The government is miscounting greenhouse emissions reductions



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Some projects shouldn’t be receiving funding from the government. Yet, lack of proper monitoring has caused huge amounts of wasted money.
www.goodfreephotos.com

Tim Baxter, University of Melbourne

The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), established in 2014 with funding of A$2.55 billion, is mostly spent. With just A$200 million left to be allocated, the Climate Change Authority this week released a report on the fund’s progress that can be best described as magnanimous.

The federal government claims that 189 million tonnes of emissions have been diverted or prevented from entering the atmosphere under the scheme. But research I have done with a co-author from Melbourne Law School has found serious issues, from giving unnecessary funds, to counting decade-old projects as new emissions “reductions”.

While the Authority made 26 recommendations for improvement, each is relatively low-impact. Most of the recommendations go towards increasing the fund’s transparency or removing barriers to participation. While these are laudable aims, there are deeper problems.

How should the fund work?

At its most basic, the ERF gives private companies and individuals a cash incentive to avoid or sequester greenhouse gas emissions. These businesses or people compete for funding by putting their projects forward at reverse auctions.


Read more: How does today’s Direct Action reverse auction work?


The fund is unique in Australia’s climate policy, in that the legislation that supports it has strong bipartisan support. Even if a change of federal government leads to a new policy for curbing emissions, it’s very likely that the basic ERF structure will be carried forward.

But despite the fund’s importance, there has been surprisingly little detailed academic analysis of it to date. In an effort to redress this, a colleague and I have a paper forthcoming that examines the underlying logic and effect of the fund. The paper focuses specifically on the path into the ERF for landfill operators, although the conclusions stretch further than just those projects.

Our conclusions are simple. With A$2.55 billion, the fund has considerable potential to crop the low-hanging fruit of Australia’s emissions profile. However, there are serious flaws in how some projects are assessed for funding.

Where support is granted to projects that would proceed without it, there is no benefit to the government’s intervention. Rather than lopping the low-hanging fruit, we are instead throwing money at the fruit that is already sitting in a bowl on the kitchen bench.

How to avoid redundancy

In the language of offsetting schemes, assessing a project to see if it needs extra funding to be commercially viable is known as an “additionality” test. The legislation that underpins the ERF contains three such tests, which are actually very strong:

  • Newness: is a project new? Has work on it already begun? If it has, the project is ineligible, because it is considered already commercially viable.

  • Existing regulations: is a particular project or emissions abatement already required by law? If so, the project is ineligible for ERF funding.

  • Other government funding: does a project have access to other sources of government funding? If it does, the proponent should use those funds instead.


Read more: Australia’s biggest emitters opt to ‘wait and see’ over Emissions Reduction Fund


If these three tests were mandated for all projects submitted to the ERF, it would be filled with projects that truly deliver new environmental benefit. But they’re not – and it isn’t.

There’s a simple reason why these tests aren’t used in all cases: there are 34 different ways of abating emissions recognised by the ERF (technically referred to as “methodologies”), from the destruction of methane from piggeries using engineered biodigesters, to avoiding deforestation.

Because these activities are so diverse, the legislation that underpins the ERF allows the Department of Environment and Energy to create methodology-specific tests instead, in consultation with industry stakeholders. They are then subject to ministerial approval.

In most cases, the replacements merely finesse the tests to make them more appropriate to the specific circumstances. For example, the existence of a conservation covenant (basically a promise to protect land) is not an obstacle to participation under the avoided deforestation methodology, despite these covenants being legally binding on present and future users of the land.

The case of landfill gas

Other instances are much less innocuous. One such area is landfill, where the gas created by decomposing rubbish can be captured and burned to create energy.


Read more: Capturing the true wealth of Australia’s waste


In the most egregious examples of “regulatory slippage” that either myself or my co-author have ever seen, the tests for whether landfill-related schemes should get ERF money have been completely neutered.

One of the largest Australian companies in this area is LMS Energy. Their Rochedale landfill gas project should, under the tests in the Act, be thrice barred from participation.

