Thursday, April 30, 2009

ETS to slow wages growth: Treasury

ABC News Online, Posted Thu Apr 30

The Federal Treasury says wages growth will be slightly slower under the Government's proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS).

A Senate inquiry in Canberra is taking evidence on climate change policy and the Government's plans for carbon pollution reduction.

Meghan Quinn from the Treasury's Climate Change Modelling Unit says the impact on wages growth is forecast to be up to 2 per cent slower than current levels.

But she says a much smaller impact is anticipated, because wages overall are expected to be higher as the economy grows.

"Just looking at mitigation costs alone, the introduction of an emissions price in Australia will ultimately reduce Australia's GDP slightly and would reduce real wages as a consequence," she said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Opposition is calling on the Government to make changes to its emissions trading scheme.

The Government wants the bill passed by the end of June, but faces a battle in the Senate.

The Coalition's emissions trading spokesman, Andrew Robb, has released a report today from an independent economist.

"His report establishes very clearly that the Government has got serious work to do to fix this deeply flawed scheme that they've put in place," he said.

"No one is saying it's all or nothing; what we're saying is go round back and do the work, fix up the flaws, do not put in jeopardy tens of thousands of Australian jobs."

But Climate Change Minister Penny Wong says the Opposition has not finalised its own position yet.

She says the Government made an election promise to introduce the scheme and she is determined to see it passed by Parliament.

Senator Wong says business and industry want to know what form the scheme will take.

"Business wants certainty; they want certainty on climate change policy. Unfortunately the only thing we're all certain of is that [Opposition Leader] Malcolm Turnbull is not up to this challenge," she said.

"You've had not only the 10 years in government but many months since the election of the Rudd Government to come up with a policy."

Greens on the offensive

Meanwhile, the Greens say they suspect the Government and the Opposition are being pressured by the coal industry to agree on an emissions trading scheme.

Greens Senator Christine Milne says the Government's plan is too weak and will make it harder to transform the economy away from coal.

The Government has taken a tougher line against the Greens in recent days, saying that their call for a stronger target is economically irresponsible.

Senator Milne says that is a sign the Government and Opposition will do a deal.

"It is very clear that the big parties and the big polluters are lining up against the climate and the community," she said.

"We are now seeing the shift that the Greens have been expecting for some time, and that is the coal industry starting to put pressure on the Coalition and the Government to get together, because they will never have a better deal than they have got now with the Government's proposed scheme."

Quit call on coal-fired power

The Age, May 1, 2009

SEVEN key climate scientists have taken the unprecedented step of asking owners of coal-fired electricity plants to shut them down.

The group includes staff from the CSIRO, the weather bureau and lead-authors from the Nobel Prize-winning UN International Panel on Climate Change. In a letter to the owners they say: "Genuine action on climate change will require that existing coal-fired power stations cease to operate in the near future."

They express doubt about clean coal technology and say no new coal-fired plants should be built unless they can show they will produce zero emissions. Barry Brook, Barrie Pittock, James Risby and professors David Karoly, Matthew England, Ann Henderson-Sellers and Lesley Hughes signed the letter.


Climate scientists call for coal power stations' closure

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Lateline, Broadcast: 30/04/2009
Reporter: Leigh Sales

Six of Australia's leading climate change scientists have written to the coal industry, telling them to shut down power stations and take responsibily for their environmental damage.


LEIGH SALES: Six of the nation's leading climate change scientists have written to the coal industry, telling them to shut down power stations and take responsibility for the damage coal burning does to the environment.

The scientists say the industry has the power to make a difference because it's the largest contributor to the nation's greenhouse gases. 

The letter calls for coal-fired power stations to be closed in the near future, and for any new ones to have zero emissions.

DAVID KAROLY, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: We're not arguing that they will necessarily listen, but this issue of liability will be a growing concern in the future. Perhaps they've been able to hide from that issue of liability because of mixed messages. 

We're trying to make it very clear that there is a liability and a responsibility associated with ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases.

LEIGH SALES: Four of the signatories authored chapters for the latest report by the global climate change body, the IPCC.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ETS a 'black hole of uncertainty'

By Alexandra Kirk for AM

ABC News Online, Posted 30th April 2009

As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sits down with premiers to talk climate change today, the Opposition has released the report it commissioned into Labor's emissions trading scheme, saying it confirms all of its fears.

The Pearce Review is an independent economic study commissioned to help finalise the Coalition's climate change position.

