Yes, carbon emissions fell during COVID-19. But it’s the shift away from coal that really matters



Flickr/David Clarke

Frank Jotzo, Australian National University and Mousami Prasad, Australian National University

Much has been made of the COVID-19 lockdown cutting global carbon emissions. Energy use has fallen over recent months as the pandemic keeps millions of people confined to their homes, and businesses closed in many countries. Projections suggest global emissions could be around 5% lower in 2020 than last year.

What about Australia? Here we’ve seen sizeable reductions in electricity sector emissions, but mostly from the sustained expansion in solar and wind power rather than the lockdown.

That is good news. It means our electricity sector emissions will not bounce back once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, as they might in other parts of the world.

But on the other hand, a prolonged recession could cloud the outlook for new investments in the power sector, including renewables.

What’s clear right now is this: COVID-19 restrictions matter far less to Australia’s power sector emissions this year than the shift away from coal and towards renewables.

A recession would dampen investment in new power projects, including renewables.
AAP

Small fall in electricity demand

We examined Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) in the seven weeks from March 16 (when national restrictions came into force) to May 4 this year. We compared the results to the same period in 2019.

The NEM covers all states and territories except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Total electricity demand was 3% lower during the first seven weeks of the lockdown, compared with the same period in 2019. About 2% of this was due to an actual fall in electricity use. The rest was due to extra rooftop solar panels installed since May 2019 which lowered demand on the grid.




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Some of the 2% reduction may be due to cooler weather this autumn, leading to lower air conditioning use.

So while COVID-19 restrictions have hammered the economy in recent weeks, they haven’t had a big effect on electricity use. Most industrial and business power use has continued uninterrupted. Most office buildings have not fully shut down, although many people are working from home and use more electricity there.

A hefty drop in emissions

Despite the modest fall in electricity demand in the first seven weeks of lockdown, emissions fell substantially – by 8.5%. Comparing the first quarter of 2020 and 2019, emissions fell by 7%.

This is primarily because more renewable energy is now supplying the grid. Output from solar farms increased by 55% and from wind parks by 19% compared with the first quarter of 2019, reflecting massive amounts of new installed capacity coming online. Output from hydroelectricity increased by 18%, likely reflecting higher rainfall.

More renewables supply combined with falling demand means less output from fossil fuel power plants. Coal plant output fell 9% compared to the same period in 2019, entirely due to lower output by black coal plants in New South Wales and Queensland. Gas fired power output fell by 8%.

Electricity prices plunge

Meanwhile, wholesale prices in the NEM have fallen dramatically. The average price was 60% lower in the seven weeks since March 16 compared with the same period in 2019. A marked reduction in prices was evident from November 2019.

Why? One reason is that prices for natural gas are much lower and hence gas-fired power stations can make lower bids for electricity. Gas prices fell through much of 2019, and dropped further in the first quarter of 2020, associated with the pandemic-induced economic downturn. Gas plants often set the prices for everyone in the market, so this has a big effect on the market overall.




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Also, coal and hydropower plants lowered their bids in this more competitive environment.

The outlook for wholesale prices remains flat. Gas prices seem unlikely to rebound soon. More wind and solar power will come into the market and there is no underlying growth trend in electricity demand.

Relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions is unlikely to make a big difference. What may drive prices up once again is the next large coal plant closure. The last one to close was Victoria’s Hazelwood plant in 2017.

What does this mean for coal and renewables?

Low wholesale electricity prices are good for consumers – in particular industry, where the wholesale price is a bigger proportion of the total charges for electricity supply. On the flip side, they mean less money for power generators.

Across the National Electricity Market, revenue for generators was about A$160 million per week lower during the first seven weeks of lockdown compared to the same period in 2019.

This revenue fall makes coal plants less profitable, and makes life uncomfortable for plants with relatively high costs for fuel and maintenance. It’s likely to push older plants closer to closure.




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Lower prices also make investment in new renewable power less attractive. In recent years, average wholesale prices were well above the typical lifetime average costs of producing electricity from newly built solar and wind parks. There is also uncertainty around how prices will be set in power markets in the future, and how congestion of power transmission lines will be managed.

Nevertheless, the longer term prospects for renewables in Australia remain very good. Solar and wind power are the cheapest of all new generation technologies producing power, and solar power is expected to become even cheaper. A new coal-fired power plant, if one was ever built, would have far higher costs per megawatt hour. Costs for a nuclear plant would be higher still.

A drop in revenue during COVID-19 is bad news for coal-fired power generators.
Wikimedia

The way forward

The numbers show Australia does not need a painful recession to drive carbon emissions down. It needs sustained investment in new, clean technology.

The better the Australian economy recovers, the more private businesses will invest in new energy supply. But if the world falls into a deep and lasting recession, and the Australian economy with it, then the prospects for private investment in new power plants will suffer.

In that case, governments may be well advised to invest public funds in clean energy, more so than they have in the past.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University and Mousami Prasad, Research Fellow, Australian National University

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

Shaming people for flying won’t cut airline emissions. We need a smarter solution



Swedish airport operator Swedavia reported passenger numbers at its ten airports in October 2019 were down 5% on the previous year.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Duygu Yengin, University of Adelaide and Tracey Dodd, University of Adelaide

“Fake news”, the chief executive of Lufthansa has called it. But his counterpart at Air France calls it the airline industry’s “biggest challenge”. So does the president of Emirates: “It’s got to be dealt with.”

