewers that we had just finished a record-breaking fire season. They strained to list all the fires we’d had over the past decade. There were too many to recall.
Fires are happening a lot more often across California. You can’t accurately call it a fire “season” anymore. The season is year-round.
But journalists who report on the fires or heat waves rarely acknowledge this reality. Last week, the local newscasters in my area never did, even though it has a very familiar name: climate change.
The same is true of the media at large.
Although it reports on each fresh disaster — every fire, every hurricane, every flood — it tends to stop short of linking extreme weather events to global warming, as though the subject were the exclusive province of reporters on the climate beat.
As a result, we’re missing what is arguably the biggest story of all: The climate we knew is no more. We’ve already warmed the planet, whether we deny it or not.
It’s not hard to spot global warming in the news. If you’re looking, its marks are everywhere. Right now, southern Japan is flooded. Two months’ worth of rain fell in five days, a day’s worth in an hour. Mudslides followed. More than 200 are dead, more are missing, millions are displaced.
But to get the larger story about extreme weather events, you have to read between the headlines.
There is no sound justification for this. Not anymore.
Scientists have been churning out evidence of human-caused climate change for more than a century. Some are figuring out exactly how much to blame global warming for any given weather event. They're getting really good at it.
We can now link many recent disasters and weather events to climate change. We know, for instance, that more than three-quarters of moderate heat waves are connected to warming. We also know that, were it not for climate change, fires in the West would have burned half as much land since the 1980s.
Scientists have been documenting the increase in extreme rain events in Japan since the early 1990s.
The science is clear. Journalists need to start using it.There are reasons they haven’t. Reporters are trained to distinguish weather from climate. They are also conditioned to avoid the appearance of political bias, and a decades-long campaign to sow doubt about global warming has cast a partisan aura on the facts.
But with a bit of nuance, journalists can carefully identify the pattern. Any weather event has multiple causes. More and more, climate change is one of them, and its share of blame is growing.
The public is not entirely in the dark.
In fact, research by Peter D. Howe, a geographer at Utah State University, shows that 60% of people in 89 countries correctly perceive that temperatures where they live have warmed over time. According to a study by the political scientists Matto Mildenberger and Dustin Tingley, most Americans underestimate how many people share their belief that climate change is real. Most of us know this is not a drill, and most of us want our government to do more.
We all need to do more. Countries around the world need to go beyond the commitments made in Paris.
We need more wind and solar energy. We need states to keep nuclear plants open when they are safe, because they already produce clean energy. We need to stop rolling back renewable energy laws, as my research has documented in Ohio, Texas and Arizona.
But we won’t do any of this until we can see what’s happening.
Journalists play a critical role in helping the public to make these connections. They need to start telling the whole story.

*Leah C. Stokes is an assistant professor of environmental politics at UC Santa Barbara.

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US Tech Giant Invests In Clean Energy Projects Across China

18 July, 2018 - 15:28


Apple is investing in over 485 megawatts of clean energy projects across six provinces in China, to address upstream emissions in the supply chain. Source: Apple CALIFORNIA tech giant Apple announced last week a US$300 million clean energy fund in China to invest in renewable energy that could power almost 1 million homes.
The company said Friday that it will invest the sum over the next four years into what it called the China Clean Energy Fund, aiming to support projects across six provinces across the country in order to reduce carbon emissions in its supply chain.
Renewable energy produced will total more than 1 gigawatt of power, Apple said. It hopes to generate more than 4 gigawatts of new clean energy globally by 2020.
Chinese authorities have identified reducing corporate environmental damage as a priority, pressuring local and international companies to implement measures that will reduce high levels of smog in urban areas and pollution in waterways and soil.
Apple hopes to generate more than 4 gigawatts of new clean energy globally by 2020. Source: Apple“At Apple, we are proud to join with companies that are stepping up to address the climate challenge,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives in a statement.
“We’re thrilled so many of our suppliers are participating in the fund and hope this model can be replicated globally to help businesses of all sizes make a significant positive impact on our planet.”
Earlier this year, Apple announced that all of its facilities around the world are powered by 100 percent clean energy as part of a broader push into renewables.
The latest announcement comes as China and the United States lock horns in a trade war.
A photovoltaic facility in Sichuan province, China contributes to Apple’s 100 percent clean energy profile. Links
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Warming Oceans Are Changing Australia’s Fishing Industry

18 July, 2018 - 13:41
The Conversation | 


Ocean fish are changing where they live due to climate change. Annie spratt/Unsplash, CC BY-SA A new United Nations report on fisheries and climate change shows that Australian marine systems are undergoing rapid environmental change, with some of the largest climate-driven changes in the Southern Hemisphere.
Reports from around the world have found that many fish species are changing their distribution. This movement threatens to disrupt fishing as we know it.
While rapid change is predicted to continue, researchers and managers are working with fishers to ensure a sustainable industry.

Lessons from across the world
Large climate-driven changes in species distribution and abundance are evident around the world. While some species will increase, global models project declining seafood stocks in tropical regions, where people can least afford alternative foods.
The global concern for seafood changes led the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to commission a new report on the impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture. More than 90 experts from some 20 countries contributed, including us.
The report describes many examples of climate-related change. For instance, the northern movement of European mackerel into Icelandic waters has led to conflict with more southerly fishing states, and apparently contributed to Iceland’s exit from negotiations over its prospective European Union membership.
Changes in fish abundance and behaviour can lead to conflicts in harvesting, as occurred in the Maine lobster fishery. Indirect effects of climate change, such as disease outbreaks and algal blooms, have already temporarily closed fisheries in several countries, including the United States and Australia.
All these changes in turn impact the people who depend on fish for food and livelihoods.

Climate change and fisheries in Australia
The Australian chapter summarises the rapid ocean change in our region. Waters off southeastern and southwestern Australia are particular warming hotspots. Even our tropical oceans are warming almost twice as fast as the global average.
More than 100 Australian marine species have already begun to shift their distributions southwards. Marine heatwaves and other extreme events have harmed Australia’s seagrass, kelp forests, mangroves and coral reefs. Australia’s marine ecosystems and commercial fisheries are clearly already being affected by climate change.

Summary of recent climate-related marine impacts in Australia. Warming on both coasts is also moving species southwards. Author providedIn the Australian FAO chapter, we present information from climate sensitivity analysis and ecosystem models to help managers and fishers prepare for change.
We need to preparing climate-ready fisheries, to minimise negative impacts and to make the most of new opportunities that arise.
Experts from around Australia have rated the sensitivity of more than 100 fished species to climate change, based on their life-history traits. They found that 70% of assessed species have moderate to high sensitivity. As a group, invertebrates are the most sensitive, and pelagic fishes (that live in the open ocean sea) the least.
A range of ecosystem models have also been used to explore how future climate change will impact Australia’s fisheries over the next 40 years. While results varied around Australia, a common projection was that ecosystem production will become more variable.
As fish abundance and distribution changes, predation and competition within food webs will be affected. New food webs may form, changing ecosystems in unexpected ways. In some regions (such as southeastern Australia) the ecosystem may eventually shift into a new state that is quite different to today.

