Water markets have come in for some bad press lately, fuelled in part by the severe drought of 2019 and resulting high water prices.
They have also been the subject of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry, whose interim report released last year documented a range of problems with the way water markets work in the Murray-Darling Basin. The final report was handed to the treasurer last week.
While water markets are far from perfect, new research from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has found they are vital in helping the region cope with drought and climate change, producing benefits in the order of A$117 million per year.
To make the most of water markets, we will need to keep improving the rules and systems which support them. But with few “off-the-shelf” solutions, further reform will require both perseverance and innovation.
Water markets generate big benefits
Australia’s biggest and most active water markets are in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, which covers the Murray River and its tributaries in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
Each year water right holders are assigned “allocations”: shares of water in the rivers’ major dams. These allocations can be traded across the river system, helping to get water where it is most needed.
Water markets also allow for “carryover”: where rights holders store rather than use their allocations, holding them in dams for use in future droughts.
Our research estimates that water trading and carryover generate benefits to water users in the southern Murray-Darling, of A$117 million on average per year (around 12% of the value of water rights) with even larger gains in dry years. Carryover plays a key role, accounting for around half of these benefits.
Together water trading and carryover act to smooth variability in water prices, while also slightly lowering average prices across the basin.
There’s room for improvement
One of many issues raised in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission interim report was the design of the trading rules, including limits on how much water can move between regions.
These rules are intended to reflect the physical limits of the river system, however getting them right is extremely difficult.
The rules we have are relatively blunt, such that there is potential at different times for either too much water to be traded or too little.
One possible refinement is a shift from a rules-based system to one with more central coordination.
For example, in electricity, these problems are addressed via so-called “smart markets”: centralised computer systems which balance demand and supply across the grid in real-time.
Such an approach is unlikely to be feasible for water in the foreseeable future.
But a similar outcome could be achieved by establishing a central agency to determine inter-regional trade volumes, taking into account user demands, river constraints, seasonal conditions and environmental objectives.
While novel in Australia, the approach has parallels in the government-operated “drought water banks” that have emerged in some parts of the United States.
Some of the good ideas are our own
Another possible refinement involves water sharing rules, which specify how water allocations are determined and how they are carried over between years.
At present these rules are often complex and lacking in transparency. This can lead to a perceived disconnect between water allocations and physical water supply, creating uncertainty for users and undermining confidence in the market.
Although markets in the northern Murray-Darling Basin are generally less advanced than the south, some sophisticated water sharing systems have evolved in the north to deal with the region’s unique hydrology (highly variable river flows and small dams).
Don’t throw the market out with the river water
Governance failures in the water market have led to understandable frustration.
But it is important to remember how vital trading and carryover are in smoothing variations in water prices and making sure water gets where it is needed, especially during droughts.
The ACCC’s final report (due soon) will provide an opportunity to take stock and develop a roadmap for the future.
It’s now beyond dispute that — for new electricity generation — solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy are cheaper than anything else: cheaper than new coal fired power stations, cheaper than new gas-fired stations and cheaper than new nuclear power plants.
The International Energy Association says so. Its latest World Energy Outlook describes solar as the cheapest electricity in history.
Solar costs 20% to 50% less than it thought it would two years ago.
Attention has turned instead to the ways to best meet demand when renewable resources are not available.
The government is a big supporter of gas, and as importantly, pumped hydro.
Pumped hydro is an old technology, as old as the electricity industry itself.
Pumped hydro is old technology
It became fashionable from the 1960s to 1980s as a complement to inflexible coal and nuclear generators.
When their output wasn’t needed (mainly at night) it was used to pump water to higher ground so that it could be released and used to run hydro generators when demand was high.
Australia’s three pumped hydro plants are old, built at least 40 years ago, and they operate infrequently, and sometimes not at all for years.
Gas fired electricity generation, whether by turbines (essentially a bigger version of those found on aeroplanes) or by conventional reciprocating engines, has several advantages over pumped hydro including much smaller local environmental impacts and in many cases smaller greenhouse gas impacts.
They can be built quickly and, most importantly, if there is a gas supply they can be built close to electrical loads. There are 17 gas-fired peaking generators in the National Electricity Market, but none have been built over the past decade.
Batteries are cheaper
Batteries have advantages over both.
In 2017, Australia built the world’s biggest battery, but it since been overtaken by a Californian battery more than twice its size and may soon be overtaken by one 150 times the size as part of the Sun Cable project in the Northern Territory which will send solar and stored electricity to Singapore.
