Malcolm Turnbull has launched a swingeing attack on Scott Morrison’s gas-led recovery, labelling his threat to build a gas-fired power station “crazy stuff”, and his idea of gas producing a cheap energy boom “a fantasy”.
The former prime minister also claimed Morrison’s refusal to embrace a 2050 net zero emissions target was “absolutely” at odds with the Paris climate agreement. “That was part of the deal,” Turnbull said.
Morrison at the weekend would not commit to a 2050 target – endorsed by business, farming and other groups in Australia and very many countries – although he said it was achievable.
Turnbull also declared that Energy Minister Angus Taylor – who on Tuesday delivered his technology investment roadmap for low emissions – didn’t believe most of what he was saying on energy.
“Angus has got quite a sophisticated understanding of the energy market, and he is speaking through the political side of his brain rather than the economic side,” Turnbull told the ABC.
The energy/climate war was pivotal in Turnbull’s fall from the prime ministership in 2018, and from the opposition leadership in 2009. While Morrison is totally safe in his job, the battle over energy policy on the conservative side of politics has not been put to rest, although the prime minister is banking on his elevation of gas satisfying his Liberal parliamentarians.
Morrison’s gas policy, which the government spruiks as underpinning a manufacturing revival, is being seen as a walk away from coal.
It includes a threat to build a gas-fired power station in the Hunter region if private enterprise does not fill the gap left by the coming closure of the Liddell coal-fired station.
The debate about gas has produced an unexpected unity ticket between Turnbull and former resources minister, the Nationals Matt Canavan, on one key point – both insist gas prices won’t be as low as the policy assumes.
But Turnbull and Canavan go in opposite directions in their energy prescriptions – Turnbull strongly backs renewables and Canavan is a voice for coal.
While acknowledging gas had a role “as a peaking fuel”, Turnbull dismissed any prospect of a “gas nirvana”.
“There is no cheap gas on the east coast of Australia. It is cheap at the moment because there’s a global recession and pandemic and oil prices are down, but the equilibrium price of gas is too high to make it a cheap form of generating electricity.”
“The cheap electricity opportunities come from wind and solar, backed by storage, batteries and pumped hydro, and then with gas playing a role but it’s essentially a peaking role,” Turnbull said.
Writing in the Australian, Canavan said the Morrison gas plan would “keep the lights on but it is unlikely to lower energy prices to the levels needed to bring manufacturing back to Australia.
“If we were serious about getting [energy] prices down as low as possible, we would focus on the energy sources in which we have a natural advantage, and that is not gas. We face gas shortages in the years ahead.”
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said about the government’s power station threat, that it would be “peculiar” to build a gas-fired plant “in the middle of a coal field”.
Turnbull said of last week’s announcement, “I’m not going to sing the song but it’s a gas, gas, gas”.
The roadmap was “gas one minute, carbon capture and storage the next”.
“What you need is to set out some basic parameters, which deal with reliability, affordability and emissions reduction, and then let the market get to work. That’s what Liberal governments should do. Unfortunately, it’s just one random intervention after another,” Turnbull said.
He lamented that, for whatever reasons, there was a “body of opinion on the right of Australian politics in the Liberal party and the National party, the Murdoch press, which still clings to this fantasy that coal is best and if we can’t have coal we’ll burn gas – I mean, it’s bonkers. The way to cheaper electricity is renewables plus storage, which is why the big storage plan that we got started, Snowy 2, is so important.”
Turnbull said that unlike his own situation when PM, Morrison was “in a position with no internal opposition”. “Now is the time to deliver an integrated, coherent energy and climate policy which is what the whole energy sector has been crying out for.”
Taylor told the National Press Club the government’s determination to get the gap filled, whether by private investment or a government power station, when the Liddell coal fired station closes in 2023 “is partly about reliability, but it’s primarily about affordability.
“If you take that much capacity out of the market, it’s a huge amount in a short period of time. We saw what happened with Hazelwood. We saw very, very sharp increases in prices. We’re not prepared to accept that.”
Asked whether the government’s resistance to committing to the 2050 target was more about appeasing the right wing of the coalition rather than about the target itself, Taylor said: “Our focus is on our 2030 target in the Paris agreement…and in a few years time we will have to extend that out to 2035 …
“What we’re not going to do is impose a target that’s going to impose costs on the economy, destroy jobs, and stop investment. The Paris commitment, globally, is to net zero in the second half of the century and we would like that to happen as soon as possible.”