First, it predates the ERF by a full decade. Second, the capture and disposal of methane from landfill sites is required by Queensland’s air pollution laws. Finally, it receives renewable energy certificates under the Commonwealth Renewable Energy Target, as power is often created by methane burned to drive a steam turbine.

Nevertheless, this project is funded by the ERF. It should be noted clearly that there is no suggestion that the project is engaged in any deception. Its operators are absolutely complying with regulations. The issue is that the regulations themselves have been watered down to a ludicrous degree.

Two of the three tests (no funding from other government programs and not legally required) have been replaced by an unbelievably tautological requirement that landfill gas and combustion projects fulfil the legislative definition of a landfill gas and combustion project. That is, in order to pass the tests, a landfill gas capture and combustion project must merely be a landfill gas capture and combustion project.

The newness requirement permits projects that were previously registered under schemes that predate the ERF, which includes most of the larger sites for the capture and combustion of landfill methane in Australia.


Read more: Explainer: how much landfill does Australia have?


Because this project already existed, its contributions are captured in measurements of Australia’s baseline emissions. While there’s a good argument for rewarding ecologically responsibly companies, that is not actually the point of the ERF. To state the obvious, we should not be paying to maintain the status quo, and then claim to be reducing emissions.

The Climate Change Authority has unfortunately not taken the opportunity to address these underlying problems, or the potential for similar issues in future legislation.

The ConversationMore immediately, we must take the government’s claim to have abated 189 million tonnes of emissions with a hefty grain of salt. The reality is that the scheme’s effect on Australia’s total emissions is considerably smaller.

Tim Baxter, Researcher – Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fossil fuel emissions hit record high after unexpected growth: Global Carbon Budget 2017


Pep Canadell, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Robbie Andrew, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Rob Jackson, Stanford University, and Vanessa Haverd, CSIRO

Global greenhouse emissions from fossil fuels and industry are on track to grow by 2% in 2017, reaching a new record high of 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to the 2017 Global Carbon Budget, released today.

The rise follows a remarkable three-year period during which global CO₂ emissions barely grew, despite strong global economic growth.

But this year’s figures suggest that the keenly anticipated global peak in emissions – after which greenhouse emissions would ultimately begin to decline – has yet to arrive.


Read more: Fossil fuel emissions have stalled: Global Carbon Budget 2016


The Global Carbon Budget, now in its 12th year, brings together scientists and climate data from around the world to develop the most complete picture available of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In a series of three papers, the Global Carbon Project’s 2017 report card assesses changes in Earth’s sources and sinks of CO₂, both natural and human-induced. All excess CO₂ remaining in the atmosphere leads to global warming.

We believe society is unlikely to return to the high emissions growth rates of recent decades, given continued improvements in energy efficiency and rapid growth in low-carbon energies. Nevertheless, our results are a reminder that there is no room for complacency if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which calls for temperatures to be stabilised at “well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels”. This requires net zero global emissions soon after 2050.

After a brief plateau, 2017’s emissions are forecast to hit a new high.
Global Carbon Project, Author provided

National trends

The most significant factor in the resumption of global emissions growth is the projected 3.5% increase in China’s emissions. This is the result of higher energy demand, particularly from the industrial sector, along with a decline in hydro power use because of below-average rainfall. China’s coal consumption grew by 3%, while oil (5%) and gas (12%) continued rising. The 2017 growth may result from economic stimulus from the Chinese government, and may not continue in the years ahead.

The United States and Europe, the second and third top emitters, continued their decade-long decline in emissions, but at a reduced pace in 2017.

For the US, the slowdown comes from a decline in the use of natural gas because of higher prices, with the loss of its market share taken by renewables and to a lesser extent coal. Importantly, 2017 will be the first time in five years that US coal consumption is projected to rise slightly (by about 0.5%).

The EU has now had three years (including 2017) with little or no decline in emissions, as declines in coal consumption have been offset by growth in oil and gas.