In a study commissioned by the Bob Brown Foundation, we have compared the pumped hydro “battery of the nation” project to actual batteries and to gas turbines.
The battery of the nation (BoTN) is a proposal instigated by the Australian and Tasmanian governments to add more pumped hydro to Tasmania’s hydro power system and used enhanced interconnectors to provide electricity on demand to Victoria.
We sought to determine what could most cost-effectively provide Victoria with 1,500 megawatts — the BoTN, gas turbines or batteries.
Partly this depends on how long peak demand for dispatchable power last. BoTN would be able to provide sustained power for 12 hours, but we found that in practice, even when our system becomes much more reliant on renewables, it would be unusual for anything longer than four hours to be needed.
Less than half the cost
We could easily dismiss gas turbines — the Australian Energy Market Operator’s costings have batteries much cheaper than gas turbines to build and operate now and cheaper still by the time the Battery of the Nation would be built.
And batteries are able to respond to instructions in fractions of a second, making them useful in ways gas and pumped hydro aren’t.
They are also able to be placed where they are needed, rather than where there’s a gas connection or an abandoned mine, cliff or hill big enough to be used for pumped hydro.
We found batteries could supply 1,500 megawatts of instantly-available power for less than half of the cost of the enhanced Tasmania to Victoria cable alone, meaning that even if the rest of the BoTN cost little, batteries would still be cheaper.
Pumped hydro projects are being pulled
Origin Energy recently gave up on expanding the Shoalhaven pumped hydro scheme in NSW after finding it would cost more than twice as much to build as first thought.
Similarly, investor-owned Genex has repeatedly deferred its final investment decision on one of the cheapest pumped hydro options in Australia — using depleted gold mine pits in Queensland — despite being offered concessional loans from the Australian Government to cover the entire build cost.
The final barrier seems to be obtaining subsidies from the Queensland Government to fund the necessary transmission lines.
Snowy 2.0 is proceeding, for now
Snowy 2.0 seems to be proceeding after the Australian Government pumped in $1.4 billion to get it going, and paid a king’s ransom to New South Wales and Victoria for their shares in Snowy Hydro.
Yet even before the main works are to start, credit rating agency S&P has down-graded Snowy Hydro’s stand-alone debt to “junk” and suggested the government will need to pump more money into Snowy Hydro to protect its debt.
Prime Minister Morrison has said recently that batteries can’t compete with gas generators , yet a couple of days later, his government announced support for a 100 megawatt battery in Western Australia, where gas is less than half the price it is on the east coast.
Our analysis suggests neither gas nor pumped hydro can compete with batteries, and if the prime minister wants more of either, he will have to dip his hands deeply into tax payer’s pockets to get it.
Craig Nitschke, University of Melbourne; Andrew Robinson, University of Melbourne; Melissa Fedrigo, University of Melbourne; Patrick Baker, University of Melbourne, and Raphael Trouve, University of Melbourne
The Federal Court recently ruled that a timber harvesting company couldn’t log potential habitat of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.
This decision led to the immediate protection of more Leadbeater’s possum habitat and will lead to further habitat set aside over the next ten years as native timber harvesting is phased out in Victoria.
But these short-term, site-based measures will not guarantee the long-term conservation of this iconic Victorian species.
Our new study modelled changes in forests over the next 250 years, focusing on 280,000 hectares of Victoria’s Central Highlands, home to the majority of remaining Leadbeater’s possums.
We looked at different scenarios of how both climate change and timber harvesting might play out. And we identified three important findings.
First, Leadbeater’s possum habitat is dynamic. It’s transient across the landscape over time as disturbances, such as bushfires, continually change the spatial distribution of hollow-bearing trees and young forests.
Second, while timber harvesting poses a local-scale threat, at a larger scale – across hundreds of thousands of hectares – bushfire poses the greatest threat to the species’ habitat.
Last, we found less than half of the area within current parks, reserves, and timber harvest exclusion zones provided stable long-term habitat for Leadbeater’s possum over the next century.
Future habitat scenarios
We used a set of four scenarios to explore how climate change and timber harvesting impact long-term habitat availability by focusing on the where and when hollow-bearing trees and dense understorey are found in the landscape.
The scenarios included projecting current climate conditions, and projecting a 2℃ rise in average annual temperature with a 20% reduction in yearly rainfall.
For each of these climate scenarios, timber harvesting at current harvesting rates was either excluded or allowed in areas zoned for timber production.
