A Senate inquiry has found Australia’s current environment laws incapable of stemming the nation’s animal extinction crisis.
The world is experiencing a profound energy transition, shifting from an energy system based on fossil fuels, to one based on renewable energy.
Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency Adnan Z Amin speaks to Gitika Bhardwaj about how this transition is set to disrupt the geopolitical landscape.
Adnan Z Amin
Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency
Solar panels at the Noor Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant which is located 20km outside Ouarzazate in Morocco. The solar plant is one of the largest in the world designed to boost renewable energy production in Morocco. Photo: Getty Images
The world is undergoing an energy transformation, from a system based on fossil fuels to a system based on renewable energy, in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the most serious impacts of a changing climate.
How does this transition have the potential to reshape the geopolitical landscape and how does it compare to the impact of the last transition from traditional biomass energy 200 years ago?
The last transition created an energy system that was based on resources that are geographically concentrated. This allowed the exercise of geopolitical power around the distribution of those resources which, in turn, had economic advantages for those countries that extracted those resources.
But we are now moving from an energy system of scarcity to one of potential abundance for almost every country around the world. This is because almost every country will have some degree of energy independence in the new energy system we are moving to since almost every country will be able to harness renewable energy.
This shift is a fundamental change for the world and it’s going to have a profound impact on the global economy. That’s why I believe that the energy transition we are going through is going to be as consequential, if not more, than the last one we experienced 200 years ago.
How do you anticipate countries, particularly those that have benefitted from fossil fuel production in the past, to respond to these geopolitical changes, given that it could potentially disrupt existing power dynamics and trade patterns?
One of the greatest challenges that the energy transition presents is for fossil fuel-producing countries, many of which are countries that have run their economies on these resources in the past, to adopt a new, diversified, economic model.
We are beginning to see the emergence of this around the world. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, there is an energy strategy in place that is calling for 70 per cent decarbonization and 44 per cent clean energy power generation by 2050. This is at the base of an economic diversification strategy to move away from their reliance on one particular resource – which currently is oil.
I think this is a critical challenge for many countries who are in the same situation. For example, although Saudi Arabia is trying to diversify its economy, it faces immense challenges, although it’s Vision 2030 strategy points the way towards moving in a positive direction.
But there are other countries that are unprepared. If you think of the possibilities that a fast-moving energy transition has for the prices of fossil fuel resources, and the impact it could have on countries like Nigeria, Angola, Gabon and others that are highly dependent on these resources, then unless they have ambitious strategies of economic diversification, they could face some severe challenges in the near future.
In terms of the geopolitics, the trade in oil and gas has been at the base of the geopolitical system we have today, but if you think of the fact that we are moving away from these resources into a much more electrified world with power movements across borders based on electricity from renewable energy, there is an enormous opportunity for fossil fuel-producing countries.
This is because many of them are rich in renewable energy resources too so there is a chance for them to remain as energy players. However, it needs leadership and it needs vision to make it happen.
How are emerging economies across South America, Asia and Africa responding to the global energy transition at a time that they are seeking to develop their economies?
One of the most exciting things is that they are already responding well. What has happened over the last four years is that renewables have formed the majority in new capacity addition to the global power sector – which is remarkable.
Furthermore, the majority of renewables capacity addition has been in emerging economies and developing countries, so some of these countries are really pointing the way towards a very exciting future.
You have leaders in this field, like Morocco, which is coming from a 90 per cent energy import dependency to a target of having 52 per cent renewables in their electricity mix by 2030 – which is an extraordinary achievement. I’ve seen some of their installations and they have state-of-the-art technology and low-cost power generation that’s competitive with any fossil fuel power generation in the country.
Chile, too, has some of the lowest prices for renewable electricity in the world and it’s quickly moving to a zero-carbon energy economy.
What these countries are showing, is that this is the development strategy of the future, especially for emerging economies. It’s not merely about the replacement of one fuel for another – it’s a whole new paradigm of development that is emerging based on the current global energy transition.
Wind turbines at the San Gorgonio Pass wind farm near Palm Springs in California, US. Located in the gap between Southern California’s two highest mountains, the facility is one of three major wind farms in the state. Photo: Getty Images.
In a recent report, the transition to renewables is said to be set to reduce the risk of energy-fuelled conflicts, and as such, you recently said that renewable energy is the ‘defence policy of the future’.