How can Australian fisheries respond?
Our ecosystem models indicate that sustainable fisheries are possible, if we’re prepared to make some changes. This finding builds on Australia’s strong record in fisheries management, supported by robust science, which positions it well to cope with the impacts of climate change. Fortunately, less than 15% of Australia’s assessed fisheries are overfished, with an improving trend.
We have identified several actions that can help fisheries adapt to climate change:
  • Management plans need to prioritise the most sensitive species and fisheries, and take the easiest actions first, such as changing the timing or location of operations to match changing conditions.
  • As ecosystem changes span state and national boundaries, greater coordination is needed across all Australian jurisdictions, and between all the users of the marine environment. For example, policy must be developed to deal with fixed fishing zones when species distribution changes.
  • Fisheries policy, management and assessment methods need to prepare for both long-term changes and extreme events. Australian fisheries have already shifted to more conservative targets which have provided for increased ecological resilience. Additional quota changes may be needed if stock productivity changes.
  • In areas where climate is changing rapidly, agile management responses will be required so that action can be taken quickly and adjusted when new information becomes available.
  • Ultimately, we may need to target new species. This means that Australians will have to adapt to buying (and cooking) new types of fish.
Researchers from a range of organisations and agencies around Australia are now tackling these issues, in partnership with the fishing industry, to ensure that coastal towns with vibrant commercial fishing and aquaculture businesses continue to provide sustainable seafood.

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Lauren Rickards Reviews 'Sunburnt Country: The History And Future Of Climate Change In Australia' By Joëlle Gergis

18 July, 2018 - 13:22
Australian Book Review - Lauren Rickards

Sunburnt Country: The history and future of climate change in Australiaby Joëlle GergisMelbourne University Press$34.99 pb, 320 pp, 9780522871548Sunburnt Country is a fascinating, timely, uneven book. Consisting of forty-one short chapters, it is written by climate scientist Joëlle Gergis, who explores the matter of climate change through an unusual mix of genres: colonial history, popular science, scientific autobiography, and advocacy. The first two of these dominate the self-representations of the book.
In particular, it is framed as filling a gap in our (Western) understanding of the Australian continent’s climate history by reconstructing earlier settler colonial climates. Going beyond the official climate records that commenced around 1900, the book reports on innovative Australian research that has combed through settler diaries and other written records for climate-relevant information.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the records found seem to be about extreme events and provided by white male colonists. The result is a romantic colonial-era drama that reiterates the undeniably epic nature of the colonies’ early years. Key to this drama are the weather and climate, which are given a powerful, capricious character that continually trips up courageous colonial settlers as they slowly come to the realisation that the country they invaded has ‘one of the most spectacularly erratic climates in the world’.
Gergis, weaving together the stories with flair, complements many with well-chosen details and illustrations. In the process, these stories of early settlers’ lived experiences are revealed as not just a second cousin to ‘real’ climate data, but a valuable part of our cultural history, as professional historians of Australia have long known. By relaying these stories of climatic catastrophes with evident passion, compassion, and a comfortingly simple focus on climate (one that does not engage with the wider politics of settler colonialism or writing history), Sunburnt Country implicitly offers glimpses into both the physical and social reasons that Australia has been mythologised as a ‘land of drought and flooding rains’.
Lauren Rickards researches and teaches on the social dimensions of climate change and the Anthropocene at RMIT University.Besides descriptions of colonial climates, the book includes an array of insights and snapshots about the long-term climate of Australia and how scientists are working to decode it. Using easy-to-understand snippets of specific scientific studies, Gergis explains how past climates can be read off the landscape thanks to the ‘tattooing’ of climatic experiences on tree rings, ice cores, coral, and sediments. One chapter also acknowledges indigenous Australians’ intimate understanding of climatic cycles, contingencies, and expressions in the landscape.
The overall result is a succession of interesting snippets of information about past climates interspersed with valuable insights into how different climate systems function and how such information is derived. We learn, for example, that in New Zealand at least, tree-ring data indicates that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate system has been unusually pronounced in the twentieth century, but still does not equate to what was experienced in the medieval period.
This attention to the continuities as well as discontinuities with past climates usefully complicates the oft-repeated binary of old climate versus new climate, or climate variability versus climate change. At the same time, Gergis describes in detail how a ‘human fingerprint’ on the climate is clearly obvious from the mid-twentieth century. The upshot is that ‘modern societies may not have experienced the full range of natural variability that occurred in the past’, but this is just further reason to be prepared ‘for some nasty climate surprises in the future’.
It is on the question of human-induced climate change that Gergis’s stories of climate science in action are most compelling. Representing a new era of concerted transparency in how climate science is done, Sunburnt Country provides not just generic insights about how climate science approaches research problems, but about what it is like for Gergis and colleagues to perform such work in a hyper-politicised social context.
This more autobiographical element of the book usefully reveals the mundane practices involved in professional research, such as writing grant applications, checking data, revising publications, as well as the moments of intellectual excitement that make it all seem worthwhile. Not only does this window into the doing of climate science add an engaging personal note to the story, but it usefully shines a light on what Paul Edwards calls the ‘vast machine’ of climate science: the immense cross-institutional, international network, structures, and procedures that collectively produce, test, and validate scientific information about the climate.
It is this diffuse machine and its convergence in observational, modelling, and theoretical studies that points with uncommon confidence to the fact that the global climate is changing and is doing so due to human interference in the atmosphere.
We come then to a further element of doing climate science that Gergis’s account usefully reveals: the way organised climate change scepticism attempts to derail scientific processes, and the resultant hyper-vigilance that now inflects climate science practices such as peer review of publications. Gergis gestures to the painful embodied costs of doing climate change science under the gaze of malevolent interests and a paranoid discipline, costs that are layered atop the ‘normal’ emotional costs of climate change that all of us face.
Unsurprisingly, Sunburnt Country also contains advice on how society needs to act to ward off the worst of projected climate change outcomes. Following some useful syntheses of the physical impacts of projected climate change in Australia, including sobering assessments of the situation facing different ecosystems, Gergis provides high-level overviews and broad endorsement of the ‘symbolic start’ provided by the Paris Climate Agreement. But rather than discuss adaptation solutions – as may have been expected given the book’s focus on climate (change) impacts and silence about sources of greenhouse gases – it turns to the question of emission mitigation.
Here, despite decent overviews of recent developments in Australia, Gergis stumbles on the over-trodden step from climate science to climate solutions.
As social science and humanities scholars such as myself frequently argue, the latter requires a deep, critical understanding of society; deeper than provided by Gergis’s calls for government action, technological innovation, and individual-level reconnection with nature. While all of these things are undoubtedly required, on their own they obscure the power of more important factors, namely corporate capitalism’s ongoing frontier logic of expansion, extraction, and externalisation, which is – the book might have noted – inseparable from the settler colonialist project that led to temperate climate Britons struggling with the more tempestuous Australian climate in the first place.
This is the silence in Sunburnt Country that I felt most keenly. The very act of colonialism and the related effort to create a new territory, settlement, and node in the imperial economy were climate-changing acts. Sunburnt Country left me hungry for a parallel, intersecting history of Australia’s emissions and climatic interventions; a history not of just a young nation’s struggles with a seemingly capricious, volatile climate, but of the longer, uneven, embedded engagement of Indigenous and settler populations with ‘the environment’ (broadly defined), of which atmosphere and climate are a part.
At a time when prime ministers continue to exploit Dorothea Mackellar’s patriotic poem about Australia’s sunburnt character to explain away ‘natural disasters’ such as the Tathra fires – disasters covered with human fingerprints at multiple levels – we need to reboot Australia’s climate re-education. The first, ongoing lesson is to appreciate that extreme climate variability in Australia is natural, normal, and inevitable; a message Sunburnt Country contributes to. But, as the book also indicates, a second lesson is now also needed: the fact that the climate is not just variable but the whole climate envelope is now shifting. A ‘new normal’ is emerging but the reasons are neither natural nor inevitable.
To understand and address the latter we need to return to Britain and Europe more broadly, not to unpack the climate assumptions the early settlers brought with them, but to understand why they were heading off to settle a new continent in the first place. We need to return to the industrial revolution, the scientific revolution, the rise of the Anglosphere, and the birth of the corporation. We need to trek back beyond the mid-twentieth-century ‘Great Acceleration’ in consumption rates and carbon dioxide concentrations that Gergis refers to, to the industrial revolution, the sixteenth-century emergence of the Capitalocene, and the idea that to be productive is to extract value from other bodies, things and places.
Understanding these longer histories requires socio-political literacy more than scientific literacy. At multiple levels, Sunburnt Country assists greatly with the latter. More importantly, though, it opens the way for subsequent, more critical analysis of the relationship between the ongoing settler colonial project and climate change.
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Renewables Will Replace Ageing Coal Plants At Lowest Cost, AEMO Say

