Fracking policies are wildly inconsistent across Australia, from gung-ho development to total bans


Hanabeth Luke, Southern Cross University; Martin Brueckner, Murdoch University, and Nia Emmanouil, Southern Cross University

Last week, the Western Australian Government lifted its state-wide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Unconventional gas industries were given the green light to develop on existing petroleum leases, especially in WA’s vast Kimberley region.

Following the Northern Territory government’s April decision to lift its temporary fracking ban, this decision paves the way for future growth of the industry across much of northern Australia.




Read more:
Australian gas: between a fracked rock and a socially hard place


Fracking policies vary widely across Australia’s states and territories, and so do community attitudes. Our review of the literature on unconventional gas development in Australia reveals an inconsistent approach in how governments have responded to the industry. While coal seam gas extraction has proceeded almost unimpeded in Queensland, the industry was halted in its tracks in Victoria, with a permanent ban on fracking legislated in March this year.

In the NT, despite an inquiry that acknowledged clear and widespread public opposition to fracking, the territory’s moratorium was lifted. In Tasmania, a moratorium is in place until 2025.

Unconventional gas development in New South Wales – despite pressing energy needs – has been protracted owing to growing community opposition towards fracking, with exclusion zones created near residential areas and industries such as wine-making and horse breeding.

The WA government’s decision to leave in place localised bans in the state’s most populated areas, while allowing fracking in existing petroleum tenements elsewhere, echoes the position taken by the South Australian government in September. The latter’s policy imposes a ten-year fracking ban in SA’s agriculturally rich southeast, while allowing the practice to continue in the northeast.

Balancing policy?

Labelled as a “clean” alternative to coal by industry, unconventional gas is presented as a key “transition” fuel, capable of delivering reliable, lower-emission electricity – a stepping stone along the path to zero-carbon energy. Our research suggests that this clean image is pivotal to public support for the industry.

The unconventional gas industry has been hailed as an economic lifeline for regional Australia. Justification for its growth into new regions is tied closely to the purported domestic “gas crisis”. Others predict that fracking for unconventional gas could have negative economic consequences.

Many affected communities continue to question the capacity of the industry to operate with low risk to health and the environment. In the Kimberley and across Australia, opposition to fracking simmers.

WA and SA exemplify efforts to strike a balance between the unconventional gas industry and concerned community members. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the effectiveness of attempts to secure fracking bans could relate to the political and economic muscle of affected communities. Our ongoing research seeks to analyse this development pattern.




Read more:
Fracking can cause social stress in nearby areas: new research


What are the real emissions?

The industry has argued that “fugitive emissions” of methane from Australian unconventional gas wells are relatively low. However, more recent studies warn that we may be underestimating the true climate risks of unconventional gas.

Indeed, Australia’s spike in greenhouse gas emissions is attributed to the expansion of unconventional gas production and exports. They underpinned a 13.7% increase in national fugitive greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to Australia recording its 15th consecutive quarter of greenhouse gas emission increases this year. These figures call into question Australia’s trajectory to meeting its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

The impacts of rising greenhouse emissions are becoming increasingly visible and costly, in the form of more frequent violent storms, intense rainfall, drought and bushfires. Last week, the Victorian Labor Government was re-elected on the back of
strong climate policy. With 15,000 children walking out of school on Friday, the youth “climate strike” rallies attest to the strength of community feelings on climate action and the role of fracking in this context.

Future of fracking?

For state and territory leaders, the job of balancing gas industry interests with those of increasingly vocal communities is becoming more of a juggling act than ever before. With climate concerns intensifying, renewable energy supported by battery power appears a promising option for meeting regional development and energy needs. This has potential to gain widespread public support and create “green-collar” jobs while helping to reduce Australia’s emissions.

In contrast, a reliance on unconventional gas as an interim energy solution may “frack” more than just deep rock formations – but potentially communities, politics … and not least the climate.The Conversation

Hanabeth Luke, Lecturer, School of Environment, Science and Engineering, Southern Cross University; Martin Brueckner, Senior Lecturer in Sustainability, Murdoch University, and Nia Emmanouil, Research associate, Southern Cross University

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

Why our carbon emission policies don’t work on air travel



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The Gillard government’s carbon price had no effect on the aviation industry.
Shutterstock

Francis Markham, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Western Sydney University; James Higham, and Martin Young, Southern Cross University

The federal government’s National Energy Guarantee aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity industry by 26% of 2005 levels. But for Australia to meet its Paris climate change commitments, this 26% reduction will need to be replicated economy-wide.

In sectors such as aviation this is going to be very costly, if not impossible. Our modelling of the carbon price introduced by the Gillard government shows it had no detectable effect on kilometres flown and hence carbon emitted, despite being levied at A$23-$24 per tonne.

If Australia is to meet its Paris climate commitments, the National Energy Guarantee target will need to be raised or radical measures will be required, such as putting a hard cap on emissions in sectors such as aviation.