Can you explain this in more detail particularly given the increasing security concerns posed by climate change?
Fossil fuels, particularly oil, have had a marked imprint on patterns of conflict over the last 100 years. As the world shifts to renewables, and the relative importance of fossil fuels declines, a geopolitical shift in the frequency and location of conflict is likely to occur.
The risk of confrontation over contested hydrocarbon reserves, such as in the Middle East or in the South China Sea, may diminish. To this extent, the global energy transformation could generate a ‘peace dividend’.
Climate change poses an existential security threat to humanity but renewable energy serves as a defence policy for the future as it plays an essential role in all strategies to combating climate change.
The latest IPCC report set out evidence of the need to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent irreversible changes to the Earth. But unless urgent steps are taken to decarbonize the energy sector, the world will remain way off this target. This is because pathways to a low-carbon economy require a rapid deployment of renewable energy and a doubling of energy efficiency – given that the energy sector accounts for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Renewables have the added potential to mitigate against wider socio-economic stresses and shocks that can lead to conflict too: by improving access to energy to the 1 billion people who are energy-poor, by creating jobs, reducing local pollution, promoting sustainable development and alleviating competition over scarce natural resources.
The renewable energy sector has achieved a number of milestones and currently employs over 10 million people globally. Are there any challenges presented by the global energy transition that need to be considered, for example, safeguarding those currently working in fossil fuel industries?
There is a lot of discussion about the disruption of the energy transition, which is correct, that’s why I think it should be a priority for policymakers and decision-makers to understand how the transition to renewable energy will impact everyone.
If the energy transformation begins to permeate into industrial sectors that have traditionally been dominated by fossil fuel energy, there could potentially be severe social disruption, and we are currently seeing the fear of this disruption playing out in the coal industry.
However, there are some innovative models, like a model that has recently emerged in Spain to enable a just transition in the coal sector. Social arrangements have been made to accommodate Spanish coal workers in the future as the country moves towards its renewable energy transition.
But then if you think about how technology is beginning to reshape the global economy, if we move rapidly into the renewable energy-based electrification of the economy – where major sectors like mobility become increasingly electric – then you could see the whole supply chain of conventional vehicles, that employs millions of people around the world, with hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, very quickly begin to experience significant challenges.
So there is a lot of work to be done in terms of developing a cross-understanding of industrial policy and social policy. For example, understanding the scale of this energy transformation, how it will affect significant sectors in the economy, what kind of coping strategies there are and how we can create a workforce fit for the future which will involve reskilling the present workforce. I believe this has to be at the centre of thinking for policymakers and decision-makers today.
I wholeheartedly believe that we have the opportunity to move to a decarbonized society that can at least keep us below 2°C. But, unless we have the will at different levels of society – from politics to industry – that incentivizes investment in low-carbon growth, then I fear we may not achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
We need to break with a system in which the value of everything is determined by how much money it can make for the Wealthy.
By Grace Blakeley
Momentum activists demonstrate outside Barclays bank on 30 March.
Last Saturday, as Brexit continued to dominate the headlines, Momentum activists sought to draw the nation’s attention to a slightly more pressing issue. The group staged protests outside bank branches across the UK to put pressure on financial institutions such as Barclays to stop “financing climate chaos” after a report revealed that the bank is the largest single lender to fossil fuel companies.
And chaos is exactly what we are facing.
On current trends, the planet is set to warm by at least three degrees by 2030. At such temperatures the environmental systems that sustain human life would start to collapse.
Harvests would fail, water cycles would be disrupted, and extreme weather events would become the norm.
Huge swathes of the planet would become uninhabitable, killing millions of people and displacing many more.
Historically, climate activists have often been fond of telling us that “we’re all in this together” and that only by working across political and ideological boundaries can we hope to save the planet.
They have focused on grand, international summits where politicians, business leaders and bureaucrats meet to decide the fate of humanity and return to their nation states with plans for carbon taxes, emissions trading schemes and nuclear power stations.
But climate change is, and always has been, a class issue.
It has been caused by the wealthy, and its effects will fall on the poor.
Just 100 companies are responsible for 70 per cent of all carbon emissions.
Globally, the wealthiest 10 per cent are responsible for 50 per cent of all lifestyle consumption emissions.
