Wondering if your energy company takes climate change seriously? A new report reveals the answer


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Anna Malos, ClimateWorks Australia and Coral Bravo, ClimateWorks AustraliaA landmark report released last week put coal and gas on notice. For the first time, the International Energy Agency (IEA) declared reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 means no new investments in fossil fuel supply projects.

For Australia – a continent blessed with a bounty of wind and sun – the phasing out of coal and gas investment should be considered a boon. Australia is already deploying wind and solar energy ten times faster than the global average, and still has plenty of unmet renewables potential.

But of course, Australia’s path to a clean energy economy has not been perfectly smooth. A lack of federal leadership on climate policy and a historical dependence on fossil fuels means the IEA’s roadmap presents a big challenge for Australia.

Our latest report released today underscores how big a challenge this is. We assessed Australia’s highest-emitting energy firms and found none were fully or even closely aligned with global climate goals. Just one went even partway, and five appeared to be taking no action at all.

smoke billows from stacks at coal plant
The International Energy Agency says it’s the end of the road for new coal investments.
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A poor showing

Our energy sector report forms part of the Net Zero Momentum Tracker, a project by research organisation ClimateWorks, which works within the Monash Sustainable Development Institute.

We assessed the commitments of Australia’s 20 highest-emitting energy companies against the Paris Agreement goals, which include limiting global temperature rise to well below 2℃, aiming for 1.5℃. The IEA’s latest work shows to reach those goals, the global energy sector must reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The companies we analysed comprise electricity generators and electricity and gas retailers. Together, they account for almost one-third of Australia’s total annual emissions.

Each company’s commitments were assessed against scenarios we modelled, which map the least-cost trajectories for reducing Australia’s emissions in line with the Paris goals.

We found no large energy company was fully aligned with these trajectories, and most fell well short. Six had set emissions reduction targets and nine others had taken some action to cut emissions.

However, not a single company had commitments that are in line with Australia achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.




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boy turns off lamp
No electricity company was taking action fully aligned with the Paris goals.
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How your energy company fares

The 20 companies we assessed account for almost 90% of Australia’s electricity emissions. Together, they generate more than 70% of Australia’s electricity supplies.

French-owned energy generator and retailer ENGIE was the only company with activities on a trajectory supporting Australia’s Paris-aligned transition, because of a target that aims to reduce some of its emissions by 2030. But the target does not cover the majority of ENGIE’s emissions, so the company has much more work to do.

Fourteen companies had a mix of targets or actions we assessed as not aligned with the Paris goals. They are:

  • AGL
  • APT Pipelines
  • ATCO
  • CS Energy
  • CK William
  • Delta
  • EnergyAustralia
  • Origin
  • Pioneer Sail
  • Snowy Hydro
  • Stanwell
  • Synergy
  • Territory Generation
  • TransAlta.

And these five companies had no disclosed emissions reduction activities:

  • Arrow Energy
  • Bluewaters Power 1&2
  • NewGen Kwinana
  • NRG Gladstone Operating Services
  • OzGen.



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Engie logo on building
French multinational Engie was the only firm assessed to have emissions reduction goals even partially aligned to the Paris Agreement.
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The big four emitters

AGL, EnergyAustralia, Stanwell and Origin are the biggest emitters in Australia’s electricity sector. Collectively, they’re responsible for more than half the sector’s emissions, and so have a particular responsibility to act.

When energy companies talk about reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, they do so in terms of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

Scope 1 covers emissions released to the atmosphere as a direct result of company activity, such as burning coal or gas to produce electricity. Scope 2 covers the emissions created to produce the electricity a company purchases.

Scope 3 emissions are those outside the companies’ direct control. They include upstream processes such as the extraction, production and transport of fuel used to power their operations, and downstream activities such as the distribution and use of gas sold to consumers.

Origin aspires to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and has set interim targets to reduce its scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

AGL and EnergyAustralia have committed to achieve net-zero operational (scope 1 and 2) emissions by 2050, but have no interim emissions reduction targets.

Stanwell, which operates two of Queensland’s largest coal-fired generators, has no emissions reduction targets.

magnifying glass on Origin website
Origin aspires to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
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A rapid renewables shift

Our earlier research shows that under scenarios compatible with the Paris Agreement, renewables make up 70% of electricity generation by 2030. Coal and gas is phased out of Australia’s electricity mix as soon as 2035.