17 July, 2018 - 19:30
The Guardian

Forecast by energy market operator is a blow to Coalition MPs campaigning for new coal-fired generation
Some 30% of coal power plants will be decommissioned in the next 20 years and it will be cheaper to replace them with renewables than with new coal plants, AEMO says. Photograph: Josh Wall/Guardian Australia Australia’s energy market operator says the future of power generation in Australia will be renewables with storage, and gas, with those technologies able to replace the power currently supplied by coal generators at least cost.
A new forecast by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) notes 30% of Australia’s coal generators will approach the end of their technical life over the next two decades, and it says it is important to avoid premature departures if the looming transition in the national energy market is to be orderly.
But while some in the Turnbull government have been campaigning to bolt new coal-fired power into the system, backed with government subsidy or underwriting, AEMO is clear about where the future lies, and it is not with coal.
It says the future of power generation in Australia is renewables with storage, pumped hydro and flexible gas-powered generation.
The market operator says in a forecast to be released on Tuesday that when existing coal resources retire “the modelling shows that retiring coal plants can be most economically replaced with a portfolio of utility-scale renewable generation, storage, distributed energy resources, flexible thermal capacity, and transmission”.
While some in the government have sought to portray new coal generation as a low-cost option for consumers concerned about high power prices, AEMO’s new forecast completely debunks that argument.
It says the lowest-cost replacement options for retiring coal plants “will be a portfolio of resources, including solar (28GW), wind (10.5 GW) and storage (17 GW and 90 GWh), complemented by 500 MW of flexible gas plant and transmission investment”.
The energy market operator concludes that mix of generation can produce 90 terawatt hours of energy per annum, “more than offsetting the energy lost from retiring coal-fired generation”.
It says the increasing penetration of rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources is having a profound effect on the power system, and it says a growing proportion of supply will come from this form of generation rather than baseload.
The new assessment also suggests Australia’s electricity transmission infrastructure will need to be reinforced to ensure the grid performs optimally after the shift.
It says targeted investment in new transmission “will minimise the overall cost and support consumer value by making better use of existing plant, including distributed energy resources, lower fuel and operating costs and operating risk by a more inter-regionally connected system, and provide system access to the least-cost supply resources that can replace the retiring coal plant”.
The forecast says the cost of replacing the retiring generators with new assets is “significant and unavoidable” – somewhere between $8bn and $27bn, depending on assumptions made around economic growth and rate of industry transformation.
But it says targeted investment in transmission infrastructure, rather than power generation, would create efficiency gains, with cost savings between $1.2bn and $2bn, as well as creating a more robust, resilient, flexible and adaptable network.
The report lays out a three-stage program of investment. A failure to invest in transmission infrastructure would increase consumer costs and risks, AEMO says.
AEMO’s chief executive, Audrey Zibelman, says Australia’s energy market is experiencing “an unprecedented rate of change”.
“We are witnessing disruption across almost every element of the value chain,” Zibelman says. But she says the looming transition will require careful planning “to manage this transformation in order to minimise costs and risks and maximise value to consumers”.

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Prolong The Life Of Coal-Fired Power Stations In The National Electricity Market, Says Australian Energy Market Operator