Read more:
Obituary: Australia’s carbon price


Our analysis of domestic aviation found no correlation between the Gillard government’s carbon price and domestic air travel, even when adjusting statistically for other factors that influence the amount Australians fly.

This is despite the carbon price being very effective at reducing emissions in the energy sector.

To reduce aviation emissions, a carbon price must either make flying less carbon intensive, or make people fly less.

In theory, a carbon tax should improve carbon efficiency by increasing the costs of polluting technologies and systems, relative to less polluting alternatives. If this is not possible, a carbon price might reduce emissions by making air travel more expensive, thereby encouraging people to either travel less or use alternative modes of transport.

Why the carbon price failed to reduce domestic aviation

The cost of air travel has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years. As the chart below shows, economy air fares in Australia in 2018 are just 55% of the average cost in 1992 (after adjusting for inflation).

Given this dramatic reduction in fares, many consumers would not have noticed a small increase in prices due to the carbon tax. Qantas, for example, increased domestic fares by between A$1.82 and A$6.86.

The carbon price may have just been too small to reduce consumer demand – even when passed on to consumers in full.

Consumer demand may have actually been increased by the Clean Energy Future policy, which included household compensation.




Read more:
Carbon pricing is still the best way to cut emissions, if we get it right


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The cost of jet fuel, which accounts for between 30 and 40% of total airline expenses, has fluctuated dramatically over the last decade.

As the chart below shows, oil were around USD$80-$100 per barrel during the period of the carbon price, but had fallen to around USD$50 per barrel just a year later.

Airlines manage these large fluctuations by absorbing the cost or passing them on through levies. Fare segmentation and dynamic pricing also make ticket prices difficult to predict and understand.

Compared to the volatility in the cost of fuel, the carbon price was negligible.

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The carbon price was also unlikely to have been fully passed through to consumers as Virgin and Qantas were engaged in heavy competition at the time, also known as the “capacity wars”.

This saw airlines running flights at well below profitable passenger loads in order to gain market share. It also meant the airlines stopped passing on the carbon price to customers.




Read more:
The Paris climate agreement needs coordinated carbon prices to be successful


A carbon price could incentivise airlines to reduce emissions by improving their management systems or changing plane technology. But such an incentive already existed in 2012-2014, in the form of high fuel prices.

A carbon price would only provide an additional incentive over and above high fuel prices if there is an alternative, non-taxed form of energy to switch to. This is the case for electricity generators, who can switch to solar or wind power.

But more efficient aeroplane materials, engines and biofuels are more myth than reality.

What would meeting Australia’s Paris commitment require?

Given the failure of the carbon price to reduce domestic air travel, there are two possibilities to reduce aviation emissions by 26% on 2005 levels.

The first is to insist on reducing emissions across all industry sectors. In the case of aviation, the modest A$23-$24 per tonne carbon price did not work.

Hard caps on emissions will be needed. Given the difficulty of technological change, this will require that people fly less.

The second option is to put off reducing aviation emissions and take advantage of more viable sources of emissions reduction elsewhere.

By increasing the National Energy Guarantee target to well above 26%, the emission reductions in the energy sector could offset a lack of progress in aviation. This is the most economically efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions, but does little to reduce carbon pollution from aviation specifically.

The ConversationAirline emissions are likely to remain a difficult problem, but one that needs to be tackled if we’re to stay within habitable climate limits.

Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Senior lecturer, Western Sydney University; James Higham, Professor of Tourism, and Martin Young, Associate Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

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

Australia’s emissions are climbing again, but it already has the policies to turn the tide


Gordon Weiss, University of Sydney

The resumed growth of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions after almost a decade of consistent decline shows the scale of the challenge ahead if Australia is to meet its climate commitments.

This week’s RepuTex analysis forecasts that national emissions will rise 6% by 2020, with no peak in sight until 2030. The signs are that the uptick for 2014-15 marks a reversal of the recent downward trend proclaimed by federal environment minister Greg Hunt.

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With the world’s nations having pledged in Paris to limit global warming to well below 2℃, it is clear that Australia (which joined the “high-ambition” diplomatic push for a 1.5℃ target also to be included in the agreement), will be expected to make far deeper emissions cuts than it has so far achieved.

Emissions on the rise

December’s federal government update of Australia’s emissions showed that emissions for 2014-15 did not rise dramatically from previous years, but it also highlighted two key considerations.

One, for the first time in almost a decade, Australia’s emissions did not fall from one year to the next. And two, the volume of electricity generated in the National Electricity Market also failed to fall. As electricity generation is responsible for one-third of Australia’s emissions, an increase in electricity is likely to drive up emissions overall.