The report finds Kevin Rudd's plan "potentially threatens the balance sheets of key industries" and does not assess the economic impact of the first 20 or 30 years of the scheme.

The Government is seeking to get its carbon pollution reduction scheme passed by the Senate in June.

At every turn it charges Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull with bending to climate scepticism if his party does not back Labor's reform.

But Opposition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb says the Government is "flying blind".

"The report establishes that the Government is rushing head-long into a scheme with no idea how many jobs will be destroyed, no idea how it will affect different industries or regions, or even whether the scheme is the best option available," he said.

"The next 20 years is a black hole involving massive risk and uncertainty."

Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change Greg Combet maintains the report is broadly supportive of Mr Rudd's carbon reduction blueprint, at the same time accusing the Liberals of "extraordinary economic recklessness" for refusing to announce their emissions policy.

Mr Robb has indicated the Opposition will insist on substantial changes, warning the Government it cannot afford to ignore this critique.

"The Government hasn't seen the report for one. This Government wants to rush head-long into a scheme as an act of blind faith, without doing the critical work necessary to give people the confidence that a scheme is manageable, and won't cost tens of thousands of jobs," he said.

"They need to look at what is in this report and act on it, or otherwise they'll have no hope of getting support for their scheme."

'Economic lunacy'

Mr Combet is also targeting the Greens, saying it is "economic lunacy" for them to argue for an unconditional 40 per cent cut in emissions by 2020.

He is warning the carbon price would skyrocket and the cost to jobs and investment would be massive.

"The Greens' position as it stands is economically irresponsible, completely economically unrealistic, and I really call upon them to start to find a bit more common sense," Mr Combet said.

Without the Coalition's support, the Government will be seven votes short in the Senate. That puts the spotlight on the Greens.

Mr Combet says they are making themselves irrelevant by persisting with "economically and politically unachievable goals".

"This would take the back of the axe to the economy, and in particular to industries like aluminium, smelting steel production, coal mining, cement manufacturing and a host of others," he said.

But Greens' climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne says it is the only way to save the environment.

"The Greens want a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme that is good enough to give a chance of rescuing the climate, but at the same time strong enough to drive transformation in the Australian economy," she said.

"Clearly Greg Combet is so married to the old coal sector and the fossil fuel industries that he's not prepared to see that he's compromising Australia's economic future and the planet in terms of the climate."

"If Greg Comet and Kevin Rudd just want to protect the coal industry, it is they who will be condemning Australia to a non-competitive position."

Libs attack emissions proposal

Tom Arup 
The Age, April 30, 2009

THE Opposition will push for a different emissions trading scheme design in the Senate to that proposed by the Government. The Opposition's stance is based on independent economic advice to be released today.

Shadow minister for emissions trading design, Andrew Robb, told The Age the Opposition would not pass the Government's scheme in the Senate without a redesign.

"It is the design of the (Government's) scheme that is the problem. It is inconceivable to put this scheme on industry," Mr Robb said.

"By getting the design right then the scheme will be robust and it will allow for bad times and minimise the impact on industries but still provide an incentive to change."

Mr Robb said the Coalition had been looking "very closely" at a Canadian-style trading scheme, which charges energy-inefficient industry for carbon emissions rather than setting a price for all industrial carbon emissions.

The Canadian scheme was floated by independent Senator Nick Xenophon who last year went on a self-funded trip to Canada to investigate the "threshold" trading design.

The hardening of the Opposition's stance means the Government's scheme is unlikely to pass the Senate with its cap and trade scheme in place.

The independent economic study, to be released today, was commissioned by the Opposition last year. It has found the Government had not conducted a proper analysis of other trading scheme designs and calls for a review of all options.

The study was carried out by Centre for International Economics executive director David Pearce.

Mr Pearce backs a "broad" and "credible long-term" price on carbon, although there is movement in the Coalition, especially from the Nationals, for a purely voluntary scheme with no hard carbon price.

A spokeswoman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said Mr Pearce's support for a carbon price backs the Government's cap and trade approach. "By refusing to set targets and explain how they will reduce Australia's emissions, it is the Liberal Party that is increasing business uncertainty," the spokeswoman said.

Senator Wong is expected to respond directly to Mr Pearce's report today after her return from the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in the United States.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coal miner warns emissions scheme to cost jobs

By Melissa Maddison

ABC News Online, 29 April 2009

A major coal mining company says more job losses are likely if changes are not made to the proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The chief executive officer of Anglo Coal, Seamus French, told a Senate inquiry into the proposed scheme that as it currently stands, it would have a significant impact on its operations and that assistance would be needed to protect coal mining jobs.

