Double counting of emissions cuts may undermine Paris climate deal


Ice floe adrift in Vincennes Bay in the Australian Antarctic Territory. There are fears efforts to combat global warming will be undermined by double counting of carbon credits.
AAP/Torsten Blackwood

Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Lambert Schneider, Oeko-Institut, and Maosheng DUAN, Tsinghua University

In the four years since the Paris climate agreement was adopted, countries have debated the fine print of how emissions reduction should be tracked and reported. One critical detail is proving particularly hard to work out – and a weak result would threaten the environmental integrity of the entire deal.

The sticking point is rules for carbon markets: specifically, how to prevent double counting of emissions reductions by both the country selling and buying carbon credits.

These rules are proving a major barrier to reaching consensus. In December, the negotiations move to Chile for this year’s major climate talks, known as COP25. The double counting issue needs to be resolved. It will not be an easy job, and the outcome matters to many countries, including Australia.




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The Morrison government says Australia will meet the Paris emissions targets by 2030 without international trading – partly by counting old carbon credits towards its Paris efforts. But in future Australia may adopt a stronger target in line with global climate goals. This may entail government and businesses buying carbon credits from overseas.

In an article just published in the journal Science, we and our co-authors* explain why double counting could undermine the Paris goals, and how a robust outcome could be achieved.

The Port Kembla industrial works in Wollongong. Industrial activity is a major contributor to overall global emissions.
AAP/Deal Lewins

What’s the problem here?

International carbon trading allows two or more countries to achieve their emissions targets more cheaply than if going it alone. Countries where cutting emissions is relatively cheap do more than is required by their targets. They then sell the additional emissions reductions, in the form of credits, to countries that find it harder to achieve their targets.

Carbon credits could be produced through activity such as replacing fossil fuels with zero-emissions energy, greater energy efficiency and electrification in transport and buildings, new technologies in industry and better practices in agriculture and forestry.

Rules for carbon trading are defined under Article 6 of the Paris agreement. Trading under the deal could be big: almost half the parties to the agreement have signalled they want to use carbon markets. Airlines might also become major buyers of emissions credits, under rules requiring them to offset increases in carbon emissions from international flights above 2020 levels.

The cost savings from using carbon markets could make it easier for countries to adopt more ambitious targets – ultimately resulting in greater emissions reductions.




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But if trading rules are not watertight then the use of carbon markets could lead to greater emissions, undermining the agreement.

One fundamental risk is double counting: a country selling a carbon credit might claim the underlying emissions reduction for itself, while at the same time the country buying the credit also claims the same emissions reduction.

Obviously any international transfer of emission reductions should not lead to higher total emissions than if participating countries had met their targets individually. This could be ensured through a form of double-entry bookkeeping, wherein the country selling carbon credits adjusts its emissions upwards, and the country acquiring the carbon credits adjusts, by the same amount, downwards.

But the devil lies in the detail – and in the self interest of the parties involved.

Planes lined up at Sydney Airport. The aviation industry will likely buy carbon credits to offset its emissions growth from 2020.
AAP

The bones of contention

Countries are wrangling over what double counting is, how it should be avoided and whether it should sometimes be allowed.

Some countries hoping to sell emissions credits, notably Brazil, propose rules under which emissions reductions sold to another country could effectively also be claimed by the selling country. Such rules existed under the Kyoto Protocol, which came before the Paris agreement. However under Kyoto developing countries did not have emission targets. All major countries have emissions targets under Paris, making the method unsuitable now.




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Another potential pitfall lies in the potential purchase by international airlines of large amounts of credits to offset increases in their emissions. Aviation emissions are not counted in national emissions inventories. So it would be logical to adjust the selling country’s inventory for any emissions reduction sold to airlines.

But some countries, notably Saudi Arabia, argue that this should not be done because the airline industry is governed by a separate international treaty. This approach would allow emissions reductions to be included in both agreements and counted twice.

In a separate point of debate some countries – including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States – oppose the idea of a single international body overseeing carbon trading under the Paris agreement, arguing for more national sovereignty and flexibility between nations buying and selling.

Making things even more complex, the Paris agreement allows each country to determine how to frame their emissions target. Some countries frame them as absolute emissions, others as a reduction relative to business-as-usual, or as a ratio of emissions to gross domestic product. Some countries’ targets are simply unclear.