17 July, 2018 - 10:09
AFRMark Ludlow

Coal-fired power stations should be kept in the NEM for longer, said the Australian Energy Market Operator. Glenn HuntExisting coal-fired power stations will need to be used for as long as possible before they can be replaced with renewable energy sources, the national market operator has proposed, saying this was the cheapest option in the long term.
In a move which will embolden Coalition backbenchers about the future of coal in the National Electricity Market, the Australian Energy Market Operator's plan to be released on Tuesday warns against the early retirement of coal-fired power plants, saying they provide essential low-cost energy as well as stability in the power system.
"Maintaining existing coal-fired generation up to the end of its technical life is a key element of a low-cost approach," the report said.
AEMO's  plan, a key recommendation of last year's Finkel Review, also found the total investment required to replace the retiring generation capacity and meet on-going demand would be between $8 billion and $27 billion.
AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman said the proposed Integrated System Plan showed the energy sector was in the midst of transformative and unprecedented rate of change. Alex EllinghausenIt also found spending more money on extra transmission assets – to move electricity between the big states – at a cost of between $450 million and $650 million, would help deliver some cost savings on the final bill.
The AEMO report comes as Energy Minster Josh Frydenberg attempts to land the Turnbull government's National Energy Guarantee at a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments energy council meeting next month. It also follows last week's report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which recommended the Commonwealth under-writing new generation which could include coal.
AEMO found about 30 per cent of the NEM's existing coal resources, which produce 70,000 gigawatts of energy each year, would be approaching the end of their technical life over the next 20 years which could have a major disruptive effect on the energy system, which is already dealing with the large influx of renewable energy sources.
While the coal-fired power plants will be replaced with renewable energy such as wind, solar and battery storage, it was important to keep the coal assets running for as long as possible.
"To support an orderly transition, ISP analysis demonstrates that, based on projected cost, the least-cost transition plan is to retain existing resources for as long as they can be economically relied on," the report said.
"When these resources retire, the modelling shows that retiring coal plants can be most economically replaced with a portfolio of utility-scale renewable generation, storage, DER [distributed energy resources], flexible thermal capacity and transmission."
Energy reliability will require that the life of coal-fired power stations be extended, according to the report. Photo: Michele MossopThe report will be seized upon by critics of AGL Energy, which has ignored requests by the Turnbull government to keep the Liddell power station in NSW open longer than its planned close date in 2023. AGL says it would be too expensive to keep Liddell open – saying it needed close to $1 billion for another five years – and it wants to replace it with new gas plants, renewables and storage.
While the AEMO report warned about the early closure of coal-fired power stations, it was in no doubt about what should be its replacement – clean energy. It said a portfolio of resources including solar (28 gigawatts), wind (10.5 gigawatts) and storage (17 gigwatts) – complemented by 500 megawatts of flexible gas and transmission investment – would help fill the gap left by exiting coal assets.
This would become even more certain as the price of renewables continued to fall.
"This portfolio in total can produce 90 terawatts of energy per annum, more than offsetting the energy lost from retiring coal-fired generation," the report said.
AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman said the proposed Integrated System Plan showed the energy sector was in the midst of transformative and unprecedented rate of change.
"We are witnessing disruption across almost every element of the value change. Due to the vital importance of affordable, reliable and secure power as the engine of a strong economy, care must be taken now more than ever to manage this transformation in order to minimise costs and risks and maximise value to consumers," she said.
In the short term, transmission capacity between NSW, Queensland and Victoria needed to be increased by between 170 megawatts to 460 megawatts, according to the AEMO plan.
In the medium term, even more transfer capacity would be needed as well as the development of "renewable energy zones" and the integration of big projects such as Snowy 2.0 into the grid.
Longer term, the "sweating" of coal assets to make them last longer would be need as well as extra intra-regional network development to connect new renewable projects to the NEM.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull restated his government's commitment to the National Energy Guarantee in spite of rumblings in his own party and his coalition partners, The Nationals.

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Rising Ocean Waters From Global Warming Could Cost Trillions Of Dollars

16 July, 2018 - 14:03
The Guardian

We’ll need to mitigate and adapt to global warming to avoid massive costs from sea level rise
Waterfront condo buildings are seen June 3, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images Ocean waters are rising because of global warming. They are rising for two reasons. First, and perhaps most obvious, ice is melting. There is a tremendous amount of ice locked away in Greenland, Antarctica, and in glaciers. As the world warms, that ice melts and the liquid water flows to the oceans.
The other reason why water is rising is that warmer water is less dense – it expands. This expansion causes the surface of the water to rise.
Earth’s climate history shows there have been times when ice sheets rapidly changed and created multiple meters of sea level rise in a century. As Earth’s ice sheets continue to change, a key question facing scientists now is: Could human-caused climate change be pushing us toward one of those times? InfographicRising oceans are a big deal. About 150 million people live within 1 meter (3 feet) of sea level. About 600 million live within 10 meters (33 feet) of sea level. As waters rise, these people will have to go somewhere. It is inevitable that climate refugees will have to move their homes and workplaces because of rising waters.
In some places, humans will be able to build sea walls to block off the water’s rise. But, in many places, that won’t be possible. For instance, Miami, Florida has a porous base rock that allows sea water to permeate through the soils. You cannot wall that off. In other places, any sea walls would be prohibitively expensive.
It isn’t just the inevitable march of sea level that is an issue. Rising waters make storm surges worse. A great example is Superstorm Sandy, which hit the US East Coast in 2012. It cost approximately $65 bn of damage. The cost was higher because of sea level rise caused by global warming.
Climate scientists do their best to project how much and how fast oceans will rise in the future. These projections help city planners prepare future infrastructure. My estimation is that oceans will be approximately 1 meter higher in the year 2100; that is what our infrastructure should be prepared for. What I don’t know is how much this will cost us as a society.
A very recent paper was published that looked into this issue. The authors analyzed the cost of sea level if we limit the Earth to 1.5°C or 2°C warming. They also considered the future cost using “business as usual” scenarios.
What the authors found was fascinating. If humans take action to limit warming to 1.5°C, they estimate sea level will rise 52 cm by the year 2100. If humans hold global warming to 2°C, sea levels will rise by perhaps 63 cm by 2100.
The difference (11 cm) could cost $1.4 tn per year if no other societal adaptation is made. This is a staggering number and in itself, should motivate us to take action.
But the authors went further, they considered an even higher future temperature scenario (one that is essentially business as usual). With that future, global annual flood costs would increase to a whopping $14 tn per year.
In the study, the authors considered which countries and regions would suffer most. It turns out upper middle income countries will be worse off, particularly China. Higher-income countries have a slightly better prognosis because of their present flood protection standards. But make no mistake about it, we will all suffer and the suffering will be very costly.
There are four important takeaways from this study. First, while the economic costs are large, there is some range of projections. The actual costs may be lower or higher than the median predicted in the study. This is largely due to the fact that we don’t know how fast Greenland and Antarctica will melt. If they melt faster than projected, things will be worse than what I’ve described here.
Second, adaptation will help. By adaptation I mean making our societies less susceptible to sea level rise. For example, building sea walls when possible, building new infrastructure away from coasts, putting in natural breaks to limit storm surge during large storms, and making infrastructure more water-resistant.
Third, what we do now matters. If we can get off the high-emissions business as usual scenarios – if we can increase investment in clean and renewable energy – we can reduce the future costs.
Finally, while scientists often use 2100 as a benchmark year, it isn’t like oceans will stop rising then. In fact, we are committing ourselves to hundreds of years of rising oceans. The ocean has a lot of climate inertia. Once it starts rising, you cannot stop it. So, by focusing only on the year 2100, we are deluding ourselves into underestimating the long term costs.
This research shows it’s important to connect climate science with economic science. Too often, social scientists and economists with very little climate science understanding have tried to tell us that climate change is not a problem. Whenever you hear an economist or a social scientist give you a rosy future prediction, take it with a grain of salt. Their opinion is worthless without being backed by physical understanding. And the loudest economists and social scientists often have very little of this physical understanding.

