The clock is ticking on net-zero, and Australia’s farmers must not get a free pass


Dan Peled/AAP

James Ha, Grattan InstitutePolitical momentum is growing in Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. On Friday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was the latest member of the federal government to throw his weight behind the goal, and over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged “the world is transitioning to a new energy economy”.

But for Australia to achieve net-zero across the economy, emissions from agriculture must fall dramatically. Agriculture contributed about 15% to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 – most of it from cattle and sheep. If herd numbers recover from the recent drought, the sector’s emissions are projected to rise.

Cutting agriculture emissions will not be easy. The difficulties have reportedly triggered concern in the Nationals’ about the cost of the transition for farmers, including calls for agriculture to be carved out of any net-zero target.

But as our new Grattan Institute report today makes clear, agriculture must not be granted this exemption. Instead, the federal government should do more to encourage farmers to adopt low-emissions technologies and practices – some of which can be deployed now.




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Nationals’ push to carve farming from a net-zero target is misguided and dangerous


four people walk through dusty farm
The Morrison government must do more to help farmers get on the path to net-zero.
Alex Ellinghausen AAP/Fairfax Media pool

Three good reasons farmers must go net-zero

Many farmers want to be part of the climate solution – and must be – for three main reasons.

First, the agriculture sector is uniquely vulnerable to a changing climate. Already, changes in rainfall have cut profits across the sector by 23% compared to what could have been achieved in pre-2000 conditions. The effect is even worse for cropping farmers.

Livestock farmers face risks, too. If global warming reaches 3℃, livestock in northern Australia are expected to suffer heat stress almost daily.

Second, parts of the sector are highly exposed to international markets – for example, about three-quarters of Australia’s red meat is exported.

There are fears Australian producers may face a border tax in some markets if they don’t cut emissions.
The European Union, for instance, plans to introduce tariffs as early as 2023 on some products from countries without effective carbon pricing, though agriculture will not be included initially.

Third, the industry recognises action on climate change can often boost farm productivity, or help farmers secure resilient revenue streams. For example, trees provide shade for animals, while good soil management can preserve the land’s fertility. Both activities can store carbon and may generate carbon credits.

Carbon credits can be used to offset farm emissions, or sold to other emitters. In a net-zero future, farmers can maximise their carbon credit revenue by minimising their own emissions, leaving them more carbon credits to sell.

The agriculture sector itself is increasingly embracing the net-zero goal. The National Farmers Federation supports an economy-wide aspiration to be net-zero by 2050, with some conditions. The red meat and pork industries have gone further, committing to be carbon neutral by 2030 and 2025 respectively.




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hand presses soil
Good soil management aids a farm’s fertility.
Shutterstock

What can be done?

Australian agricultural activities emitted about 76 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions in 2019. Of this, about 48 million tonnes were methane belched by cattle and sheep, and a further 11 million came from their excrement.

The sector’s non-animal emissions largely came from burning diesel, the use of fertiliser, and the breakdown of leftover plant material from cropping.

Unlike in, say, the electricity sector, it’s not possible to completely eliminate agricultural emissions, and deep emissions cuts look difficult in the near term. That’s because methane produced in the stomachs of cattle and sheep represents more than 60% of agricultural emissions; these cannot be captured, or eliminated through renewable energy technology.

Supplements added to stock feed – which reduce the amount of methane the animal produces – are the most promising options to reduce agricultural emissions. These supplements include red algae and the chemical 3-nitrooxypropanol, both of which may cut methane by up to 90% if used consistently at the right dose.

But it’s difficult to distribute these feed supplements to Australian grazing cattle and sheep every day. At any given time, only about 4% of Australia’s cattle are in feedlots where their diet can be easily controlled.

Diesel use can be reduced by electrifying farm machinery, but electric models are not yet widely available or affordable for all purposes.

These challenges slow the realistic rate at which the sector can cut emissions. Yet there are things that can be done today.

Many manure emissions can be avoided through smarter management. For example, on intensive livestock farms, manure is often stored in ponds where it releases methane. This methane can be captured and burnt, emitting the weaker greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, instead.

And better targeted fertiliser use is a clear win-win – it would save farmers money and reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

sheep in lots
Supplements added to stock feed are a promising way to cut emissions.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Governments must walk and chew gum

An economy-wide carbon price would be the best way for Australia to reduce emissions in an economically efficient manner. But the political reality is that carbon pricing is out of reach, at least for now. So Australia should pursue sector-specific policies – including in agriculture.

Governments must walk and chew gum. That means introducing policies to support emissions-reducing actions that farmers can take today, while investing alongside the industry in potential high-impact solutions for the longer term.

Accelerating near-term action will require improving the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, to help more farmers generate Australian carbon credit units. It will also require more investment in outreach programs to give farmers the knowledge they need to reduce emissions.

Improving the long-term emissions outlook for the agriculture sector requires investment in high-impact research, development and deployment. Bringing down the cost of new technologies is possible with deployment at scale: all governments should consider what combination of subsidies, penalties and regulations will best drive this.