A deforested area in the Amazon forest in Brazil. Carbon credits can be earned by nations that retain forest rather than cutting it down.
Marcelo Sayao/EPA

Letting each country determine its own ambitions and approach was key in making the Paris agreement a reality. But it makes accounting for carbon markets more complex.

There are also questions over whether a portion of carbon trading revenue should be allocated to help pay for climate change resilience in developing countries, and whether old credits from a trading scheme under the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism, should be tradable in the new scheme.

The way forward in Chile

The solutions to all these issues will be nuanced, but will require that governments agree on some fundamentals.

The first is that a single set of common international accounting rules should apply, irrespective of which carbon market mechanism is used by countries or groups of countries.

The second is to ensure robust emissions accounting, regardless of how mitigation targets are expressed.

The third is that over time, all countries should move toward economy-wide emissions targets, as the Paris Agreement foresees.

The need to reach a political deal in Chile must not result in loopholes for international carbon markets. The rules must ensure environmental integrity and avoid double counting. If this is achieved, emissions reductions can be made more cheaply and global ambition can be more readily raised. If not, then the accord could be seriously undermined.

The article in the journal Science “Double counting and the Paris Agreement rulebook” is authored by Lambert Schneider, Maosheng Duan, Robert Stavins, Kelley Kizzier, Derik Broekhoff, Frank Jotzo, Harald Winkler, Michael Lazarus, Andrew Howard, Christina Hood. See here for the full manuscript.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Lambert Schneider, Research coordinator for international climate policy, Oeko-Institut, and Maosheng DUAN, professor, Tsinghua University

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

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Labor’s climate and resources spokesmen at odds over future policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has had his proposal to bring Labor’s climate change target into line with the government’s immediately torpedoed by the party’s climate spokesman Mark Butler.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute made public ahead of its Wednesday evening delivery Fitzgibbon suggested the ALP offer “a political and policy settlement” to match the higher end of the government’s 26-28% target for reducing emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.

Labor’s controversial election policy was for an ambitious 45% reduction.

Fitzgibbon said the change he advocated would mean “the focus would then be all about actual outcomes, and the government would finally be held to account and forced to act.

“A political settlement would also restore investment confidence and for the first time in six years, we could have some downward pressure on energy prices,” Fitzgibbon said.

But Butler rejected the proposal saying the government’s target “is fundamentally inconsistent with the Paris agreement and would lead to global warming of 3℃.

“Labor remains committed to implementing the principles of the Paris Agreement, which are to keep global warming well below 2℃ and pursue efforts around 1.5℃,” he said.

“Labor’s commitment to action on climate change is unshakeable. We will have a 2050 target of net zero emissions and medium-term targets which are consistent with the agreement,” Butler said.

Despite dismissing Fitzgibbon’s idea, Butler has acknowledged that Labor’s climate change policy must be up for grabs in the party’s review of all its policies between now and the 2022 election.

But revising the climate policy will be one of its major challenges, because the party is caught between its inner city progressive constituency and its traditional blue collar voters. Its ambivalent position on the planned Adani coal mine cost it votes in Queensland at the election.

Apart from the politics, the 45% target for 2030 would be more unrealistic at the next election because emissions at the moment are increasing, meaning ground is being lost.

Fitzgibbon, who takes a more pro-coal attitude than many of his colleagues, had a big swing against him in his NSW coal seat of Hunter.

He said in his speech that a 28% reduction would be a “meaningful achievement” and could be built on later. He also pointed out bluntly that Labor couldn’t achieve anything if perpetually in opposition.

“If we could get to 28% by 2030, and also demonstrate that we could do so without destroying blue collar jobs or damaging the economy, then we would have a great foundation from which to argue the case for being more ambitious on the road to 2050,” he said.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, who is from Queensland, refused to be pinned down when pressed on Fitzgibbon’s proposal.

“My view is we can take real action on climate change without abandoning our traditional strengths, including in regional Queensland,” he said.

The Victorian minister for energy, environment and climate change, Lily D’Ambrosio, asked at the Australian Financial Review’s national energy summit about Fitzgibbon’s comments, said she wasn’t much interested in what a federal opposition did.

“We have a very strong and ambitious policy and we took that to the last state election, and we all know the result of that election, so we will continue to implement our policies and get them done,” she said.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor pointed to the divisions in the opposition but welcomed that there were “people in Labor who are making sensible suggestions about dropping their policies from the last election.