Bushfires drive long-term habitat loss
Our simulations showed bushfire, not logging, is the biggest threat to habitat availability for Leadbeater’s possum in the Central Highlands. As the cumulative area burnt by fire increased, the quantity and quality of Leadbeater’s possum habitat decreased.
Tthe 2009 Black Saturday fires burned almost half of its habitat, causing its conservation status to jump from endangered to critically endangered.
Bushfires have always been part of Australian landscapes and many species, including Leadbeater’s possum, have evolved alongside them. Eleven years later, Leadbeater’s possum are now recolonising areas burned in the 2009 bushfires.
But as climate change increases the frequency and scale of bushfires, our models suggest the Central Highlands landscape may support less suitable habitat.
Timber harvesting is less of a threat
While timber harvesting compounds the impacts of bushfires on Leadbeater’s possum habitat, across the landscape the effect is small in comparison. Timber harvesting reduced suitable habitat by only 1.4% to 2.3% over 250 years compared to scenarios without harvesting.
Within a coupe (the area of forest harvested in one operation), timber harvesting immediately reduces nesting and foraging habitat. But foraging habitat returns within 10 to 15 years and can be recolonised by Leadbeater’s possum – as long as nesting sites are nearby.
Protecting vegetation around waterways, in particular, was critical for the development and survival of hollow-bearing trees in an increasingly fire-prone landscape.
But while timber harvesting had much smaller impacts than bushfires, the two did interact. Over time, the cumulative impacts of timber harvesting and bushfire homogenised forest structure across the landscape, leading to smaller patches of habitat that were less connected.
This increases the risk of local extinction for populations of Leadbeater’s possum living in these patches.
We need dynamic conservation areas
A core question for the conservation of any threatened species is: how well does the network of protected areas protect the species?
Our modelling framework meant we could test whether current areas set aside for Leadbeater’s possum conservation actually provide long-term protection.
Over the next 100 years, less than 50% of existing parks, reserves and timber-harvest exclusion zones will provide continuous habitat for Leadbeater’s possum due to climate change.
However, we also identified approximately 30,000 hectares of forest outside the current network of protected areas that can provide stable habitat for Leadbeater’s possum over the next century.
It’s vital we put protection zones into the areas possums are likely to migrate to as the climate changes. These areas should be a priority for conservation efforts.
A new conservation strategy
Historically, conservation planning has taken a static, site-based approach to protecting species.
This approach is doomed to fail in dynamic landscapes – particularly in fire-prone landscapes in a warming climate. For conservation planning to be successful, we need coordinated forest, fire, and conservation management that accounts for these dynamics across the whole landscape, not just in individual locations.
We need a vision for how to make our landscapes more resilient to the growing threat of climate change and provide better protection for the unique flora and fauna that inhabit them.
This will require government agencies responsible for land management and conservation to coordinate current management activities across tenures, while simultaneously implementing future-focused conservation planning. Our landscape-modelling approach provides a first step in that direction.
Craig Nitschke, Associate Professor – Forest and Landscape Dynamics, University of Melbourne; Andrew Robinson, Managing Director for Biosecurity Risk Research, University of Melbourne; Melissa Fedrigo, Remote Sensing Scientist and Ecological Modeller, University of Melbourne; Patrick Baker, ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Silviculture and Forest Ecology, University of Melbourne, and Raphael Trouve, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Ecosystem And Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne
Australia’s latest greenhouse gas figures released today show national emissions fell slightly last year. This was by no means an economy-wide effort – solar and wind energy did most of the heavy lifting.
Emissions fell 0.9% last year compared to 2018. The rapid deployment of solar and wind is slashing emissions in the electricity sector, offsetting increases from all other sectors combined.
Renewables (solar, wind and hydro) now comprise 26% of the mix in the National Electricity Market. In 2023, renewables will likely pass black coal to become the largest electricity source.
In an ideal world, all sectors of the economy – transport, agriculture, manufacturing and others – would pull in the same direction to cut emissions. But hearteningly, these figures show the huge potential for renewables.
Here are 10 reasons why renewable energy makes perfect sense for Australia.
1. It can readily eliminate fossil fuels
About 15 gigawatts of solar and wind farms will probably start operating over 2018-2021. That’s on top of more than 2 gigawatts of rooftop solar to be added each year.
It averages out at about 6 gigawatts of additional solar and wind power annually. Research from the Australian National University, which is under review, shows the rate only has to double to about 12 gigawatts to eliminate fossil fuels by 2050, including from electricity, transport, heating and industry.
Fossil fuel mining and use causes 85% of total national emissions – and doubling the renewables deployment rate would eliminate this.
