Global clean energy scorecard puts Australia 15th in the world


Alan Pears, RMIT University

Australia ranks equal 15th overall in a new World Bank scorecard on sustainable energy. We are tied with five other countries in the tail-end group of wealthy OECD countries – behind Canada and the United States and just one place ahead of China.

Called the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE), the initiative provides benchmarks to evaluate clean energy progress, and insights and policy guidance for Australia and other countries.

RISE rates country performance in three areas – renewable energy, energy efficiency, and access to modern energy (excluding advanced countries), using 27 indicators and 80 sub-indicators. These include things like legal frameworks, building codes, and government incentives and policies. The results of the individual indicators are turned into an overall score.

The majority of wealthy countries score well in the scorecard. But when you drill down into the individual areas, the story becomes more complex. The report notes that “about half the countries with more appropriate policy environments for sustainable energy are emerging economies,” for example.

The RISE ranking.
RISE report

The report relies on data up to 2015. So it does not account for recent developments such as the Paris climate conference, the Australian National Energy Productivity Plan, the widespread failure to enforce building energy regulations, and the end of Australia’s major industrial Energy Efficiency Opportunities program under the Abbott government.

Furthermore, Australian electricity demand growth has recently re-emerged after five years of decline.

But the World Bank plans to publish updated indicators every two years, so over time the indicators should become a valuable means of tracking and influencing the evolution of global clean energy policy.

Australia

Australia’s ranking masks some good, bad and ugly subtleties. For example, Australia joins Chile and Argentina as the only OECD high-income countries without some form of carbon pricing mechanism. Even the United States, whose EPA uses a “social cost of carbon” in regulatory action, and has pricing schemes in some states, meets the RISE criteria.

Australia also ranks lower than the United States for renewable energy policy, at 24th. This is due to scoring poorly in incentives and regulatory support, carbon pricing, and mechanisms supporting network connection and appropriate pricing. But we are saved somewhat by having a legal framework for renewables, and strong management of counter-party risk. It’s not clear how recent political uncertainty, and the resulting temporary collapse of investment in large renewable energy projects, may affect the score.

I have argued in the past that Australia is missing out on billions of dollars in savings through its lack of ambition on energy efficiency. Yet we rate equal 13th on this criterion, compared with 24th on renewable energy. It seems that many other countries are forgoing even more money than us.

In energy efficiency, we score highly for incentives from electricity rate structures, building energy codes and financing mechanisms for energy efficiency. Our public sector policies and appliance minimum energy standards also score well. Our weakest areas are lack of carbon pricing and monitoring, and information for electricity consumers. National energy efficiency planning, incentives for large consumers and energy labelling all do a bit better. Of course, these ratings are relative to a low global energy efficiency benchmark.

The rest of the world

Much of the report focuses on developing countries. There is a wide spread of activity here, with some countries almost without policies, and others like Vietnam and Kazakhstan doing well, ranking equal 23rd. China ranks just behind Australia’s cluster at 21st.

RISE shows that policies driving access to modern energy seem to be achieving results. The report suggests that 1.1 billion people do not have access to electricity, down from an estimated 1.4 billion a few years ago. A significant contributor to this seems to be the declining cost of solar panels and other renewable energy sources, and greater emphasis on micro-grids in rural areas.

The report highlights the importance of strategies that integrate renewables and efficiency. But it doesn’t mention an obvious example. The viability of rural renewable energy solutions is being greatly assisted by the declining cost and large efficiency improvement in technologies such as LED lighting, mobile phones and tablet computers. The overall outcome is much improved access to services, social and economic development with much smaller and cheaper renewable energy and storage systems.

The takeaway

Screen Shot at am.
RISE report

RISE finds that clean energy policy is progressing across most countries. However, energy efficiency policy is well behind renewable energy. “This is another missed opportunity”, say the report’s authors, “given that energy efficiency measures are among the most cost-effective means of reducing a country’s carbon footprint.” They also note that energy efficiency policy tends to be fairly superficial.

Australia’s ranking on renewable energy policy is mediocre, while our better energy efficiency ranking is relative to global under-performance. The Finkel Review and Climate Policy Review offer opportunities to integrate renewables and energy efficiency into energy market frameworks. The under-resourced National Energy Productivity Plan could be cranked up to deliver billions of dollars more in energy savings, while reducing pressure on electricity supply infrastructure and making it easier to achieve ambitious energy targets. And RISE seems to suggest we need a price on carbon.

The question is, in a world where action on clean energy is accelerating in response to climate change and as a driver of economic and social development, will Australia move up or slip down the rankings in the next report?

The Conversation

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the warming world could turn many plants and animals into climate refugees


Matt Christmas, University of Adelaide

Finding the optimum environment and avoiding uninhabitable conditions has been a challenge faced by species throughout the history of life on Earth. But as the climate changes, many plants and animals are likely to find their favoured home much less hospitable.

In the short term, animals can react by seeking shelter, whereas plants can avoid drying out by closing the small pores on their leaves. Over longer periods, however, these behavioural responses are often not enough. Species may need to migrate to more suitable habitats to escape harsh environments.