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Approving The Climate Security Agenda

16 July, 2018 - 13:33
Bulletin of the Atomic ScientistsThomas Gaulkin

The United Nations Security Council has officially discussed climate change just three times since 2007. (Photo illustration via bwats2 and AIRS)The UN Security Council held a meeting this week under the heading, “Understanding and Addressing Climate‑related Security Risks.
It was just the third time the body has officially debated climate change as a security concern, but with Trump making headlines overseas, few noticed. (Climate change itself saw practically no major network coverage in the United States this month, despite record-breaking heat waves across the country.)
The council’s previous debates on the topic, in 2007 and 2011, were marked by disagreement over whether the Security Council is an appropriate forum for climate questions at all.
There are other bodies at the UN that cover the environment and development, goes one argument against it.
Another suggests that climate might be used as a pretext for politically motivated interventions, or securitization of climate issues might unfairly target poor nations that still depend on a high-emissions economy.
Veto-wielding states like China and Russia have routinely opposed anything that would expand the council’s peace-keeping powers.
Despite those objections, over the past seven years Security Council members have voted for multiple resolutions that acknowledge the links between climate-related displacement and conflict, including in regions like Somalia and around Lake Chad (which is now less than 10 percent of its 1960s size).
Since the issue first came on the council’s agenda 11 years ago, many other states have also begun to experience the direct and indirect effects of climate change.
The devastation in Syria, and its impact on migration (and politics) across Europe and the globe, were partly precipitated by drought. The Arab Spring has been linked to a 2010 drought that destroyed Russia’s wheat harvest and led to sky-rocketing food prices across North Africa.
The July 11 meeting may be a harbinger of more sustained interest in treating climate as an international security concern. Baron Waqa, the president of Nauru and chair of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, called for a new UN special representative on climate and security.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, who presided over the debate, announced the creation of a climate security “knowledge hub” in Stockholm, with a focus on evidence-based analysis.
“It is time for the Security Council to catch up with the changing reality on the ground,” Wallstrom said.
But other states remain unmoved. The Russian deputy UN ambassador described the inclusion of climate on the council’s agenda as “an illusion.”
While supporting the council’s attention to natural disasters, the United States barely acknowledged the main agenda topic, referring to climate change only once, and at arm’s length.
“We have heard from our friends in the Pacific that they consider climate change to be an existential threat to their populations, and we understand the priority they place on the UN system and the international community supporting their unique needs,” said the US deputy representative, Jonathan Cohen.
The bar is still set low.
Wallström acknowledged at a press conference before the meeting that it was “not realistic” to expect any immediate concrete outcomes, and that “it’s a success to be able to place it on the agenda.” With more resource- and climate-related conflict likely on the horizon, it’s difficult to know whether the Security Council taking on climate change is a hopeful sign, or just another indication that the world is marching steadily toward a future in which climate change poses a dangerous and unavoidable security threat.
“Very soon we will see more climate refugees, and it will affect all of us,” Wallström said. “So their destiny is also our destiny.”

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An 11-Million-Ton Iceberg Is Threatening A Tiny Village In Greenland

16 July, 2018 - 12:48
Washington PostCleve R. Wootson Jr.

Innaarsuit, on the west coast of Greenland, this week. The iceberg rises about 300 feet above the water level. Credit Scanpix Denmark/ReutersAn 11-million-ton iceberg is parked precariously close to the tiny village of Innaarsuit —  a glacial faceoff that pits 169 residents of Greenland against the biggest iceberg many have ever seen.
Their fate could be entirely dependent on the weather forecast.
If a strong enough wind blows at the right time, the berg could be dislodged from the spot where it has grounded, and float harmlessly into Baffin Bay. Crisis over.
But if Mother Nature brings enough rain, the relatively warm precipitation could further destabilize the iceberg, potentially sending a chunk of it into the ocean and creating a tsunami that could wash away part of the town.
“We are very concerned and are afraid,” Karl Petersen, chair for the local council in Innaarsuit, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
So far, 33 people have been moved to safer places inland. Others have been encouraged to move their boats away from the iceberg.


A huge iceberg grounded just outside the village of Innaarsuit, Greenland, and is threatening the coastal homes of the town's 169 residents. (Reuters)

Innaarsuit is about 600 miles north of Nuuk, the country's capital. The village's residents are mostly hunters and fishermen in an isolated area most easily reached by boat or helicopter.
The iceberg is 650 feet wide — nearly the length of two football fields — and rises 300 feet above sea level, according to the New York Times. In terrifying pictures, it literally casts a shadow on a hilly outcropping of Innaarsuit, dwarfing boats, homes and businesses.
Residents don't need lengthy memories to know the effect even a small tsunami could have on the country that doubles as the world's biggest island.
Last June, according to Quartz, a landslide caused by a 4.1-magnitude earthquake that struck 17 miles north of the village of Nuugaatsiaq partly triggered a tsunami that washed away 11 homes and killed four people.
Video posted online showed villagers sprinting away from approaching waves washing over seaside homes.
Tsunamis caused by landslides in bays can rise to incredible heights, travel at devastating speeds, and cause massive destruction, according to Quartz.
A similar giant wave was thought to have destroyed the city of Geneva in 563 AD, the Economist wrote.
Of course, even if there isn't some giant city-destroying Hollywood-style tsunami, there are other dangers from rising water. Nearby rivers could overflow their banks, for example, threatening homes and other buildings that don't face the sea. And Innaarsuit's power plant is also on the coast, meaning flooding in a very specific place could send Innaarsuit into the Dark Ages.
A Danish Royal Navy ship is standing by, according to the CBC, in case the situation sours.
“We can feel the concern among the residents,” Susanna Eliasson, a member of the village council, told CBC. “We are used to big icebergs, but we haven’t seen such a big one before.”
For now, the residents of Innaarsuit are watching the weather. The area will see relatively sedate winds for the next week. And on Sunday, July 22, it's supposed to rain.

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Climate Change To Worsen Urban Air Quality, Lifting Death Toll

16 July, 2018 - 09:59
FairfaxPeter Hannam

Days of severe pollution in Australia's biggest cities will worsen in coming decades as a warming climate triggers more intense temperature inversion events, exacerbating health issues, according to new research.
With more than 3000 premature deaths a year in Australia already linked to urban air pollution, worsening low-level air quality could increase the toll, said Jason Evans, a professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and a co-author of the report published recently in the Climate Dynamics journal.
Fog and smog across the Sydney Basin on the coldest morning of the year so far. Photo: Dean SewellInversion events reverse normal conditions, with cool air near the surface trapped beneath warmer air. The resulting lack of mixing allows pollutants, dust and pollen to build up, potentially harming health.
The new study examined data for the 1990-2009 period from nine weather sites. They ranged from Brisbane along the eastern seaboard to Adelaide, and took in inland cities such as Canberra.
It then applied regional climate models based on a business-as-usual carbon emissions trajectory to project results for 2020-39 and 2060-2079.
Significant changes in the intensity of inversions - based on the increasing differential between the temperature at the top of the warm layer compared with the air near the land - were detected in the latter period at all of the nine locations.
"Even though the overall number of inversions didn't change, we saw a substantial reduction in weak inversions and a marked increase in stronger inversion layers," Professor Evans said.
For Sydney, the increasing strength of daytime inversions was about 46 per cent for the 2060-79 period, compared with 1990-2009.
For Melbourne, the increase was as about 53 per cent, Brisbane 64 per cent, Adelaide 69 percent and Canberra about 80 per cent, according to the paper.
"With more than 80 per cent of Australia's population living [in the region studied] and large increases in population projected, the impact of more intense air pollution events in the future could be substantial," the paper said.
The models indicated only small changes in the duration of inversions, with those in the south becoming longer and those in the north shorter.