Mr French told the hearing in Brisbane yesterday that under the current design, it would cost Anglo Coal $118 million per year to buy carbon permits - which he says would have wiped out the company's average annual profit over the past five years.

He says there is currently no technology available that would allow Anglo to reduce emissions from its operations.

Mr French is calling for the scheme to be amended to either include coal mining in the industry assistance scheme, or phase in the auction of carbon permits.

Forget sports extravaganzas, here's a major event Melbourne has to have

The state has a chance to take a lead role in saving the planet.

IT IS no surprise that economic sustainability has trumped environmental sustainability as "the" issue of the day.

While there has been an unprecedented global response to tackle economic problems, there has not been a sufficiently immediate and personal threat to focus enough minds on global environmental urgency and action.

The world has a surplus of individual leaders, organisations and experts "addressing" environmental sustainability of the planet but a deficit of action demanded by the large, complex and high-stakes issues.

A path has to be found through or around past thinking and ideals, lack of political will and courage, change-averse bureaucracies, corporate short-termism, flawed economic models, unsustainable energy assumptions, negative or under-engaged media, lobbyists, vested interests, and greed-driven strategies.

If Charles Darwin had joined a recent meeting in Copenhagen of 2500 scientists from 80 nations, he would have been disappointed that, 150 years on, so much of his seminal work had been narrowcast as "survival of the fittest". His full story was that the survival or extinction of any species would result from the degrees of required mutuality of interest within and between species; interdependence of human and natural environments; dynamics of advantage and disadvantage; unintended consequences of behaviour; resilience and adaptability; living within the means available, and working co-operatively against common threats.

He would have been alarmed by scientists' reports that global warming is worse than the worst-case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the Antarctic melting as fast as the ice shelf on Greenland (by EarthWatch calculations enough to cover Victoria with 18 metres of water every 24 hours); global temperatures rising 20 times more than climate scientists say should be occurring; and global warming from methane release due to melting of frozen landscapes now equal to that caused by human activity.

Assuming these trends, the outcome is that however well intentioned, governments making commitments to reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, or by 20 to 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, will still change and challenge the human experience.

Accepting the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri said: "If there's not action taken by 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future."

A recent study showed that even if all governments fulfilled their current promises, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will still have reached a level almost twice what scientists say is dangerous.

A worldwide network of thought leaders is working on an urgent ambition to mobilise citizens everywhere to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2020.

Inspired by Lester Brown's Plan B, the State of the World Forum ( is launching a 12-year "Global Transition Initiative" intended to mobilise action around climate change and global warming, engineering a complete shift of the global economy to renewable energy, stronger alignment of all human activity with the natural systems of the earth, and a better balance between ecological and economic life.

The State of the World Forum network will meet in Washington in November and then annually in different cities.

Because of the depth and width of transformational change needed, the network is pressing for more urgent and wise collective recognition, capability, willpower and action across all global mechanisms and institutions.

Melbourne could put its hand up to bring true meaning to its reputation as "liveable", "thinking" and "innovative".

We are achingly familiar with the impact of natural disasters from extreme heat, fire, flood and drought. We are one of the closest major cities to the thawing Antarctic ice. Our economic wellbeing assumes continued coal access, associated manufacturing exports and a friendly food-producing climate.

The State Government should commit Victoria to switching itself to a sustainable economy. Premier John Brumby could join other leaders, such as those in Brazil, and commit to cutting Victoria's carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2020 and shifting the basis of the state's economy to renewable resources.

This requires a resilient futures framework to ensure the long-term commitment and engagement of key stakeholders across politics, business, media, academia, science, education and community.

Such commitments now would be sound economic and environmental investments. Politically astute also, given that leaders will increasingly be judged on what they do about this single global issue.

It might also allow Melbourne to host the State of the World Forum in Melbourne in 2013 to show how a whole community took a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help ensure human civilisation's wellbeing. That would trump all other "major events".

Steve Harris is former publisher and editor-in-chief of The Age. He is principal of Alqemi, a strategic leadership agency. Professor Richard Hames is an author, adviser and founding director of the Asian Foresight Institute.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Arctic CO2 levels growing at an 'unprecedented rate', say scientists

Figures from a measuring station in northern Norway show that CO2 levels are increasing by 2-3 parts per million every year

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached a record high, according to the latest figures released by an internationally regarded measuring station in the Arctic.