What they’re talking about is “flight shame” – the guilt caused by the environmental impacts of air travel. Specifically, the carbon emissions.

It’s the reason teen climate-change activist Greta Thunberg refused to fly to New York to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, taking a 14-day sea voyage instead.

A publicity photo of Greta Thunberg on her way to New York aboard the yacht Malizia II in August 2019. The phrase ‘skolstrejk för klimatet’ means school strike for climate.
EPA

In Thunberg’s native Sweden, flight shame (“flygskam”) has really taken off, motivating people to not take off. Last year 23% of Swedes reduced their air travel to shrink their carbon footprint, according to a WWF survey. Swedish airport operator Swedavia reported passenger numbers at its ten airports in October were down 5% on the previous year.

The potency of this guilt is what put Lufthansa’s head, Carsten Spohr, on the defensive at an aviation industry conference in Berlin in November.




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“Airlines should not have to be seen as a symbol of climate change. That’s just fake news,” he declared. “Our industry contributes 2.8% of global CO₂ emissions. As I’ve asked before, how about the other 97.2%? Are they contributing to global society with as much good as we do? Are they reducing emissions as much as we do?”

Does he have a point? Let’s consider the evidence.

How bad are aviation CO₂ emissions?

The International Council on Clean Transportation (the same organisation that exposed Volkwagen’s diesel emissions fraud), estimates commercial aviation accounted for 2.4% of all carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use in 2018.

So it’s true many other sectors contribute more.

It is also true airlines are making efforts to reduce the amount of carbon they emit per passenger per kilometre. Australia’s aviation industry, for example, has reduced its “emissions intensity” by 1.4% a year since 2013.

However, the ICCT estimates growth in passenger numbers, and therefore total flights, means total carbon emissions from commercial aviation have ballooned by 32% in five years, way faster than UN predictions. On that trajectory, the sector’s total emissions could triple by 2050.

Alternatives to fossil fuels

A revolution in aircraft design could mitigate that trajectory. The International Air Transport Association suggests the advent of hybrid electric aircraft propulsion (similar to how a hybrid car works, taking off and landing using electric power) by about 2030-35 could reduce fossil fuel consumption by up to 40%. Fully electric propulsion after that could eliminate fossil fuels completely.




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Even with the advent of electric airliners by mid-century, the huge cost and long lifespan of commercial jets means it could still take decades to wean fleets off fossil fuels.

A shorter-term solution might be replacing fossil fuels with “sustainable aviation fuels” such as biofuels made from plant matter. But in 2018 just 15 million litres of aviation biofuel were produced – less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption. The problem is it costs significantly more than standard kerosene-based aviation fuel. Greater use depends on the price coming down, or the price of fossil fuels going up.

Research into biofuels made from algae and other plant matter could prove a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Right now, though, cost is a major hurdle to uptake.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Pricing carbon

This brings us to the role of economics in decarbonising aviation.

An economist will tell you, for most goods the simplest way to reduce its consumption is to increase its price, or reduce the price of alternatives. This is the basis of all market-based solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

One way is to impose a tax on carbon, the same way taxes are levied on alcohol and tobacco, to deter consumption as well as to raise revenue to pay the costs use imposes on society.

The key problem with this approach is a government must guess at the price needed to achieve the desired reduction in demand. How the tax revenue is spent is also crucial to public acceptance.




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In France, opposition to higher fuel taxes led the government to instead announce an “eco-tax” on flights.

This proposed tax will range from €1.50 (about A$2.40) for economy flights within the European Union to €18 (about A$29.30) for business-class flights out of the EU. Among those who think this price signal is too low to make any real difference is Sam Fankhauser, director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London.

Trading and offsets

Greater outcome certainty is the reason many economists champion an emissions trading scheme (also known as “cap and trade”). Whereas a tax seeks to reduce carbon emissions by raising the price of emission, a trading scheme sets a limit on emissions and leaves it to the market to work out the price that achieves it.

One advantage economists see in emissions trading is that it creates both disincentive and incentives. Emitters don’t pay a penalty to the government. They effectively pay other companies to achieve reductions on their behalf through the trade of “carbon credits”.

The European Union already has an emissions trading scheme that covers flights within the European Economic Area, but it has been criticised for limiting incentives for companies to reduce emissions because they can cheaply buy credits, such as from overseas projects such as tree-planting schemes.

Stockholm Arlanda Airport: Swedish data suggests voluntary action motivated by shame is unlikely to lead to any significant reduction in demand for international air travel.
http://www.shutterstock.com

This led to the paradox of scheme delivering a reported 100 million tonnes of “reductions/offsets” from Europe’s aviation sector between 2012 and 2018 even while the sector’s emissions increased.

A better solution might come from a well-designed international trading scheme. The basis for this may be the global agreement known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. Already 81 countries, representing three-quarters of international aviation activity, have agreed to participate.




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What seems clear is that guilt and voluntary action to reduce carbon emissions has its limits. This is suggested by the data from Sweden, the heartland of flight shame.