The task becomes more than achievable when you consider the continual fall in renewables prices, which helped treble solar and wind deployment between 2017 and 2020.
2. Solar is already king
Solar is the top global energy technology in terms of new generation capacity added each year, with wind energy in second spot. Solar and wind energy are already huge industries globally, and employ 27,000 people in Australia – a doubling in just three years.
3. Solar and wind are getting cheaper
Solar and wind electricity in Australia already costs less than it would from new coal and gas plants.
The price is headed for A$30 per megawatt hour in 2030. This undercuts most existing gas and coal stations and competes with gas for industrial heating.
4. Stable renewable electricity is not hard
Balancing renewables is a straightforward exercise using existing technology. The current high voltage transmission network must be strengthened so projects in regional areas can deliver renewable electricity into cities. And if wind and sun is not plentiful in one region, a stronger transmission network can deliver electricity from elsewhere. Electricity storage such as pumped hydro and batteries can also smooth out supplies.
5. There’s enough land
To eliminate all fossil fuel use, Australia would need about 60 square metres of solar panel per person, and one wind turbine per 2,000 people. Panels on rooftops take up no land, and wind turbines use very little. If global energy consumption per person increased drastically to reach Australian levels, solar farms on just 0.1% of Earth’s surface could meet this demand.
6. Raw materials won’t run out
A solar panel needs silicon, a glass cover, plastic, an aluminium panel frame, copper and aluminium electrical conductors and small amounts of other common materials. These materials are what our world is made of. Recycling panel materials at the end of their life adds only slightly to larger existing recycling streams.
7. Nearly every country has good sun or wind
Three-quarters of the global population lives in the planet’s sunbelt (lower than 35 degrees of latitude). This includes most developing countries, where most of the growth in energy consumption and greenhouse emissions is occurring.
8. We will never go to war over sunshine
Solar and wind power make energy systems much more robust in the face of a pandemic, disasters or war. They are difficult to misuse in any significant way for military, terrorist or criminal activities. And it is hard to destroy billions of solar panels spread over millions of square kilometres.
9. Solar accidents and pollution are small
Solar panel accidents pale in comparison to spilled radioactive material (like Fukushima or Chernobyl), an oil disaster (like BP’s Deepwater Horizon), or a coal mine fire (like Hazelwood in Victoria). Wind and solar electricity eliminates oil imports, oil-related warfare, fracking for gas, strip mining for coal, smokestacks, car exhausts and smog.
10. Payback time is short
For a sunny country like Australia, the time required to recover the energy invested in panel manufacture is less than two years, compared with a panel lifetime of 30 years. And when the world is solar powered, the energy required to produce more panels is non-polluting.
The future is bright
While COVID-19 triggered a significant fall in global emissions so far this year, they may bounce back. But if solar and wind deployment stay at current levels, Australia is tracking towards meeting its Paris target.
The Reserve Bank of Australia says investment in renewables may moderate in the near term, but “over the longer term, the transition towards renewable energy generation is expected to continue”.
But there are hurdles. In the short term, more transmission infrastructure is needed. Electrifying transport (with electric vehicles) and urban heating (with electric heat pumps) is straightforward. More difficult is eliminating fossil fuels from industries such as steel and fertilisers. This is a task for the 2030s.
But it’s clear that to get to net-zero carbon emissions by mid century, solar and wind are far and away Australia’s best option.
One of the dominant ideas buzzing around the internet is that there’s little we can do to escape the prospect of more frequent and worse bushfires – ever.
That’s because there’s little we can do to slow or reverse the change in the climate.
Australia accounts for just 1.3% of global emissions. That’s much more than you would expect on the basis of our share of world’s population, which is 0.33%. But even if we stopped greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we could and started sucking carbon back in (as would be possible with reafforestation) it’d make little difference to total global emissions, which is what matters – or so the argument goes.
But this argument ignores the huge out-of-proportion power we have to influence
There’s no better indicator of that than in Ross Garnaut’s new book Super-power: Australia’s low-carbon opportunity.
We’re more important than we think
Garnaut conducted two climate change reviews for Australian governments, the first in 2008 for the state and Commonwealth governments, and the second in 2011 for the Gillard government.
In the second, he produced two projections of China’s emissions, based on what was known at the time.
One was “business as usual”, which showed continued very rapid increases. The other took into account China’s commitments at the just-completed 2010 United Nations Cancun climate change conference.
China’s annual emissions matter more than those of any other country – they account for 27% of the global total, which is a relatively new phenomenon.
The bulk of the industrial carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere was put there by the United States and the Soviet Union, who have been big emitters for much longer.