Unexpectedly, India’s CO₂ emissions will grow only about 2% this year, compared with an average 6% per year over the past decade. This reduced growth rate is likely to be short-lived, as it was linked to reduced exports, lower consumer demand, and a temporary fall in currency circulation attributable to demonetisation late in 2016.

Trends for the biggest emitters, and everyone else.
Global Carbon Project, Author provided

Yet despite this year’s uptick, economies are now decarbonising with a momentum that was difficult to imagine just a decade ago. There are now 22 countries, for example, for which CO₂ emissions have declined over the past decade while their economies have continued to grow.

Concerns have been raised in the past about countries simply moving their emissions outside their borders. But since 2007, the total emissions outsourced by countries with emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol (that is, developed countries, including the US) has declined.

This suggests that the downward trends in emissions of the past decade are driven by real changes to economies and energy systems, and not just to offshoring emissions.

Other countries, such as Russia, Mexico, Japan, and Australia have shown more recent signs of slowdowns, flat growth, and somewhat volatile emissions trajectories as they pursue a range of different climate and energy policies in recent years.

Still, the pressure is on. In 101 countries, representing 50% of global CO₂ emissions, emissions increased as economies grew. Many of these countries will be pursuing economic development for years to come.

Contrasting fortunes among some of the world’s biggest economies.
Nigel Hawtin/Future Earth Media Lab/Global Carbon Project, Author provided

A peek into the future

During the three-year emissions “plateau” – and specifically in 2015-16 – the accumulation of CO₂ in the atmosphere grew at a record high that had not previously been observed in the half-century for which measurements exist.

It is well known that during El Niño years such as 2015-16, when global temperatures are higher, the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to take up CO₂ (the “land sink”) diminishes, and atmospheric CO₂ growth increases as a result.

The El Niño boosted temperatures by roughly a further 0.2℃. Combined with record high levels of fossil fuel emissions, the atmospheric CO₂ concentration grew at a record rate of nearly 3 parts per million per year.

This event illustrates the sensitivity of natural systems to global warming. Although a hot El Niño might not be the same as a sustained warmer climate, it nevertheless serves as a warning of the global warming in store, and underscores the importance of continuing to monitor changes in the Earth system.

The effect of the strong 2015-16 El Niño on the growth of atmospheric CO₂ can clearly be seen.
Nigel Hawtin/Future Earth Media Lab/Global Carbon Project, based on Peters et al., Nature Climate Change 2017, Author provided

No room for complacency

There is no doubt that progress has been made in decoupling economic activity from CO₂ emissions. A number of central and northern European countries and the US have shown how it is indeed possible to grow an economy while reducing emissions.

Other positive signs from our analysis include the 14% per year growth of global renewable energy (largely solar and wind) – albeit from a low base – and the fact that global coal consumption is still below its 2014 peak.


Read more: World greenhouse gas levels made unprecedented leap in 2016


These trends, and the resolute commitment of many countries to make the Paris Agreement a success, suggest that CO₂ emissions may not return to the high-growth rates experienced in the 2000s. However, an actual decline in global emissions might still be beyond our immediate reach, especially given projections for stronger economic growth in 2018.

The ConversationTo stabilise our climate at well below 2℃ of global warming, the elusive peak in global emissions needs to be reached as soon as possible, before quickly setting into motion the great decline in emissions needed to reach zero net emissions by around 2050.

Pep Canadell, CSIRO Scientist, and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, Professor, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Robbie Andrew, Senior Researcher, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Rob Jackson, Chair, Department of Earth System Science, and Chair of the Global Carbon Project, globalcarbonproject.org, Stanford University, and Vanessa Haverd, Senior research scientist, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Global stocktake shows the 43 greenhouse gases driving global warming



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A wide range of industrial processes have released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Paulo Resende/Shutterstock.com

Pep Canadell, CSIRO; Cathy Trudinger, CSIRO; David Etheridge, CSIRO; Malte Meinshausen, University of Melbourne; Paul Fraser, CSIRO, and Paul Krummel, CSIRO

The most comprehensive collection of atmospheric greenhouse gas measurements, published today, confirms the relentless rise in some of the most important greenhouse gases.