Agriculture must not become the missing piece in Australia’s net-zero puzzle. Without action today, the sector may become Australia’s largest source of emissions in coming decades. This would require hugely expensive carbon offsetting – paid for by taxpayers, consumers and farmers themselves.




Read more:
Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes ‘a break’ from party room


The Conversation


James Ha, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

The Nationals signing up to net-zero should be a no-brainer. Instead, they’re holding Australia to ransom


AAP

Matt McDonald, The University of QueenslandPrime Minister Scott Morrison is reportedly developing a plan for Australia to adopt a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Climate change was a central focus of the Quad talks in Washington which Morrison attended in recent days, and he is under significant international pressure to adopt a net-zero target ahead of climate talks in Glasgow in November.

Morrison is very late to the party on issue of net-zero – and lagging far behind public opinion. A recent Lowy poll showed 78% of Australians support the target.

But standing firmly in Morrison’s way is the Coalition’s junior partner, the Nationals. The words of key Nationals figures including Resources Minister Keith Pitt and pro-coal senator Matt Canavan suggest net-zero is the hill they will die on. And Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, not exactly a climate warrior, has indicated he’s yet to be convinced on the merits of the target.

Ultimately though, this is just bad strategy from the Nationals. It burns valuable political capital for no good reason, and abrogates responsibility to their own constituents.

Not much of a target at all

First, a net-zero emissions target is a really obvious position of compromise for the Nationals specifically, and for a reluctant Australian government more generally.

Every state and territory in Australia has already adopted this target for 2050, or bettered it. And most of our international peers have a net-zero target including the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and the United States.

Getting to net-zero by 2050 also doesn’t necessarily require immediate or significant emissions cuts. As critics including Greta Thunberg and former IPCC chair Bob Watson have argued, the targets can create the impression of action without requiring immediate change.

Research shows many jurisdictions with a net-zero target do not have robust measures in place to ensure they’re met, such as interim targets and a reporting mechanism.

And the timeframe for net-zero – whether 2050 like most nations, or 2060 as per China – is way beyond the political longevity of our current government MPs. That means those now in parliament will be spared much of the political pain of implementing policies required to meet the target.

Finally, pursuing net-zero emissions (rather than just zero-emissions in sectors where that is feasible) allows fossil fuel companies to offset their climate damage, by buying carbon credits, rather than stopping their polluting activity. It also potentially allows for fairly speculative efforts to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere via geoengineering.

For these reasons and more, the net-zero goal is in often criticised as a dangerous trap for doing very little on climate change – which appears to be the goal of many in the Nationals.




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Nationals MPs Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt.
Nationals MPs Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt are vocal opponents of any moves to net zero.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Adapting to change

In opposing the net-zero target, the Nationals often point to potential damage to the nation’s mining and farming sectors, primarily a loss of jobs and economic growth. Some Nationals have called for those sectors to be carved out of any net-zero target.

On the question of agriculture, research released by the Grattan Institute this week shows it’s getting increasingly hard to argue the sector should be exempt from the target – its emissions are simply too great.

And there is much that can be done right now to cut agriculture emissions, if the government does more to encourage farmers to adopt the right technologies and practices.

On mining, the Nationals are fighting a losing battle. Soon, the world will no longer want our coal. As others have noted, we must prepare for the change and diversify the economy, rather than lamenting what’s still left in the ground. And Australia can easily replace coal-fired electricity generation with renewable energy, backed by storage.




Read more:
Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes ‘a break’ from party room


Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Quad talks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is working on a net-zero by 2050 plan.
Evan Vucci/AP/AAP

For whom do the Nationals speak?

By refusing to compromise on a net-zero target, the Nationals are burning all sorts of political capital they could potentially wield with the Liberals on a range of issues. The Nationals would have held particular sway over Liberals concerned about holding on to their inner city seats in a 2022 election.

More importantly, the position of Keith Pitt, Matt Canavan and other intransigents in the Nationals isn’t just an abandonment of future generations. Nor is it only a rejection of our responsibilities to vulnerable people in all parts of Australia and the world, or our duty of care to other living beings.

It’s also a spectacular betrayal of their own constituencies. Rural Australia will be disproportionately affected by climate change, particularly in the form of higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increasing disasters like drought and bushfires. And the long-term economic costs of inaction for rural constituencies will be potentially catastrophic.

It’s for these reasons that organisations like the National Farmers Federation have specifically called for a commitment to net zero emissions.

In the 2019 election, the Nationals received just 4.5% of the vote in the lower house, with the Liberal Nationals of Queensland achieving just 8.7% (as a proportion of the national total). In both cases, it was less still in the Senate.

Yet despite speaking on behalf of a small fraction of the country, the party is holding Australian climate policy to ransom.

Maybe we can’t get the intransigents in the National Party to suddenly recognise their obligations to the planet and its inhabitants. But surely they can be convinced to represent the interests of rural voters? Time – what little we have left – will tell.