“What we saw happen there was Labor went to the election with policies – 45% emissions reduction target, 50% renewable energy target – where they weren’t able to or willing to detail the costs and impacts of those policies,” he said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia’s biggest property companies are making net-zero emissions pledges – now we can track them



Huge crowds marched last week to demand progress towards net zero emissions – and companies are listening.
AAP Image/James Ross

Amandine Denis, Monash University

Corporate Australia is taking action on climate change. Most recently, at the UN Climate Summit, Atlassian cofounder Michael Cannon-Brookes announced the A$26 billion Australian software company’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

Net zero pledges like this are becoming more common but currently there is no way to really track momentum towards net zero emissions across different sectors of the economy.




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Now, a Net Zero Momentum Tracker initiative has been established by ClimateWorks Australia and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute to track emissions reduction commitments made by major Australian companies and organisations, as well as state and local governments.

The tracker aims to place all commitments to net zero emissions in Australia in one place and evaluate how well they align with the Paris climate goals.

Property sector tracking towards net zero emissions

We began by assessing Australia’s property sector. Last week we released a report examining all property companies listed in the ASX 200, plus all of those required to report their emissions under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act.

Among the companies we looked at are Dexus, Mirvac, Stockland Corporation, GPT Group, and Lendlease. They develop, own or manage some of Australia’s largest corporate offices, commercial properties, retail centres, retirement villages, and residential developments.




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The report found almost half – 43% – of Australia’s largest listed property companies have made commitments that closely align with the Paris Climate Agreement, aiming to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions before 2050 for their owned and managed assets.

Significantly, the six companies with the most ambitious net zero targets represent 36% of the ASX 200 property sector. Among these six, several major companies – Dexus, Mirvac, GPT Group, and Vicinity – are aiming for net zero emissions by 2030, demonstrating the business case for strong climate action.

Sector leaders can inspire copycat action

By highlighting what action organisations are taking and how, the Net Zero Momentum Tracker initiative aims to encourage more organisations to make and strengthen commitments to reduce their emissions, in line with the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

For example, Australia’s largest owner and manager of office property, Dexus, has a comprehensive strategy for reaching its goal of net zero emissions across the group’s managed property portfolio. This includes reducing energy use, shifting to renewable electricity, electrifying their buildings, and reducing their non-energy emissions from waste, waste water and air conditioning.

Of particular significance is Mirvac’s pledge to be “net positive” by 2030. This means the company aims to go beyond net zero, reducing emissions by more than its operations emit. Mirvac has established an energy company to install rooftop solar on their commercial buildings and is selling power to occupants, among other initiatives. The company also has a “house with no bills” pilot project, to explore how their upstream indirect emissions can be minimised for residential developments.




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Another major company, the GPT Group, has extended its commitment beyond the assets it owns and manages to all buildings it has an ownership interest in, including buildings it co-owns or does not manage.

These companies will get multiple benefits from their action, including reduced operating costs, better health and productivity for occupants, and increased sales prices, rents and occupancy rates.

Need to accelerate action

While many property companies are tracking in the right direction, none of the companies we considered had net zero targets which comprehensively covered all of their emissions – such as those from co-owned assets, their supply chains and investments.

There is still significant opportunity for property companies to strengthen their commitments towards net zero emissions. This requires targets which address the full scope of direct and indirect emissions within each company’s influence, supported by detailed plans to achieve this.




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By making these public commitments to reduce emissions, the property sector is helping build momentum towards achieving this goal across the entire Australian economy.

The next assessments to be undertaken by the Net Zero Momentum Tracker initiative include the banking sector and state and local governments.The Conversation

Amandine Denis, Head of Research, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

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

Feeling flight shame? Try quitting air travel and catch a sail boat



Regina Maris, the ship activists will sail to a climate conference in Chile.
Sail to the COP

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

If you’ve caught a long haul flight recently, you generated more carbon emissions than a person living in some developing countries emits in an entire year.

If that fact doesn’t ruffle you, consider this: worldwide, 7.8 billion passengers are expected to travel in 2036 – a near doubling of current numbers. If business as usual continues, one analysis says the aviation sector alone could emit one-quarter of the world’s remaining carbon budget – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions allowed if global temperature rise is to stay below 1.5℃.