Inversion conditions
Since inversions typically develop during periods of calm winds, clear skies and long nights, the worst events will likely occur during the winter months.
Inversion conditions may occur on Monday in Sydney when overnight temperatures were tipped to drop to as low as 4 degrees at Observatory Hill, potentially the lowest July reading in 11 years.
Winds are expected to be light, with fog also settling in over places such as Richmond, on the city's north-west.
Paramatta North and Richmond were two sites to report poor air quality on Sunday morning, as did Armidale and Gunnedah, according to the Office of Environment and Heritage.
As inversion events usually take place during daylight hours, health effects will be amplified because "that's when people are out and about and most exposed", Professor Evans told Fairfax Media.
Days of poor air quality are projected to worsen with climate change. Photo: Anthony JohnsonOne role climate change could play is that with warming conditions, cities in Australia - and elsewhere - are expected to cop more rainfall but during fewer events. That would leave longer periods of relatively clear skies, conducive to inversion events, he said.
Climate models also project a decline of wind strength over land, Professor Evans said.
While the paper did not examine sources of pollution, one of the biggest for cities such as Sydney and Melbourne can be smoke from hazard-reduction burning.
Fire researchers say the window for conducting such burn-offs has been narrowing, particularly in the spring. That makes it more likely authorities will step up prescribed burning during periods of light winds and dry conditions - precisely the conditions favouring inversion events.

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Children Sue Washington State Over Climate Change

15 July, 2018 - 12:17
KING-TV - Alison Morrow

Along with their attorneys and several affiliated groups, they're asking a judge to hear their case that Washington needs to reduce its carbon emissions 96 percent by 2050. 



A group of kids who sued the Washington Department of Ecology over carbon emissions was back in court Friday arguing a different and much broader case that their constitutional rights are being violated.
This time they're suing Washington State Governor Inslee, the Department of Ecology and several other groups. They're challenging the entire energy and transportation system, arguing its greenhouse gas emissions are unconstitutional because their effect on climate change violates their right to a healthful environment as well as equal protection under the law.
"We have no time to wait for standard slow legislative procedures to take their action and their course," said one of the plaintiffs, 17-year-old Aji Piper.
Along with their attorneys and several affiliated groups, they're asking a judge to hear their case that Washington needs to reduce its carbon emissions 96 percent by 2050.
The state's attorney argued that you can't challenge a system, like the transportation system, as being unconstitutional. The Department of Ecology has said it's doing all it can under its authority. The defendants have said they share the goal of the kids but believe a lawsuit is the wrong approach. Instead, they argued, the kids should participate in the legislative process.
"Some of our plaintiffs are young enough that by the time they're old enough to vote, it will be too late," Piper said.
Some of the kids have spent 4 years, or a third of their life, in court on this issue.
Judge Michael Scott said he will decide by August 24 whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the case.
"When you're dealing with issues that broadly, you need legislative action to really reach a comprehensive solution," said Ecology Air Quality spokesman Andrew Wineke.
The targets adopted by the Legislature in 2008 were:
  • By 2020, return to 1990 levels
  • By 2035, 25 percent below 1990 levels
  • By 2050, 50 percent below 1990 levels.
In 2016, Ecology recommended that the Legislature make those targets more stringent:
  • 2020, still 1990 levels
  • 2035, 40 percent below 1990
  • 2050, 80 percent below 1990
The Legislature has not yet acted on that recommendation.

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There Are Genuine Climate Alarmists, But They're Not In The Same League As Deniers

15 July, 2018 - 11:41
The Guardian

Deniers have conservative media outlets and control the Republican Party; climate alarmists are largely ignored
Peter Wadhams gets most climate science right, but has been alarmist in his predictions about how soon the Arctic will be ice-free. Photograph: PR Image Those who debunk climate change misinformation often face a dilemma. We’re flooded with such a constant deluge of climate myths, where should we focus our efforts? Climate misinformation is propagated via congressional climate hearings, conservative media outlets, denial blogs, and even from some genuine climate alarmists.
Specifically, there has recently been a debate as to whether Skeptical Science – a website with a database of climate myths and scientific debunkings, to which I’m a primary contributor – would be more useful and effective if it called out misinformation from ‘alarmists,’ and if it eliminated or revised its Climate Misinformers page.
There is some validity to these critiques, and in response, Skeptical Science is renaming the page ‘Climate misinformation by source.’ But the site is run entirely by a team of international volunteers, and as such, opportunity costs must be considered. Time devoted to refuting alarmists is time not devoted to debunking the constant deluge of climate denial.