During glacial times, for instance, large swathes of Earth’s surface became inhospitable to many plants and animals as ice sheets expanded. This resulted in populations migrating away from or dying off in parts of their ranges. To persist through these times of harsh climatic conditions and avoid extinction, many populations would migrate to areas where the local conditions remained more accommodating.

These areas have been termed “refugia” and their presence has been essential to the persistence of many species, and could be again. But the rapid rate of global temperature increases, combined with recent human activity, may make this much harder.

Finding the refugia

Evidence for the presence of historic climate refugia can often be found within a species’ genome. The size of populations expanding from a refugium will generally be smaller than the parent population within them. Thus, the expanding populations will generally lose genetic diversity, through processes such as genetic drift and inbreeding. By sequencing the genomes of multiple individuals within different populations of a species, we can identify where the hotbeds of genetic diversity lie, thus pinpointing potential past refugia.

My colleagues and I recently investigated population genetic diversity in the narrow-leaf hopbush, a native Australian plant that got its common name from its use in beer-making by early European Australians. The hopbush has a range of habitats, from woodlands to rocky outcrops on mountain ranges, and has a wide distribution across southern and central Australia. It is a very hardy species with a strong tolerance for drought.

We found that populations in the Flinders Ranges have more genetic diversity than those to the east of the ranges, suggesting that these populations are the remnants of an historic refugium. Mountain ranges can provide ideal refuge, with species only needing to migrate short distances up or down the slope to remain within their optimal climatic conditions.

In Australia, the peak of the last ice age led to dryer conditions, particularly in the centre. As a result, many plant and animal species gradually migrated across the landscape to southern refugial regions that remained more moist. Within the south-central region, an area known as the Adelaide Geosyncline has been recognised as an important historic refugium for several animal and plant species. This area encompasses two significant mountain ranges: the Mount Lofty and Flinders ranges.

Refugia of the future

In times of increased temperatures (in contrast to the lower temperatures experienced during the ice age) retreats to refugia at higher elevations or towards the poles can provide respite from unfavourably hot and dry conditions. We are already seeing these shifts in species distributions.

But migrating up a mountain can lead to a literal dead end, as species ultimately reach the top and have nowhere else to go. This is the case for the American Pika, a cold-adapted relative of rabbits that lives in mountainous regions in North America. It has disappeared from more than one-third of its previously known range as conditions have become too warm in many of the alpine regions it once inhabited.

Further, the almost unprecedented rate of global temperature increase means that species need to migrate at rapid rates. Couple this with the destructive effects of agriculture and urbanisation, leading to the fragmentation and disconnection of natural habitats, and migration to suitable refugia may no longer be possible for many species.

While evidence for the combined effects of habitat fragmentation and climate change is currently scarce, and the full effects are yet to be realised, the predictions are dire. For example, modelling the twin impact of climate change and habitat fragmentation on drought sensitive butterflies in Britain led to predictions of widespread population extinctions by 2050.

Within the Adelaide Geosyncline, the focal area of our study, the landscape has been left massively fragmented since European settlement, with estimates of only 10% of native woodlands remaining in some areas. The small pockets of remaining native vegetation are therefore left quite disconnected. Migration and gene flow between these pockets will be limited, reducing the survival chances of species like the hopbush.

So while refugia have saved species in the past, and poleward and up-slope shifts may provide temporary refuge for some, if global temperatures continue to rise, more and more species will be pushed beyond their limits.

The Conversation

Matt Christmas, ARC Research Associate, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

That Lump of Coal


Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

“Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you. It’s coal.” With these words Australia’s Treasurer Scott Morrison taunted the Opposition, attempting to ridicule its commitment to renewable energy.

He handed the lump of Hunter Valley coal to a delighted Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and it was then passed, to much hilarity, along the front bench and over to the back benches. Handling a lump of coal leaves hands black, but this lump had been turned into clean coal with a coat of lacquer.

The exuberant deployment of a lump of coal to mock those who want to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels came soon after Prime Minister Turnbull’s shock announcement that Australia ought to be building a new generation of coal-fired power plants, subsidized by the government if need be. Even the coal-fired electricity generators have distanced themselves from Turnbull, declaring that it just won’t happen.

More to the point, the audacious celebration of the wonders of coal occurred in the middle of one of the most severe heatwaves eastern Australia has ever experienced.

Temperature records have been smashed, fire danger levels have been set at ‘catastrophic’, and everyone who has opened themselves to the scientific warnings struggles to ward off a terrible feeling of foreboding.

The coal taunting incident in Parliament seems to reveal a new dimension to the climate debate in Australia, one that goes beyond denialism and political culture. It’s almost as if, like King Lear raging at the storm, Turnbull, Morrison and Joyce are defying nature to do its worst, almost willing it to happen because mankind will prevail.

We forget that, for some people, there are desires more urgent and goals more grand than that of protecting others, and their own families, from plunging into dark and dangerous times. The glory and self-satisfaction of defeating one’s enemy, for instance.

Drama in human affairs

One cannot help noticing that this display of bravado by the nation’s leaders is especially vigorous from alpha males, men who act as if the future is a horror movie in which the anticipated terrors are to be relished but also withstood, except that they forget that this one has no end. We will all be trapped in the cinema as the never-ending movie becomes ever-more terrifying.