In the UK, the top 10 per cent is responsible for nearly 25 per cent of lifestyle consumption emissions, with the bottom 50 per cent responsible for just five.
And it is the poorest parts of the world that will be most ravaged by the effects of climate change.
Low-lying states like Bangladesh are incredibly vulnerable to flooding as sea levels rise.
Africa’s Sahel region – home to nearly 200 million people – will become desertified as temperatures increase.
As brutally demonstrated by Cyclone Idai, the poorest states are also those least able to protect their citizens from extreme weather events.
And if climate change is a class issue, then decarbonisation should be a class project. The only way to halt climate change is to challenge the logic of capitalism itself: that the value of everything – land, knowledge, and even human life – is determined by how much money it can make for the wealthy.
Some argue that such a mission is impossible. Averting the apocalyptic scenario laid out in the recent IPCC report requires reducing global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 – an incredibly ambitious target. Others are slightly more optimistic, pointing out that the world is currently experiencing something of a “solar revolution”. Costs have fallen by a factor of ten over the last decade and solar power generation is increasing at a remarkable rate of 30-40 per cent per year.
Both the optimists and the pessimists have a point. We do have the technology to prevent our planet from decaying into an uninhabitable hothouse earth. But as long as corporations, banks, and even governments, continue to profit from fossil fuels, decarbonisation will remain a distant dream.
Saturday’s protesters understand this point all too well. In targeting major financial institutions like Barclays, they were attempting to strike at the heart of modern, financialised capitalism. Without access to financial markets, most fossil fuel firms would struggle to survive.
But given the scale of the challenge, we must be far more ambitious. Dealing with the existential threat humanity is facing requires the kind of radical state intervention that no liberal government would consider and no international institution would allow: it requires a global green new deal.
Citizens must pressure their political leaders into implementing a just transition towards a zero-carbon economy. This would mean a huge increase in state spending – in the area of 30 per cent of GDP per year – to decarbonise energy and transport infrastructure and boost investment in green technologies. The costs of such a project should be imposed on the wealthy. This will require tax reform, constraints on capital mobility, and the replacement of private financial institutions with green, democratic, publicly-owned alternatives.
Providing for green growth over the long term would also require increasing public and collective ownership over the most important economic assets. Pension funds must be reformed and democratised so their members can put pressure on private corporations to take climate change seriously. The state should also start to act as an activist investor, using the funds from quantitative easing to buy up corporate bonds and pressuring companies to reduce their emissions. And some industries will need to be nationalised outright to deliver the levels of investment required to make the green new deal a success.
The green new deal must be global – states must work together to achieve these goals. But they will have to do so outside of existing international institutions. The kind of state intervention required to tackle climate change – democratic public ownership over most of the economy, dramatic increases in state spending, and the controls on capital mobility required to achieve this – are not merely frowned upon by the World Bank and the IMF, they are actively prohibited.
Such a mass mobilisation of society’s resources would be unprecedented during peacetime. And it has to be undertaken alongside a fundamental reorganisation of the international system. Were the planet not facing an existential catastrophe, this vision would seem utterly utopian. But the reality is that there is no alternative.
Renewables ‘have won the race’ against coal and are starting to beat natural gas – ThinkProgress
By Joe Romm
The rapidly dropping cost of renewable energy has upended energy economics in recent years, with new solar and wind plants now significantly cheaper than coal power.
But new research shows another major change is afoot: The cost of batteries has been declining so unexpectedly rapidly that renewables plus battery storage are now cheaper than even natural gas plants in many applications, according to a report released this week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
BNEF analyzed pricing data from almost 7,000 power projects in 46 countries that span 20 energy technologies, including coal, gas, nuclear, battery storage, solar photovoltaics (PV), and wind.
They report that electricity prices “for onshore wind, solar PV and offshore wind have fallen by 49 percent, 84 percent and 56 percent respectively since 2010.” Costs for lithium-ion battery storage have dropped 76 percent since 2012 — and plunged 35 percent in the past year alone.
These price drops have been global game changers.
“Solar PV and onshore wind have won the race to be the cheapest sources” of bulk or primary power generation in most countries, explained a BNEF energy analyst.
But, as BNEF reports, batteries plus solar and wind “are starting to compete, in many markets and without subsidy,” with natural gas plants used for “dispatchable power” that can be delivered on demand when the grid needs it rather than only when the sun shines or wind blows.