The data show that today’s aggregate warming effect of carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂O) is higher than at any time over the past 800,000 years, according to ice core records.

Building on half a century of atmospheric measurements by the international research community, we compiled and analysed the data as part of a group of international scientists, led by Malte Meinshausen from the University of Melbourne in collaboration with CSIRO.

Together, the data provide the most compelling evidence of the unprecedented perturbation of Earth’s atmosphere. They clearly show that the growth of greenhouse gases began with the onset of the industrial era around 1750, took a sharp turn upwards in the 1950s, and still continues today.

Research has demonstrated that this observed growth in greenhouse gases is caused by human activities, leading to warming of the climate – and in fact more than the observed warming, because part of the effect is currently masked by atmospheric pollution (aerosols).

The new collection of records comes from measurements of current and archived air samples, air trapped in bubbles in ice cores, and firn (compacted snow). The data cover the past 2,000 years without gaps, and are the result of a compilation of measurements analysed by dozens of laboratories around the world, including CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Cape Grim Station, NOAA, AGAGE and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, among others.

These data include 43 different greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from dozens of human activities and industrial processes. While CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O are on the rise, some other greenhouse gases such as dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC-12) are slowly starting to decline as a result of policies to ban their use.


Author provided

The greenhouse gases

Most of us know that CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O are among the principal causes of human-induced climate change. They are found in the atmosphere in the absence of human activity, but the increases in their concentrations are due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agriculture (livestock, rice paddies, and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers). They are all from biological or fossil fuel sources.

But there is much more when it comes to greenhouse gases. Our analysis features a further 40 greenhouse gases (among hundreds that exist), many of them emitted in very small quantities. Although many might play a small role, dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC-12) and trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) are the third and fifth most important greenhouse gases respectively, in terms of their overall contributions to global warming.

Most of these gases are emitted exclusively by humans, the so-called synthetic greenhouse gases, and have been used variously as aerosol spray propellants, refrigerants, fire-extinguishing agents, and in the production of semiconductors, among other industrial applications.

Synthetic greenhouse gases include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), most perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF₆), and others. Several, most famously CFCs, also deplete the ozone layer and are regulated under the Montreal Protocol. Others, such as HFCs, were actually first produced in large quantities to replace the ozone-depleting substances, but unfortunately turned out to be potent greenhouse gases too.

Importantly, all 43 greenhouse gases offer opportunities to tackle climate change, either by reducing their emissions or, in the case of synthetic gases, finding non-greenhouse alternatives.

Not all greenhouse gases are the same

How much a greenhouse gas contributes to warming depends on three factors. The first is how much gas is emitted. Second is how much a kilogram of that gas will warm the planet once it’s in the atmosphere. And third is how long the gas will remain in the atmosphere.

CO₂ is the most important greenhouse gas in warming the planet, despite being the weakest greenhouse gas per unit of mass. Its contribution to warming comes from the sheer scale of emissions (40 billion tonnes emitted each year), and the fact that a large part effectively hangs around in the atmosphere for hundreds or thousands of years after emission. The resulting concentration makes CO₂ responsible for about 65% of all warming due to greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

This makes CO₂ the most important factor in determining future global warming. Unless we can cut CO₂ emissions to zero by the second half of this century, primarily by finding alternatives to fossil fuels, the world will continue to warm beyond the 2℃ target of the Paris Agreement, not to mention the aspirational 1.5℃ goal.

Provided by University of Melbourne http://climate-energy-college.org/more-climate-spirals.

Methane (CH₄) is the next most important greenhouse gas, with current concentration contributing about 15% of overall human-induced warming.