Read more:
Net zero by 2050? Even if Scott Morrison gets the Nationals on board, hold the applause


The Conversation


Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes ‘a break’ from party room


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA tough debate is expected when a highly volatile Nationals parliamentary party meets on Monday, ahead of climate change negotiations between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce to endorse a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Joyce is under dual pressure, with his party room sharply divided over the 2050 target, and former minister Darren Chester announcing, in a weekend statement which criticised Joyce without naming him, that he is taking “some time away” from the party room.

No details of the climate plan are yet on the table, but strong positioning is underway, with negotiations between Morrison and Joyce resuming once the PM, returning on Sunday night from his American trip, is back in the country.

The Nationals meet every fortnight, remotely when parliament is not sitting.

Joyce indicated on Friday he would accept the government adopting a firm target of net zero emissions by 2050 provided the regions were not worse off. He also wants some largesse for the Nationals.

At the same time he is expressing concerns and gives the impression of being dragged reluctantly towards an agreement.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Barnaby Joyce falls (sort of) into step for the ‘net zero’ march


Morrison was pressed again while in the US about increasing Australia’s ambition on climate policy and has signalled he proposes to do so. But he has to get the minor Coalition partner on side.

Both President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have pushed Australia hard as the November Glasgow climate conference draws near.

The government’s current position is net zero “preferably” by 2050.

Interviewed by the ABC on Sunday, Joyce provided little fresh clarity. But asked whether there should be no coal jobs lost, he said, “well, not by reason of domestic policy”.

Deputy Nationals leader and agriculture minister David Littleproud, who supports the 2050 firm target with safeguards and incentives for the regions, told Sky that members of the Nationals party room were “pragmatic”. They were “looking through the lens of protecting regional Australia but making sure there’s opportunity for regional Australia to also participate in this”.

But former resources minister Matt Canavan tweeted, “I am deadset against net zero emissions. Just look at the disaster the UK is living through. They’re switching off their industry to keep their lights on, and they are struggling to feed themselves. Net zero emissions would just make us weaker.”

Resources minister Keith Pitt said: “We are yet to see the strategy, the plan, the cost, and who’s paying.

“My priority will be the 1.2 million direct and indirect jobs associated with the resources sector”.




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Chester, who is a supporter of net zero, won’t be in the meeting to help advance the case. He said he had “decided to take a break from organised meetings, events and activities in The Nationals Federal Parliamentary party room.

“I will reassess my position when Federal Parliament resumes in October.

“To be clear, I continue to support the Coalition government but want some time away from the The Nationals Federal Parliamentary party room to reflect on a number of significant issues.

“My decision follows months of frustration with the repeated failure of the leadership to even attempt to moderate some of the more disrespectful and offensive views expressed by a minority of colleagues.”

Chester, who was dropped from the frontbench when Joyce became leader, has been highly critical of Queensland National George Christensen, whose string of provocative comments have included, most recently, accusing Victorian police of using excessive force against demonstrators, and suggesting they should be arrested.




Read more:
Josh Frydenberg prepares ground for Scott Morrison to commit to 2050 climate target


Joyce on Sunday again indicated he could not silence Christensen, who is retiring at the election, and said that anyway, there was a right of free speech.

Asked on SBS whether he thought he had the support of the majority of the Nationals to go forward on climate policy, Morrison said: “It’s not about my view. It’s about what I think Australians are clearly looking for”.

“My job is to bring my government together to focus on the plan that can achieve it.

“A plan [that] says to Australians, whether they’re up in the Hunter, or down in Bell Bay, or up in Gladstone or up in the Pilbara […] this is how we achieve net zero emissions in the future.

“Our view is that we can achieve that by keeping the costs low, keeping people in industries, ensuring we’re using transition fuels that take us from one place to the next, and we take people on the journey,” Morrison said.

The communique from the QUAD summit which Morrison attended at the end of his trip said: “We have joined forces to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the urgency it demands.

“Quad countries will work together to keep the Paris-aligned temperature limits within reach and will pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“To this end, Quad countries intend to update or communicate ambitious NDCs [nationally determined contributions] by COP26 and welcome those who have already done so.”

The QUAD includes the US, Australia, Japan and India.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.

Vital Signs: a simple way to cut carbon emissions — don’t let polluters hide


Shutterstock

Richard Holden, UNSWWorld leaders and about 30,000 others from assorted interest groups will converge on Glasgow in November for the United Nations’ 26th annual climate summit, COP26 (“Conference of the Parties”).

It will be five years (allowing for a one-year Tokyo 2020-style pandemic hiatus) since the Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 in 2015.

There has been plenty of cynicism about that agreement, its structure and non-binding nature. Important emitters like China were effectively exempt from making meaningful carbon-reduction commitments.

Some OECD countries (such as Canada) have paid lip service to the agreement but done little. Still others (such as Australia) have made some progress reducing emissions but have no long-term plan, relying instead on bumper-sticker slogans about “technology not taxes” and, until recently, hiding behind dodgy accounting tricks.