Also in December, the government updated its forecast of national emissions out to 2020, which contained both good and bad news. The good news is that under the rules defined by the Kyoto Protocol, Australia’s rising emissions won’t stop it from meeting its cumulative 2020 emissions obligations. The bad news is that Australia is not on track to achieve its absolute emissions reduction target of 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

Current policies can do the job

Clearly Australia needs to turn things around. But there is good news here too, because it already has a broad suite of policies that can cut greenhouse gas emissions. Among them is the newly released National Energy Productivity Plan (NEPP), as well as the Renewable Energy Target (RET), the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) (which may yet receive a funding boost), and the Safeguard Mechanism, which comes into force later this year and is designed to ensure that big emitters don’t wipe out the emissions savings made by projects funded under the ERF.

Some measures to cut emissions are more cost-effective than others – replacing power infrastructure is expensive, for instance, while improving fuel efficiency actually saves money. Different economic sectors can thus be plotted on an emissions-reduction “cost curve”, as seen below.

Cost curve for various emissions-reduction options
Source: National Energy Productivity Plan

Here’s how the various existing policies can each make a significant contribution.

Energy productivity

Looking at the cost curve, we see that some of cheapest emissions reductions can be found in saving energy. As Australia’s energy productivity lags other G20 countries, the NEPP can drive both emissions reductions and deliver broad economic benefits by maximising the value derived from each unit of energy. The sooner we see key parts of the NEPP implemented, such as requirements for light vehicle fuel efficiency, the greater its impact on emissions.

Emissions Reduction Fund

Judging by the two ERF auctions held so far, it seems that the scheme will mainly encourage projects such as low-emission farming and land use changes. The Paris climate agreement called for nations to embrace their “common and differentiated responsibilities”, and land use is surely one sector where Australia has greater potential than many countries to cut emissions.

Renewable Energy Target

The RET has made inroads into decarbonising electricity generation without drawing funds from other programs. While economic purists argue against promoting low-carbon electricity ahead of cheaper emissions-reduction measures, the RET is crucial for delivering on the long-term need to decarbonise the power sector.

The author’s own analysis of the interaction between the NEPP and the RET demonstrates how these policies complement each other, as improved energy efficiency and the growth in renewables both reduce the demand for electricity from coal-fired power stations. Weaning ourselves off coal will be essential if we hope to achieve deeper cuts to emissions.

The Safeguard Mechanism

During the Paris climate talks, Hunt acknowledged what commentators had been saying for some time: that the Safeguard Mechanism, aimed at constraining Australia’s largest emitters, has many of the features of a baseline-and-credit carbon trading scheme, and can drive emissions reductions.

Emitters will only be penalised when emissions exceed their agreed baseline, thus reducing the scheme’s overall economic impact. This allows for a much sharper price signal when emissions are excessive, and can reward the best performers. Furthermore, the Safeguard Mechanism will generate demand for emissions reduction activities across the whole economy, beyond the projects directly funded by the ERF.

An end to uncertainty?

In the wake of the Paris climate deal, the International Monetary Fund issued a statement saying that it was essential to price emissions. With the Safeguard Mechanism set to establish a market for emissions reductions, working together with other climate change policies, perhaps Australia now has a set of complementary policies that can help restore some certainty to its response to climate change.

We just need to move quickly and in step with the rest of the world.

The Conversation

Gordon Weiss, Honorary Associate, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Sydney

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

EARTH HOUR: A COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME???


Earth Hour is to be held this Saturday (March 28) between 8.30 pm and 9.30 pm. All you need to do to take part in Earth Hour is simply turn your lights off for the hour between 8.30 pm and 9.30 pm on March 28.

Earth Hour began as an annual event in Sydney in 2007, when an estimated 2.2 million buildings switched off their lights for an hour. This year Earth Hour is going global for the second year and is giving people the opportunity to ‘vote’ for either the Earth or global warning. By switching off the lights for an hour a person can ‘vote’ for fighting global warning.

Organisers of Earth Hour are hoping some 1 billion people will ‘vote’ for the Earth and hope to be able to give world leaders 1 billion ‘votes’ for the Earth at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009. The conference is the forum in which world leaders will determine policy to supersede the Kyoto Protocol on Greenhouse Gas reduction.

For more on Earth Hour visit the official website at:

http://www.earthhour.org  

However, is Earth Hour a colossal waste of time? What is really being gained by turning the lights off for an hour once a year? All other electrical devices are still on and a lot of people go for alternative lighting devices that also pollute the environment. Other than awareness of global warming (which I would suggest everyone knows about now and either believes or does not believe – turning off some lights won’t change anyone’s mind on global warming), what does Earth Hour really achieve?

The following Blog post makes for interesting reading:

http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/earth_hour_crashes_to_earth/

Am I against reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions? Am I against reducing Global Warming and other associated disasters? Am I anti-environment? The answer to those questions is no! I’m just simply saying Earth Hour is little more than tokenism by most people who are against the Rudd government Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction policies and other policies that actually aim to make a difference.