The measurements suggest that the main greenhouse gas is continuing to increase in the atmosphere at an alarming rate despite the downturn in dip in the rate of increase of the global economy.

Levels of the gas at the Zeppelin research station on Svalbard, northern Norway, last week peaked at over 397 parts per million (ppm), an increase of more than 2.5ppm on 2008. They have since begun to reduce and today stand at 393.7ppm. Prior to the industrial revolution, CO2 levels were around 280ppm.

CO2 levels recorded in Svalbard tend to be higher than the global average, but scientists said the CO2 level they had measured was unprecedented even for that location. "These are the highest figures collected in 50m years," said Johan Strom, professor of atmospheric physics at the government-funded Norwegian Polar Institute, which collected the data.

"It is not the level of CO2 that is the problem, because the earth will adapt. What is very worrying is the speed of change. Levels [here] are now increasing 2-3ppm a year.

"The rate of increase is much faster than only 10-20 years ago. You can almost see the changes taking place. Never before have CO2 levels increased so fast," he said.

The global annual mean growth rate for 2007 was 2.14ppm – the fourth year in the past six to see an annual rise greater than 2ppm. From 1970 to 2000, the concentration rose by about 1.5ppm each year, but since 2000 it has risen to an average 2.1ppm.

"There can be week-to-week or day-to-day variability," said Thomas Conway, research chemist at US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Earth Systems research lab in Boulder, Colorado. But he said a 2.5ppm annual increase was "on the high end".

"This is part of an overall pattern of CO2 increasing in the atmosphere. Unless the burning of fossil fuels decreases, then the CO2 will not decrease. And if the rate of fossil fuel burning increases, so will the rate of CO2 increases," he added.

"These are quite large numbers. It sounds like this is an Arctic phenomenon," said Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter. "It fits with the general increase in emissions. You would expect the concentrations of CO2 to grow."

Last week, NOAA released preliminary figures for its annual greenhouse gas index, which incorporates data from 60 sites around the world – including Zeppelin. Total global CO2 concentration topped 386ppm. In 2008 the global average increased by 2.1ppm, slightly less than the 2.2ppm increase in 2007. NOAA's primary CO2 measurement station is Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

CO2 levels are typically higher in the Arctic than the global average because there is more landmass and human activity in the northern hemisphere. As a result, human emissions from factories and transport tend to lead to higher CO2 levels here.

The figures will concern policy-makers ahead of global talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in December. Climate scientists advise that the world must prevent CO2 levels from rising higher than around 450ppm CO2 equivalent (a measure of global warming potential that incorporates other gasses such as methane and is higher than the measured CO2 levels) to avoid a 2C increase on preindustrial global average temperature.

The Zeppelin research station is situated on a mountain top approximately 1100km from the North Pole. The closest town, Ny Alesund, is the northernmost human settlement in the world, mainly inhabited by research scientists. Although the research station is far from major sources of human pollution, atmospheric circulation brings air from Europe and North America into the Arctic region.

"There is less human influence here and most of the pollution comes straight here at this time of the year. From now on levels will reduce until the end of August when they will pick back up," said Strom.

"It is clearly the effect of human activity. Even if we stopped emitting now, we would have to live with this ... we will have to live with it for thousands of years, but that does not mean we should do nothing."

The figures come as Al Gore hosts a conference in Tromso, northern Norway, on melting arctic ice. Last week he told the US senate committee on energy and commerce that the arctic is now melting at an "unprecedented" rate.

"The most recent 11 summers have all experienced melting greater than the average 35 year time series," he said.

He is expected to warn ministers in polar regions that the arctic ice cap may totally disappear in as little as five years if nothing is done to curb greenhouse emissions.

Earlier this month, US scientists reported that annually forming sea in the Arctic region covered roughly the same area as in previous years, but had significantly thinned.

What will we tell the next generation?

LAST month, the chief scientific adviser to the British Government, Professor John Beddington, predicted a global catastrophe by 2030 on the simple premise that while global demand for food, water and energy is escalating, the supply of these three essentials is diminishing.

He predicted civil unrest and international conflict.

If this scenario was to come true, I can imagine a voice in the future asking us — particularly those of us who had the privilege and responsibility of a public voice — the following questions.

Did you know of the catastrophe predicted by Professor Beddington? Well, yes, I did.

Did the fact that he was the chief scientific adviser to the British Government not give you some cause for alarm? Well, yes, it did.

It would be unlikely for the chief scientific adviser to the British Government to be a crackpot, one whose opinions could be dismissed as frivolous? You would have thought so.