That aside, it’s hard to see how the world solves what amounts to — as economists put it — a “coordination problem” without global agreements.

For roughly half a century economists have been unanimous about what those agreements must involve — a price on carbon. The 2018 economics Nobel prize awarded to William Nordhaus was belated recognition of this fact.

A price on carbon — in the form of a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme — is a way to use the power of the market’s price mechanism to balance the good that comes from emitting carbon (economic development) with the bad (climate change).

Set the price of carbon at the true social cost of carbon (taking into account all the ills that come from climate change) and the invisible hand of the market will balance the pros and cons. Think of it as Friedrich von Hayek meets Greta Thunberg.

But there is another, less dramatic way to harness market forces to reduce carbon emissions: disclosure.




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


Public disclosure works

The idea starts with this: plenty of consumers want to reduce their carbon footprint and are willing to pay for it. That’s why people recycle, use green energy even when it’s more expensive, buy low-carbon clothing, and drive electric cars. A bunch of folks are willing to pay to be green.

The success of companies such as eco-friendly sneaker company Allbirds and electic vehicle maker Tesla exist is evidence of the market catering to these consumer preferences. But can we make it easier for consumers to express their environmental preferences? Can we turbocharge the market for greener products?

A working paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests the answer is “yes”.

Authored by Carnegie Mellon University economists Lavender Yang, Nicholas Muller and Pierre Jinghong Liang, the paper looks at the US Environmental Protectino Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. In effect from 2010, this has required big carbon emitters (including all power plants that produce more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year) to publicly disclose how much they emit.

The authors look at the effect of this disclosure program on the electric power industry, which accounts for 27% of all US emissions.

The results are striking. Plants subject to greater scrutiny reduced their carbon emissions by 7%. Plants owned by publicly listed companies reduced their emissions by 10%. Large public companies, such as those in the S&P500 stock index, cut emissions even more (11%).


Accountability increases environmental performance

Change in estimated CO2 emissions for GHGRP plants and non-GHGRP plants by year using data from the US EPA's Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID).
Change in estimated CO2 emissions for GHGRP plants and non-GHGRP plants by year using data from the US EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID).
NBER Working Paper 28984

Responding to investor concerns

The reason appears to be responsiveness to investors wanting companies to be more environmentally responsible. This explains why emissions went down more for public companies, and even more for large public companies, whose shares are more likely to be held by funds with an ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) mandate.

Some of these investors have pro-social preferences and want to invest their money in more sustainable companies. Others might not care about the environment per se, but know that lots of folks do. Businesses that cater to these consumer preferences have an advantage.




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Vital Signs: a 3-point plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050


The dark side to this is that the decline in emissions by major plants was partially offset by an increase in emissions by plants under the 25,000-tonne threshold not subject to disclosure.

In other words, companies responded to the incentives provided by disclosure requirements. Those who could “hide” their emissions did not.

The lesson is that disclosure requirements work. They force companies to own up to their customers and investors, and face the reality of their emissions behaviour. But we need to apply it to all companies, not just big ones.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

Josh Frydenberg prepares ground for Scott Morrison to commit to 2050 climate target


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraTreasurer Josh Frydenberg will prepare the way for Scott Morrison to take a target of net zero emissions by 2050 to Glasgow, when he warns on Friday capital inflow will be at risk if Australia is seen as a climate laggard.

“Australia has a lot at stake. We cannot run the risk that markets falsely assume we are not transitioning in line with the rest of the world,” Frydenberg says in a speech to the Australian Industry Group released ahead of delivery.

“Were we to find ourselves in that position, it would increase the cost of capital and reduce its availability, be it debt or equity”.

Frydenberg says there must be investment in emissions reduction in all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.

He firmly rejects the claim – advanced by some critics especially in the Nationals – that the resources and agriculture sectors will face decline in the transition.

“To the contrary, many businesses in these sectors are at the cutting-edge of innovation and technological change,” he says.

The government is set to finalise its revised climate policy after the Prime Minister returns from the United States.

Morrison, who has been pressed hard on climate by President Joe Biden and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson while in the US this week, wants an unequivocal stand on the 2050 target for the November Glasgow climate conference.

The government’s present formulation is that it is committed to net zero “preferably” by 2050.

Morrison has been negotiating with Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce on a deal which will contain a major pay-off for the minor Coalition partner.

Frydenberg says in his speech that in a long term shift “markets are moving as governments, regulators, central banks and investors are preparing for a lower emissions future”. He points out 129 countries have committed to net zero by 2050.

“Markets are responding as participants make their own judgements as to what this new dynamic means for their existing portfolios and their future investment decisions.

“In particular, they are increasingly focusing on the physical risks to their investments of climate-related events and the transition risk to their investments as consumer preferences, technological and regulatory settings change.

“As a result, trillions of dollars are being mobilised globally in support of the transition.”