Most synthetic greenhouse gases have very high global warming potentials. The one with the highest current emissions is the refrigerant HFC-134a, which is 1,300 times more potent than CO₂ (per mass unit emitted). Other synthetic greenhouse gases have even more extraordinary warming potentials, with CF₄ (used in the semiconductor industry) and SF₆ (from industrial electricity transformers) being 6,500 and 23,400 times more potent than CO₂, respectively.

CFC-12, a former refrigerant, is both a potent ozone-depleting substance and a powerful greenhouse gas. Although its emissions and atmospheric concentrations are now declining thanks to global compliance with the Montreal Protocol, it is still the third most important greenhouse gas and responsible for 6-7% of all warming since the beginning of the industrial era.

What are these GHG data good for?

Our new compilation of greenhouse gas data is the most complete and robust picture to date showing the main drivers of climate change, and how we humans are altering the Earth’s atmosphere. Global temperature is now about 1℃ warmer on average than pre-industrial temperatures.

The new database also serves as an accurate measure of greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from past human and natural emissions, which will in turn help to improve the performance of climate models. Building trust and confidence in climate projections starts by testing and running models with real data during historical periods. The new climate projections will feed in the next major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be released in 2021.

The ConversationContinued greenhouse gas monitoring, including significant contributions by Australia, is crucial to understand how the planet reacts to human interference, and to better plan for adaptation to a changing climate. Global and regional greenhouse data can help nations to track the long-term global targets under the Paris agreement, and to inform actions needed to stabilise the climate.

Pep Canadell, CSIRO Scientist, and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Cathy Trudinger, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO; David Etheridge, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Malte Meinshausen, A/Prof., School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne; Paul Fraser, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO, and Paul Krummel, Research Group Leader, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New coal plants wouldn’t be clean, and would cost billions in taxpayer subsidies


Frank Jotzo, Australian National University

Following a campaign by the coal industry, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has argued for new coal-fired power stations in Australia. But these plants would be more expensive than renewables and carry a huge liability through the carbon emissions they produce.

Major Australian energy companies have ruled out building new coal plants. The Australian Energy Council sees them as “uninvestable”. Banks and investment funds would not touch them with a barge pole. Only government subsidies could do it.

It may seem absurd to spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money on last century’s technology that will be more costly than renewable power and would lock Australia into a high-carbon trajectory.

But the government is raising the possibility of government funding for new coal plants, with statements by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg. The suggestion is to use funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. For this to happen, presumably the CEFC’s investment mandate would need to be changed, or the meaning of “low-emissions technologies” interpreted in a radical way.

It should come to nothing, if minimum standards of sensible policy prevailed.

But an ill wind is blowing in Australia’s energy and climate policy debate. The situation in parliament is difficult, and the Trump presidency is giving the right wing in the Coalition a boost.

Definitely not ‘clean’

Proponents of new coal plants call them “clean coal”. They have appropriated a term that normally means burning coal in power stations with carbon capture and storage, a technology that filters out most of the carbon dioxide. But this is expensive and has made little progress.

Turnbull and others are simply suggesting Australia build the latest generation of conventional coal-burning plants. They are not clean – merely marginally less polluting than the old plants running now.

A new high-efficiency coal plant run on black coal would produce about 80% of the emissions of an equivalent old plant. An ultra-supercritical coal plant running on black coal emits about 0.7 tonnes of CO₂ per megawatt hour of electricity, or about 0.85 tonnes using brown coal. That is anything but clean.

For comparison, typical old “dirty” black coal plants in operation now emit around 0.9 tonnes, so the improvement from replacing them with the latest technology is not large. Gas plants produce between 0.4-0.6 tonnes, much less than the suggested new coal plants. Gas has the added benefit of being able to respond flexibly to demand. A plant with carbon capture and storage might emit around 0.05 tonnes, and renewables zero.

The Australian grid average right now is around 0.8 tonnes and gradually falling. New coal would tend to keep that average higher over the long term.