And Professor Beddington wasn't alone in the general tenor of his views, was he? No. He was not.

Two weeks ago, four CSIRO scientists — while stressing they did not speak for the CSIRO — appeared before the Senate inquiry into carbon emissions.

Not only did they say the Australian response was inadequate, one of their number, Dr Michael Raupach, said: "Well, I think that the scientific community as a whole, including every climate scientist that I know in CSIRO, is of the view that first, climate change is a very serious problem, and second, that global strategies at the moment are inadequate."

And so, says the voice from a future that has seen Professor Beddington's prediction come true, what did you do? The answer, for most of us, is pretty much nothing.

By now, some readers of this article are screaming: what if Professor Beddington and those like him are wrong? They will be citing scientists supporting their own view and I can't argue with their science any more than I can argue with Professor Beddington's.

There'll always be an expert with another view. Does that mean I have no voice at all when (a) I do have a voice and (b) I am no less qualified than many of those already participating vigorously in the debate.

What do I know? I know that 25 years ago, when I came to live in Victoria, it sold itself as the Garden State. Look at the garden state now.

In December, I went to Lake Bolac in western Victoria, passing a relatively new sign on the edge of town saying "home of aquatic sports" and other relatively new signs telling you where to back your boat in — but there was no water in the lake.

I hear voices saying that maybe the lake has been dry before. Maybe it has. But in the past three years, Lake Bolac has also had its highest and lowest temperatures ever recorded there, plus its first tornado, which left wheat silos lying about like crunched-up beer cans.

Driving around Victoria over the past decade, I have seen it getting drier and drier. Then, on February 7, we had the fires. I have had it put to me that the Victorian bushfires of 1851 were worse. Maybe, in some respects, they were, and there are all sorts of reasons for that.

But, more saliently, when the bushfire of 1851 occurred, was the top half of Australia inundated with record flooding rains? Were there reports coming in from around the world of corresponding climate abnormalities?

This month, we have again had the debate over asylum seekers.

To date, it has seemed remarkably like the debate that swept the Howard government to a second term. But if Professor Beddington is correct, if countries such as India and China experience significant shortages of food and water, we could, within a decade, have a world in which hundreds of millions of people are on the move.

Current political debate would also suggest that the idea of growth economics is still a political virtue. As a reality, it may already be in the past.

The potential issues now facing us are almost unimaginable in their range and complexity. The political problems are immense.

If you accept that the burning of fossil fuels on a massive daily scale is the principal agent of climate change, you are then confronted with the fact that this practice is intertwined with an enormous range of contemporary human activities, ranging from industry to sport, from medicine to housing.

That's a lot of people with an interest in the status quo and, in consequence, a lot of political inertia and obfuscation.

British law is ultimately based on the notion of the reasonable man. I think a reasonable man would conclude from the data now appearing before him from around the globe that he has serious cause for concern about the environment.

Most people, in my experience, now admit that something is "going on" with the weather. Asked if they think dramatic changes are on the way, they say: "Maybe, but not in my lifetime."

But what sort of an attitude is that? I have a granddaughter who will be 21 in 2030. What am I going to give her for her 21st? Only this, perhaps. Before I speak on the climate change, I will remind myself that this is not a media game, that there is a high seriousness to this debate now, that I am — we all are — answerable to the future.

Martin Flanagan is an Age senior writer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Methane-fuelled climate catastrophe 'less likely'

ABC News Online, Fri Apr 24

Carbon dioxide is not the only problem for the world. A bigger problem could well be methane.

The gas emerges from swamps and in the burps and farts of animals, including us humans, and it is a big contributor to global warming.

Now there are fears that stores of the gas trapped at the bottom of the ocean could be released by warming temperatures.

It is something that is exercising the minds of scientists in Denmark, the US, New Zealand and Australia.

What has worried climate scientists about methane is that there is so much of it.

It is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but thankfully, most of the planet's methane is locked up, stored at the bottom of the ocean or in ice sheets. It is known as clathrate methane.

The concern has been that as the world gets warmer, some of the clathrates would escape into the atmosphere and have a dramatic amplifying effect on global warming.

The circumstantial evidence has not been good, says Dr David Etheridge from the CSIRO.

"There's evidence in the long-term past, millions of years ago, that this may have occurred. It is circumstantial evidence only," he said.

"What we needed to know for the future is whether the warming that we are currently seeing, and which will increase in the future, will destabilise these clathrates."

Dr Etheridge and colleagues in the United States, New Zealand and in Australia have managed to work out whether the methane is something to be worried about.

