How will sharks respond to climate change? It might depend on where they grew up



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Culum Brown, Macquarie University and Connor Gervais

They may have been around for hundreds of millions of years — long before trees — but today sharks and rays are are among the most threatened animals in the world, largely because of overfishing and habitat loss.

Climate change adds another overarching stressor to the mix. So how will sharks cope as the ocean heats up?

Our new research looked at Port Jackson sharks to find out. We found individual sharks adapt in different ways, depending where they came from.

A Port Jackson shark swimming on the sea bed
Port Jackson sharks in Jervis Bay may be better at responding to climate change than those from The Great Australian Bight.
Connor Gervais, Author provided

Port Jackson sharks from cooler waters in the Great Australian Bight found it harder to cope with rising temperatures than those living in the warmer water from Jervis Bay in New South Wales.

This is important because it goes against the general assumption that species in warmer, tropical waters are at the greatest risk of climate change. It also illustrates that we shouldn’t assume all populations in one species respond to climate change in the same way, as it can lead to over- or underestimating their sensitivity.

But before we explore this further, let’s look at what exactly sharks will be exposed to in the coming years.

An existential threat

In Australia, the grim reality of climate change is already upon us: we’re seeing intense marine heat waves and coral bleaching events, the disappearance of entire kelp forests, mangrove forest dieback and the continent-wide shifting of marine life.

The southeast of Australia is a global change hotspot, with water temperatures rising at three to four times the global average. In addition to rising water temperatures, oceans are becoming more acidic and the amount of oxygen is declining.

Any one of these factors is cause for concern, but all three may also be acting together.

Coral bleaching
Oceans act like a heat sink, absorbing 90% of the heat in the atmosphere. This makes marine environments highly susceptible to climate change.
Shutterstock

One may argue sharks have been around for millions of years and survived multiple climate catastrophes, including several global mass extinctions events.

To that, we say life in the anthropocene is characterised by changes in temperature and levels of carbon dioxide on a scale not seen for more than three million years.




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We’ve just discovered two new shark species – but they may already be threatened by fishing


Rapid climate change represents an existential threat to all life on Earth and sharks can’t evolve fast enough to keep up because they tend to be long-lived with low reproductive output (they don’t have many pups). The time between generations is just too long to respond via natural selection.

Dealing with rising temperatures

When it comes to dealing with rising water temperature, sharks have two options: they can change their physiology to adapt, or move towards the poles to cooler waters.

Moving to cooler waters is one of the more obvious responses to climate change, while subtle impacts on physiology, as we studied, have largely been ignored to date. However, they can have big impacts on individual, and ultimately species, distributions and survival.

Juvenile Port Jackson sharks
Juvenile Port Jackson sharks from our study.
Connor Gervais, Author provided

We collected Port Jackson sharks from cold water around Adelaide and warm water in Jervis Bay. After increasing temperatures by 3℃, we studied their thermal limits (how much heat the sharks could take before losing equilibrium), swimming activity and their resting metabolic rate.

While all populations could adjust their thermal limits, their metabolic rate and swimming activity depended on where the sharks were originally collected from.




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With a rise in water temperature of just 3℃, the energy required to survive is more than twice that of current day temperatures for the Port Jackson sharks in Adelaide.

The massive shift in energy demand we observed in the Adelaide sharks means they have to prioritise survival (coping mechanisms) over other processes, such as growth and reproduction. This is consistent with several other shark species that have slower growth when exposed to warmer waters, including epaulette sharks and bonnethead sharks.

Two brown, spiralled shark eggs: one is about half the size of the other
The smaller egg to the left is from Port Jackson sharks near Adelaide, while the right egg is from sharks in Jervis Bay.
Connor Gervais, Author provided

On the other hand, a 3℃ temperature rise hardly affected the energy demands of the Port Jackson sharks from Jervis Bay at all.

Threatening the whole ecosystem

Discovering what drives responses to heat is important for identifying broader patterns. For example, the decreased sensitivity of the Jervis Bay sharks likely reflects the thermal history of the region.




Read more:
Sharks: one in four habitats in remote open ocean threatened by longline fishing


Australia’s southeastern coastline is warmed by the East Australian Current, which varies in strength both throughout the year and from year to year. With each generation exposed to these naturally variable conditions, populations along this coastline have likely become more tolerant to heat.

Populations in the Great Australian Bight, in contrast, don’t experience such variability, which may make them more susceptible to climate change.

So why is this important? When sharks change their behaviour it affects the whole ecosystem.

The implications range from shifts in fish stocks to conservation management, such as where marine reserves are assigned.

Sharks and rays generally rank at the top or in the middle of the food chain, and
have critical ecosystem functions.

Port Jackson sharks, for example, are predators of urchins, and urchins feed on kelp forests — a rich habitat for hundreds of marine species. If the number of sharks decline in a region and the number of urchins increase, then it could lead to the loss of kelp forests.

The top of a swimming Port Jackson shark
Port Jackson sharks feed on feed on urchins in kelp forests.
Connor Gervais, Author provided

What’s next?

There’s little research dedicated to understanding how individuals from different populations within species respond to climate change.

We need more of this kind of research, because it can help identify hidden resilience within species, and also highlight populations at greatest risk. We have seen this in action in coral bleaching events in different parts of Australia, for example.

We also need a better handle on how a wide range of species will respond to a changing climate. This will help us understand how communities and ecosystems might fragment, as each ecosystem component responds to warming in different ways and at different speeds.

Steps need to be taken to address these holes in our knowledge base if we’re to prepare for what follows.




Read more:
One-fifth of ecosystems in danger of collapse – here’s what that might look like


The Conversation


Culum Brown, Professor, Macquarie University and Connor Gervais, Connor Gervais

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

Albanese is running out of time to solve Labor’s climate crisis. He needs a plan that works for two Australias



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

During the recent American elections, the most eye-catching graphics were were the individual county tallies.

These showed that even when states appeared to be overwhelmingly Republican red, some still “flipped” to the Democrats on the strength of a smaller number of blue squares.

The trick? These azure islands denoted population clusters in cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Phoenix.

The left-right chasm between urbanised Americans and the more sparsely distributed rural-regional ones was there to see in primary colours.