A single typically sized new coal plant could blow out in the order of 5 million tonnes of CO₂ each year – about 1% of Australia’s current annual emissions – and would have an expected lifetime of 40-60 years. It would also pollute the air locally, as all coal plants do, causing damage to people’s health.

If we wanted to make up for the extra coal emissions by doing more in industry, transport or agriculture, then this would come at a cost in those parts of the economy. In-depth research has shown that decarbonisation of Australia’s economy needs to have zero-carbon electricity supply at its core.

What if we don’t care about the climate?

Building coal power plants is expensive. The average lifetime cost of producing power with ultra-super critical plants in Australia is estimated at around A$80 per megawatt-hour. This assumes financing is available at standard interest rates and that the plant runs at high capacity.

Given the risk that the plants will be liable under stricter carbon limits in the future, the financing costs are bound to be higher, probably north of A$100 – and may be as much as A$160. If the plant is not fully utilised, as is already the case for existing coal plants, average costs will be even higher.

By comparison, wind farms now get built at an average cost of A$75 per megawatt-hour, and solar parks at around A$110. Both are expected to come down to perhaps A$50 by 2025. New coal plants take many years to prepare and build, so 2025 is the relevant comparison.

In fact, the overall comparison costs for renewables are even lower. This is because wind and solar built in 2025 would be replaced in the 2050s with even cheaper systems.

There are extra costs associated with wind and solar – for instance, through pumped-hydro storage or more gas-fired power plants to balance supply. But these costs are far less than the underlying cost of renewables.

So renewables including system integration costs will be cheaper than new coal plants, perhaps by quite a margin. Let’s say, very conservatively, that renewables are A$20 per megawatt-hour cheaper. For the coal plant that’d be an extra cost of A$150 million per year, or A$6 billion over 40 years. The extra cost could be much higher if the plant was retired before the 2060s or not run at full capacity.

The subsidy required would be potentially billions of dollars for each plant. That’s billions of dollars from the taxpayer or electricity user, in order to supply power with high carbon emissions that are then locked in for half a century. It should not happen in a country that prides itself on rational economic policy.

Instead, government should set its sights on the long-term economic opportunities for Australia in a low-carbon world, and chart a path for the transition of the energy system.

Turnbull referred to Australia’s position as a coal exporter. But a revolution is under way in energy technologies. While coal will continue to be used in existing plants, the times of growing coal use are over. Already more than 70% of the world’s annual power sector investment goes to renewables.

Australia is lucky in that there are no limits to the amount of renewable energy that could be produced. New industries can be built around it. We should invest in the industries of the future, not sink more money into the technologies of last century.

The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia can stop greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: here's how


Anna Skarbek, Monash University

To avoid dangerous climate change there is a finite amount of greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO2, that we can add to the atmosphere – our global carbon budget. If we use our budget wisely, we have until about 2050 to transition to zero net emissions. But how do we get there?

For Australia to play its role, we’ll also need to get to zero net emissions by 2050. In a recently launched website from ClimateWorks, we’ve created an online tool to demonstrate that there are various ways to get there. You can create your own way of getting to zero net emissions by 2050.

Internationally the world has agreed to limit warming to 2C. To keep under this limit, globally we can emit around 1,700 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (measured in CO2-equivalent) between 2000 and 2050. This would give us a 67% chance of limiting warming to 2C or less.

Just over a third of this budget was already used up between 2000 and 2012, leaving approximately 1,100 billion tonnes – this is the remaining global carbon budget.

Global emissions are currently projected to rise without further actions, putting us on a pathway to exceed this carbon budget and experience temperature rises of 4C or more.

Australia’s carbon budget

The Climate Change Authority has calculated Australia’s equitable share of the global carbon budget as 10.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for the period 2013 to 2050. If we continue to emit at our current rate, we will exceed our carbon budget by 2028 – that’s just 13 years from now.

If we are to live within our carbon budget, we must begin to reduce emissions now. This will allow us to use our remaining budget over a longer period of time and enable a smoother transition to a low carbon Australia. If we delay, the transition will need to be faster, meaning more cost and more disruption.