They looked at an event about 12,000 years ago known as the Younger Dryas period. Temperatures got suddenly warmer in the northern hemisphere and were accompanied by a big increase in methane.

By mining ice sheets in Greenland and analysing the gas bubbles trapped in there, they have been able to prove that the methane was not there because it came out of the clathrates.

"Just to give you an idea of the technical challenges involved, the amount of carbon 14 methane in the Younger Dryas atmosphere amounted to about 1.25 kilograms globally. Because carbon 14 is radioactive that has decayed away over two half lives," said Dr Andrew Smith, from the Australian Nuclear Organisation ANSTO at Lucas Heights in Sydney

"It means that today there is only about one-third of a kilogram of that original radio methane left on the Earth."

Therefore, finding enough 12,000-year-old air to analysis was the challenge.

Tonnes of ancient ice was carved from the Greenland sheet, then melted in vacuum containers.

The gas that emerged was trapped and bottled and shipped to New Zealand and there it was converted into carbon dioxide and sent across to Australia.

At Lucas Heights it was condensed into tiny specks of graphite that Dr Smith carbon dated using a technique known as accelerator mass spectrometry.

"And from that 1,000 kilograms of ice, we ended up with just 20 micrograms of carbon. In that 20 micrograms of carbon, the carbon 14 was present at the level of about one part in a trillionth or less," he said.

The results were good news - the big increases in methane in the air were not coming out of the clathrates.

It means one less potentially significant contributor to future global warming.

The CSIRO's Dr Etheridge says it is an encouraging result.

"Clathrates contain several thousand times the amount of methane than is in the atmosphere presently, so there is a huge potential there and these clathrates can destabilise with temperature," he said.

"I think this confirms that that source of methane, that potential source of methane, is more stable than we previously thought and that gives us some upper bounds to the future releases that we might expect with a warming world."

Based on a report by Shane McLeod for The World Today.

Carbon capture power plant 'won't happen overnight'

ABC News Online, Fri Apr 24, 2009

Victorian Energy Minister Peter Batchelor is predicting a coal-fired power station with carbon capture technology could be operating in Victoria within five years.

The environment movement says a target of 2020 is unrealistic, and is more likely to be 2050.

The State Government has announced today former Loy Yang mine manager, Charlie Speirs, will head the new organisation, Clean Coal Victoria.

Mr Batchelor says Mr Speirs' job will be to ensure coal continues to play a big part in Victoria's power industry.

"I think it might be another five years before we see a power station, there's a lot of work to be done but you don't deliver a big change in the fundamental way our electricity is delivered and this new infrastructure network overnight, or during the term of one government," he said.

Power bosses blasted over use of brown coal

CONTROVERSIAL former state MP Evan Thornley says Victoria's use of brown coal is killing the planet for little pay-off because of failed leadership from power plant bosses.

Speaking at a green jobs forum in his new role running electric car recharge company Better Place, Mr Thornley said he was not as opposed to brown coal as were some people, but wished it was used more intelligently.

Instead of burning brown coal, which is responsible for more than 90 per cent of Victoria's greenhouse emissions, electricity generators should be extracting the solid carbon and burning the gas, he said.

He said this would cut emissions by two-thirds, save "two desalination plants worth of fresh water", double the number of coalminers' jobs and leave the solid carbon to be converted into marketable products.

Activated charcoal, for example, could be sold to India and China for $1200 a tonne to be used in water purification.

"We're currently getting nothing for (the carbon) and killing the planet, and when there is a carbon price we will be getting negative $30 for it," he said yesterday. "This is dumb and demonstrates a lack of business leadership.

"Some people are too busy trying to defend the way they've always done things rather than finding ways of reducing waste and creating value, creating jobs and lowering prices."

The speech was the former internet entrepreneur's first major foray into public policy since he turned down a ministry and resigned from Parliament in December.

He was later accused of lying about offering Better Place advice while he was a parliamentary secretary — claims he denies.

Mr Thornley yesterday said he quit politics after he came across the "single most compelling project" he had seen in 20 years.

He said Australia could slash fuel costs as it moved to electric cars, from $20 billion spent each year on petrol to just $5 billion needed to run the national car fleet on renewable energy.

He said most of the big changes in environmental practice would come through changing equipment, not changing behaviour.

The green jobs forum, organised by Environment Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, heard about 26,000 green jobs could be created in five industries through policy changes and the investment of $186 million over five years.