But the division itself was neither new, nor especially American.

Across England’s industrial north, British Labour’s Euro-centric cosmopolitanism cut little ice in the Brexit referendum of 2016, the same year once rusted-on working class Democrats first broke for Trump.

Labor struggling to reach ‘two Australias’

And of course in Australia, this trend is also well established.

Indeed, Coalition majorities have long been built on the need for niche-messaging. This sees Liberals garner the city vote, while mostly leaving the Nationals to reinterpret the conservative brand for bush sensibilities.

As a one-message-fits-all party, the ALP has struggled with this, and as the two Australias become more distinct and antagonistic, the strain is showing.

Labor’s primary vote nationally is stuck in the low-to-mid 30% range. In the resources states, it sits even lower. That’s too low to win a majority, prompting some in Labor to suggest a Liberal/National-style partnership with the Greens.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese looks glum in parliament.
Labor needs to boost its primary vote if it is to win government on its own.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

But it is far from clear how this would maximise the combined lower house seat haul, given they both court the same inner-city electors. What seems more obvious is that a joint Labor-Greens ticket would actually accelerate the drift of industrially-centred regional seats towards the Coalition.

Fitzgibbon and the coal dilemma

This is already happening.

According to Joel Fitzgibbon, who resigned last week from the shadow frontbench, Labor’s ambitious 45% by 2030 emissions cut at the last election proved this. After being pushed to preferences in 2019 on the back of a 14% primary vote slump, Fitzgibbon believes that “crazy” policy was kryptonite in his coal-dominated seat, and in regional communities up and down the eastern seaboard.




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The Hunter Valley-based MP, and others in Labor’s right faction, argue such communities feel abandoned by a party beholden to inner-city progressives.
There’s no doubt Labor MPs are increasingly pessimistic over their electoral prospects.

Some on the right insist the party is doomed unless it actively reconnects with its industrial roots, and that means dropping the climate change focus.

As Fitzgibbon told reporters when announcing his frontbench resignation,

We have to speak to, and be a voice for, all those who we seek to represent, whether they be in Surry Hills or Rockhampton. And that’s a difficult balance.

For Labor leader Anthony Albanese, this presents a near unsolvable puzzle. He needs to outflank the Greens on his capacity to form a government and deliver, and out-perform the Coalition on commitment. Now, he must also manage a rebellion inside his caucus from those who want to dump the party’s climate policy.

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon
Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon is pressuring the party to adopt a less ambitious emissions plan.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Right-aligned MPs, buttressed by powerful unions, argue steering closer to the Coalition than the Greens is the only way to secure government.

But Labor’s paid-up membership and a majority of its MPs favour a clear acknowledgement of the scientific evidence — evidence that unambiguously calls for the phasing out of fossil fuels in the next decade or two.

In a sign of things to come, the blaze of publicity surrounding Fitzgibbon’s resignation completely derailed Labor’s attempt to highlight how the new Democratic White House had left the Morrison government exposed as the only serious economy explicitly not committed to a net-zero time-line.




Read more:
After Biden’s win, Australia needs to step up and recommit to this vital UN climate change fund


But Fitzgibbon, who claims to have substantial caucus support, wants Labor to simply tuck in behind the Morrison government and allow it to take any political heat for emissions targets not met and voters left frustrated.

Yet this too would be politically calamitous.

There could be an election next year

With an election possible within 12 months, time to reconcile these oil-and-water imperatives is fast running out.

It is a perfect storm. On the one hand, there is rising pessimism over Labor’s ability to compete with the Morrison government – especially during a pandemic. On the other, rising community impatience for decisive climate action.




Read more:
Labor’s climate policy is too little, too late. We must run faster to win the race


That the opposition has not yet named interim emissions targets for 2030 and 2035 despite a clear commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, speaks to its nervousness. Its rhetoric stresses urgency and purpose, but its detail reveals hesitation.

Insiders know any repeat of its 2019 each-way bet on the Adani coal-mine will be a gift to the Greens.

As the policy show-down looms, so too does the ever-present danger to Albanese of it morphing into a leadership stoush. The left’s Tanya Plibersek and the right’s Jim Chalmers are regarded as the most credible alternatives.

Labor MPs Jim Chalmers and Tanya Plibersek.
Leadership speculation has bubbled up again, as Labor struggles with its climate stance.
Samantha Manchee/AAP

While only a climate capitulation would satisfy right-wing malcontents, another school of thought favours a doubling down, based on the simple arithmetic that there are a dozen-plus Coalition seats held by margins of under 5% — more than enough to compensate for the loss of regional electorates.

Bold transition fund needed

Perhaps Labor’s only hope of keeping both sides in the tent is to propose a bold, generously funded transition fund.

This would not just talk about green jobs and retraining, but directly pay those workers who are displaced. It would include everything from the loss of income and retraining, to compensating for the loss of businesses, house values, and full family relocation costs.

Taking advantage of the low cost of borrowing, this multibillion brown-to-green transition fund could guarantee workers in phased-out sectors would not be left to carry the costs of what is a “national” responsibility and “national” economic reconfiguration.

This could this be Labor’s winning formula: representation, leading to reparation, enabling reform.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

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

After Biden’s win, Australia needs to step up and recommit to this vital UN climate change fund


Jonathan Pickering, University of Canberra

Now Joe Biden is on track to be the next US president, there has been plenty of speculation about what this means for Australia’s policies on climate change.

Biden promises to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and reach net-zero emissions in the US no later than 2050. This puts Australia — which is ranked among the worst of the G20 members on climate policies — under pressure to revisit its paltry greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2030 and to commit to reaching net-zero by 2050 as well.




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Biden says the US will rejoin the Paris climate agreement in 77 days. Then Australia will really feel the heat


But emissions targets are only part of the story. Another important area where the US election could make a difference involves climate finance: when rich countries like Australia channel money to help low-income countries deal with climate change and cut their emissions.

Biden’s win could be the perfect opportunity for Australia to save face and rejoin the UN Green Climate Fund, the main multilateral vehicle for deploying climate finance.