Egged on by the US Obama administration and by governments including Australia’s under Julia Gillard, China agreed at Cancun to slow its growth in emissions, and at the Paris talks in 2015 hardened this into a commitment to stabilise them by 2030.
The extraordinary graph
Garnaut’s 2011 projections showed growth moderating as a result of China’s commitment, which was at the time a cause for optimism.
When he returned to the numbers in 2019 to prepare his book, he was stunned. Egged on by the example of countries including the US and Australia, China had done far, far better than either “business as usual” or its Cancun commitments. Instead of continuing to grow rapidly, or less rapidly as China had said they would, they had almost stopped growing.
The graph, produced on page 29 of Garnaut’s book, is the most striking I have seen.
Since 2011, China’s emissions have been close to spirit-level flat. They climbed again only from 2017 when, under Trump in the US and various Coalition prime ministers in Australia, the moral pressure eased.
From the start of this century until 2011, China’s consumption of coal for electricity climbed at double-digit rates each year. From 2013 to 2016 (more than) every single bit of China’s extra electricity production came from non-emitting sources such as hydro, nuclear, wind and sun.
There are many potential explanations for the abrupt change. Pressure from nations including the US and Australia is only one.
What happened once could happen again
And there are many potential explanations for China’s return to form after Trump backslid on the Paris Agreement and Australia started quibbling about definitions.
An easing of overseas pressure is only one.
But, however brief, the extraordinary pause gives us cause for hope.
Australia can matter, in part because it is hugely respected in international forums for its technical expertise in accounting for carbon emissions, and in part because of its special role as one of the world’s leading energy exporters.
Garnaut’s book is about something else – an enormous and lucrative opportunity for Australia to produce and export embedded energy sourced from wind and the sun at a cost and scale other nations won’t be able to match.
Some of it can be used to convert water into hydrogen. That can be used to turn what would otherwise be an intermittent power supply into a continuous one that enables around-the-clock production of the green steel, aluminium, and other zero-emission products Japan, Korea, the European Union and the United Kingdom are going to be demanding.
It’s a vision backed by Australia’s chief scientist.
It wouldn’t have been possible before. It has been made possible now by the extraordinary fall in the cost of solar and wind generation, and by something just as important – much lower global interest rates. Solar and wind generators cost money upfront but cost very little to operate. Interest rates are the cost of the money upfront.
There’s not much to lose
There’s much that needs to be done, including establishing the right electricity transmission links. But Garnaut believes it can all be done within the government’s present emissions policy, helping it achieve its emission reduction targets along the way.
What’s relevant here is that moving to ultra-low emissions would do more. It could give us the kind of outsized international influence we are capable of. It could help us make a difference.
Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
Opposition resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has had his proposal to bring Labor’s climate change target into line with the government’s immediately torpedoed by the party’s climate spokesman Mark Butler.
In a speech to the Sydney Institute made public ahead of its Wednesday evening delivery Fitzgibbon suggested the ALP offer “a political and policy settlement” to match the higher end of the government’s 26-28% target for reducing emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.
Labor’s controversial election policy was for an ambitious 45% reduction.
Fitzgibbon said the change he advocated would mean “the focus would then be all about actual outcomes, and the government would finally be held to account and forced to act.
“A political settlement would also restore investment confidence and for the first time in six years, we could have some downward pressure on energy prices,” Fitzgibbon said.
But Butler rejected the proposal saying the government’s target “is fundamentally inconsistent with the Paris agreement and would lead to global warming of 3℃.
“Labor remains committed to implementing the principles of the Paris Agreement, which are to keep global warming well below 2℃ and pursue efforts around 1.5℃,” he said.
“Labor’s commitment to action on climate change is unshakeable. We will have a 2050 target of net zero emissions and medium-term targets which are consistent with the agreement,” Butler said.
Despite dismissing Fitzgibbon’s idea, Butler has acknowledged that Labor’s climate change policy must be up for grabs in the party’s review of all its policies between now and the 2022 election.
But revising the climate policy will be one of its major challenges, because the party is caught between its inner city progressive constituency and its traditional blue collar voters. Its ambivalent position on the planned Adani coal mine cost it votes in Queensland at the election.
Apart from the politics, the 45% target for 2030 would be more unrealistic at the next election because emissions at the moment are increasing, meaning ground is being lost.
Fitzgibbon, who takes a more pro-coal attitude than many of his colleagues, had a big swing against him in his NSW coal seat of Hunter.