Unlike deniers, climate alarmists are not influential
Climate deniers are obviously incredibly influential. Despite their lack of supporting evidence or facts, not only do 28% of Americans continue to believe that global warming is natural and 14% that it’s not even happening, but deniers also dictate Republican Party policy. Republican policymakers constantly invite deniers to testify in congressional hearings, including many of those featured on the Skeptical Science misinformers page.
There is no symmetry on the other side of the aisle. In those same congressional hearings, Democratic Party policymakers invite mainstream climate scientists to testify. Their party policy is based on the consensus of 97% of the climate science community.
Ultimately, the issue boils down to a warped ‘Overton Window’ – the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse. In the real world, we have climate deniers on one extreme, alarmists on the other, and mainstream climate science in the middle. But the public discourse is warped – we instead have a heavy focus on climate denial among conservative media outlets and policymakers, a heavy focus on mainstream climate science among reputable media outlets and liberal policymakers, and the alarmists are largely ignored. Michael Tobis nicely diagrammed this in the climate Overton Window:
The climate Overton Window. In the public discourse, there’s a heavy focus on climate denial and mainstream climate science, while the more alarmist outcomes are largely ignored. Illustration: Michael Tobis and Stephen Ban.But there are some alarmists
That being said, there are a few reasonably well-known individuals who could be accurately described as climate alarmists. The most prominent is Guy McPherson, who decided in 2002 that climate change would likely drive humans to extinction by 2030. Sixteen years later, we’re now more than halfway to 2030 and the global human population has grown from 6.3 bn to 7.6 bn. It’s quite safe to say we won’t go extinct in the next few decades.McPherson’s case basically boils down to arguing that feedbacks like large methane releases will soon kick in, causing a rapid spike in global warming that will lead to global extinctions. One of his primary pieces of supporting evidence is that Earth System Sensitivity – which describes how sensitive the climate is to the increased greenhouse effect over millennia – is higher than the shorter-term climate sensitivity.
That was essentially the gist of a recent study profiled here in the Guardian. Over millennia, global temperatures and sea level rise will continue to rise beyond what climate models predict will happen over the next couple of centuries. But these are slow feedbacks, and as such won’t kick in within the next few decades. Scott Johnson did a very deep dive into McPherson’s flawed arguments, for those who want to learn about them in greater detail.
As another example, Peter Wadhams predicted in 2012 that the Arctic would be ice-free in the summer by 2016. In fact, the summer of 2012 saw a dramatic decline in year-to-year Arctic sea ice extent (down to 3.6 million square km), which Wadhams believed would become the norm. That hasn’t yet been the case – there were 4.7 million square km of Arctic sea ice in the summer of 2016.
 September Arctic sea ice extent. Illustration: National Snow and Ice Data Center It’s worth nothing that Wadhams gets most of the climate science right. There is absolutely a long-term decline in Arctic sea ice, which is in the midst of what many have described as a ‘death spiral.’ And Arctic sea ice is thinning rapidly. The Arctic will eventually be ice-free in the summer, but not within the next few years. According to Met Office Chief Scientist Julia Slingo, 2025–2030 would be the earliest date for an ice-free Arctic summer, and 2040–2060 is more likely. Wadhams also believes that there may soon be a large methane release from the Arctic, but a review of the relevant research suggests this isn’t a near-term concern:
There is no evidence that methane will run out of control and initiate any sudden, catastrophic effects. There’s certainly no runaway greenhouse. Instead, chronic methane releases will supplement the primary role of CO2.Climate denial is a much bigger problem
Wadhams has received some mainstream media attention, including in the Guardian, but his more alarmist warnings are largely ignored. There certainly isn’t a powerful political party basing its climate policies on his inaccurate predictions.
And that’s really the key point. While there are people on ‘both sides’ who spread misinformation, there are far more on the denier than the alarmist side, who are generally far wronger, and the deniers also have a far greater influence over policymakers.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with debunking overly alarmist claims – in fact, it’s a worthwhile endeavor, and some groups like Climate Feedback do just that. But debunking uninfluential alarmism comes at a cost. It diverts resources away from addressing the never-ending flood of misinformation coming from climate deniers who currently control the climate policy platform of the party in charge of one of the most powerful countries on Earth.

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New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Bill: Much Ado About Methane

15 July, 2018 - 11:41
The Conversation



New Zealand is considering whether or not agricultural greenhouse gases should be considered as part of the country’s transition to a low-emission economy. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-SA New Zealand could become the first country in the world to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
Leading up to the 2017 election, the now Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern famously described climate change as “my generation’s nuclear-free moment”. The promised zero carbon bill is now underway, but in an unusual move, many provisions been thrown open to the public in a consultation exercise led by Minister for Climate Change James Shaw.
More than 4,000 submissions have already been made, with a week still to go, and the crunch point is whether or not agriculture should be part of the country’s transition to a low-emission economy.

Zero carbon options
Many of the 16 questions in the consultation document concern the proposed climate change commission and how far its powers should extend. But the most contentious question refers to the definition of what “zero carbon” actually means.
The government has set a net zero carbon target for 2050, but in the consultation it is asking people to pick one of three options:
  1. net zero carbon dioxide - reducing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050
  2. net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases - carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide to net zero by 2050, while stabilising methane
  3. net zero emissions - net zero emissions across all greenhouse gases by 2050
The three main gases of concern are carbon dioxide (long-lived, and mostly produced by burning fossil fuels), nitrous oxide (also long-lived, and mostly produced by synthetic fertilisers and animal manures) and methane (short-lived, and mostly produced by burping cows and sheep). New Zealand’s emissions of these gases in 2016 were 34 million tonnes (Mt), 9Mt, and 34Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e), respectively.
All three options refer to “net” emissions, which means that emissions can be offset by land use changes, primarily carbon stored in trees. In option 1, only carbon dioxide is offset. In option 2, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are offset and methane is stabilised. In option 3, all greenhouses gases are offset.

Gathering support
Opposition leader Simon Bridges has declared his support for the establishment of a climate change commission. DairyNZ, an industry body, has appointed 15 dairy farmers as “climate change ambassadors” and has been running a nationwide series of workshops on the role of agricultural emissions.
Earlier this month, Ardern and the Farming Leaders Group (representing most large farming bodies) published a joint statement that the farming sector and the government are committed to working together to achieve net zero emissions from agri-food production by 2050. Not long after, the Climate Leaders Coalition, representing 60 large corporations, announced their support for strong action to reduce emissions and for the zero carbon bill.
However, the devil is in the detail. While option 2 involves stabilising methane emissions, for example, it does not specify at what level or how this would be determined. Former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has argued that methane emissions need to be cut hard and fast, whereas farming groups would prefer to stabilise emissions at their present levels.
This would be a much less ambitious 2050 target than option 3, potentially leaving the full 34Mt of present methane emissions untouched. Under current international rules, this would amount to an overall reduction in emissions of about 50% on New Zealand’s 1990 levels and would likely be judged insufficient in terms of the Paris climate agreement. This may not be what people thought they were voting for in 2017.

Why we can’t ignore methane
To keep warming below 2℃ above pre-industrial global temperatures, CO₂ emissions will need to fall below zero (that is, into net removals) by the 2050s to 2070s, along with deep reductions of all other greenhouse gases. To stay close to 1.5℃, the more ambitious of the twin Paris goals, CO₂ emissions would need to reach net zero by the 2040s. If net removals cannot be achieved, global CO₂ emissions will need to reach zero sooner.
Therefore, global pressure to reduce agricultural emissions, especially from ruminants, is likely to increase. A recent study found that agriculture is responsible for 26% of human-caused greenhouse emissions, and that meat and dairy provide 18% of calories and 37% of protein, while producing 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gases.
A new report by Massey University’s Ralph Sims for the UN Global Environment Facility concludes that currently, the global food supply system is not sustainable, and that present policies will not cut agricultural emissions sufficiently to limit global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels.

Finding a way forward
Reducing agricultural emissions without reducing stock numbers significantly is difficult. Many options are being explored, from breeding low-emission animals and selecting low-emission feeds to housing animals off-pasture and methane inhibitors and vaccines.
But any of these will face a cost and it is unclear who should pay. Non-agricultural industries, including the fossil fuel sector, are already in New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and would like agriculture to pay for emissions created on the farm. Agricultural industries argue that they should not pay until cost-effective mitigation options are available and their international competitors face a similar cost.
The government has come up with a compromise. Its coalition agreement states that if agriculture were to be included in the ETS, only 5% would enter into the scheme, initially. The amount of money involved here is small - NZ$40 million a year - in an industry with annual export earnings of NZ$20 billion. It would add about 0.17% to the price of whole milk powder and 0.5% to the wholesale price of beef.
However, it would set an important precedent. New Zealand would become the first country in the world to put a price agricultural emissions. Many people hope that the zero carbon bill will represent a turning point. It may even inspire other countries to follow suit.