The energy sector is crucial if Australia is to meet the Paris climate goals. Thanks to renewable energy, the sector enjoys some of the easiest and cheapest emissions reduction opportunities. And a zero-emissions energy sector would also help other sectors such as transport, buildings and industry to decarbonise.

Australia’s energy sector has made progress on emissions in recent years. Three-quarters of the energy companies we assessed have implemented wind and solar energy projects. And overall, renewable energy was responsible for almost 28% of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2020.

However our report shows change is not happening fast enough to put Australia on a timely path to net-zero emissions.

At a federal level, the Renewable Energy Target, which ended last year, drove the clean energy shift. New federal policies are now needed to bolster ambitious state and territory policies. This would enable energy market operators and investors to plan a transition aligned with the Paris goals.




Read more:
International Energy Agency warns against new fossil fuel projects. Guess what Australia did next?


The Conversation


Anna Malos, Australia – Country Lead, ClimateWorks Australia and Coral Bravo, Senior Analyst, ClimateWorks Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Majority of Australians in favour of banning new coal mines: Lowy poll


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraMore than six in ten Australians – 63% – support a ban on new coal mines opening in Australia, according to the Lowy Institute’s Climate Poll 2021.

A similar proportion would favour reducing Australian coal exports to other countries.

“Australian views of coal exports and coal mines … appear to have shifted significantly in recent years,” the report says.

Only three in ten people would back the federal government providing subsidies for building new coal-fired power plants.

There are notable age differences in attitudes to coal. More than seven in ten (72%) of those aged 18–44 support banning new coal mines, but only 55% of people over 45.

The government’s “gas-fired recovery” has majority support – 58% back increasing the use of gas for generating energy.

The poll found most people want Australia to have more ambitious climate policies ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow late this year.

Seven in ten people say Australia should join other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, to increase its commitments to address climate change.

Some 60% say Australia is doing too little to combat climate change. But Australians are critical of other countries for not doing enough – 82% say China is doing too little. The figures for the US and India doing too little are 71% and 81% respectively.

Nearly eight in ten Australians (78%) support setting a net zero emissions target for 2050.

Scott Morrison has been edging towards embracing this as a target and is likely to do so before Glasgow, although he faces some resistance within the Coalition. All the states and territories have this target.

The federal government is coming under considerable pressure from the Biden administration and the Johnson government over the climate issue.

Climate questions will be a feature of the G7 summit in June to which Morrison has been invited.

The Lowy poll found 74% believe the benefits of taking further action on climate change would outweigh the costs.

More than nine in ten people (91%) support the federal government providing subsidies for the development of renewable energy technology, while 77% favour the government subsidising electric vehicle purchases.

More than half (55%) say the government’s main priority for energy policy should be “reducing carbon emissions”. This was an 8 point increase since 2019.

Six in ten people agree with the proposition “global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now, even if this involves costs”. This was a 4 point increase from last year

Six in ten Australians (64%) support “introducing an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax”.

The report, authored by Natasha Kassam and Hannah Leser, says: “While the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to temper concerns about climate change in 2020, the issue has risen to prominence again in 2021. The majority of Australians (60%) say ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem…we should begin taking steps now, even if this involves significant costs’. This represents a reversal of the dip in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic, but remains eight points below the high watermark of concern in 2006.”

The climate poll was taken in mid and late April with a sample of 3,286.The Conversation


Lowy Institute

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Going electric could be Australia’s next big light bulb moment


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Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National UniversityIn 2007 Malcolm Turnbull turned off an industry’s life support without blinking.

The industry made light bulbs, of the traditional kind; so energy-inefficient they lost most of it as heat.

“A normal light bulb is too hot to hold — that heat is wasted, and globally represents millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that needn’t have been emitted,” he explained.

From February 2009 it became illegal to import the traditional pear-shaped globes, while from November that year it became illegal to sell them.

It was a world-first, announced by Turnbull as environment minister and sanctioned by his prime minister John Howard.

The European Union followed, and then, some years later, China.

Globally, electric lighting generated emissions equal to 70% of those from cars. Australia’s switch cut emissions by an estimated 4 million tonnes per year.

Australia no longer made light bulbs, so it could ban them.
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Turnbull was able to do it because Australia no longer made light globes.

There was no domestic industry — and no jobs — to protect.