The following infographic produced by ClimateWorks shows the latest science behind the carbon budget.


ClimateWorks Australia

Balancing our carbon budget

The good news is Australia can balance its carbon budget. Research by ClimateWorks and Australian National University has found that Australia can achieve zero net emissions by 2050 and live within its recommended carbon budget, using technologies that exist today, while still growing the economy.

This pathway relies on four “pillars” of action:

  • Ambitious energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport

  • Low carbon electricity, either through 100% renewables or a mix of renewables and other technologies

  • Electrification where possible of transport and energy-using equipment in buildings and industry where possible, and elsewhere switching to low carbon fuels

  • Reducing non-energy emissions through improvements in industrial processes and agricultural practices, and offsetting residual emissions through carbon forestry.

Choose your own pathway

This research is explained in our interactive 2050 Pathways website.

Australia is fortunate to have an abundance of energy and natural resources, providing us with a diversity of choice in reducing our emissions. This means that there are many ways Australia could balance its carbon budget.

The online 2050 Pathways Calculator allows users to create their own pathways to net zero emissions by 2050, staying within our carbon budget.

The levels of activity in each area of abatement can be changed from level one (business-as-usual) to level four (maximum reasonably feasible). Users can change the extent to which each emissions reduction opportunity is pursued and see the impact on demand for energy, on energy supply and on greenhouse gas emissions.

On business-as-usual, we’d blow the carbon budget by 2028.
ClimateWorks

As would be expected, increasing the level of effort in some of the opportunities decreases the effort required from other areas of action to stay within the carbon budget.

For example, maximum effort in energy efficiency could enable less reliance on emerging technologies such as geothermal, wave and tidal energy production, or a slower shift away from coal.

Or, if technologies such as batteries or biofuels improved faster than expected, less effort would be required in other areas.

Increasing nuclear in the energy system could help meet the carbon budget.
ClimateWorks

The calculator can help users to understand the limitations, trade-offs and inter-dependencies involved in meeting our carbon budget.

Global action

In Paris later this year, more than 190 countries including Australia will meet to confirm their commitment to reducing emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Some countries have already announced their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to emissions reductions.

The European Union has pledged a 40% reduction in domestic emissions by 2030 and the United States has announced a 25-28% reduction by 2025. China has pledged to reduce the emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65% by 2030.

Many global businesses are taking the lead through co-ordinated business groupings such as RE100 and We Mean Business.

A few examples:

  • Ikea plans to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, and has 1 billion Euros to tackle climate change, including investing in 700,000 solar panels and 314 wind turbines

  • Google has established agreements to fund over $2 billion in renewable energy projects

  • 100% of Apple’s US operations are powered by renewable energy, with plans to roll this out globally

  • Mars is building a wind farm in Texas that will create enough electricity to power half of all of Mars’ US operations.

Australia’s contribution to balance its share will be reviewed internationally by our allies and trading partners.

An article recently published by the Lowy Institute argued that failure to engage constructively with international climate change negotiations could affect our ability to achieve our national interests in our relations with other countries.

The consequences of not addressing climate change will also be felt at home. Exceeding 2C warming will have serious consequences for our health, agriculture, water supply, natural landscape and lead to an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and bushfires.

Like our national budget, failing to balance our carbon budget will be felt well beyond the current fiscal cycle and would place an unreasonable burden on future generations. The good news is that this is a budget we know we can balance, if we get started now.

The Conversation

Anna Skarbek is CEO at ClimateWorks Australia at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

New analysis: Australia can halve emissions by 2030


Anna Skarbek, Monash University and Amandine Denis, Monash University

Australia can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, according to analysis by ClimateWorks.

The federal government is currently considering what Australia’s post-2020 emissions target should be, and is expected to announce its decision in the coming weeks.

Many other countries have already announced their pledges, and various groups in Australia have called on the government to commit to a strong target.