Behind the 5% reduction in passenger numbers reported by Swedavia is a major difference between domestic passengers (down 10%) and international passengers (down just 2%). That might have something to do with the limited travel alternatives when crossing an ocean.

For most of us to consider emulating Greta Thunberg by taking a sailboat instead, the price of a flight would have to be very high indeed.The Conversation

Duygu Yengin, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Adelaide and Tracey Dodd, Research Fellow, Adelaide Business School, University of Adelaide

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

Climate explained: which countries are likely to meet their Paris Agreement targets



To keep temperatures from rising above 1.5℃ requires reducing fossil fuel burning by half by 2032.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Robert McLachlan, Massey University


CC BY-ND

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

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

Which countries in the world have met or bettered their Paris Agreement targets?

The 2015 Paris Agreement is much more than a one-off climate change deal. Its main aim to limit global warming to well below 2℃, ideally 1.5℃, was a breakthrough.

A follow-up report shows that keeping warming below 1.5℃ will require reducing fossil fuel burning by half by 2032. The 1.5℃ target has been written into New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act.

But the ongoing process is also notable. Each country has registered a pledge (Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC) to indicate how it plans to meet the agreement’s terms.

Without climate action, we are heading for 4.5℃ of warming by 2100. Current pledges, if fully realised, take us to 2.8℃.




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Countries have complete freedom regarding their target and how to achieve it. The NDCs will be revised every five years, first in 2020, and are required to be increasingly ambitious over time. The idea is that the international community can check the targets against performance and global goals. Best practice can be shared, and poor performance exposed.

This flexibility made it possible to get the agreement through, but it can be confusing. Targets have been set for different dates, from different baselines and for different types of emissions.

Countries may have good reasons for setting weaker targets – they may be starting from a low base, like India. Or they may have unusual emissions, like New Zealand’s large proportion of agricultural methane.




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So for each country we can ask:

  1. Does the target really reflect its highest level of ambition, as agreed in Paris?
  2. Is it consistent with 2℃ or 1.5℃ of global warming?
  3. Is it on track to meet its target?
  4. Will it ratchet up its ambition in 2020?

Let’s look at two large emitters, the EU and US, together responsible for 47% of historic, and 24% of current, emissions.

EU 2030 target: 40% reduction from 1990 levels

The European Union is on track for a 48% reduction, partly due to a collapse of heavy industry in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and more recently from a phase-out of coal. Despite this, because of lack of action on transport and buildings, and an increasing reliance on natural gas, the EU has been rated insufficient by Climate Action Tracker, an independent research unit founded in 2009 and partly funded by the German Ministry for Environment.

Last week, the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced plans for the EU to increase the target up to a 55% reduction, along with sweeping implementation plans. Some European countries are moving faster: Denmark, already down 32% on 1990 levels, has this month legislated a 70% reduction by 2030.

US 2025 target: 26% reduction from 2005 levels

So far the US is down 11%. The Obama-era climate plan would have achieved the 2025 target, but is now being rolled back, and the US will leave the Paris Agreement on November 4 next year, the day after the elections.

On the other hand, city and state-level actions and the continued decline of coal mean some further reductions in emissions are likely.

Now let’s consider two rapidly growing emitters, China and India, responsible for 16% of historic and 33% of current emissions.

China target: peak emissions by 2030

China is well on track to achieve this. Emissions actually levelled off for five years before rising again in 2018. China is the world’s largest installer of renewable energy, but also the world’s largest consumer of coal. It also funds a lot of coal power stations in other countries. China has announced it will greatly strengthen its target next year.

India’s 2030 target: reduce emissions intensity relative to GDP to 33% below 2005 levels

India is well on track to meet this, having rapidly moved into solar energy. Its target involves an increase in total emissions, but should be seen in light of India’s very low emissions of only two tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita. This is compatible with the 2℃ target.

Australia 2030 target: 26% below 2005 levels

Australia is presently only on track for a 7% reduction. But a decrease in forest clearance has masked the fact that emissions from fossil fuel burning have increased and are projected to increase further, to 8% above 2005 levels by 2030.

Australia has become the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, many state governments have set ambitious targets and made either aspirational or legal commitments toward zero emissions.

New Zealand 2030 target: 30% below 2005 levels

New Zealand is projected to reduce by 15% under current policies, with the difference to be made up by purchasing carbon units from overseas. This may set up a clash with the Zero Carbon Act, which requires that “emissions budgets must be met, as far as possible, through domestic emissions reductions and domestic removals.” However, these figures mask the fact New Zealand is, most unusually, using “gross-net” accounting. The 2030 target is for net emissions (that is, including the carbon sink of forests), but is measured against their 2005 gross emissions. The target allows net emissions to grow by up to 24% and is woefully unambitious.