The investment bank Credit Suisse emphasized the same trend in a reportreleased last December. “Utility scale solar plus storage is already cheaper than gas peaker plants,” they reported at the time.
Historically, relatively inefficient natural gas plants have been used to provide peak power — for instance, during summer heat waves when everyone turns on the air conditioning and electricity demand soars. But those peaking power plants often run only tens of hours a year, which means you are paying for a power plant that sits idle more than 90 percent of the time.
Solar power, however, already provides most of its electricity during peak times, which are daytime and summertime. So, as batteries and solar power have plunged in price, the two working in tandem have increasingly become the preferred option for dispatchable peak power.
In places like California, where solar power has made significant market penetration, peak demand has actually shifted from midday to early evening, when the sun is setting. Solar with batteries that can store power for up to four hours can now also cover that new peak.
Moreover, as Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, solar plus storage has other advantages over gas peakers. It “can provide other services” when the battery isn’t being used for peak power, “such as smoothing out ebbs and flows of power on grids.”
Another economic factor working in favor of renewables is that natural gas prices are very volatile, whereas the prices of both batteries and solar power are projected to keep declining sharply.
Finally, renewables plus storage will become increasingly competitive with natural gas in more applications as an increasing number of countries embrace a price on carbon pollution that reflects its full harm to human health and a livable climate.
Republican opponents of clean energy often say fossil fuels are irreplaceable because renewable power doesn’t work all the time.
Just last week, President Donald Trump mocked wind power, saying, “Let’s put up some windmills — when the wind doesn’t blow, just turn off the television darling, please.” He mocked solar power as well, falsely claiming, “it’s not strong enough, and it’s very, very expensive.”
Trump is blind to the clean energy revolution, showing how desperately the country needs a president who actually understands both the science of climate change and the business of clean energy. The question is not whether renewables will surpass natural gas, but whether governments will help ensure that they do so fast enough to avoid climate catastrophe
By Bill McGuire
More evidence has come to light to support the thesis that we are on a warming trajectory that will leave our planet unrecognisable from the one upon which human civilisation developed and thrived. Scientists congregated, this week, at Imperial College London for a Royal Meteorological Society meeting, which focused on the Earth’s climate during the Pliocene era, around three million years ago (the last time the Earth had >400ppm of atmospheric CO2).
This is the last time that carbon dioxide levels were above 400ppm (parts per million). They are currently 412ppm; up from around 280ppm during pre-industrial times and climbing at two or three ppm a year.
The papers presented at the meeting transport us to a world that is similar to our own in the sense that carbon dioxide levels are comparable, but there the similarity ends.
During the Pliocene, global average temperatures were 3°C – 4°C higher than they are today; a seemingly small difference, but big enough to drive changes that make Pliocene Earth dramatically different from that of the 21st century.
Evidence from plant fossils found in Antarctica show that during this part of the Pliocene, beech trees – and maybe conifers – grew on the continent, which had a drastically reduced ice cover surrounded by scrubby tundra. Summertime temperatures were around 5°C compared with minus 15°C – 20°C today.
At the other end of the world, Greenland was completely ice-free.
The vanished ice at both poles translates into global sea levels that are around 20m higher than they are today.
So, forget the widely touted idea that we can keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5°C or 2°C.
It is now clear that the atmospheric carbon levels we have already are compatible – in the longer term – with temperatures 3°C – 4°C higher than they are now.
The climate system is relatively slow to respond to change, so it will take some time for temperatures to catch up with greenhouse gas levels. But catch up they will, almost certainly by the end of the century. In other words, whatever actions we take to reduce emissions, we cannot avoid a hothouse planet scenario that will see our society torn apart by a combination of extreme heat, wild weather and catastrophically rising sea levels. And remember, there is still no sign of rising greenhouse levels being brought under control. Given current inaction, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere could quite feasibly top 500ppm and keep going, dragging global temperatures ever higher.
I hope to God that it never happens, but it is worth keeping in mind that burning most fossil fuel reserves is projected to lead – ultimately – to a global average temperature rise of a staggering 16°C. This would bring the mean temperature of our world to a furnace-like 30°C. This would likely – to all intents and purposes – be an extinction-level event as far as the human race is concerned. Some might say, quite justifiably in view of our appallingly bad stewardship of the planet, good riddance too!
Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.