The world urgently needs a transport system that allows people to travel around the planet without destroying it.

A group of European climate activists are sending this message to world leaders by sailing, rather than flying, to a United Nations climate conference in Chile in December.

The Sail to the COP initiative follows Greta Thunberg’s high-profile sea voyage to attend last month’s United Nations climate summit in New York. The activists are not arguing global yacht travel is the new normal – in fact therein lies the problem. We need to find viable alternatives to fossil-fuelled air travel, and fast.

Greta Thunberg onboard the racing boat Malizia II in the Atlantic Ocean on her journey to New York last month.
AAP



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Why aviation emissions matter

A study conducted for the European Parliament has warned that if action to reduce flight emissions is further postponed, international aviation may be responsible for 22% of global carbon emissions by 2050 – up from about 2.5% now. This increasing share would occur because aviation emissions are set to grow, while other sectors will emit less.

In Australia, aviation underpins many aspects of business, trade and tourism.

The below image from global flight tracking service Flightradar24 shows the number of planes over Australia at the time of writing.

A screen shot from Flightradar24 showing the flights over Australia at the time of writing.
Flightradar24

Federal government figures show the civil aviation sector, domestic and international, contributed 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions in 2016.

The number of passenger movements from all Australian airports is set to increase by 3.7% a year by 2030-31, to almost 280 million.

To change, start with a jet fuel tax

While airlines are taking some action to cut carbon emissions, such as introducing newer and more fuel efficient aircraft, the measures are not enough to offset the expected growth in passenger numbers. And major technological leaps such as electric aircraft are decades away from commercial reality.

Emissions from international flights cannot easily be attributed to any single country, and no country wants to count them as their own. This means that international civil aviation is not regulated under the Paris Agreement. Instead, responsibility has been delegated to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).




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The Sail to the COP initiative is calling for several actions. First, they say jet fuel should be taxed. At present it isn’t – meaning airlines are not paying for their environmental damage. This also puts more sustainable transport alternatives, which do pay tax, at a disadvantage.

Research suggests a global carbon tax on jet fuel would be the most efficient way to achieve climate goals.

But instead, in 2016 ICAO established a global scheme for carbon offsetting in international aviation. Under the plan, airlines will have to pay for emissions reduction in other sectors to offset any increase in their own emissions after 2020.




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Critics say the strategy will not have a significant impact – pointing out, for example, that the aviation industry is aiming to only stabilise its emissions, not reduce them.

In contrast, the international shipping sector has pledged to halve its emissions by 2050, based on 2008 levels. Some small shipping companies are even using zero-emissions sail propulsion as a sustainable means of cargo transport.

Sail to the COP is also seeking to promote other sustainable ways of travelling such as train, boat, bus or bike. It says aviation taxes are key to this, because it would encourage growth in other transport modes and make it easier for people to to make a sustainable transport choice.

A growing number of people around the world are already making better choices.
In Thunberg’s native Sweden for example, the term “flygskam” – or flight shame – is used to describe the the feeling of being ashamed to take a flight due to its environmental impact. The movement has reportedly led to a rising number of Swedes catching a train for domestic trips.

Can we sail beyond nostalgia?

Many will dismiss the prospect of a revival in sea travel as romantic but unrealistic. And to some extent they are right. Sailing vessels cannot meet current demand in terms of speed or capacity. But perhaps excessive travel consumption is part of the problem.

The late sociologist John Urry has outlined a number of possible futures in a world of oil scarcity.

One is a shift to a low-carbon, and low-travel, society, in which we would “live smaller, live closer, and drive less”. Urry argues we may be less rich, but not necessarily less happy.

Meantime, the challenges for passenger ocean travel remain many. Not least, it can be slow and uncomfortable – Thunberg likened it to “camping on a rollercoaster”.




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But one Sail to the COP organiser, Jeppe Bijker, thinks it’s an option worth exploring. He developed the Sailscanner tool where users can check if sailing ships are taking their desired route, or request one.

A trip from the Netherlands to Uruguay takes 69 days, at an average speed of 5km/hour.

Some ships might require you to help out with sailing. Other passengers may be required to work look-out shifts. Of course, some passengers may become seasick.