Using a different methodology, taking into account each country’s situation, performance, and plans, the Climate Change Performance Index found that the top three countries are Sweden, Denmark and Morocco, and the bottom three are Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and the US. New Zealand is ranked 34th and Australia 53rd of the 58 countries assessed.The Conversation

Robert McLachlan, Professor in Applied Mathematics, Massey University

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

Making every building count in meeting Australia’s emission targets



While many Australian households have solar power, our very large houses and wasteful use of building space are factors in our very high emissions.
Jen Watson/Shutterstock

Timothy O’Leary, University of Melbourne

Buildings in Australia account for over 50% of electricity use and almost a quarter of our carbon emissions but the failures, frailties and fragmentation of the construction sector have created a major obstacle to long-term reductions. Reducing our carbon footprint plays second fiddle to the multibillion-dollar work of replacing flammable cladding, asbestos and other non-compliant materials and ensuring buildings are structurally sound and can be safely occupied.

Buildings – whether residential, commercial or institutional – do not score well under the nation’s main emissions reduction program, the A$3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package. This is intended to help meet Australia’s 2030 Paris Agreement commitment to cut emissions by 26–28% from 2005 levels.

This climate fund has very successfully generated offsets under the vegetation and waste methods – these projects account for 97% of Australian carbon credit units issued. But built environment abatements have been very disappointing.




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Australians have very high emissions per person. That’s partly due to how we use our buildings.

Our states and territories control building regulations. This year the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set ambitious energy-reduction trajectories for buildings out to 2022 and beyond. This was to be achieved through amendments to national codes and implementing energy-efficiency programs.

Making the best use of our buildings

Last month, the Green Building Council and Property Council launched a policy toolkit, called Making Every Building Count. The councils urged governments to adopt practical plans to reduce emissions in the building sector.

The toolkit contains no fewer than 75 recommendations for all tiers of government. These are the result of work done through industry and university research partnerships in places like the Low Carbon Living Collaborative Research Centre – now disbanded after its seven-year funding ended.




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Most energy-efficiency studies and programs focus solely on the operational aspect of buildings, such as the energy used to heat and cool them. However, various studies have proved that the energy and emissions required to manufacture building products, even energy-saving products such as insulation, can be just as significant.

A more holistic approach is to look at the embodied energy already in our building stock, which then poses a serious question about our consumption. So, besides aspirational codes for net zero-energy buildings, we should be asking: can we meet our needs with fewer new buildings?




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In Melbourne, for example, an estimated 60,000 homes are sitting unused. Commercial property has very high vacancy rates – up to one in six premises are unoccupied in parts of the city. This points to a less-than-effective market in valuing our embodied carbon emissions in property.

If we are to get serious about reducing emissions, we need to tackle inefficient space use.

Empowering people to cut emissions

In occupied commercial buildings, some evidence suggests most building managers are grappling with complexity and challenging tenant behaviours. They also don’t get the clear information they need to continually improve their building’s performance beyond a selected benchmark.

In residential property, home energy performance is very much in our own hands. So we need to consider the means, motivations and opportunities of households, which I did in my doctoral study. A major barrier is that most of us don’t even know what we are getting when we buy or rent an ageing stock of more than 9 million homes.

Europe and the United States moved to mandatory residential energy disclosure at point of sale and lease well over a decade ago. If you rent or buy a home in these countries you get an energy performance certificate. It identifies emissions intensity and gives advice on how to operate the home more efficiently and hence with lower emissions.

In Australia, we have just sat on a commitment made by COAG back in 2009 to introduce a nationwide scheme.

Size matters, too. Residential space per person is high by international standards. Although McMansions are on the wane, our apartments are getting a bit bigger. The average size of freestanding houses built in 2018-19 shrank by 1.3% from 2017-18 to a 17-year low of 228.8 square metres.

And we are putting more solar on our roofs as a carbon offset. As of September 30 2019, Australia had more than 2.2 million solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. Their combined capacity was over 13.9 gigawatts.

However, the trend towards high-rise living is not helpful for emissions. Solar for strata apartments is tricky.

I recently worked with colleagues in Australia and overseas in a study of the user experience of PV. We found residents face a range of issues that limit emission reductions. These issues include:

  • initial sizing and commissioning with component failures such as faulty inverters
  • lack of knowledge about solar and expected generation performance
  • regulatory barriers that limit the opportunity to upgrade system size.

Looking to improve regulations and codes and billion-dollar funds may be sensible ways to meet emission targets, but human empowerment is the secret weapon in improving energy performance and lowering emissions. Good low-carbon citizens will help create good low-carbon cities.




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A set of clear guides on how to use a building is a good starting point. The low-carbon living knowledge hub provides these.

What will make every building count in lowering emissions is the behaviour of occupants, the commitment of owners to make their buildings low-carbon and building managers’ ability to become more adept at reducing building-related emissions.The Conversation

Timothy O’Leary, Lecturer in Construction and Property, University of Melbourne

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

Some good news for a change: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are set to fall



Renewable energy being installed at a community in the Northern Territory. Researchers have predicted Australia’s emissions are set to fall, but warn the renewables deployment rate must continue.
Lucy Hughes-Jones/AAP

Andrew Blakers, Australian National University and Matthew Stocks, Australian National University

For the past few years, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have headed in the wrong direction. The upward trajectory has come amid overwhelming evidence that the world must bring carbon dioxide emissions down. But the trend is set to change.

In a policy brief released today, we predict that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions will peak during 2019-20 at the equivalent of about 540 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

After a brief plateau, we expect they will decline by 3-4% over 2020-22, and perhaps much more in the following years – if backed by government policy.