One of Australia’s major banks in the last year has coordinated more than 50 transactions worth $100 billion in climate finance related activities.

“Increasingly, institutional investors are themselves committing to the net zero goal, like BlackRock, Fidelity and Vanguard, three of the biggest fund managers in the world. For them, there is an alignment between the commercial opportunities and the environmental outcomes.”

Frydenberg emphasises the importance of Australian markets operating effectively, with investors able to make informed, timely decisions, and capital available at the lowest cost.

He says historically, Australia has relied heavily on imported capital, whether foreign investment or wholesale funding of the banking system. Foreign investors hold close to half the Commonwealth government bonds.

Reduced access to these capital markets would raise borrowing costs, affecting everything from the interest rates on housing and small business loans to the financial viability of big infrastructure projects, he says.

Frydenberg says Australia is addressing the challenges on two fronts.

Regulators have focused on the disclosure of material financial risks relating to climate change and promoted a best practice financial framework. And Australia is making progress in meeting its emissions reduction targets.

“To go the next step and achieve net zero will require more investment across the economy,” Frydenberg says.

“An economy-wide transition is needed, as in the words of the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney this ‘isn’t about funding only deep green activities, or blacklisting dark brown ones’”.

Frydenberg says “opportunities will abound and it will be those businesses that recognise these trends and put plans in place to adapt that will have the most promising futures”.

He says the message to Australian banks, super funds and insurers is “if you support the objective of net zero, do not walk away from the very sectors of our economy that will need investment to successfully transition.

“Climate change and its impacts are not going away.

“It represents a structural and systemic shift in our financial system, which will only gain pace over time.

“For Australia, this presents risks we must manage and opportunities we must seize.”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.

Doctors and farmers turn up heat on Morrison ahead of Glasgow


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraMultiple doctors’ organisations, led by the Australian Medical Association, and a major farm lobby have called on the federal government to boost Australia’s climate change ambition, as pressure mounts on Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce to finalise a deal ahead of the Glasgow conference.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the AMA, Doctors for the Environment Australia and many of the country’s medical colleges say: “Medical leaders across the country are calling on your government to urgently take much greater action to avert a further deterioration of the current climate crisis”.

Meanwhile, a report from economic consultants Ernst & Young commissioned by Farmers for Climate Action, which says it has more than 6000 farming supporters, lays out a pathway to zero emissions by 2040 without shrinking Australia’s agriculture, the cattle herd or the sheep flock.

The calls come as Morrison prepares to visit Washington next week for the meeting of the QUAD – leaders of the US, Japan, India and Australia – which will focus on security issues.

While there, Morrison will have a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden at which climate change and the Glasgow conference would be expected to figure prominently.

Australia is under strong pressure from the US to embrace a net-zero by 2050 target, and to improve its short term ambition.

Morrison and Joyce are in negotiations about what Australia can put forward for Glasgow. But these are not expected to reach an outcome before Morrison leaves for Washington, according to sources.

The doctors’ letter says that with the conference weeks away, “Australia must significantly lift its commitment to the global effort to bring climate change under control in order to save lives and protect health”.

The letter is pointed in saying: “Australia must talk less about aspiration, and focus on firm and binding commitments that are aligned with the science”. The AMA and other medical groups are mapping a path towards emissions reductions in their sector.

“As doctors, we understand the imminent health threats posed by climate change and have seen them already emerge in Australia,” the letter says, referencing the 2019-20 bushfires, saying “that climate disaster” took more than 30 lives as a direct result of the fires.

The doctors’ organisations called on the government to:

  • commit to an ambitious national plan to protect health by cutting emissions this decade, including “significantly increasing Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement … in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • develop a national climate change and health strategy to facilitate planning for future climate change health impacts
  • establish a national Sustainable Healthcare Unit to support environmentally sustainable practice in healthcare and reduce the sector’s own significant emissions.

Medical colleges signing the letter were: The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, The College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand, The Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

Signatories to the AMA letter.
AMA, Author provided

The Farmers for Climate Action group says in a statement that “farming families do not want to miss the opportunities good climate policy presents for them”.

The consultants’ report includes methods of reducing net emissions such as improved pasture management, selective breeding, feed supplements which reduce stock’s methane output, and “carbon and biodiversity” crops.

“Much of what needs to be happening – planting trees and ground cover on non-productive land and within productive systems, adopting best practice grazing management – is already underway. We just need to scale it up,” the group says.

A case study in the Queensland region of Maranoa (where deputy Nationals leader and agriculture minister David Littleproud has his seat) found an extra 14,000-17,000 jobs and $2 billion to $2.4 billion could be added to the local economy over the next decade while agriculture reduced its net emissions.

Farmers for Climate Action is urging:

  • expanding payments to farmers for biodiversity work into a nationwide program
  • funding research and development for methane emissions reduction technologies
  • strong emissions cuts across energy and transport this decade, to allow all the abatement pathways to achieve their full potential.

Australia has about 83.000 farm businesses.