But the site also lists the advantages. You can travel to faraway places without creating a huge carbon footprint. You have time to relax. And out on the open water, you experience the magnitude of the Earth and seas.The Conversation

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

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

Clean, green machines: the truth about electric vehicle emissions



Evidence shows electric vehicles have significant economic, social and health benefits.

Jake Whitehead, The University of Queensland

Despite the overwhelming evidence that electric vehicle technology can deliver significant economic, environmental and health benefits, misinformation continues to muddy the public debate in Australia.

An article in The Australian recently claimed that on the east coast electric vehicles are responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than their petrol counterparts.

The findings were largely attributed to Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power to charge electric vehicles. The report on which the article was based has not been publicly released, making it difficult to examine the claim.

So instead, let’s review the available evidence.




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First, let’s get the maths right

Vehicles create two types of emissions: greenhouse gases and noxious air pollution.

Petrol and diesel vehicles produce the majority of emissions when they are being driven. These are known as “tank-to-wheel” or exhaust emissions, and contribute to both climate change and poor air quality.

Then-Labor leader Bill Shorten at an event to announce Labor’s electric vehicle policy ahead of the May 2018 federal election.
AAP

Traditional vehicles also generate emissions through the production and distribution of their fuel, known as “well-to-tank” or upstream emissions.

To comprehensively measure a vehicle’s total emissions, we combine upstream and exhaust emissions to obtain “well-to-wheel” emissions, otherwise known as the fuel lifecycle emissions.




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How electric vehicles stack up

Battery electric vehicles have no exhaust emissions. Their emissions are primarily determined by the upstream emissions: that is, from the production and distribution of the energy used to charge them.

A parking spot allocated to electric vehicles.
AAP

In a paper I co-authored late last year, we estimated that the typical Australian petrol vehicle generated 355 grams of CO₂-equivalent per kilometre in real-world fuel life cycle emissions.

By comparison, a typical electric vehicle charged using the average Australian electricity grid mix generated about 40% fewer emissions, at 213 grams of CO₂-equivalent per kilometre.

Even with dirty energy, electric cars are greener

Electric vehicle emissions vary depending on how dirty the region’s electricity is. By applying the 2019 National Greenhouse Accounts Factors to the same methodology used in our journal paper, electric vehicle emissions in each of Australia’s electricity grids were calculated (see Table 1, click to zoom).

Table 1: Real-world fuel lifecycle emission estimates for battery electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and petrol vehicles, calculated using 2019 Greenhouse Account Factors.
Dr Jake Whitehead

Victoria has the most emissions-intensive grid in Australia due to its reliance on brown coal. However, even in that state, the real-world fuel life cycle emissions of a typical electric vehicle would still be 20% lower than a typical petrol vehicle. In Tasmania, which is dominated by renewable energy, electric vehicle emissions would be 88% lower than a comparable petrol vehicle.




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Electric vehicles are less polluting than traditional cars, even in Victoria which is heavily reliant on brown coal to produce electricity.
AAP

Size doesn’t matter

Table 2: Fuel lifecycle emissions extracted from the Australian Government’s Green Vehicle Guide (GVG).*
Dr Jake Whitehead
Table 3: Comparison between the relative differences in electric vs petrol vehicle fuel lifecycle emissions from the analysis Green Vehicle Guide emissions data (see part of sample in Table 2) and the real-world estimates from our journal article (see Table 1). The consistency in findings supports the robustness of these conclusions.
Dr Jake Whitehead

Let’s examine four different sized electric vehicles in Australia to see how their fuel lifecycle emissions compare to petrol vehicle equivalents (see Table 2, click to zoom).

Even when large electric cars are charged using Victoria’s grid, emissions are 6-7% lower than a petrol vehicle equivalent.

Using both real-world emissions estimates and Green Vehicle Guide data, the shift from petrol to electric vehicles is shown to deliver a reduction in emissions – no matter where vehicles are charged in Australia (see Table 3, click to zoom).

And of course emissions from electric vehicles will fall further as grid electricity continues to become cleaner.




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Anyway, lots of electric cars don’t need the grid

There is clearly a strong relationship between ownership of both electric vehicles and zero-emission rooftop solar.

In 2018 we surveyed more than 150 electric vehicle owners in Australia (representing 2% of the national fleet). We found that 80% of vehicle charging occurred at home, with 73% of respondents owning rooftop solar systems (compared to an average of 21.6% of homes nationally)).