The peak will occur because Australia’s world-leading deployment of solar and wind energy is displacing fossil fuel combustion. Emissions from the electricity sector are about to fall much faster than increases in emissions from all other sectors combined.

This is a message of hope for rapid reduction of emissions at low cost. But we cannot rest on our laurels. If renewable energy deployment stops or slows, emissions may rise again.

Figure 1: Historical and projected total Australian emissions in megatonnes of CO2 (equivalent) per year. Black line: Government emissions projections which assume solar and wind deplpoyment almost stops. Green line: Deployment continues at the current rate.
ANU

Australia: a renewables superstar

Deployment of solar and wind energy is the cheapest and quickest way to make deep emissions cuts because of its low and falling cost. Higher deployment rates would yield deeper emissions cuts, but this requires supportive government policy.

Wind and solar constitute about two-thirds of global net new electricity capacity. Gas, hydro and coal comprise most of the balance. Solar and wind comprise virtually all new generation capacity in Australia because they are cheaper than alternatives.




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Australia is a global renewable energy superstar because it is installing new solar and wind capacity four to fives times faster per capita than China, the European Union, Japan or the United States. This allows Australia to stabilise and then reduce its greenhouse emissions and sends a globally important message.

Figure 2 shows the rapid increase in the proportion of solar and wind energy from 2018 in the National Electricity Market, which covers the eastern states and comprises about 85% of national electricity generation. The proportion of renewable energy generation has reached 25%, including hydro.

Figure 2: Monthly solar and wind fraction of electricity generation in the NEM over 2014-19 showing sharp increase in 2018.
ANU

We are confident Australia’s emissions will fall in 2020, 2021 and probably 2022 because 16-17 gigawatts of wind and solar is locked in for deployment in 2018-20. This reduces emissions in the electricity sector by about 10 million tonnes a year.

The federal government projects that emissions outside the electricity system will increase by about 3 million tonnes per year on average over the 2020s. The difference leaves an overall decline of 7 million tonnes of emissions per year.

100% clean electricity is within our grasp

Beyond our projections for the next few years, continued falls in emissions are not assured. The emissions trajectory for 2022 and beyond depends largely on the level of renewables deployed.

Federal government projections assume solar and wind deployment almost stops in the 2020s. This would mean annual emissions increase from current levels to 563 million tonnes in 2030.

Wind turbines adjacent to the Tesla batteries at Jamestown, north of Adelaide, in 2017.
DAVID MARIUZ/AAP

But it doesn’t need to be this way. If the current renewables deployment rate continued, Australia would reach 50% renewable electricity in 2024, and potentially 80% renewables in 2030. This transformation would be technically straightforward and affordable. It requires governments, mostly the federal government, to encourage more transmission power lines to deliver renewable electricity to where it’s needed. Other off-the-shelf methods to support renewables include energy storage such as pumped hydro and batteries, and managing electricity demand.

The benefits of a consistent renewables rollout would be large. Australia’s electricity emissions in 2030 would be 100 million tonnes lower than government projections and the nation would meet its Paris target of a 26-28% emissions reduction between 2005 and 2030. This could be achieved without the controversial proposal to carry over carbon credits earned in the Kyoto Protocol period.

It should be noted that changes in land clearing rates or coal and gas mining or economic activity would also affect future national emissions.

Electricity infrastructure at the Snowy Hydro scheme. Such hydro projects are key to firming up intermittent renewable energy.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The emissions road ahead

Continued rapid deployment of solar and wind requires that governments enable construction of adequate electricity transmission and storage.

State governments should also continue efforts to establish renewable energy zones, with or without cooperation from the federal government. These zones would be located where there is good wind, sun and pumped hydro energy storage, bringing sustainable investment and jobs to regional areas.




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In the longer term, solar and wind can cut national emissions by two-thirds. Beyond the electricity sector, this involves electrifying motor vehicles, residential heating and cooling and industrial heating. National emissions could be cut by another 10% by stopping exports of fossil fuels, which creates fugitive emissions.

It is clear that solar and wind are the most practical route, globally and in Australia, to cheap, rapid and deep emissions cuts – and government policy will be key.The Conversation

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University and Matthew Stocks, Research Fellow, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University

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

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



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

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Climate explained: why don’t we have electric aircraft?


Why aviation emissions matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

To change, start with a jet fuel tax

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

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




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University sector must tackle air travel emissions


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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Can we sail beyond nostalgia?

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

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

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

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




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It’s time to wake up to the devastating impact flying has on the environment


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

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

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

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

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

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

Climate explained: why we need to cut emissions as well as prepare for impacts



Research shows the cost of damage through climate change will be much greater than the costs of reducing emissions.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Ralph Brougham Chapman, Victoria University of Wellington


CC BY-ND

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

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

First, let’s accept climate change is happening and will have major negative impacts on New Zealand. Second, let’s also accept that even if New Zealand did absolutely everything possible to reduce emissions to zero, it would still happen, i.e. our impact on climate change is negligible. Third, reducing our emissions will come with a high financial cost. Fourth, the cost of dealing with the negative impacts of climate change (rising seas etc), will also come at a high financial cost. Based on the above, would it not be smarter to focus our money and energy on preparing New Zealand for a world where climate change is a reality, rather than quixotically trying to avert the unavoidable? – a question from Milton

To argue that we should not act to reduce emissions because it is not in our interests to make a contribution to global mitigation is ultimately self-defeating. It would be to put short-term self-interest first, rather than considering both our long-term interests and those of the wider global community.