Australia’s initial commitment to the Green Climate Fund

Under the Paris Agreement, developed countries, including Australia, have committed to mobilise US$100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

Of this, US$20 billion has been formally pledged to the UN Green Climate Fund. The rest of what countries have committed so far is spread across a range of bilateral partnerships (typically through aid programs), other multilateral channels such as the World Bank, and private investment.

In 2014 Obama committed US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, but only transferred the first US$1 billion before President Trump cancelled the remainder in 2017. Biden has pledged to fulfil Obama’s original commitment.

Australia, under the Abbott government, eventually decided to support the fund, initially contributing A$200 million in 2014 and co-chairing its board for much of its early stages.

Then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meets with Vice-President Joe Biden at the White House.
The Abbott government joined the fund in 2014.
The Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs

When the fund called for new commitments in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced over talkback radio that Australia would not “tip money into that big climate fund”. Australia lost its board seat at the end of 2019.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne elaborated at the time:

it is our assessment that there are significant challenges with [the fund’s] governance and operational model which are impacting its effectiveness.

Australia steps back

Australia stood by — and even exceeded — its overall pledge to provide A$1 billion in climate finance over five years to 2020, but it opted to provide this assistance through other channels, mainly bilateral partnerships with governments in neighbouring countries, including A$300 million for the Pacific.




Read more:
Pacific Island nations will no longer stand for Australia’s inaction on climate change


Even so, Australia’s stepback from the fund was condemned by Pacific island countries, whose populations are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and who are strong supporters of the fund.

Former President of Kiribati Anote Tong commented on the decision in 2018:

I think we are coming to the stage where some countries don’t care what their reputation in the international arena is. It seems [Australia] is heading in that direction.

The cast has changed – will the script say the same?

Our 2017 research on Australia’s climate finance commitments found pressure from the US — not least during Obama’s visit to Australia in 2014 — and other countries ultimately served as a catalyst for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to overcome his reluctance to contribute.

Obama on climate change at the University of Queensland.

Subsequently, the Trump administration’s recalcitrance on climate change appears to have given the Morrison government cover to resist international pressure and pull out of it.

Now that the cast has changed again, can we expect Australia to rejoin the fund?

There are signs Morrison’s rhetoric on climate change has shifted compared to Abbott’s. But this hasn’t translated into a major policy shift, and he still faces intense pressure from the coalition’s right wing to do as little as possible.




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However, as one of the more moderate members of the Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne can be expected to appreciate the diplomatic value of recommitting to the Green Climate Fund.

After the government’s recent audit of multilateral organisations, Payne observed that mulilateralism through strong and transparent institutions “serves Australia’s interests”. Recommitting to the Green Climate Fund would be consistent with this message.

Global momentum on climate action

Two other key variables are how the fund and the broader global context have evolved.

In 2014, the fund hadn’t yet delivered any money to developing countries. Since then, work on the ground has got underway, but the fund has faced criticism around its governance and slow disbursement.

Progress has been hampered by recurring disagreements between board members from developed and developing countries over the direction of the fund.

While on the fund’s board, Australia was a persistent advocate for robust decision-making processes. But it won’t be in a position to shape the fund’s governance for the better unless it recommits.




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In any case, a number of contributing countries, such as France, Germany, Norway and the UK, have doubled their previous commitments.

This is a vote of confidence in the fund’s capacity to deliver results and leverage private resources more efficiently than dozens of bilateral funding channels.

And it shows how pressure on Australia from Biden will be backed up by the global momentum for climate action, which has built up since the Obama administration.

The COVID-19 wild card

While Australia has pledged a further A$500 million for the Pacific from 2020 onwards, its overall A$1 billion commitment, which extends across the Indo-Pacific and beyond, expires this year. Many countries are also due to update their emissions targets under the Paris Agreement ahead of a major summit in 2021.

But COVID-19 is a wild card. It has placed new demands on development assistance programs and national budgets in Australia and elsewhere.

Still, Australia has fared much better in the pandemic than many other countries so far, while also running an aid budget lower than many of its peers. This means Australia can hardly justify going slow on funding when climate change poses a growing threat.

Ramping up its overall commitment to climate finance — and renewing its support for the leading multilateral fund in this area — will be an important sign that Australia is ready to play its part.




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The Conversation


Jonathan Pickering, Assistant Professor, Canberra School of Politics, Economics and Society, University of Canberra

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

Friday essay: how many climate crisis books will it take to save the planet?



Ben White/Unsplash, CC BY

Ian Lowe, Griffith University

It’s that time of the year again. Brochures and emails spruik a bumper crop of new books about the climate crisis.

Book cover: Bill Gates How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Goodreads

This time there are some really big names: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates, Climate Crisis and the Global New Deal by Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, All We Can Save by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, What Can I Do? The Truth About Climate Change and How to Fix It by Jane Fonda, as well as new efforts from David Attenborough and Tim Flannery.

The incoming tide of new books makes me reflect and wonder whether writing still more books about climate change is a waste of precious time. When the UN is calling for governments to act to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, are books just preaching to the converted? My answer is no, but that doesn’t mean publishing, buying or reading more books is the answer to our climate emergency right now.




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Friday essay: thinking like a planet – environmental crisis and the humanities


Decades of books

In April, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the New York Times told readers this might be the year they finally read about climate change. But many already have.

The earliest titles date back to 1989: The Greenhouse Effect, Living in a Warmer Australia by Ann Henderson-Sellers and Russell Blong; my own contribution, Living in the Greenhouse, and the first book aimed at the US public, Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature.

Book cover: planet earth image. By Al Gore.

Goodreads

The science was still developing then. We knew human activity was increasing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Measurable changes to the climate were also clear: more very hot days, fewer very cold nights, changes to rainfall patterns.

The 1985 Villach conference had culminated in an agreed statement warning there could be a link, but cautious scientists were saying more research was needed before we could be confident the changes had a human cause. There were credible alternative theories: the energy from the Sun could be changing, there could be changes in the Earth’s orbit, there might be natural factors we had not recognised.

By the mid-1990s, the debate was essentially over in the scientific community. Today there is barely a handful of credible climate scientists who don’t accept the evidence that human activity has caused the changes we are seeing. The agreed statements by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, led to the Kyoto Protocol being adopted in 1997.