Shadow climate change minister reiterates opposition to Adani mine, saying no ‘case for opening up new thermal coal mine’
By Katharine Murphy
The shadow climate change minister, Mark Butler, has issued a stark warning before the coming election campaign, declaring the Australian parliament must end the stalemate and back Labor’s climate policy in the event of a Bill Shorten victory, or politicians will betray the next generation.
In an interview with Guardian Australia’s political podcast, Butler says Labor’s commitment to reduce emissions by 45% on 2005 levels by 2030 is a “rock solid commitment”, not an “aspiration” or “something that would be nice to achieve” – and he says voters are more agitated now about climate action than he has ever seen during his time as an MP .
Butler says the Morrison government is lining up to deploy “tired old scare campaigns” about carbon taxes in the coming campaign – with Scott Morrison this week characterising the measures this week as a “Borat tax” – “but what I see as I get around the country after a very angry summer … the hottest summer we have ever had … is Australians are sick of it”.
As CO2 levels climb, the carbon count is a daily reminder we must tackle climate change now.
By Damian Carrington
The Mauna Loa weather observatory in Hawaii. The Guardian will publish the Mauna Loa carbon count every day. Photograph: Courtesy of NOAA
The simplest measure of how the mass burning of fossil fuels is disrupting the stable climate in which human civilisation developed is the number of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere.
Today, the CO2 level is the highest it has been for several million years. Back then, temperatures were 3-4C hotter, sea level was 15-20 metres higher and trees grew at the south pole. Worse, billions of tonnes of carbon pollution continues to pour into the air every year and at a rate 10 times faster than for 66m years.
At the dawn of the industrial revolution, CO2 was at 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. By 1958, when the first measurements were made at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, it had reached 315ppm. It raced past 350ppm in 1986 and 400ppm in 2013.
The Guardian will now publish the Mauna Loa carbon count, the global benchmark, on the weather page of the paper every day.
“When I read the letter from Guardian reader Daniel Scharf encouraging us to include information on climate change in our weather forecasts, we thought it was a fantastic idea,” said the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner.
“Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen so dramatically, and including a measure of that in our daily weather report is symbolic of what human activity is doing to our climate. People need reminding that the climate crisis is no longer a future problem – we need to tackle it now, and every day matters.”
While weather changes daily, climate changes over years and decades. So alongside the daily carbon count, we will publish the level in previous years for comparison, as well as the pre-industrial baseline of 280ppm, and the level seen as manageable in the long term of 350ppm.
Year-on-year comparisons are important because each year there is a natural rise and fall of CO2 levels, rather like the planet breathing. Trees and plants absorb carbon and release oxygen as they grow, lowering atmospheric CO2.
As most plants are in the northern hemisphere, CO2 reaches its lowest level each year at the end of the growing season in October. Then it begins to rise as dying plants decay, reaching a peak in May or June.
While the CO2 level is an important and symbolic measure of the global warming caused by humanity, it is a simple one.
The increases in temperature the world experiences, and the heatwaves, storms and droughts that strike, also depend on how fast emissions rise or fall and how long they remain at high levels.
Government forced to play down ‘split’ amid reports of Queensland MPs pressuring Coalition over key approvals for Carmichael coalmine
Matt Canavan LNP Minister for coal ignores scientists on risk to Great Barrier Reef
Labor has warned the government against making any major decisions on the Adani coalmine before the election, while Scott Morrison and his environment minister Melissa Price face internal pressure from some Queensland MPs to take action.
While playing down reports of a “split”, government MPs from Queensland, including James McGrath and Matt Canavan have kept up pressure inside Morrison’s office and the party room for key approvals for the Carmichael coalmine, including the ground water plan, to be signed off on as soon as possible.
But Labor’s environment spokesman Tony Burke cautioned the government from rushing through any approvals before the coming election.
“There are very strict rules about how a decision like this should be made,” he said.
“It is important that it not be rushed or made under political pressure. It’s concerning that another minister, minister Canavan, is trying to put pressure on the environment minister.”
Environment groups have also warned against any rash moves regarding the mine.
“It is outrageous that the Coalition is considering pushing through critical groundwater approvals for Adani’s mine on the eve of an election,” Christian Slattery, of the Australian Conservation Foundation said in a statement.
Warming seas wreck Great Barrier Reef’s regrowth.
By Patrick Galey