He said in his speech that a 28% reduction would be a “meaningful achievement” and could be built on later. He also pointed out bluntly that Labor couldn’t achieve anything if perpetually in opposition.
“If we could get to 28% by 2030, and also demonstrate that we could do so without destroying blue collar jobs or damaging the economy, then we would have a great foundation from which to argue the case for being more ambitious on the road to 2050,” he said.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, who is from Queensland, refused to be pinned down when pressed on Fitzgibbon’s proposal.
“My view is we can take real action on climate change without abandoning our traditional strengths, including in regional Queensland,” he said.
The Victorian minister for energy, environment and climate change, Lily D’Ambrosio, asked at the Australian Financial Review’s national energy summit about Fitzgibbon’s comments, said she wasn’t much interested in what a federal opposition did.
“We have a very strong and ambitious policy and we took that to the last state election, and we all know the result of that election, so we will continue to implement our policies and get them done,” she said.
Federal energy minister Angus Taylor pointed to the divisions in the opposition but welcomed that there were “people in Labor who are making sensible suggestions about dropping their policies from the last election.
“What we saw happen there was Labor went to the election with policies – 45% emissions reduction target, 50% renewable energy target – where they weren’t able to or willing to detail the costs and impacts of those policies,” he said.
As the global climate crisis accelerates, early childhood teachers and researchers are considering whether and how to approach the issue with children. Should we talk openly about the crisis and encourage children to change their daily practices? Or is there a risk that in doing so, we are inflicting anxiety on young minds, still in critical and early stages of development?
The UN sustainable development goals note that children are
critical agents of change and will find in the new goals a platform to channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world.
Australia’s quality standards on early childhood education and care call for childcare services to support children to become environmentally responsible. But how can this policy be turned into a living practice?
Contact with nature is a crucial part of sustainability education in early childhood education and care. This helps children develop an appreciation for the Earth and all its inhabitants. Educators in childcare settings can provide a learning culture where children develop skills to take care of nature through play and creativity, without inflicting mass anxiety on them.
Programs to helps kids learn
There are many ways play can help children love the world around them. For instance, the nursery rhyme about Dingle Dangle Scarecrow could help engage children in vegetable gardening. Children can pretend the scarecrow will keep the garden safe.
They could build a scarecrow themselves, which would inspire creativity and educate them about the living environment at the same time.
Our recent research (not yet published) explored an educational program with 200 children between the ages of three and five. The children learnt how to sort, reduce and recycle waste into different colour-coded bins. As they sorted food waste, the children also fed chickens and compost worms.
Educators expanded on these activities by telling the children how living things are connected, which the children had themselves witnessed when feeding the chickens and worms. This new knowledge carried over into the children’s home environments, where we found children reminded families about sorting household waste. This then impacted on parents’ recycling practices.
In New South Wales a program helped children learn about water. Children in three pre-schools (aged three to five) were asked to report dripping taps, taught about half-flush toilets and told to advise families to take shorter showers. An evaluation of this program found children had developed courage and agency when it came to water awareness, because their feelings, thoughts, and questions were taken seriously and met with empathy and interest by adults.
From despair to hope
Adults are strong role models for the way children understand the importance of the world around them. If adults act in a respectful way towards animals, and even creatures such as spiders, children will receive the message these creatures are entitled to care and protection.
If you’re quick to swipe a spider in front of a child, this may create biophobia, where creatures are considered as fearsome pests.
Studies have found including sustainability practices into early childhood education may make educators uncomfortable. Studies show educators may have a limited understanding of sustainability issues, and little confidence in teaching such a values-laden topic.
But teachers don’t need to know the ins and outs of climate change to teach children how to respect the planet. They could simply encourage children to play in nature and role model behaviours that show appreciation for the environment.
Finland’s approach to early childhood education and care offers a good case study for how to incorporate sustainability practice into preschool education. The Finnish curriculum is based on a playful learning approach where respectful dialogue between children and adults supports learning.
The curriculum gives teachers tools to meet children´s worries with approaches that encourage actions, which create hope. Young children see themselves as more a natural part of the environment than older children. Teachers can support young children’s actions from this position.
For example, an adult could relocate a spider to a position where it won’t be trod on. Children could then watch to ensure it is safe, which gives them a sense of agency in their environment. In this way, children can feel they have control over the smaller elements of nature and that they can have an effect on it. This gives them a sense of empowerment rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless, which leads to despair and anxiety.
Sustainability education for children can best be approached by helping them understand their place in the web of life, which supports their existence in terms of clean air and water, food and clothes, and other necessities for a decent life.