Building on our Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050 project, our analysis shows that we can strongly reduce emissions using existing technology and while still growing the economy.

Australia’s emissions reduction potential

Australia emitted 535.9 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent in the year to September 2014. Our analysis shows we can reduce emissions to 300 million tonnes by 2030 – the equivalent of a 51% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels.

We have used the year 2005 as a reference level given that it is the baseline year used by the United States and Canada. Australia’s current unconditional target is 5% below 2000 levels by 2020. If we used the year 2000 as a reference, our results are equivalent to a reduction of 46% below 2000 levels by 2030, as emissions were 50 million tonnes higher in 2005 than in 2000.

Many countries have already announced their post 2020 emissions reduction targets. For instance, the US post-2020 target is 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. If we convert other targets to 2005 levels by 2025, we find the European Union reduces emissions by 23%, the United Kingdom by 41% and Canada by 24%.

If Australia is to match the United States emissions reduction target in 2025, it would need to be doing over 85% of the proposed abatement actions.

How Australia can achieve strong emissions reductions

Our analysis identifies major opportunities to reduce emissions across five key sectors – electricity, agriculture and forestry, transport, industry and buildings.

It shows that doing cost effective energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport would bring Australia’s emissions back to 2005 levels by 2030.

Then, switching to renewable energy in the electricity sector and using this zero emissions electricity to replace fossil fuels in other sectors would help further reduce emissions to 25% below 2005 levels.

Carbon forestry and agricultural improvements can achieve a similar amount of abatement and bring emissions down to around 45% below 2005 levels.

Further actions to switch fossil fuels to biofuels and gas, as well as reduce industrial non-energy emissions can bring Australia’s emissions down to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Importantly, meeting a 50% reduction target by 2030 is achievable entirely within Australia and without the need to buy carbon permits overseas. Undertaking these actions would also set Australia on a path for net zero emissions by 2050 and fulfil our international obligations to contribute to limit global warming to 2 degrees.

How each sector contributes to reducing emissions

The analysis shows that each sector can contribute a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions:

The electricity sector can achieve 137 million tonnes of greenhouse gas abatement by shifting away from coal-fired power stations and accelerating the uptake of solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy, as well as wind and other renewables, and through improving the efficiency and emissions intensity of the remaining fossil fuel generation.

Agriculture and forestry can achieve 111 million tonnes of abatement by reducing deforestation and increasing carbon farming on less profitable agricultural land, as well as by implementing best-practice agriculture.

Transport can achieve 72 million tonnes of abatement by improving energy efficiency in new passenger and freight vehicles, increasing the uptake of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles, and by switching to gas and bioenergy for freight transport.

Industry can achieve 71 million tonnes of abatement by improving the energy efficiency of industrial practices, assets and equipment, shifting industrial equipment and processes from fossil fuels to electricity, gas and bioenergy, and developing carbon capture and storage and implementing best practice to reduce industrial process and fugitive emissions.

Buildings can achieve 39 million tonnes of abatement by ensuring new buildings are as efficient as possible, improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings, appliances and switching building equipment from gas to electricity.


ClimateWorks

This analysis shows Australia can achieve an ambitious emissions reduction target without major structural changes to its economy or lifestyle. What is required, however, is a major uptake of technologies right across the economy to drive strong emissions reductions.

*The lead image has been updated.

The Conversation

Anna Skarbek is CEO at ClimateWorks Australia at Monash University.
Amandine Denis is Head of Research, ClimateWorks Australia at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions


Grist

The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.

The companies range from investor-owned firms — household names such as Chevron, Exxon, and BP — to state-owned and government-run firms.

The analysis, which was welcomed by the former Vice President Al Gore as a “crucial step forward,” found that the vast majority of the firms were in the business of producing oil, gas, or coal. The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Climatic Change.

“There are thousands of oil, gas, and coal producers in the world,” said climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado. “But the decisionmakers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to…

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