And so — as the urgency being felt by the scientists increased — more books were published.

Former US vice president and 2007 Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis was first published in 2008 and has since been issued in 20 editions. There have been more than enough books to furnish a list of the top 100 bestselling titles on the topic, recommended by the likes of Elon Musk and esteemed climate scientists and commentators. The ones I have acquired fill an entire bookcase shelf — dozens of titles describing the problem, making dire predictions, calling for action.

Girl walks through bookshop.
Preaching to the converted might not be such a bad thing.
Becca Tapert/Unsplash, CC BY



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Deeds not words

Does the new batch of books risk spreading more despair? If the previous books didn’t change our climate trajectory then what is the point in making readers feel the cause is hopeless and a bleak future is inevitable?

Book cover: What can I do? by Jane Fonda

Goodreads

No. Writing more books isn’t a waste of time, but they also shouldn’t be a high priority at the moment. The point of writing a book is to summarise what we know about the problem and identify credible ways forward.

Those were my goals when I wrote Living in the Greenhouse in 1989 and Living in the Hothouse in 2005. The main purpose of the first book was to draw attention to a problem that was largely unrecognised, trying to inform and persuade readers that we needed to take action. By the release of the second book, the aim was to counter the tsunami of misinformation unleashed by the fossil fuel industry, conservative institutions and the Murdoch press. Rupert Murdoch spoke at News Corp’s AGM this week, maintaining: “We do not deny climate change, we are not deniers”.

But there are two reasons why I’m not working on a third book right now.

The first is time. If I started writing today, it would be late next year before the book would be in the shops. We can’t afford another year of inaction. More importantly, the inaction of our national government is not a result of a lack of knowledge.

On November 9, United Nations chief António Guterres said the world was still falling well short of the leadership required to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050:

Our goal is to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Today, we are still headed towards three degrees at least.

Some believe the inaction is explained by the corruption of our politics by fossil fuel industry donations. Others see is a fundamental conflict between the concerted action needed and the dominant ideologies of governing parties. Making decision-makers better informed about the science won’t solve either of these problems.

They might be solved, however, by the evidence that a growing majority of voters want to see action to slow climate change.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has focused, rather than distracted, the community on the risks of climate change. A recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group of 3,000 people across eight countries found about 70% of respondents are now more aware of the risks of climate change than they were before the pandemic. Three-quarters say slowing climate change is as important as protecting the community from COVID-19.

The growing awareness and sense of urgency are backed by another recent study looking at internet search behaviour across 20 European countries. Researchers found signs of growing support for a post-COVID recovery program that emphasises sustainability.

Kids climate books on shelf.
Books have also educated young readers on the climate emergency.
Shutterstock



Read more:
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Change is happening, more is needed

Still, preaching to the converted is not necessarily a bad thing. They might need to be reminded why they were persuaded that action is needed, or need help countering the half-truths and barefaced lies being peddled in the public debate. Books can fulfil that mission. So can speaking to community groups, which I do regularly.

I tell audiences the urgent priority now is to turn into action the knowledge we have about the accelerating impacts of climate change and economically viable responses. Our states and territories now have the goal of zero-carbon by 2050, so I am giving presentations spelling out how this can be achieved. We urgently need the Commonwealth government to catch up to the community.

Climate action protest sign above crowd.
Mass protests have called for environmental leadership.
Unsplash/Markus Spiske, CC BY

Change is happening rapidly. More than 2 million Australian households now have solar panels. Solar and wind provided more than half of the electricity used by South Australia last year and that state achieved a world-first on the morning of October 11: for a brief period, its entire electricity demand was met by solar panels.

The urgent task is not to publish more books on the crisis, but to change the political discourse and force our national government to play a positive role.The Conversation

Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science, Griffith University

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

Ships moved more than 11 billion tonnes of our stuff around the globe last year, and it’s killing the climate. This week is a chance to change



Shutterstock

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

The shipping of goods around the world keeps economies going. But it comes at an enormous environmental cost – producing more CO₂ than the aviation industry. This problem should be getting urgent international attention and action, but it’s not.

This week, all 174 member states of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will discuss a plan to meet an emissions reduction target. But the target falls far short of what’s needed, and the plan to get there is also weak.

As other industries clean up their act, shipping’s share of the global emissions total will only increase. New fuels and ship design, and even technology such as mechanical sails, may go some way to decarbonising the industry – but it won’t be enough.

It’s high time the international shipping industry radically curbed its emissions. The industry must set a net-zero target for 2050 and a realistic plan to meet it.

Cargo ships waiting offshore with plane wing in foreground
The shipping industry accounts for more carbon emissions than aviation.
Shutterstock

Shipping: by the numbers

Globally, more than 50,000 merchant ships ship about 11 billion tonnes of goods a year. In 2019 they covered nearly 60 trillion tonne-miles, which refers to transporting one tonne of goods over a nautical mile.

Per tonne-mile, carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are among the lowest of all freight transport options. But in 2018, shipping still emitted 1,060 million tonnes of CO₂ – 2.89% of global emissions. By comparison, the aviation industry contributed 918 million tonnes of CO₂, or 2.4% of the total.

And as international trade increases and other sectors decarbonise, global shipping is expected to contribute around 17% of human-caused emissions by 2050.

An emissions pariah

The IMO, which regulates the global shipping industry, did not set meaningful emissions reduction targets until April 2018. This is despite being requested to reduce emissions as far back as 1997 under the Kyoto Protocol.

The IMO has pledged to halve shipping emissions between 2008 and 2050 while aiming for full decarbonisation. By 2030, the carbon intensity (or emissions per tonne-mile) of individual ships should fall by 40%, compared with 2008 levels.

The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, is devising binding rules for the industry to achieve these emissions goals. Draft measures being considered this week focus solely on reducing the carbon intensity of individual ships. The plan has been slammed by critics because emissions reductions are not in line with Paris Agreement commitments of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ or 2℃ by 2100.




Read more:
The shipping sector is finally on board in the fight against climate change


There are two main issues with the 40% emissions intensity target.