I have written more about the sociology, psychology and power politics of climate change than most. Yet now these kinds of explanations seem too weak, given what’s at stake and the wilful refusal to face it. It is almost as if there are forces at work in the climate change drama above the everyday ones.

The denial industry often reminds us that carbon is the source of life, and perhaps that thought lay behind Morrison’s swaggering parliamentary performance with his lump of coal. Yet carbon now in its fossilized form reminds us of our mortality. Is that so hard to grasp?

Perhaps he and his kind do grasp it; but they are not horrified by it as others are, because it only means hastening the fate that awaits us all anyway. He does profess to be some kind of Christian.

The braying asses of the Murdoch press will scoff at this kind of reflection; but we must remind ourselves that they are humans too, with the same inner fears, hidden doubts, and desperate needs that others have, even if they lie more deeply buried. Every mythological narrative must have characters like them.

If the climate drama needs to be thought in ‘mythic’ terms, those who value life might respond in ways guided by that way of thinking.

The Conversation

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Africa: Scimitar-Horned Oryx Reintroduction to Wild


I am a massive fan of rewilding and of the reintroduction of species back into the wild, so the link below to an article on the reintroduction of Scimitar-Horned Oryx into the Southern Sahara is great news.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/14/extinct-antelope-scimitar-horned-oryx-released-sahara-chad

Plea to politicians on energy: stop the brawling


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Eighteen groups ranging from business energy users and suppliers through to the union movement and environmental advocates have issued a plea for political leaders to “stop partisan antics” and work together to achieve energy reform.

The appeal comes as three conservative state oppositions – in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia – promise that in government they would scrap independent state renewable energy targets in favour of a single national approach.

The groups’ statement follows the current hyper blame game in the debate about South Australian power failures, the role of renewables there and elsewhere, and the way forward to a more secure national system.

The Turnbull government has used SA blackouts to attack the Weatherill government and target Labor generally over the ALP’s strong commitment to renewables.

Energy policy is likely to feature heavily again in this parliamentary week, in the wake of the heat wave.

Malcolm Turnbull continued his partisan note in welcoming the state oppositions’ announcement. “The result of unrealistic state-based targets has been huge power bills for families and businesses and unreliable supply,” he said.

“Bill Shorten wants to adopt South Australia’s failed ideological experiment which will lead to even higher power bills and more blackouts.”

In their statement the groups say: “There is simply no room for partisan politics when the reliability, affordability and sustainability of Australia’s energy system is at stake.

“The status quo of policy uncertainty, lack of co-ordination and unreformed markets is increasing costs, undermining investment and worsening reliability risks. This impacts all Australians, including vulnerable low-income households, workers, regional communities and trade-exposed industries.”

Those signing the statement include the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group as well as the Australian Energy Council and the Energy Users Association of Australia.

The groups say “finger pointing” will not solve Australia’s energy challenges.

“More than a decade of this has made most energy investments impossibly risky. This has pushed prices higher while hindering transformational change of our energy system. The result is enduring dysfunction in the energy sector.”

Urging a “mature” debate, the groups say reform cannot happen without federal and state agreement “and policies can’t last and motivate investment without broad cross-party support”.

Politicians, federal and state and across the spectrum, need to come together to find solutions, backing and working with the Finkel review into the future security of the national electricity market, the groups say.

After the preliminary report of the Finkel review gave a favourable mention to an emissions intensity scheme Turnbull, under pressure from the conservatives in his ranks, quickly ruled one out.

The groups’ statement says: “As the preliminary report of the Finkel review correctly notes, many of the technological, economic and consumer trends transforming our energy systems are irreversible. Policy and market designs need to evolve if investors are to deliver the energy services Australians require at a price they can afford. A raft of reforms are needed to encourage and support flexibility throughout the system.

“The next stage of the Finkel review should be an opportunity to explore these possibilities and develop a comprehensive and integrated suite of reforms. Policy should be implemented promptly with broad based political support.”

The full list of groups is: Australian Aluminium Council, Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Council of Social Services, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Energy Council, The Australian Industry Group, Australian Steel Institute, Business Council of Australia, Cement Industry Federation, Chemistry Australia, Clean Energy Council, Energy Efficiency Council, Energy Networks Australia, Energy Users Association of Australia, Investor Group on Climate Change, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council, The Climate Institute, and WWF Australia.

Political donations reform

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will introduce a private member’s bill on Monday for reform of political donations.

The legislation would:

  • reduce the donation disclosure limit from the current level of $13,200 (indexed to inflation) to a fixed $1000;

  • prohibit foreign donations;

  • ban “donation splitting”, where donations are spread between different branches of political parties and associated entities to avoid disclosure;

  • ban anonymous donations of more than $50;

  • link public funding to campaign expenditure; and

  • Introduce new offences and increased penalties for abuses of the political donation disclosure provisions.

The opposition says it is pursuing the issue of real-time disclosure through the parliamentary committee on electoral matters.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/zf38q-677342?from=yiiadmin

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/8vd69-67798f?from=yiiadmin

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.