It’s about fostering a sense of belonging, respect and care for all living creatures, and an understanding of how to handle material resources in a limited world. Sustainability education is about fostering the world-view that we are in this together. Only through our common actions can despair be turned into hope.
The world can limit global warming to 1.5℃ and move to 100% renewable energy while still preserving a role for the gas industry, and without relying on technological fixes such as carbon capture and storage, according to our new analysis.
The One Earth Climate Model – a collaboration between researchers at the University of Technology Sydney, the German Aerospace Center and the University of Melbourne, and financed by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation – sets out how the global energy supply can move to 100% renewable energy by 2050, while creating jobs along the way.
It also envisions how the gas industry can fulfil its role as a “transition fuel” in the energy transition without its infrastructure becoming obsolete once natural gas is phased out.
Our scenario, which will be published in detail as an open access book in February 2019, sets out how the world’s energy can go fully renewable by:
increasing electrification in the heating and transport sector
significant increase in “energy productivity” – the amount of economic output per unit of energy use
the phase-out of all fossil fuels, and the conversion of the gas industry to synthetic fuels and hydrogen over the coming decades.
Our model also explains how to deliver the “negative emissions” necessary to stay within the world’s carbon budget, without relying on unproven technology such as carbon capture and storage.
If the renewable energy transition is accompanied by a worldwide moratorium on deforestation and a major land restoration effort, we can remove the equiavalent of 159 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (2015-2100).
We compiled our scenario by combining various computer models. We used three climate models to calculate the impacts of specific greenhouse gas emission pathways. We then used another model to analyse the potential contributions of solar and wind energy – including factoring in the space constraints for their installation.
We also used a long-term energy model to calculate future energy demand, broken down by sector (power, heat, industry, transport) for 10 world regions in five-year steps. We then further divided these 10 world regions into 72 subregions, and simulated their electricity systems on an hourly basis. This allowed us to determine the precise requirements in terms of grid infrastructure and energy demand.
‘Recycling’ the gas industry
Unlike many other 1.5℃ and/or 100% renewable energy scenarios, our analysis deliberately integrates the existing infrastructure of the global gas industry, rather than requiring that these expensive investments be phased out in a relatively short time.
Natural gas will be increasingly replaced by hydrogen and/or renewable methane produced by solar power and wind turbines. While most scenarios rely on batteries and pumped hydro as main storage technologies, these renewable forms of gas can also play a significant role in the energy mix.
In our scenario, the conversion of gas infrastructure from natural gas to hydrogen and synthetic fuels will start slowly between 2020 and 2030, with the conversion of power plants with annual capacities of around 2 gigawatts. However, after 2030, this transition will accelerate significantly, with the conversion of a total of 197GW gas power plants and gas co-generation facilities each year.
Along the way the gas industry will have to redefine its business model from a supply-driven mining industry, to a synthetic gas or hydrogen fuel production industry that provides renewable fuels for the electricity, industry and transport sectors. In the electricity sector, these fuels can be used to help smooth out supply and demand in networks with significant amounts of variable renewable generation.
A just transition for the fossil fuel industry
The implementation of the 1.5℃ scenario will have a significant impact on the global fossil fuel industry. While this may seem to be stating the obvious, there has so far been little rational and open debate about how to make an orderly withdrawal from the coal, oil, and gas extraction industries. Instead, the political debate has been focused on prices and security of supply. Yet limiting climate change is only possible when fossil fuels are phased out.
Under our scenario, gas production will only decrease by 0.2% per year until 2025, and thereafter by an average of 4% a year until 2040. This represents a rather slow phase-out, and will allow the gas industry to transfer gradually to hydrogen.
Our scenario will generate more energy-sector jobs in the world as a whole. By 2050 there would be 46.3 million jobs in the global energy sector – 16.4 million more than under existing forecasts.
Our analysis also investigated the specific occupations that will be required for a renewables-based energy industry. The global number of jobs would increase across all of these occupations between 2015 and 2025, with the exception of metal trades which would decline by 2%, as shown below.
However, these results are not uniform across regions. China and India, for example, will both experience a reduction in the number of jobs for managers and clerical and administrative workers between 2015 and 2025.
Our analysis shows how the various technical and economic barriers to implementing the Paris Agreement can be overcome. The remaining hurdles are purely political.
As delegates at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, discuss the possibility of restraining global warming to 1.5℃, it might sound like a reasonable question to ask how much money it will cost if they fail.