First, it’s not ambitious enough. Research suggests limiting warming to 1.5℃ requires the shipping industry to reach net-zero emissions. Merely reducing the carbon intensity of ships will barely make a dent in current emissions. Worse, even the best-case scenario will likely lead to a 14% emissions increase compared to 2008.

Second, the IMO has yet to say how it will meet its targets. The plan up for discussion this week is weak: not least because it lacks enforcement mechanisms.

Exterior of IMO building
The IMO dragged its feet on setting an emissions target for the industry.
Shutterstock

So how do we fix the problem?

Earlier this year, I sailed on the Avontuur. This 100-year-old two-masted schooner under German flag sailed from Germany to the Caribbean and Mexico to load 65 tonnes of coffee and cacao, then ship it under sail to Hamburg.

The round-trip took more than six months and 15 crew members. Roughly 169 million ships like the Avontuur would be needed to transport the 11 billion tonnes of goods moved by sea each year. It would require 2.5 billion crew, compared with 1.5 million today. Clearly, that is not realistic.

So how, then, do we solve the international shipping problem? Clean transport advocates say we must reduce demand for cargo transport by using what’s locally available, and generally consuming less and moving to a post-growth economy.




Read more:
Plain sailing: how traditional methods could deliver zero-emission shipping


Some scientists concur, arguing either carbon intensity or shipping demand must come down – and probably both.

Ships can significantly reduce their emissions simply by slowing down. Carbon emissions increase exponentially when ships travel above cruising speed. But the industry seems unwilling to pick this low-hanging fruit, perhaps because it would compromise just-in-time supply chains.

Ships commonly burn huge amounts of heavy fuel oil. Emerging fuels, such as hydrogen and ammonia, have the potential to cut emissions from ships. But producing these fuels may create substantial emissions, and adopting new fuels would require building new ships or retrofitting existing ones.

Existing vessels can also be retrofitted with more efficient propulsion mechanisms. They could also be fitted with wind-assist technologies such as sails, rotors, kites, and suction wings. Research suggests these technologies could reduce a ship’s emissions by 10–60%.

And new designs for sail-powered cargo vessels are emerging. But these ships are yet to be built and it may be a long time before they are widely used.

An artist impression of the Neoline sail-powered cargo ship.
Sail-powered cargo vessels can help slash global emissions.
Neoline

Looking ahead

Technological solutions on their own will not bring the necessary emissions reductions. New technologies must be embraced immediately, and ambitious regulation is necessary. Industry and consumer demand for shipped goods must fall as well.

Earth’s remaining carbon budget is fast shrinking and all industry sectors must do their fair share. At this point in the climate crisis, further delays and weak targets are inexcusable.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.

Australia is lagging on climate action and inequality, but the pandemic offers a chance to do better


DEAN LEWINS/AAP

John Thwaites, Monash University and Cameron Allen, Monash University

As Australia plans its recovery from COVID-19, our strategies should be based on a broader set of priorities than we have used in the past.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed to by all countries at the United Nations, provide a set of objectives and targets that can serve as a blueprint to “build back better” after the pandemic.

This week, a report card is being released on Australia’s progress toward achieving these goals. It also highlights the potential impact of COVID-19 on our ability to meet our SDG targets by 2030.

The report shows Australia is performing well in health and education but failing in climate, environment and areas linked to social inequality.

The good news is that trust in government has risen significantly since the pandemic began, no doubt reflecting in part Australia’s relatively good response to the crisis.

Australians are proud of what we have been able to achieve, and this trust and optimism will be needed as we try to tackle some of the stubborn challenges highlighted in the report.




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Why targets are critical

In adopting the SDGs, all countries (including Australia) recognised the need to take a long-term and integrated approach to national planning informed by data and evidence.

Central to this approach is the setting of economic, social and environmental targets for 2030, which help to provide clear signposts for where we want to go.

Targets are critical. They set the priorities and level of ambition, encourage a shift from short- to long-term thinking, provide investment certainty and mobilise people to collaborate to solve problems.

They also enable a clear picture of where we are on track or off track, and the scale and pace of change needed.




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With only 10 years left to achieve the SDGs, Australia still lacks national targets for many of the specific goals and this is undermining our ability to plan effectively for our future.

The report card makes three important contributions:

1) it proposes an initial set of 2030 targets for Australia across economic, social and environmental indicators

2) it assesses Australia’s progress towards these targets over the past two decades, highlighting where we are falling behind and where accelerated action is needed

3) it evaluates the affects of COVID-19 on Australia’s capacity to achieve the SDGs.

Where Australia is falling behind

Our key findings in this week’s report show where Australia needs to focus its energies to meet our SDGs.

Social challenges

  • Australians are living longer but are more obese and, since the pandemic, drinking more alcohol.

  • Domestic violence has increased during COVID-19.

  • Homicide rates have halved since 2000, yet the prison population has increased by 32% since 2006, with Indigenous Australians vastly over-represented.

  • Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, experiencing more psychological distress and a greater chance of job disruption.

Indigenous prisoners account for just over a quarter of the total Australian prisoner population.
Peter Rae/AAP

Environmental challenges

  • Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined only marginally since 2000 and little progress has been made since 2013. Australia is not on track to meet a 2030 emissions target consistent with the Paris Agreement objective to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

  • Australia’s per capita material footprint is one of the highest in the world — more than 70% above the OECD average — and rising.

  • Hard coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has declined and the number of species now threatened has increased since 2000.

Marine heat waves resulted in severe bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017.
Stringer/AP

Economic challenges

  • Women, young people and those without high school qualifications are more likely to have had their employment disrupted by COVID-19.

  • Australia’s relatively low levels of government debt will help in the COVID-19 recovery, yet household debt is well above the OECD average.

  • Wealth inequality is getting worse with the share of household net worth of the bottom 40% of the population declining by 30% since 2004.

  • Since 2012, middle-class wages and incomes have stalled.

  • COVID-19 has stymied trade, foreign investment and skilled migration, prompting the need for new drivers of growth.

An opportunity for major policy changes

This report comes at a pivotal moment. All countries are facing a series of complex and related crises — a global health emergency, climate change, growing inequality, unemployment and biodiversity decline.

COVID-19 has reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but emissions are now returning to pre-COVID-19 levels.