Our options on climate are looking increasingly dire, since we as a global community have postponed combating climate change so long. But in New Zealand – and indeed in any country – we should still do as much as we can to reduce the extent of climate change, and not, at this stage, divert significant resources away from mitigation into “preparing for” it.

Starting with the physics, it is clear that climate change is not a given and fixed phenomenon. It is unhelpful to say simply that “it is happening”. How much heating will occur will be determined by human actions: it is within humanity’s grasp to limit it.

Any significant action taken over the next decade in particular will have high payoffs in terms of reducing future warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in effect says emission cuts of 45% or more over the next decade might just avert catastrophic change. Inaction, on the other hand, could condemn humankind to experiencing perhaps 3℃ or more of heating. Each further degree represents a huge increase in human misery – death, suffering and associated conflict – and increases the threat of passing dangerous tipping points.

Climate outcomes are so sensitive to what we do over the next decade because eventual heating depends on the accumulated stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We are still adding to that stock every year, and we are still raising the costs of cutting emissions to an “acceptable” level (such as that consistent with 1.5℃ or 2℃ of heating).




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Climate explained: will we be less healthy because of climate change?


Limiting future warming

Under President Obama, a report was published which pointed out that every decade of delay in making cuts in emissions raises the cost of stabilising within a given target temperature (e.g. 2℃) by about 40%.

Each year’s emissions add to the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, even though some of the gases are absorbed into oceans, trees and soils. Until we can get global emissions down close to zero, atmospheric concentrations will rise. When the Paris agreement was adopted in 2015, it was expected that government pledges at the time might limit heating to under 2℃, conceivably 1.5℃ degrees, if pledges were soon strengthened. It is now even more vital to cut emissions, as it reduces the risk of even higher, and nastier, temperatures.

What of New Zealand’s role in this? New Zealand is indeed a small country. Like most groups of five million or so emitters, we generate a small fraction of global emissions (less than 0.2%). But because we are a well respected, independent nation, with a positive international profile, what we do has disproportionate influence. If we manage to find creative and effective ways to cut emissions, we can be sure the world will be interested and some countries may be motivated to follow suit.

Just as we notice Norway’s effective promotion of electric vehicles, and Denmark’s success with wind power, so too can New Zealand have an outsized impact if we can achieve breakthroughs in mitigation. Reaching 100% renewable electricity generation would be a significant and persuasive milestone, as would any breakthroughs in agricultural emissions.




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Climate explained: why plants don’t simply grow faster with more carbon dioxide in air


Reducing emissions makes economic sense

In economic terms, mitigation is an excellent investment. The Stern Review crystallised the argument in 2007: unmitigated climate change will cause damage that would reduce worldwide incomes by substantially more than the costs of active mitigation. Since then, further research has underlined that the cost of damage through climate change will be much greater than the costs of mitigation. Put in investment terms, the benefits from mitigation vastly exceed the costs.

Mitigation is one of the best investments humanity will ever make. Recent findings are that increasing mitigation efforts to ensure that warming is limited to 1.5℃, rather than 2℃ or more, will yield high returns on investment, as damage is averted. We also now know many energy and transport sector mitigation investments, such as in electric vehicles, generate good returns.

So why haven’t we invested enough in mitigation already? The answer is the free rider problem – the “I will if you will” conundrum. The Paris agreement in 2015 is the best solution so far to this: essentially all countries globally have agreed to cut emissions, so relatively concerted action is likely. Given this, it is worthwhile for New Zealand to act, as our efforts are likely to be matched by the actions of others. In addition, of course, we have an ethical duty to future generations to cut emissions.

The fact that New Zealand is a small country with limited emissions is irrelevant to these arguments. We must play our part in the global push to cut emissions. The reality is that it is worthwhile to mitigate, and we are committed to doing so. In this situation, it makes no sense to move mitigation resources away to preparation for climate change. We do of course need to plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change, in myriad ways, but not at the expense of mitigation.The Conversation

Ralph Brougham Chapman, Associate Professor , Director Environmental Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

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

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


Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

The Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu this week has ended in open division over climate change. Australia ensured its official communique watered down commitments to respond to climate change, gaining a hollow victory.

Traditionally, communiques capture the consensus reached at the meeting. In this case, the division on display between Australia and the Pacific meant the only commitment is to commission yet another report into what action needs to be taken.

The cost of Australia’s victory is likely to be great, as it questions the sincerity of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment to “step up” engagement in the Pacific.




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Can Scott Morrison deliver on climate change in Tuvalu – or is his Pacific ‘step up’ doomed?


Australia’s stance on climate change has become untenable in the Pacific. The inability to meet Pacific Island expectations will erode Australia’s influence and leadership credentials in the region, and provide opportunities for other countries to grow influence in the region.