Skills Minister Jacinta Allan said a recent roundtable hosted by Premier John Brumby discussed opportunities to create jobs and cut emissions by refitting buildings. The State Government has promised to release a green jobs plan in June.

The Australian Industry Group said a recent survey found 50 per cent of employers believe their managers need improved green skills.

Opposition environment spokesman David Davis said the Australian Bureau of Statistics should be asked for a definition of "green jobs" and to monitor their growth.

Clean coal push marks reversal of UK energy policy

Decision not to allow any new coal-powered plants to be built in Britain without carbon capture represents a major victory for the new Department for Energy and Climate Change and green pressure groups

No new coal-fired power stations will be built in Britain from now on unless they capture and bury at least 25% of greenhouse gases immediately and 100% by 2025, the climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, announced today.

In a reversal of energy policy which represents a major victory for the new Department for Energy and Climate Change and green pressure groups, the government will direct the building of four energy "clusters", generating a total of 2.5GW of electricity, on the east coast of Britain.

Each cluster will have at least one major new coal-fired power station able to collect carbon emissions and transport them out to sea, where they will be buried in redundant oil or gas fields.

The new power stations, the first to be built in over 30 years, are not expected to come onstream until 2015. They will be sited in the Thames Gateway, on the rivers Humber and Tees and in the Firth of Forth in Scotland, with a possible fifth on Merseyside. The government envisages oil and coal companies linking to reduce emissions from coal-powered electricity generation by up to 60% by 2025.

Demanding carbon capture and storage (CCS) on all new coal plants is expected to cost around £1bn for each plant and increase energy bills. Government and energy companies are in talks over how these will be funded but it is expected to come from a levy on all fossil fuel electricity generation in Britain. This could put 2%, or roughly £8 per household a year, on a consumer's electricity bills by 2020. Other funding alternatives being considered are to pay the energy companies according to how much carbon they store underground.

Earlier today, Ed Miliband said that Britain planned to lead the world in clean coal technology. This is expected to become a global industry in the next 50 years as countries commit to reducing carbon emissions to combat global warming. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels but provides at least one-third of the world's electricity.

"There is a massive gain we can benefit from by being in the front of this revolution. We need to signal a move away from the building of unabated coal-fired power stations because it is right for our country to drive us towards a low-carbon [economy]. The change starts now," he said.

Environmental groups found themselves in the unusual position of joining the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in hailing a government initiative.

"At last Ed Miliband is demonstrating welcome signs of climate leadership in the face of resistance from Whitehall officials and cabinet colleagues. He is the first minister to throw down the gauntlet to the energy companies and demand they start taking climate change seriously," said John Sauven, Greenpeace UK's director.

"This time last year energy issues were being decided by tired ministers in thrall to regressive civil servants. Now we see hints of real climate leadership."

But he added: "Very significant questions remain unanswered, with environmentalists concerned that emissions from coal could still be undermining Britain's climate efforts for years to come. For every tonne of carbon captured and buried from new coal plants before the 2020s, the government seems happy to see three tonnes released into the atmosphere. Until there is a cast-iron guarantee that new coal plants won't be allowed to pump out massive amounts of CO2 from day one, our campaign continues."

The announcement will have the effect of delaying a decision on the go-ahead for a major new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent for at least another year, but it is not expected to stop major climate change protests over coming months.

Miliband said it was technically not possible to insist on 100% carbon capture and storage immediately. "Some people will say that Britain needs 100% carbon capture and storage from day one, but this is not practical, affordable or right. The technology must be shown to work on a large scale. If it leads to no new coal-fired power stations going ahead it would be a dramatic failure of leadership. 2025 is a practical."

Environmentalists have run a two-year campaign against new highly polluting coal plants, with attention focusing on E.ON's plans to build the new plant at Kingsnorth. The German utility submitted plans for a normal "unabated" plant, and came within weeks of being given permission by energy secretary John Hutton.

The announcement follows this week's budget which pledged £1.4bn towards home energy saving and other climate change reduction initiatives.

Coal burning must end, says scientist

Andrew Darby in Hobart 
Sydney Morning Herald, April 24, 2009

A CSIRO scientist has told a Senate inquiry it is imperative to begin phasing out coal burning in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

No coal-fired power plants should be built, and existing plants must shut within 20 years, if the world is to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide at a less dangerous level, the climatologist James Risbey said.

Yesterday Dr Risbey joined other CSIRO scientists who have spoken out personally to the Senate committee on climate policy's inquiry after the CSIRO decided against making a submission.