Victoria Police Inspector Stuart Bailey with the first all-electric vehicle in its operational fleet.
Victoria Police

Additionally, 22% of electric vehicle owners surveyed had stationary battery storage attached to their solar rooftop systems, with another 53% planning to install batteries in the near future.

Five more reasons to embrace electric vehicles:

  1. Cost savings: Electric vehicles are 70-90% cheaper to operate, potentially saving households more than A$2,000 per year.

  2. Economic opportunities: The Australian resources sector is well placed to capitalise on demand for minerals in batteries, such as lithium, and support the deployment of this technology globally using cheap, reliable and locally-produced energy.

  3. Fuel security: Australia is heavily dependent on imported fuels and holds reserves far below the International Energy Agency’s obligated 90-day supply. So the more quickly we transition to electric vehicles, the more secure our transport system will be.




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4) Grid support: Electric vehicles hold enormous potential to support our electricity grid. If Australia’s 14 million-odd cars were electric, the energy stored in their batteries could power the entire nation for at least 24 hours, while still meeting average driving needs.

Vehicle emissions from petrol and diesel cars drives air pollution and associated illnesses such as asthma.
AAP

5) Health benefits: Noxious emissions from traditional vehicles also take a massive toll on our health by contributing to rates of asthma and other chronic illnesses. Vehicle pollution causes an estimated 40% to 60% more premature deaths than road accident fatalities in Australia. Electric vehicles provide a pathway to avoid these deaths.

Even international bank BNP Paribas sees the writing on the wall. In advice to investors last month it outlined that thanks to electric vehicles, the economics of oil for transport was “in relentless and irreversible decline, with far-reaching implications for both policymakers and the oil majors.”


*Note: The Green Vehicle Guide figures in Table 2 are based on a 1997 drive cycle – the New European Drive Cycle or NEDC – which significantly underestimates real-world emissions and efficiency. As a result, Green Vehicle Guide values for all vehicles are lower than the real-world emissions estimates we published in our 2018 paper. Despite this, the relative difference in emissions between electric and petrol vehicles is largely consistent with our estimates – see Table 3 – and therefore these figures are still useful for comparing different vehicles.The Conversation

Jake Whitehead, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

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

Nice try Mr Taylor, but Australia’s gas exports don’t help solve climate change



Energy Minister Angus Taylor has sought to downplay quarterly figures showing Australia’s emissions are still rising, attributing the result to the production of gas for export.
AAP

Tim Baxter, University of Melbourne

The latest report card on Australia’s greenhouse gas production is the same old news: emissions are up again. We’ve heard it before, but the news should never stop being confronting.

It’s 2019. The first assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which outlined the serious consequences of unmitigated climate change, was released the better part of 30 years ago. But Australia is still going backwards.

Emissions from one of the sunniest and windiest countries on the planet, blessed with every possible advantage when it comes to emissions reduction potential, are still rising. How do you justify that?




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Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor.
AAP

Energy and Emission Reduction Minister Angus Taylor tried to justify it by blaming gas. He said if you ignore the greenhouse gases released when producing gas for export, Australia is doing well because emissions in the March quarter fell by 0.3%.

It’s a bit like suggesting that if you ignore the cancer, smoking is completely fine. It’s untrue, and ignores the bigger part of the problem.

How does producing gas for export release fossil fuel emissions?

A mammoth share of the coal and gas that Australia produces goes to the international market.

The combustion of these fuels is not counted in Australia’s ledger, though.
This is because the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change counts emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels in the country where they are burned.

A protest sign at the site of a proposed liquid natural gas plant at James Price Point in Broome.
AAP

But climate change is unconcerned with our accounting rules. And Australia is the fifth largest contributor to climate change in terms of fossil fuels extracted.

But the extraction process itself also releases fossil fuels in Australia’s backyard, both through the energy used in the extraction and through leaks. These emissions are included on Australia’s ledger.

Gas is principally made up of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30-80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. When it leaks, it has an outsized impact on the climate – and these emissions are growing fast.

Putting our gas emissions in perspective

It is disingenuous to use the production of gas exports to explain away Australia’s poor performance on emissions reduction.

In the 2018 financial year, around one in seven tonnes of greenhouse gas emitted from Australia was released in the process of making even more greenhouse gas, from both gas and coal extraction.