The group notes research by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) showing climate change is already costing the average Australian farming family nearly $30,000 a year.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.

View from The Hill: Barnaby Joyce falls (sort of) into step for the ‘net zero’ march


Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Coalition brigade is assembling, readying for the final march to a place it once regarded as enemy territory and poisoned ground, too dangerous to approach.

Josh Frydenberg waved the flag on Friday. Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, a conscripted officer, is reluctantly falling (sort of) into step. Angus Taylor will be purchasing the requisite boots.

Scott Morrison, the general, will announce the arrival. But not until the details of a deal, heavy with technology and trade offs and pay offs, are landed with Joyce.

The Prime Minister wants – “needs” would be a better word – Australia to support a 2050 net zero emissions target at the November Glasgow climate conference.

No if or buts or qualifications. No having to say net zero “preferably” by 2050, as the government has been doing.

Morrison and Joyce have been talking at length about this imperative, because without the Nationals the journey – which seems so short to outsiders but so very arduous for the Coalition – cannot be completed.

Frydenberg on Friday delivered the blunt message that if Australia doesn’t step up to world expectations on climate policy, it will have trouble getting the capital it needs from overseas, in sufficient quantity and at the cheapest cost.




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Net-zero, carbon-neutral, carbon-negative … confused by all the carbon jargon? Then read this


The Treasurer’s speech was focused on finance, rather than the environment as such. He pitched his push for the firm target so as to appeal in hard-headed economic terms. It’s the markets (not the greenies) that are requiring us to do this, was the message.

Frydenberg is battle-hardened for the task. As energy minister, he was then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s lieutenant when they carried the standard for a National Energy Guarantee, the NEG.

That succumbed to an ambush from a group of rebel troops, leaving Turnbull mortally wounded. Morrison has better armour; anyway, the Liberal sceptics aren’t heard from nowadays. The noise comes from Nationals.




Read more:
Scott Morrison has embraced net-zero emissions – now it’s time to walk the talk


On Friday morning Joyce did his bit on ABC radio. His doubts were evident, as he pointed to power price rises and collapsing energy companies in Britain.

But he came through with the vital central line. Asked, “do you support net zero by 2050?” he replied, “I’ve got no problems with any plan that does not leave regional areas hurt”.

Later in the day he said: “Now, when people say do you support it and they don’t tell you how they’re going to do it, they’re opening themselves […] to a crisis like they’re experiencing in Europe, like they’re experiencing in the UK”.

Joyce will have problems with some of his followers, especially his one-time staffer, now senator, Matt Canavan, who can remind his leader how he not so long ago trashed the target.

But he’ll get plenty of loot for the Nationals in the final package. Even Frydenberg seems to have stopped worrying about the appallingly high cost of political living these days.

In Washington, Morrison was asked whether the government had made a decision on net zero.

“No, if Australia had made such a decision, I would have announced it,” he said. “Australia has not made any final decision on that matter … we’ll be considering further when I return to Australia the plan that we believe can help us achieve our ambition in this area”.




Read more:
Yes, it is entirely possible for Australia to phase out thermal coal within a decade


While the army’s destination seems clear, there’s still work to be done, and the Nationals say the actual map is yet to be laid out on the table.

But if anything were to derail the expedition now, it would be a shock to everyone – including Morrison, and no doubt to Joe Biden and Boris Johnson.

Morrison would be left in an intolerable position for Glasgow. Frydenberg made a point of noting 129 countries have committed to the 2050 target.

The PM would also be hobbled at the election, with climate an issue especially in the leafy city areas and independent candidates gearing up to run in various seats.

Embracing the 2050 target is a minimal requirement for a nation’s Glasgow policy, but the United States, Britain and other climate frontrunners are focused on countries being more ambitious in the medium term.

What Morrison and Joyce do about that will soon become the big question.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.

Decaying forest wood releases a whopping 10.9 billion tonnes of carbon each year. This will increase under climate change


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Marisa Stone, Griffith University; David Lindenmayer, Australian National University; Kurtis Nisbet, Griffith University, and Sebastian Seibold, Technical University of MunichIf you’ve wandered through a forest, you’ve probably dodged dead, rotting branches or stumps scattered on the ground. This is “deadwood”, and it plays several vital roles in forest ecosystems.

It provides habitat for small mammals, birds, amphibians and insects. And as deadwood decomposes it contributes to the ecosystem’s cycle of nutrients, which is important for plant growth.

But there’s another important role we have little understanding of on a global scale: the carbon deadwood releases as it decomposes, with part of it going into the soil and part into the atmosphere. Insects, such as termites and wood borers, can accelerate this process.

The world’s deadwood currently stores 73 billion tonnes of carbon. Our new research in Nature has, for the first time, calculated that 10.9 billion tonnes of this (around 15%) is released into the atmosphere and soil each year — a little more than the world’s emissions from burning fossil fuels.

But this amount can change depending on insect activity, and will likely increase under climate change. It’s vital deadwood is considered explicitly in all future climate change projections.