An unprecedented show of dissent

When Morrison arrived in Tuvalu, he was met with an uncompromising mood. In fact, the text of an official communique was only finished after 12 hours of pointed negotiations.

While the “need for urgent, immediate actions on the threats and challenges of climate change”, is acknowledged, the Pacific was looking for action, not words.

What’s more, the document reaffirmed that “strong political leadership to advance climate change action” was needed, but leadership from Australia was sorely missing. It led Tuvaluan Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga to note:

I think we can say we should’ve done more work for our people.

Presumably, he would have hoped Australia could be convinced to take more climate action.

In an unprecedented show of dissent, smaller Pacific Island countries produced the alternative Kainaki II Declaration. It captures the mood of the Pacific in relation to the existential threat posed by climate change, and the need to act decisively now to ensure their survival.

And it details the commitments needed to effectively address the threat of climate change. It’s clear nothing short of transformational change is needed to ensure their survival, and there is rising frustration in Australia’s repeated delays to take effective action.

Australia hasn’t endorsed the alternative declaration and Canberra has signalled once and for all that compromise on climate change is not possible. This is not what Pacific leaders hoped for and will come at a diplomatic cost to Australia.




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Canberra can’t buy off the Pacific

Conflict had already begun brewing in the lead up to the Pacific Islands Forum. The Pacific Islands Development Forum – the brainchild of the Fijian government, which sought a forum to engage with Pacific Island Nations without the influence of Australia and New Zealand – released the the Nadi Bay Declaration in July this year.

This declaration called on coal producing countries like Australia to cease all production within a decade.

But it’s clear Canberra believes compromise of this sort on climate change would undermine Australia’s economic growth and this is the key stumbling block to Australia answering its Pacific critics with action.

As Sopoaga said to Morrison:

You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia […] I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu.

And a day before the meeting, Canberra announced half a billion dollars to tackle climate change in the region. But it received a lukewarm reception from the Pacific.

The message is clear: Canberra cannot buy off the Pacific. In part, this is because Pacific Island countries have new options, especially from China, which has offered Pacific island countries concessional loans.




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China is becoming an attractive alternate partner

As tension built at the Pacific Island Forum meeting, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters argued there was a double standard with respect to the treatment of China on climate change.

China is the world’s largest emitter of climate change gasses, but if there is a double standard it’s of Australia’s making.

Australia purports to be part of the Pacific family that can speak and act to protect the interests of Pacific Island countries in the face of China’s “insidious” attempts to gain influence through “debt trap” diplomacy. This is where unsustainable loans are offered with the aim of gaining political advantage.

But countering Chinese influence in the Pacific is Australia’s prime security interest, and is a secondary issue for the Pacific.

But unlike Australia, China has never claimed the moral high ground and provides an attractive alternative partner, so it will likely gain ground in the battle for influence in the Pacific.

For the Pacific Island Forum itself, open dissent is a very un-Pacific outcome. Open dissent highlights the strains in the region’s premier intergovernmental organisation.

Australia and (to a lesser extent) New Zealand’s dominance has often been a source of criticism, but growing confidence among Pacific leaders has changed diplomatic dynamics forever.




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This new pacific diplomacy has led Pacific leaders to more steadfastly identify their security interests. And for them, the need to respond to climate change is non-negotiable.

If winning the geopolitical contest with China in Pacific is Canberra’s priority, then far greater creativity will be needed as meeting the Pacific half way on climate change is a prerequisite for success.The Conversation

Michael O’Keefe, Head of Department, Politics and Philosophy, La Trobe University

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

Can Scott Morrison deliver on climate change in Tuvalu – or is his Pacific ‘step up’ doomed?



Pacific leaders don’t want to talk about China’s rising influence – they want Scott Morrison to make a firm commitment to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Tess Newton Cain, The University of Queensland

This week’s Pacific Islands Forum comes at an important time in the overall trajectory of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s very personal commitment to an Australian “stepping up” in the Pacific.

To paraphrase the PM, you have to show up to step up. And after skipping last year’s Pacific Islands Forum, Morrison has certainly been doing a fair amount of showing up around the region, with visits to Vanuatu and Fiji at the beginning of the year and the Solomon Islands immediately after his election victory.

Add to this his recent hosting of the new PNG prime minister, James Marape, and it is clear there has been significant energy devoted to establishing personal relationships with some of the leaders he will sit down with this week.

An ‘existential threat’ to the region

Regional politics and diplomacy in the Pacific are not for the faint of heart. It’s clear from the tone of recent statements by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the minister for international development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, that there is some disquiet ahead of the Tuvalu get-together.

And with good reason. For some time, the leaders of the region have been becoming increasingly vocal about the lack of meaningful action from Canberra when it comes to climate change mitigation.




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Most recently, ten of the Pacifc Islands Development Forum (PIDF) members signed the Nadi Bay Declaration, which advocated a complete move away from coal production and specifically criticised using “Kyoto carryover credits” as a means of achieving Paris targets on reducing emissions.

While this body does not have the regional clout of the Pacific Islands Forum, its membership includes key players, notably Fiji, Tuvalu, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, whose leaders have all spoken out strongly on the need for stronger action on climate change.