Economists have spent the past 25 years trying – and largely failing – to agree on the “right” answer to this question. It’s an important consideration, because governments are understandably keen to balance the benefits of limiting long-term climate damage with the more immediate costs of reducing greenhouse emissions.
In simple economics terms, we can ask what price would be worth paying today to avoid emitting a tonne of carbon dioxide, given the future damage costs that would avoid.
This mythical figure has been called the “social cost of carbon”, and it could serve as a valuable guide rail for policies such as carbon taxes or fuel efficiency standards. But my recent research suggests this figure is simply too complicated to calculate with confidence, and we should stop waiting for an answer and just get on with it.
While some climate economists have put the social cost of carbon at hundreds or even thousands of dollars per tonne of CO₂, one of the most influential analyses, by Yale University economist William Nordhaus, offers a much more modest figure of just over US$30.
Nordhaus won this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics, but his analysis has some uncomfortable conclusions for those familiar with the science.
At this level, it will be economically “optimal” for the world to reduce its CO₂ emissions quite slowly, so that global warming peaks at about 4℃ some time next century. But this certainly doesn’t sound optimal from a scientific perspective.
The impossibility of knowing the social cost of carbon
Calculating this magical economic balancing point is the holy grail of climate economics, and sadly it also seems to be an impossible task, because the question is so complex as to be unanswerable.
Why so? Normally, we gain knowledge via three main methods. The first option is to design an experiment. If that’s impossible, we can look for a similar case to observe and compare. And if that too is impossible, we can design a model that might hopefully answer our questions.
Generally, the laws of physics fall into the first category. It’s pretty straightforward to design an experiment to demonstrate the heat-trapping properties of CO₂ in a lab, for instance.
But we can’t do a simple experiment to assess the global effects of CO₂ emissions, so instead climatologists have to fall back on the second or third options. They can compare today’s conditions with previous fluctuations in atmospheric CO₂ to gauge the likely effects. They also design models to forecast future conditions on the basis of known physical principles.
By contrast, economists trying to put a dollar value on future climate damage face an impossible task. Like scientists, they cannot usefully test or make comparisons, but the economic effects of future climate change on an unprecedented 10 billion people are too fiendishly complex to model with confidence.
Unlike the immutable laws of physics, the laws of economics depend on markets, which in turn rely on trust. This trust could break down in some catastrophic future drought or deluge. So economists’ various rival calculations for the social costs of carbon are all based on unavoidable guesswork about the value of damage from unprecedented future warming.
This view is understandably unpopular with most climate economists. Many new studies claim that recent statistical techniques are steadily improving our estimates of the value of climate damage, based mainly on the local economic effects of short-run temperature and other weather changes in recent decades.
But so far, the world has experienced only about 1℃ of global warming, with at most 0.3℃ from one year to the next. That gives us almost no way of knowing the damage from warming of 3℃ or so; it may turn out to be many times worse than projected from past damage, as various tipping points are breached.
Focus on emission reduction, not damage cost
One reason why economists keep trying to value climate damage is a 1993 US Presidential Executive Order that requires cost-of-carbon estimates for use in US regulations. But my findings support what many other climate economists have been doing anyway. That is to build models that ignore the future dollar cost of climate damage, and instead look at feasible, low-cost ways to cut emissions enough to hit physical targets, such as limiting global warming to 1.5℃ or 2℃, or reaching zero net emissions by 2100.
Once we know these pathways, we don’t need to worry about the future cost of climate damage – all we need to ask is the cost of reducing emissions by a given amount, by a given deadline.
Of course, these costs are still deeply uncertain, because they depend on future developments in renewable energy technologies, and all sorts of other economic factors. But they are not as fiendishly uncertain as trying to pin a dollar value on future climate damage.
Focusing on the cost of emissions-reduction pathways allows researchers to put their effort into practical issues, such as how far and fast countries can shift to zero-emission electricity generation. Countries such as Sweden and the UK have already begun implementing this kind of action-oriented climate policies. While far from ideal, they are among the best-ranked major economies in the Climate Change Performance Index. Australia, by contrast, is ranked third worst.
But aren’t trillion-dollar estimates of future warming damage, as featured in the recent US Fourth National Climate Assessment, necessary ammunition for advocates of climate action? Maybe, but it is still important to appreciate that these estimates are founded on a large chunk of guesswork.
Setting climate targets will always be a political question as well as a scientific one. But it’s an undeniably sensible aim to keep climate within the narrow window that has sustained human civilisation for the past 11,000 years. With that window rapidly closing, it makes sense for policymakers just to focus on getting the best bang for their buck in cutting emissions.