An extraordinary, global effort

Forests are crucial carbon sinks, where living trees capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to regulate climate.
Deadwood — including fallen or still-standing trees, branches and stumps — makes up 8% of this carbon stock in the world’s forests.

Our aim was to measure the influence of climate and insects on the rate of decomposition — but it wasn’t easy. Our research paper is the result of an extraordinary effort to co-ordinate a large-scale cross-continent field experiment. More than 30 research groups worldwide took part.

White boxes on the forest floor
We used mesh cages to keep insects away from some deadwood to test their effect on decay.
Marisa Stone, Author provided

Wood from more than 140 tree species was laid out for up to three years at 55 forest sites on six continents, from the Amazon rainforest to Brisbane, Australia.
Half of these wood samples were in closed mesh cages to exclude insects from the decomposition process to test their effect, too.

Some sites had to be protected from elephants, another was lost to fire and another had to be rebuilt after a flood.

What we found

Our research showed the rate of deadwood decay and how insects contribute to it depend very strongly on climate.

We found the rate increased primarily with rising temperature, and was disproportionately greater in the tropics compared to all other cooler climatic regions.

In fact, deadwood in tropical regions lost a median mass of 28.2% every year. In cooler, temperate regions, the median mass lost was just 6.3%.

More deadwood decay occurs in the tropics because the region has greater biodiversity (more insects and fungi) to facilitate decomposition. As insects consume the wood, they render it to small particles, which speed up decay. The insects also introduce fungal species, which then finish the job.




Read more:
Wood beetles are nature’s recyclers – with a little help from fungi


Of the 10.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide released by deadwood each year, we estimate insect activity is responsible for 3.2 billion tonnes, or 29%.

Let’s break this down by region. In the tropics, insects were responsible for almost one-third of the carbon released from deadwood. In regions with low temperatures in forests of northern and temperate latitudes — such as in Canada and Finland — insects had little effect.

Mushrooms growing on a log
After insects break deadwood into smaller pieces, fungi are responsible for the final stages of decay.
Marisa Stone, Author provided

What does this mean in a changing climate?

Insects are sensitive to climate change and, with recent declines in insect biodiversity, the current and future roles of insects in deadwood are uncertain.

But given the vast majority of deadwood decay occurs in the tropics (93%), and that this region in general is set to become even warmer and wetter under climate change, it’s safe to say climate change will increase the amount of carbon deadwood releases each year.

Close-up of three termites in wood
Termites and other insects can speed up deadwood decay in warmer climates.
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It’s also worth bearing in mind that the amount of carbon dioxide released is still only a fraction of the total annual global deadwood carbon stock. That is, 85% of the global deadwood carbon stock remains on forest floors and continues to store carbon each year.

We recommend deadwood is left in place — in the forest. Removing deadwood may not only be destructive for biodiversity and the ability of forests to regenerate, but it could actually substantially increase atmospheric carbon.




Read more:
Photos from the field: zooming in on Australia’s hidden world of exquisite mites, snails and beetles


For example, if we used deadwood as a biofuel it could release the carbon that would otherwise have remained locked up each year. If the world’s deadwood was removed and burned, it would be release eight times more carbon than what’s currently emitted from burning fossil fuels.

This is particularly important in cooler climatic regions, where decomposition is slower and deadwood remains for several years as a vital carbon sink.

Lush, green forest
Deadwood is essential for a healthy forest ecosystem.
Milk tea/Unsplash, CC BY

What next?

The complex interplay of interactions between insects and climate on deadwood carbon release makes future climate projections a bit tricky.

To improve climate change predictions, we need much more detailed research on how communities of decomposer insects (such as the numbers of individuals and species) influence deadwood decomposition, not to mention potential effects from insect diversity loss.

But insect diversity loss is also likely to vary regionally and would require long-term studies over decades to determine.

For now, climate scientists must take the enormous annual emissions from deadwood into account in their research, so humanity can have a better understanding of climate change’s cascading effects.




Read more:
Trees can’t save us from climate change – but society will always depend on forests – podcast


The Conversation


Marisa Stone, Adjunct Research Fellow, Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, Griffith University; David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Kurtis Nisbet, Scientific Officer, Griffith University, and Sebastian Seibold, Adjunct Teaching Professor, Technical University of Munich

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

As the world battles to slash carbon emissions, Australia considers paying dirty coal stations to stay open longer


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Tim Nelson, Griffith University and Joel Gilmore, Griffith UniversityA long-anticipated plan to reform Australia’s electricity system was released on Thursday. One of the most controversial proposals by the Energy Security Board (ESB) concerns subsidies which critics say will encourage dirty coal plants to stay open longer.

The subsidies, under a so-called “capacity mechanism”, would aim to ensure reliable energy supplies as old coal plants retire.

Major coal generators say the proposal will achieve this aim. But renewables operators and others oppose the plan, saying it will pay coal plants for simply existing and delay the clean energy transition.