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Which Countries Have Not Ratified The Paris Climate Agreement?

14 July, 2018 - 19:48
Climate Home News - 

Nearly three years after it was agreed, more than a tenth of global emissions are generated in countries that have not formally adopted the deal
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, illuminated in green to celebrate the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, the most ambitious climate change agreement in history, on November 4, 2016 (Photo: Jean-Baptiste Gurliat/ Mairie de Paris)Liberia is about to join 178 other parties in ratifying the Paris Agreement, after its senate voted in June to approve the deal.
The west African nation will soon finalise the ratification process at the UN headquarters in New York, according to a government official.
There are 197 signatories to the Paris Agreement. But once Liberia makes it official, 19 nations will remain yet to ratify, including some major emitters. In total, these countries account for 11.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
International agreements can be signed, but they only become binding through ratification. That can take an act of parliament or some other formal acceptance. Different countries have different processes.
Once ratified, the agreement commits governments to submit their plans to cut emissions. Ultimately they will have agreed to do their bit to keep global temperatures well below 2C above pre-industrial times and to endeavour to limit them further to 1.5C.
Here are some of the hold outs.

Russia
Russia is the largest emitter that has not yet ratified the Paris Agreement, with approximately 5% of global emissions in 2015. Its pledge to the deal, proposed to reduce emissions 25% to 30% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Nationally, large state-owned fossil fuel companies, support Russia’s energy needs and wield huge political power. There is a pro-Paris lobby made up of businesses and climate groups: the Russian Partnership for Climate Protection.
On the international stage, Russia has supported climate cooperation. The Kremlin spoke in support of the agreement following US President Trump’s announcement that his country intended to withdraw. No Russian ratification yet though.
Power lines from a Russian coal station (Photo: Peretz Partensky)Turkey
Since the adoption of the UN climate convention in 1992, Turkey has more heavily relied on fossil fuels, particularly coal, to keep up with increasing energy demands. Its emissions increased 135.4% between 1990 and 2016.
Turkey has a peculiar beef with the Paris Agreement, stemming from its decision to sign up to the convention as a developed country.
Turkey has since argued that it is a developing country and has won special circumstances, allowing it to opt out of supplying finance. But it still cannot access climate cash, a condition president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said must change if Turkey is to ratify the agreement.

Iran
As a major producer of oil and natural gas exporter, Iran’s energy sector accounts for around 77% of its total emissions. Despite its fossil fuel empire, the country has developed the renewable energy industry under a number of national plans and funds.
Its emissions pledge in Paris, however, was uninspiring; the country suggested it would intend to mitigate its GHG emissions by 4% in 2030 compared to a business as usual scenario.
Iran’s reluctance to ratify the Paris Agreement stems from an unwillingness to shift their economy. Economic sanctions from the international community are also a sticking point.
Windmills in Manjeel, Iran (Photo: Ali Madjfar)Colombia
Colombia’s parliament passed a bill ratifying the Paris Agreement in June 2017, but the country has yet to bring that to the UN. Around 10% of the Amazon rainforest grows within Colombia’s borders, levels of deforestation are increasing. In 2017, tree loss jumped by 46% from 2016 according to a recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
“I am pleased that Congress approved that Colombia is part of the Paris agreement @COP21, which confirms our commitment to the environment,” said President Juan Santos on Twitter.
The country’s diplomats may be holding off until the UN general assembly meets in September, which runs parallel with Climate Week, to officially deliver their ratification to the UN.

San Marino
San Marino has a tiny 0.27mtCO2 emission share (that’s a minuscule percentage of the global total). The ratification of the Paris Agreement is on the agenda of the next session of the Great and General Council (parliament), to be held from 19 to 27 July.

As of 12 July 2018, the countries yet to formally ratify the agreement were:
  • Angola
  • Colombia
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Lebanon
  • Liberia
  • Libya
  • Nicaragua
  • Oman
  • Russia
  • San Marino
  • South Sudan
  • Suriname
  • Syria
  • Turkey
  • Uzbekistan
  • Yemen
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UN Security Council Considers ‘Cycle Of Conflict And Climate Disaster’

14 July, 2018 - 19:47
Climate Home News

Sweden chaired the influential body’s first session focusing on climate change in seven years, calling for international coordination to address the risks
Chadian community advocate Hindou Ibrahim addresses the UN security council (Pic: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)Climate change is contributing to instability in many parts of the world, the UN security council heard on Wednesday, in its first debate dedicated to the topic in seven years.
A community advocate from Chad and Iraq’s water minister testified to the interplay of water scarcity and conflict in their homelands.
Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström and UN deputy chief Amina Mohammed, fresh from a trip to the drought- and terrorist-stricken Lake Chad basin, led calls for a coordinated international response.
“It is past time for us to deepen our understanding of how climate change interacts with drivers of conflict,” said Wallström, chairing the meeting.
Wallström, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the security council this month, announced the launch of a Stockholm-based climate security knowledge hub later this summer and proposed that Mohammed provide an “institutional home” for the issue at the UN.
“Fragile countries are in danger of becoming stuck in a cycle of conflict and climate disaster. Where resilience is eroded, communities may be displaced and exposed to exploitation,” said Mohammed, a former environment minister for Nigeria.
China and several European, African, South American and small island states endorsed efforts to integrate climate considerations into peacebuilding globally. Delegates also floated the appointment of a new special representative of the UN secretary-general on climate and security.
Russia stressed that it was not the security council’s role to drive climate action, however. “We are creating an illusion that the council will tackle climate issues and that there will be some kind of turning point,” said envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy, adding this was a “misguidance”.
The relationship between environmental pressures and conflict is complex and disputed. Climate change is typically described as a “threat multiplier,” rather than a primary cause of war. Weather extremes can hit the availability of water, food and other essentials, stoking tensions between rival groups.
Hindou Ibrahim of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change described how in her native Sahel region, drought traps farmers and herders in poverty and makes them vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organisations.
Young people need opportunities to make a peaceful living, she said. “You must give them something beyond hope, because they do not deserve to just survive, they deserve a life.”
The security council is expected to put out a presidential statement in the coming days on next steps.
Camilla Born, an advisor to the Swedish government, told Climate Home News the signal for action was stronger than last time it was discussed at this forum.
“Previously, you had the recognition that you needed climate-related information in reporting, but it was quite a soft recommendation,” said Born. “The difference between now and 2011 is you can now see climate change reshaping the security landscape. Every representative of a more fragile or vulnerable country was speaking about their personal experience.”
There was “a lot of alignment between countries about what was needed,” she added. That included the bureaucratic work of gathering and analysing data as well as mobilising political leadership.

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