And increased public deficits and debt may constrain governments’ abilities to address social and environmental challenges in the coming decade.




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On the other hand, COVID-19 has given governments the chance to undertake much more significant interventions than previously thought possible.

Australia has a huge opportunity to design a recovery strategy that strengthens our resilience to future shocks, addresses many of the challenges of sustainable development that we have not properly dealt with, and ensures the country’s long-term, sustainable prosperity.The Conversation

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University and Cameron Allen, Adjunct Research Fellow, Monash University

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

Climate Explained: what would happen if we cut down the Amazon rainforest?



Gustavo Frazao

Sebastian Leuzinger, Auckland University of Technology


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz


What would happen if we cut down the entire Amazon rainforest? Could it be replaced by an equal amount of reforestation elsewhere?

Removing the entire Amazon rainforest would have myriad consequences, with the most obvious ones possibly not the worst.

Most people will first think of the carbon currently stored in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. But the consequences would be far-reaching for the climate as well as biodiversity and ecosystems — and, ultimately, people.

The overall impact of the Amazon’s complete removal is unthinkable and beyond the power of our current predictive tools. But let’s look at some aspects we can describe.




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Storing carbon, distributing water

The Amazon rainforest is estimated to harbour about 76 billion tonnes of carbon. If all trees were cut down and burned, the forest’s carbon storage capacity would be lost to the atmosphere.

Some of this carbon would be taken up by the oceans, and some by other ecosystems (such as temperate or arctic forests), but no doubt this would exacerbate climate warming. For comparison, humans emit about 10 billion tonnes of carbon every year through the burning of fossil fuels.

But the Amazon forest does more than store carbon. It is also responsible for the circulation of huge quantities of water.

Clouds over the Amazon rainforest.
A uniform layer of tiny ‘popcorn’ clouds covers the Amazon rainforest during the dry season.
NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, CC BY-ND

This image, captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite in 2009, shows how the forest and the atmosphere interact to create a uniform layer of “popcorn” clouds during the dry season. It is during this period, the time without rain, that the forest grows the most.

If the Amazon’s cloud systems and its capacity to recycle water were to be disrupted, the ecosystem would tip over and irreversibly turn into dry savannah very quickly. Estimates of where this tipping point could lie range from 40% deforestation to just 20% loss of forest cover from the Amazon.

Reforestation elsewhere to achieve the same amount of carbon storage is technically possible, but we have neither the time (several hundred years would be needed) nor the land (at least an equivalent surface area would be required).

Another reason why reforestation is not a remedy is that the water the rainforest circulates — and with it the availability of nutrients — would disappear.

Once you cut the circulation of water through (partial) deforestation, there is a point of no return. The water doesn’t disappear from the planet, but certainly from the forest ecosystems, with immediate and powerful consequences for the world’s climate.




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Loss of life

Perhaps the most drastic, and least reversible, impact would be the loss of wildlife diversity.

The Amazon hosts an estimated 50,000 plant species — although more recent estimates cite a slightly lower number.

The number of animal species found in the Amazon is even higher, with the largest part made up by insects, representing around 10% of the known insect fauna, as well as a large but unknown number of fungi and microbes.

Once species are lost, they are lost forever, and this would ultimately be the most harmful consequence of cutting down the Amazon. It would possibly be worse than the loss of its role as a massive redistributor and storage of water and carbon.

Last but certainly not least, there are about 30 million people living in and near the Amazon rainforest.

The consequences of losing the forest as a provider of the ecosystem services mentioned above and as a source of food and habitat are unfathomable. The repercussions would reach far into global politics, the global economy, and societal issues.The Conversation

Sebastian Leuzinger, Professor, Auckland University of Technology

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

Prepare for hotter days, says the State of the Climate 2020 report for Australia



Shutterstock/wilsmedia

Michael Grose, CSIRO and Lynette Bettio, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

The Australian State of the Climate 2020 report reveals a picture of long-term climate trends and climate variability.

The biennial climate snapshot draws on the latest observations and climate research from the marine, atmospheric and terrestrial monitoring programs at CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology.

We are all still dealing with the lasting impacts of Australia’s hottest and driest year on record in 2019. It was a year of intensifying drought over eastern Australia, high temperature records and the devastating bushfires of summer 20192020.

State of the Climate 2020 puts all these events into the longer-term context of climate change trends and key climate drivers.

Australia’s hottest year on record

Using the best available data, the Bureau of Meteorology estimates Australia has warmed on average by 1.44℃ (±0.24℃) between 1910 and 2019.




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Global rates of warming are lower due to the inclusion of the oceans in the global average, with the oceans experiencing a relatively slower rate of warming than continental areas.

The long-term warming trend increases the likelihood of extreme events beyond our historical experience. In 2019, natural climate phenomena that drive our weather, including a strong Indian Ocean Dipole and a negative Southern Annular Mode, added to the local warming trend, setting a record for the Australian average annual temperature.

This annual temperature for Australia is similar to what we might expect in an average year if the world reaches the +1.5℃ warming since pre-industrial times.

The long-term warming trend is also increasing the frequency of extreme warm days. We have seen a rise in the number of days when the Australian average temperature is within the top 1% ever recorded.

A graph showing rising mean temperatures for Australia
Extreme daily mean temperatures are the warmest 1% of days for each month, calculated for the period from 1910 to 2019.
CSIRO/BoM, Author provided

The long-term temperature trend is also lowering the frequency of cooler years. The annual mean temperatures of Australia in the seven years from 2013 to 2019 all rank in the nine warmest years since national records began in 1910.

Barring unpredictable events such as major volcanic eruptions, projections show Australia’s average temperature of 2020-2040 is very likely to be warmer than the average in 2000-2020, as the climate system continues to warm in response to greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere.

What’s driving our changing climate?

Australia’s Cape Grim atmosphere monitoring station, in north-west Tasmania, is one of several critical global observing sites for detecting changes in the gas concentrations that make up our atmosphere.

An aerial view of the testing station at Cape Grim, Tasmania.
The Bureau and CSIRO’s atmospheric monitoring station at Cape Grim, Tasmania.
CSIRO, Author provided

The increase in greenhouse gas concentrations has been the predominant cause of global climate warming over the last 70 years.