He said the Rudd Government's targets of reducing carbon dioxide levels by at least 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020 and 60 per cent by 2050 were not tough enough to avoid dangerous climate change.

"In fact, they yield a high likelihood of triggering irreversible changes in the climate system," he said at the committee's hearings in Hobart. "Such likelihoods can be greatly reduced with far more stringent emissions reductions. However, further delay makes safer concentration targets unattainable and begins to lock in dangerous climate change."

The committee was told that at current levels of greenhouse gas growth, the world risked an irreversible collapse in the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, contributing roughly seven and five metres each to global sea level rise.

Acidification of the oceans, release of stored methane and breakdown of snowmelt would also affect food webs and the global population.

"While we cannot give a precise temperature at which each of these processes would occur, the threshold is thought to be in the vicinity of about two degrees in each case," Dr Risbey said.

But Australia's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, if applied by all countries, would mean a 50 to 90 per cent chance of exceeding the threshold.

"In other words, this is Russian roulette with the climate system, with most of the chambers loaded," he said.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Qld mulls wrapping up clean coal project

ABC News Online, Posted Thu Apr 23, 2009 1:00pm AEST

The Queensland Government has confirmed it is reviewing whether to walk away from a multi-million dollar clean coal project.

The independent Weller review of government bodies has recommended a study be done as to whether the project should be handed over to the coal industry or wound up altogether.

The project involves the construction of a low emissions power station at Stanwell, near Rockhampton in central Queensland, by 2015.

The new technology involved would see 70 per cent of emissions stored underground, but its future is now unclear.

Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson has told Parliament the Government is considering a recommendation to wind up ZeroGen.

"We make no apologies for ensuring taxpayer money is spent effectively," he said.

Tony Marr from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has criticised the decision.

"Absolutely stupid. I condemn it and I call on the Government to come out and clarify their support," he said.

The State Government says the project was unlikely to become a reality without more Federal funding.

Greens unconvinced on UK's $8b carbon capture plan

By Emma Alberici in London for AM

ABC News Online, 24th April 2009

Environmentalists are concerned that Britain's $8 billion project to build the world's first large commercial carbon capture and storage facilities is based on untested technology.

The British Government announced the plans to build the facilities when finance minister Alistair Darling handed down his Budget this week.

The Government has set aside four sites and $8 billion for the facilities, which it says will have the ability to take emissions from large coal-fired power stations and bury them deep underground.

Under the plan Britain will become the first country to require every new coal-fired power station to be fitted with the new technology, which is currently non-existent and untested on a commercial scale.

But environmentalists say the money would be better spent on renewable energy, especially considering the technology is still untested.

Ed Milliband, the UK's Energy and Climate Minister, is confident that it will work.

"There is an urgent international imperative for us to make coal clean. With a solution to the problem of coal, we greatly increase our chances of stopping dangerous climate change," he said.

"Without it we will not succeed. There is a solution to the challenge through carbon capture and storage: capturing the CO2, transporting it and locking it permanently underground would reduce emissions by 90 per cent."

Of all the electricity sources, coal-fired power produces the dirtiest form of pollution.

The new scheme, also referred to as CCS (carbon capture and storage), will see the carbon dioxide belching from four coal-fired plants in the UK captured, scrubbed with a solvent, dried, compressed into liquid form, piped or taken by ship to a geological site where its pumped more than two kilometres underground.

It could take 20 years to prove that it works.

Caroline Lucas, a Greens Party Member of the European Parliament, says that there is the real possibility that it will not work.

"Much better to put Government money into tried and tested technologies that deliver emission cuts much more quickly, much more cheaply and also which will deliver far more jobs more quickly too," she said.

"Investment in renewables for example could generate four times as many jobs 10 years sooner than CCS."

E.ON is one of the world's biggest energy companies. It is committed to building a pipeline network from the UK into the North Sea where the carbon emissions can be stored under depleted oil and gas fields.

E.ON's Jonathan Smith says there are unlikely to be risks involved in the new technology.

"Obviously with gas and oil, until humankind went looking for it, it was perfectly safe and was harming nobody below the surface of the sea," he said.

The British Government this week set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2020.

It predicts that CCS will add around 1 billion pounds or $2.05 billion to the cost of a new coal fired power station. The money will be raised by increasing energy bills in the UK by 2 per cent.

The Government has been given little choice. Within a decade, one-third of its current power generators, nuclear and coal-fired, will close and its got to find alternative ways of making sure the country's lights do not go out.

It will not be able to meet its ambitious emission reduction targets if its coal is not cleaned up.