In a speech last month, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama urged his fellow Pacific leaders to withstand any attempts to water down commitments on climate challenge in the region and globally.

Bainimarama’s warning: ‘Our region remains on the front line of humanity’s greatest challenges’

Bainimarama is attending this year’s Pacific Islands Forum for the first time since 2007, and has already made his presence felt. Earlier this week, he urged Australia to transition as quickly as possible from coal to renewable energy sources, because the Pacific faces

an existential threat that you don’t face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate.

Losing credibility on its ‘step up’

Given the state of Australia’s domestic politics when it comes to making climate change action more of a priority, it is hard to see how Morrison can deliver what the “Pacific family” is asking for.

The recent announcement of A$500 million to help Pacific nations invest in renewable energy and fund climate resilience programs is sure to be welcomed by Pacific leaders. As is the pledge for A$16m to help tackle marine plastic pollution.

But none of this money is new money – it’s being redirected from the aid budget. And it does not answer the call of Pacific leaders for Australia to do better when it comes to cutting emissions.

An aerial view of Funafuti, the most populous of Tuvalu’s country’s nine atolls.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Why does this matter? Because it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the inability – or refusal – to be part of the team when it comes to climate change is undermining Australia’s entire “Pacific step-up”.

If Morrison, and the Australian leadership more broadly, want to reassure Pacific leaders that Australia’s increased attention on the region is not just all about trying to counter Chinese influence, this is where the rubber hits the road.

This is not about whether China is doing better when it comes to climate change mitigation than Australia. The Pacific has greater expectations of Australia, not least because Australian leaders have been at pains to tell the region, and the world, that this is where they live – that Pacific islanders are their “family”.

And for Pacific islanders, if you are family, then there are obligations. This week, as has been the case previously, Pacific leaders will make clear that addressing climate change is their top priority, not geopolitical anxieties over China’s increasing role in the region.




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Everything but China is on the table during PNG prime minister’s visit


There is little doubt that Australia’s “Pacific step-up” is driven by concerns about the rising influence of China. But Morrison knows better than to voice concerns of that type – at least in public – while in Tuvalu.

Numerous Pacific leaders have made it clear that as far as they are concerned, partnerships with Beijing (for those that have them) provide for greater opportunity and choice.

While they welcome renewed ties with traditional partners like Australia and New Zealand, they maintain a “friends to all and enemies to none” approach to foreign policy. That is unlikely to change any time soon.

Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has warned Australia that its Pacific ‘step up’ could be undermined by a refusal to act on climate change.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Will Tuvalu prove a turning point?

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga may well be hoping that when Morrison sees for himself how climate change is affecting his country, he will be so moved personally, he will shift Australia’s stance politically.

Indeed, on arrival in the capital of Funafuti this week, leaders are being met by children sitting in pools of seawater singing a specially written song “Save Tuvalu, Save the World”.

So what can Morrison realistically be expected to achieve during the summit? He will be able to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to other issues that are important to regional security, such as transnational and organised crime and illegal fishing.

He can also hope the personal relationships he has cultivated with Pacific leaders deliver returns by way of compromise around the wording of the final communique, if only to avoid a diplomatic stoush.

But if there is no real commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, he will leave plenty of frustration behind when he returns to Australia.The Conversation

Tess Newton Cain, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Political Science & International Studies, The University of Queensland

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

Australia Institute analysis adds to Pacific pile-on over Morrison’s climate policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An analysis from The Australia Institute accuses Scott Morrison of planning to exploit a “pollution loophole” equivalent to about eight years of fossil-fuel emissions from the rest of the Pacific and New Zealand.

The “loophole” is using Kyoto credits to help the government meet its emissions reduction target.

The progressive think tank issued its salvo ahead of the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu, which Morrison is attending and starts today.

Anxious to sandbag the Australian government against criticism over its climate policy from island countries, for which the climate change issue is major, Morrison has announced Australia is redirecting $500 million of the aid budget over five years to go to “investing for the Pacific’s renewable energy and its climate change and disaster resilience”.

But Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga quickly said the money should not be a substitute for action.

“No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing,” he said on Tuesday.

“Cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines, that is the thing we want to see,” he said.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said this week: “I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”.

Morrison said on Tuesday: “Australia’s going to meet its 2030 Paris commitments. Australia’s going to smash its 2020 commitments when it comes to meeting our emissions reduction targets. So Australia meets its commitments, and we will always meet our commitments. And that is a point that I’ll be making again when I meet with Pacific leaders.”

Morrison confirmed before the election that Australia would use credits from overachieving on its Kyoto 2020 targets to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.

The Australian Institute said: “If Australia uses this loophole, it would be the equivalent of about eight times larger than the annual fossil fuel emissions of its Pacific neighbours.”

Australia intends to use 367 Mt of carbon credits to avoid the majority of emission reductions pledged under its Paris Agreement target. Meanwhile the entire annual emissions from the Pacific Islands Forum members, excluding Australia, is only about 45 Mt.

The institute’s director for climate change and energy, Richie Merzian, said the government’s plan to use Kyoto credits was an insult to Pacific islanders.

“You can’t ‘step up’ in the Pacific while stepping back on climate action,” he said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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