In 2019 the global average CO₂ concentration reached 410ppm, while all greenhouse gases combined reached 508ppm CO₂-equivalent, levels not seen for at least 2 million years.

Emissions of CO₂ from burning fossil fuels are the major source of the increase, followed by emissions from changes to land use. While the ocean and land have absorbed more than half the extra CO₂ emitted, the rest remains in the atmosphere.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced fossil fuel CO₂ emissions in many countries, including Australia.

Over the first three months of 2020, global CO₂ emissions declined by 8% compared to the same three months in 2019. But CO₂ is still increasing in the atmosphere.

Recent reductions in emissions due to COVID-19 have only marginally slowed the current rate of CO₂ accumulation in the atmosphere, and are barely distinguishable from natural variability in the records at sites such as Cape Grim.

Oceans warming and sea levels rising

Similar to surface temperatures over the continents, the State of the Climate report says sea surface temperatures are showing a warming trend that is contributing to an increase in marine heatwaves and the risk of coral bleaching.

State of the Climate 2020 report cover.

CSRIO/BoM, Author provided

Important changes are also happening below the ocean’s surface. The global oceans have a much higher heat capacity than either the land surface or atmosphere. This means they can absorb much more of the additional energy from the enhanced greenhouse effect, while warming at a relatively slower rate.

Currently, the oceans are absorbing around 90% of the excess energy in the Earth system associated with increasing greenhouse gases. The related increase in total heat content provides another important way to monitor long-term global warming.

Warmer temperatures cause the water in our global oceans to expand. This expansion, combined with the additional water from melting ice sheets and glaciers, is causing sea levels to rise.

Total global average sea level has now risen around 25cm since 1880, with half of this rise occurring since 1970. The rate of sea level rise varies around Australia, with larger increases observed in the north and the southeast.

A map of Australia showing areas where sea level is rising.
The rate of sea level rise around Australia measured using satellite data, from 1993 to 2019.
CSIRO/BoM, Author provided

The oceans are also acidifying due to changes in the chemistry of seawater, related to excess CO₂. The effect of this pH change is detectable in areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Southern Ocean.

The wetter and drier parts of Australia

The State of the Climate report shows the trend in recent decades has been for less rainfall over much of southern and eastern Australia, particularly in the cooler months of the year.

The longer-term drying trend is likely to continue, particularly in the southwest and southeast of the continent. Most areas of northern Australia have had an increase in average rainfall since the 1970s.

Natural variability has always been, and will continue to be, part of Australia’s rainfall patterns.

A flooded road in the Northern Territory with a flood marker.
Floods are a regular hazard in Australia.
Greg Stonham/Shutterstock

Fire seasons: longer and more intense

The fires of 2019-20 are still very much on everyone’s minds, and the State of the Climate report puts the weather component of fire risk into a longer-term perspective.

Since the middle of last century there has been a significant increase in extreme fire weather days, and longer fire seasons across many parts of Australia, especially in southern Australia.

Map of Australia showing areas where there is a risk of increased fire days.
There has been an increase in the number of days with dangerous weather conditions for bushfires.
CSIRO/BoM, Author provided

The 2020 report highlights many recent changes in Australia’s climate. Most are expected to continue and include:

  • warmer air and sea temperatures
  • increased numbers of very hot days
  • ongoing sea level rise
  • more periods of dangerous fire weather
  • longer and warmer marine heatwaves.

When these extremes occur consecutively within a short timeframe of each other, or when multiple types of extreme events coincide, the impacts can compound in severity.




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Understanding these climate risks and how they might affect us will help to ensure the future well-being of our Australian communities, ecosystems and economy.

Hotter, wetter, drier and more bushfires.

State of the Climate 2020 can be read on either the Bureau of Meteorology or CSIRO websites. The online report includes an extensive list of references and useful links.The Conversation

Michael Grose, Climate Projections Scientist, CSIRO and Lynette Bettio, Senior Climatologist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

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

Vital Signs: a global carbon price could soon be a reality – Australia should prepare



John Nacion/AP

Richard Holden, UNSW

As well as restoring dignity to the Oval Office, another thing that will definitely change under a Biden presidency is US policy on the environment.

Biden’s plan for “a clean energy revolution and environmental justice” includes rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change, investing US$1.7 trillion over the next decade in “green energy” and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The European Union, Japan and South Korea have already committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. China’s net-zero target is 2060.

With the US joining the fold, the implications for Australia could be huge.

A carbon border tax coming our way

The European Union has already announced it is considering a carbon border tax. This would involve a tariff on imports from nations without a price on carbon similar to the EU. The tax would be proportional to the amount of carbon in the imports, and the relative difference in carbon price between Europe and the exporting country.

This type of “border-adjustment tax” is a smart way to protect domestic industries from being undercut by imports from other countries without a price on carbon.

It would make eminent sense for the US to follow suit.

If so, things get really interesting. It would make it even harder to challenge such taxes as trade restriction before the World Trade Organisation. It would trigger similar moves by other countries serious about tackling climate change.

Joe Biden speaks about climate change and the fires affecting western US states on September 14 2020.
Patrick Semansky/AP

In fact, a border-adjustment tax is part of the US Climate Leadership Council’s proposal for a carbon tax and “carbon dividend” – returning all net proceeds from the tax to the American people on an equal basis.

The carbon dividend idea is supported by 28 Nobel laureate economists, 15 former chairs of the US Council of Economic Advisers and four former chairs of the US Federal Reserve.




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If most of our trading partners have a carbon border tax, then Australia will have a price on carbon – but only for exporters.

This will leave the Australian economy in a bad position.

With no price on carbon internally, no serious commitment to reduce emissions and a vain hope of meeting our Paris Agreement obligations through dodgy accounting tricks and future technological innovation, the rest of the world is unlikely to be sympathetic.

A carbon dividend plan

There is a better way: enact our own carbon dividend plan.

In 2018 law professor Rosalind Dixon and I proposed a plan for Australia similar to the Climate Leadership Council’s.

Cover of A Climate Dividend for Australians, UNSW, 2018.