That means that six in every seven tonnes of greenhouse gas Australia emits can largely be attributed to the the total absence of a national climate policy.

Author supplied.
Data source: DoEE, Australia’s Emissions Projections 2018
Author supplied.
Data source: DoEE, Australia’s Emissions Projections 2018

This policy failure has big implications. Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement says the world must reach net-zero emissions over the entire period from 2050 to 2100. (And the IPCC says emissions must come down even faster than that if planetary warming is to stay below the critical 1.5℃ threshold).

Even if, disregarding export gas production, Australia cut emissions by 0.3% a year, at that rate net-zero emissions won’t be reached for another 333 years.

So while fossil fuel extraction is making things worse, our emissions elsewhere are hardly able to reach the net zero goal in the Paris agreement.




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Gas is not the silver bullet for any other nation

The minister and his department also made much of the idea that our gas is reducing emissions overseas. The quarterly report even contained a “special topic” talking up the benefits of Australia’s gas exports.

The logic is that by exporting gas, which is allegedly cleaner than coal, we are replacing a high emitting source with a relatively low emitting source. That logic does not hold and is not scientifically robust.

First, and most obviously, Australia exports massive amounts of coal as well as gas. We are responsible for one-fifth of the world’s thermal coal exports and more than one-half of the world’s metallurgical coal exports. It is talking out both sides of your mouth to suggest that we are reducing worldwide emissions because we are responsible for almost a quarter of the world’s exported gas, while we simultaneously export a massive amount of coal.

Origin Energy’s Australia Pacific liquefied natural gas facility at Curtis Island in north Queensland.
AAP

Second, the department and Mr Taylor relied heavily on a study by the CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) to talk up the relative benefits of our gas exports. That study, a life-cycle assessment of the emissions from Curtis Island’s liquified natural gas processing facilities, expressly avoided testing the assumption that our gas is in fact replacing coal overseas.

We may not know the whole story, but we do know it is not true in one of the largest purchasers of Australian gas, Japan. Since the Fukushima accident in 2011 took much of Japan’s zero-emissions nuclear energy out of the mix, it has been replaced by Australian gas, which is far worse for the climate.

Third, even if our gas is substituting coal, the benefits are very small. The same GISERA study indicated that “climate benefits of natural gas replacing coal are lost where fugitive emissions [leaking gas] … are greater than 3%”.

Readers might remember this apparent example of fugitive emissions in Australia. The video shows former New South Wales Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham setting fire to the Condamine River in 2016.

Former NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham sets the Condamine River on fire.

It burned because of methane bubbling up through it, purportedly from nearby unconventional gas extraction. These emissions, the result of leaks through natural fractures in the Earth, are difficult to predict and model. They are not accurately measured in Australia, and may make gas far worse for the climate than even coal.

Even if the results of all this uncertainty come out in favour of gas, limiting global warming requires that we urgently stop burning both coal and gas. While there are substantial proven reserves around the world, much of this will have to remain unburned if we hope to avoid the worst of climate change.

The evidence of climate change is increasingly clear, yet Australia’s emissions continue to increase. Our political leaders are spinning the data and failing to act, putting our children’s future, our economy and the natural environment at risk.The Conversation

Tim Baxter, Fellow – Melbourne Law School; Senior Researcher – Climate Council; Associate – Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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

We have the blueprint for liveable, low-carbon cities. We just need to use it



Increasing heat in Sydney and other Australian cities highlights the urgent need to apply our knowledge of how to create liveable low-carbon cities.
Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Deo Prasad, UNSW

Over the past seven years more than 100 research projects at the Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, in collaboration with industry across Australia, have pondered a very big question: How do we build future cities that are sustainable, liveable and affordable?

This is exactly what Australians want, as the recent Greater Sydney Commission report, The Pulse of Greater Sydney, revealed. People want cities in which they live close to jobs and have reasonable commuting times. They want access to parks and green space, and relief from ever-increasing urban heat.




Read more:
If we want liveable cities in 2060 we’ll have to work together to transform urban systems


The good news is we already know what it will take to deliver on much of this wish list. Since 2012, I have headed the A$100 million Low Carbon Living CRC, which has brought together Australian businesses, industries, communities and many of our brightest researchers to work out how to steer change.

Our Cooling Sydney Strategy, for instance, is the result of years of research into how to combat urban heatwaves. The burden of this heat is unevenly spread across our cities.