So where does the truth lie? Unless carefully designed, the proposal may enable coal generators to keep polluting when they might otherwise have closed. This is clearly at odds with the need to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions and stabilise Earth’s climate.

firefighter and bushfire engulfing house
Extending the life of coal plants is at odds with climate action efforts.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Paying coal stations to exist

The ESB provides advice to the nation’s energy ministers and comprises the heads of Australia’s major energy governing bodies.

Advice to the ministers on the electricity market redesign, released on Thursday, includes a recommendation for a mechanism formally known as the Physical Retailer Reliability Obligation (PRRO).

It would mean electricity generators are paid not only for the actual electricity they produce, which is the case now, but also for having the capacity to scale up electricity generation when needed.

Electricity prices on the wholesale market – where electricity is bought and sold – vary depending on the time of day. Prices are typically much higher when consumer demand peaks, such as in the evenings when we turn on heaters or air-conditioners. This provides a strong financial incentive for generators to provide reliable electricity at these times.

As a result of these incentives, Australia’s electricity system has been very reliable to date.

But the ESB says as more renewables projects come online, this reliability is not assured – due to investor uncertainty around when coal plants will close and how governments will intervene in the market.




Read more:
IPCC report: how to make global emissions peak and fall – and what’s stopping us


Under the proposed change, electricity retailers – the companies everyday consumers buy energy from – must enter into contracts with individual electricity generators to make capacity available to the market.

Energy authorities would decide what proportion of a generator’s capacity could be relied upon at critical times. Retailers would then pay generators regardless of whether or not they produce electricity when needed.

Submissions to the ESB show widespread opposition to the proposed change: from clean energy investors, battery manufacturers, major energy users and consumer groups. The ESB acknowledges the proposal has few supporters.

In fact, coal generators are virtually the only groups backing the proposed change. They say it would keep the electricity system reliable, because the rapid expansion of rooftop solar has lowered wholesale prices to the point coal plants struggle to stay profitable.

The ESB says the subsidy would also go to other producers of dispatchable energy such as batteries and pumped hydro. It says such businesses require guaranteed revenue streams if they’re to invest in new infrastructure.

Man gives thumbs up in front of hydro project
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Snowy Hydro project. Such generators would also be eligible for the proposed subsidy.
Lukas Coch/AAP

A questionable plan

In our view, the arguments from coal generators and the ESB require greater scrutiny.

Firstly, the ESB’s suggestion that the existing market is not driving investment in new dispatchable generation is not supported by recent data. As the Australian Energy Market Operator recently noted, about 3.7 gigawatts of new gas, battery and hydro projects are set to enter the market in coming years. This is on top of 3.2 gigawatts of new wind and solar under construction. Together, this totals more than four times the operating capacity of AGL’s Liddell coal plant in New South Wales.

It’s also difficult to argue the system is made more reliable by paying dispatchable coal stations to stay around longer.

One in four Australian homes have rooftop solar panels, and installation continues to grow. This reduces demand for coal-fired power when the sun is shining.

The electricity market needs generators that can turn on and off quickly in response to this variable demand. Hydro, batteries and some gas plants can do this. Coal-fired power stations cannot – they are too slow and inflexible.

Coal stations are also becoming less reliable and prone to breakdowns as they age. Paying them to stay open can block investment in more flexible and reliable resources.

Critics of the proposed change argue coal generators can’t compete in a world of expanding rooftop solar, and when large corporate buyers are increasingly demanding zero-emissions electricity.

There is merit in these arguments. The recommended change may simply create a new revenue stream for coal plants enabling them to stay open when they might otherwise have exited the market.

Governments should also consider that up to A$5.5 billion in taxpayer assistance was allocated to coal-fired generators in 2012 to help them transition under the Gillard government’s (since repealed) climate policies. Asking consumers to again pay for coal stations to stay open doesn’t seem equitable.

Steam billows from coal plant
Coal plants have already received billions in subsidies.
Shutterstock

The ultimate test

The nation’s energy ministers have not yet decided on the reforms. As usual, the devil will be in the detail.

For any new scheme to improve electricity reliability, it should solely reward new flexible generation such as hydro, batteries, and 100% clean hydrogen or biofuel-ready gas turbines.

For example, reliability could be improved by establishing a physical “reserve market” of new, flexible generators which would operate alongside the existing market. This generation could be seamlessly introduced as existing generation fails and exits.

The ESB has recommended such a measure, and pivoting the capacity mechanism policy to reward only new generators could be beneficial.

The Grattan Institute
has also proposed a scheme to give businesses more certainty about when coal plant will close. Together, these options would address the ESB’s concerns.

This month’s troubling report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was yet another reminder of the need to dramatically slash emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Energy regulators, politicians and the energy industry owe it to our children and future generations to embrace a zero-emissions energy system. The reform of Australia’s electricity market will ultimately be assessed against this overriding obligation.




Read more:
Climate change has already hit Australia. Unless we act now, a hotter, drier and more dangerous future awaits, IPCC warns


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.