Tropical cyclones are considered one of the most devastating weather events in Australia. But they’re erratic — where, when and how many tropical cyclones form each year is highly variable, which makes them difficult to predict.
In our new research published today, we created a statistical model that predicts the number of tropical cyclones up to four months before the start of the tropical cyclone season from November to April.
The model, the Long-Range Tropical Cyclone Outlook for Australia (TCO-AU), indicates normal to above normal tropical cyclone activity with 11 cyclones expected in total, Australia-wide. Though not all make landfall.
This is above Australia’s average of ten tropical cyclones per season, thanks to a climate phenomenon brewing in the Pacific that brings conditions favourable for tropical cyclone activity closer to Australia.
As we’ve seen most recently with Tropical Storm Sally in the US, tropical cyclones can cause massive damage over vast areas. This includes extreme and damaging winds, intense rainfall and flooding, storm surges, large waves and coastal erosion.
“La Niña” is one phase of ENSO. It’s typically associated with higher than normal tropical cyclone numbers in the Australian region. And the Bureau of Meteorology’s weather and climate model indicates there’s a 95% chance a La Niña will be established by October this year.
Explainer: El Niño and La Niña
Around ten tropical cyclones occur in the Australian region every season, and about four of those usually make landfall.
Historically, La Niña has resulted in double the number of landfalling tropical cyclones in Australia, compared to El Niño phases. An “El Niño” event is associated with warmer and drier conditions for eastern Australia.
During La Niña events, the first tropical cyclone to make landfall also tends to occur earlier in the season. In fact, in Queensland, the only tropical cyclone seasons with multiple severe tropical cyclone landfalls have been during La Niña events.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi, one of the most intense tropical cyclones to have hit Queensland, occurred during a La Niña in 2011. So did the infamous Severe Tropical Cyclone Tracy, which made landfall around Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people and leaving more than 80% of all buildings destroyed or damaged.
While naturally occurring climate drivers, such as La Niña, influence the characteristics of tropical cyclone activity, climate change is also expected to cause changes to future tropical cyclone risk, including frequency and intensity.
Tropical cyclone outlooks provide important information about how many tropical cyclones may pass within the Australian region and subregions, before the start of the cyclone season. Decision-makers, government, industry and people living in tropical cyclone regions use them to prepare for the coming cyclone season.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has led the way in producing tropical cyclone outlooks for Australia, usually a couple of weeks before the official start of the tropical cyclone season.
But with monthly guidance up to four months before the start of the season, our new model, TCO-AU, is unmatched in lead time. It considers the most recent changes in ENSO and other climate drivers to predict how many tropical cyclones may occur in Australia and its sub-regions.
As a statistical model, TCO-AU is trained on historical relationships between ocean-atmosphere processes and the number of tropical cyclones per season.
For each region, hundreds of potential model combinations are tested, and the one that performs best in predicting historical tropical cyclone counts is selected to make the prediction for the coming season.
September’s TCO-AU guidance suggests normal to above normal risk for Australia for the coming tropical cyclone season (November 2020 – April 2021).
With an emerging La Niña and warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern Indian Ocean, 11 tropical cyclones are expected for Australia. There’s a 47% chance of 12 or more cyclones, and a probable range of between nine and 15.
For the Australian sub-regions, TCO-AU suggests the following:
above normal activity is expected for the Eastern region (eastern Australia) with four cyclones expected. Probable range between three and six cyclones; with a 55% chance of four or more cyclones
normal activity is expected for the Western region (west/northwest Western Australia) with six cyclones expected. Probable range between five and eight cyclones; 39% chance of seven or more cyclones
below normal activity is expected for the Northern region (northwest Queensland and Northern Territory) with three cyclones expected. Probable range between two and five cyclones; 37% chance of four cyclones or more
below normal activity is also expected for the Northwestern region (northwest Western Australia) with four cyclones expected. Probable range between three and six cyclones; 45% chance of five cyclones or more.
Guidance from TCO-AU does not and should not replace advice provided by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Instead, it should be used to provide a complementary perspective to regional outlooks and provide a “heads-up” in the months leading up to the start of and within the cyclone season.
Regardless of what’s expected for the coming cyclone season, people living in tropical cyclone regions should always prepare for the cyclone season and follow the advice provided by emergency services.