University of NSW

Our Australian Carbon Dividend Plan involves a price on carbon, with the proceeds being distributed as a dividend, equally, to every voting-age citizen.

It also allows for a border-adjustment rebate so exporters aren’t penalised if exporting to countries without a similar price on carbon.

This would see a significant majority of Australians better off financially, and help protect exporters while we transition to cleaner energy.

It would also give the Australian government’s Technology Investment Roadmap (to accelerate the use of low-emissions technology) a chance of working. It makes no sense to bet on technology without using market price mechanisms to give suppliers and buyers the right incentives to develop and adopt the most effective technologies.




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The world is acting

The US just voted out a climate denier and is now going to take serious action on the environment. Europe is already acting. Our major trading partners are committing to net-zero targets.

We’re getting left behind. This ought to provide the impetus to put Australia’s climate wars to rest. Even if our elected politicians don’t want to do something serious about climate change for moral reasons, they now have little choice but to do so for practical reasons.

And that involves a price on carbon. Otherwise our exporters are going to be seriously disadvantaged. Using the proceeds from that price on carbon to pay it back as a dividend to Australians would be the best way forward.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

NSW has joined China, South Korea and Japan as climate leaders. Now it’s time for the rest of Australia to follow



Shutterstock

Tim Nelson, Griffith University and Joel Gilmore, Griffith University

It’s been a busy couple of months in global energy and climate policy. Australia’s largest trading partners – China, South Korea and Japan – have all announced they will reach net-zero emissions by about mid-century. In the United States, the incoming Biden administration has committed to decarbonising its electricity system by 2035.

These pledges have big implications for Australia. With some of the best renewable resources in the world, we have much to gain from the transition. And this week, the New South Wales government embraced the opportunity.

Its new A$32 billion Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap will, among other things, support the construction of 12 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity by 2030. This is six times the capacity of the state’s Liddell coal-fired power station, set to close in 2023.

The roadmap was developed by NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean through extensive consultation with industry and others, including ourselves. While we believe a national carbon price is the best way to reduce emissions, the NSW approach nonetheless sets an example for other states looking to increase renewable energy capacity. So let’s take a closer look at the plan.

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean
The authors worked with NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean, pictured, to help devise the policy.
Dean Lewins/AAP

What’s the roadmap all about?

The roadmap acknowledges that within 15 years, three-quarters of NSW’s coal-fired electricity supply is expected to reach the end of its technical life. It says action is needed now to ensure cheap, clean and reliable electricity, and to set up NSW as a global energy superpower.

The plan involves a coordinated approach to transmission, generation and storage. By 2030, the government aims to:

  • deliver about 12 gigawatts of new transmission capacity through so-called “renewable energy zones” in three regional areas by 2030. It would most likely be generated by wind and solar

  • support about 3 gigawatts of energy storage to help back up variable renewable energy supplies. This would involve batteries, pumped hydro, and “hydrogen ready” gas peaking power stations

  • attract up to A$32 billion in private investment in regional energy infrastructure investment by 2030

  • support more than 6,300 construction and 2,800 ongoing jobs in 2030, mostly in regional NSW

  • reduce NSW’s carbon emissions by 90 million tonnes.

The plan also aims to see the average NSW household save about A$130 a year in electricity costs, although this might be hard to achieve in practice. And regional landholders hosting renewable projects on their properties are expected to earn A$1.5 billion in revenue over the next 20 years.

The Liddell coal-fired power station
12 gigawatts of new renewables capacity is about six times the capacity of NSW’s Liddell coal-fired power station.
Shutterstock

Giving generators options

One of the most innovative aspects of the NSW proposal is that generators will have two options when it comes to selling their electricity.

First, the government will appoint an independent “consumer trustee” to purchase electricity from generators at an agreed price – giving the generators the long-term certainty they need to invest. The trustee would then sell this electricity either directly to the market, or through contracts to retailers.

But the trustee will encourage generators to first seek a better price by finding their own customers, such as energy consumers and other electricity retailers.




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This system is different to the approach adopted in Victoria and the ACT, where government contracts remove any incentive for generators to participate in the energy market. Over time, this limits market competition and innovation.

The NSW plan improves on existing state policies in another way – by aligning financial incentives to the physical needs of the system. The Consumer Trustee will enter into contracts with projects that produce electricity at times of the day when consumers need it, and not when the system is already oversupplied.

While this won’t be easy for the trustee to model, this approach is likely to benefit consumers more than in other jurisdictions where lowest-cost projects seem to be preferred, irrespective of whether the energy they produced is needed by consumers.

One shortcoming of the roadmap is it does not financially reward existing low-emissions electricity generators in NSW, nor does it charge carbon-heavy electricity producers for the emissions they produce. This could be corrected in the future by integrating the policy into a nationally consistent carbon price, which transfers the cost of carbon pollution onto heavy emitters.

A $50 note sticking out of a power socket
Electricity generators will be guaranteed a floor price for their electricity.
Julian Smith/AAP

Why is all this so important?

NSW’s ageing coal-fired power stations are chugging along – albeit with ever-declining reliability. But it’s only a matter of time before something expensive needs fixing. This was the case with Hazelwood in Victoria: the old walls of the boilers had thinned to less than 2 millimetres. The repair cost was prohibitive and the station closed with just five months’ notice. Electricity prices shot up in response to unexpectedly reduced supply.

In NSW, the consumer trustee will be tasked with helping ensuring replacement generation is delivered in a timely way. This means developing new generation capacity well ahead of announced coal plant closures.

This is a helpful development. But ultimately a stronger measure will be needed to ensure coal plants give early notice of their intention to exit the market. The Grattan Institute has previously suggested coal generators put up bonds that are forfeited if they close early. We think this model is worth considering again.

Seize the opportunity

As the world’s largest exporter of coal and LNG, Australia has much to lose as global economies shift to zero emissions. But our renewable energy potential means we also have much to gain.

Australia needs a durable, nationally consistent policy framework if we’re to seize the opportunities of the global transition to clean energy. The NSW roadmap is a significant step in the right direction.




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The Conversation


Tim Nelson, Associate Professor of Economics, Griffith University and Joel Gilmore, Associate Professor, Griffith University

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