For example, residents of Sydney’s western suburbs are exposed to many more days hotter than 35 degrees than Sydneysiders living in the CBD and the city’s north. Last summer that meant over a month’s worth of intense heat in the suburb of Penrith, including nine days in a row above 35°C.




Read more:
Building cool cities for a hot future


While the recent winter sun might feel welcome, the negative impacts of increasingly hot cities on our health, lifestyle and energy use greatly outweigh any winter comfort.

So what are the solutions?

Our researchers have already found how we can offset increasing heat. The strategies includes cool and permeable pavements, water features and evaporative cooling, shade structures, vertical gardens, street trees and other plants – even special heat refuge stations.

Keeping cool inside, without huge power bills, is possible too. During last summer’s heatwave, our pilot 10-star energy-efficient house in Perth remained a comfortable 24°C inside, without air conditioning, when it was over 40°C outside. The exceptional thermal performance of the house was down to its evidence-based design.

Josh Byrne explains how his house keeps temperatures comfortable year-round with low energy use and no net emissions.



Read more:
When the heat is on, we need city-wide plans to keep cool


This work is just one part of our wider remit. Our UNSW-based centre is on track to deliver independently verified cuts of 10 megatonnes of carbon emissions generated by Australia’s built environment by 2020. By integrating renewable energy systems, smart technologies, low-carbon materials and people-centred design into buildings and urban precincts, we have developed a sustainable, liveable and affordable urban blueprint for Australia. A PwC study (yet to be released) estimated cumulative economic benefits totalling A$684 million by 2027.

To put this another way, we have identified and verified evidence-based pathways to cut emissions equivalent to taking some 2.1 million cars off the road.




Read more:
Cutting cities’ emissions does have economic benefits – and these ultimately outweigh the costs


Some of the progress to date is not immediately obvious to the casual observer. Take an otherwise unremarkable stretch of road along the back way to Sydney Airport. Recently, a 30-metre section of concrete was installed, which looks more like an ad hoc road repair than an important scientific pilot study.

Bu 15 metres is paved with a new geopolymer concrete that slashes greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. The other 15 metres is conventional concrete, the most widely used man-made material on the planet. Concrete production, using cement as its binder, accounts for about 8% of all global emissions.

The geopolymer concrete developed through our research centre is a similarly high-performance product but its binder safely incorporates otherwise noxious industrial waste streams, such as fly ash from coal-fired power stations and slag from blast furnaces. Australia has stockpiled about 400 million tonnes of waste from coal-fired power generation and steelmaking.

In Alexandria, in collaboration with the City of Sydney, we are testing this low-carbon concrete as a road surface that could help clean up industrial waste while slashing emissions. Working with NSW Ports, we’ve also shaped it into low-carbon bollards to form a breakwater to protect the coastline at Port Kembla from extreme weather.

Waste from coal-fired power stations has been used to make low-carbon bollards to protect the coastline at Port Kembla.

We now have the know-how to do better

There are many such success stories, but with 150 CRC Low Carbon Living projects the list is too long to detail. What’s more important, as our funding period comes to an end and Australia loses its only innovation hub committed to lowering carbon in the built environment, is to note how we got to where we are today.

The federal government’s Co-operative Research Centre program fosters co-operation and collaboration on a grand scale. Industries, businesses, government organisations and communities with a stake in solving big, complex challenges partner with researchers from a wide range of academic fields. This structure brings together sectors and people whose paths might otherwise rarely cross.

The cross-fertilisation of ideas, expertise and skills delivers innovative solutions. Research worldwide has consistently shown that collaboration drives innovation, and that innovation drives economic growth. Our experience confirms that as we partnered with organisations such as Multiplex, AECOM, BlueScope Steel, Sydney Water, ISCA, CSIRO and the United Nations Environment Program.

Cities are complex, exciting beasts, but we have the knowledge and expertise to live better, more comfortable urban lives in Australia while reducing demand for energy, water and materials. That is, we have the blueprint for low-carbon urban living. We must now choose to use it.


This article has been updated to correct the number of CRC Low Carbon Living projects to 150 and the amount of stockpiled waste from coal-fired power generation and steelmaking to 400 million tonnes.The Conversation

Deo Prasad, Scientia Professor and CEO, Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, UNSW

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