Australia stopped making cars in 2017. The thousands of workers who used to assemble cars in Australia no longer have those jobs.

Which means there’s no car industry to protect.

We have the opportunity to do to traditionally-powered cars what we did to incandescent light bulbs.

And the need. We’ve all but committed ourselves to net-zero emissions by 2050.

In a landmark report released last Tuesday, the International Energy Agency said the path to net-zero by 2050 was narrow and extremely challenging, requiring governments to “take action this year and every year after so that the goal does not slip out of reach”.

Many of the 400 or so milestones it set out are indeed challenging for Australia, among them no new coal mines or mine expansions from this year, and the closure of almost all of Australia’s coal-fired power stations by the end of this decade.

But one of the milestones ought to be easy.

It’s no new sales of internal combustion cars by 2035.

The rest of the world is racing ahead

As a step along the way, the agency wants two-thirds of all new cars sold to be petrol-free by 2030. Australia, with no vehicle production industry to care about, ought to get there sooner.

Norway has promised no new petrol car sales by 2025; Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland and Israel by 2030; and California and the United Kingdom by 2035,
a target the UK has brought forward from 2040.

In addition, the European Union is imposing manufacturer-specific emissions targets, which will force each one to either sell a greater proportion of non-petrol vehicles or make the ones they do sell much more efficient.




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Manufacturers are getting in early. Honda says it will sell only electric and hybrid vehicles in Europe starting in 2022, three years earlier than previously planned. Volvo says 50% of its worldwide sales will be fully electric by 2025 and the rest hybrids.

Like the transitions to colour TV, automatic car windows, automatic transmissions and transistor radios, the shift will be one way. When production lines are retooled, there will be no turning back.

Moving quickly would do more than help Prime Minister Scott Morrison produce a credible roadmap to take to Glasgow climate talks in November.

It would enable us to avoid becoming a dumping ground for the dirtier, more polluting vehicles that can’t be sold elsewhere while the changeover is underway.

Switching soon would save us money

And it would save the government money. It has just committed to pay up to A$2 billion to keep Australia’s two remaining oil refineries open until 2027.

Without the payments, Ampol might have closed Lytton in Queensland (it was weighing up doing so) and Viva Energy refinery might have closed its loss-making refinery at Geelong.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Lytton oil refinery on May 17.
Darren England/AAP

While both have accepted the money, Ampol has unveiled plans to test the production of solar-powered hydrogen on its site at Lytton and Viva Energy is planning a solar farm on its site at Geelong.

Most of Australia’s petrol is imported, much of it from Singapore, meaning little would be lost if Australia’s refineries closed.

The Australian-produced fuel is dirtier than the imported fuel, something the Australian government promised to fix this month by paying Australia’s plants to make the ultra-low sulphur petrol the rest of the world switched to years ago.

If a ban on imports of petrol-powered cars wouldn’t much hurt Australia’s reluctant refiners, it might hurt petrol stations, but not much.

Australia’s service stations are in large measure retail convenience stores. They try to maximise “basket size”. Ampol plans to turn the petrol side of the business into a recharge and refuelling network for electric and hydrogen vehicles.

Mechanics would lose jobs

The much-larger industry at risk from a switch to electric vehicles is car maintenance. The Bureau of Statistics counts 352,200 automotive and engineering trades workers, almost all of them male and full time.

That a switch to low-maintenance electric vehicles would shrink their industry is unfortunate for them, but inevitable. Propping up their industry by delaying the transition would only encourage more young people into jobs with limited futures.

Television repair was ubiquitous.
NLA Trove

When Australia switched from valve to transistor-operated TV sets in the 1970s, an army of “television repair men” was thrown out of business, along with their vans and two-way radios.

Most of them stayed in the workforce doing things we needed.

To have kept using sets requiring maintenance just to have kept them in work would have been an insult to them and us.

And while Australia’s switch away from incandescent globes was problematic (many of us liked the yellowish glow we’d become used to) the switch to electric cars is looking positively joyous.


Crikey/Coal Miners Driving Teslas

This week Crikey pointed to a video in which the Queensland MP Bob Katter gets his first taste of a Tesla as it accelerates from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in just over three seconds.

Yeehaw!” he yells. “This is so exciting.”

Australians usually embrace the future. At times we’ve been ahead of it.




Read more:
International Energy Agency warns against new fossil fuel projects. Guess what Australia did next?


The Conversation


Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.