Two dead horses and the outcry from animal rights groups that followed unfortunately pushed a telling United Nations report on climate change off the front page. In any other week, the report would have had a better run, without having to compete with horse form and breeding analysis, gossip and trivia, sweepstakes (there’s another page gone), fashions on the field and heart-tugging articles about little Aussie battlers trying to knock off cashed up European stables.
I acknowledge that the connections of Melbourne Cup contenders Admire Rakti and Araldo would have grieved when their horses died after the running of the 153rd Melbourne Cup. But these things happen in racing, and other sports for that matter. Professional racing people bury their horses; they claim the insurance and move on to the next race. The strappers and track riders who knew the horses best will be disconsolate for a while, but the world goes on.
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it will be a world of melting polar ice, rising sea levels, higher temperatures and extreme weather. The IPCC says worldwide we need to act urgently to stop burning coal, and to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. We also need to stop producing greenhouse gases and to discourage investment in dirty industries.
The IPCC’s key findings are completely at odds with Team Australia, which has dismissed the carbon tax and is still trying to scrap or at least wind back the 2020 renewable energy target. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been widely quoted as saying coal is “good for humanity” and has decried the efforts by some institutional investors to divest (sell) shares in carbon-intensive sectors.
However, the world’s top scientists have given their clearest warning yet of the severe and irreversible impacts of climate change. The 116-page IPCC synthesis report, a summary of its last three, is a dry read (no pun intended). But its message is blunt: greenhouse gas levels are at the highest they have been in 800,000 years. The most recent increases are largely blamed on the burning of fossil fuels.
“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who says he is no punter, despite having a totally wild bet against the science of climate change and the burning of fossil fuels, tipped Signoff (4th) to win the Melbourne Cup.
The connections of Signoff might have picked up a healthy cheque ($250,000), but bookies don’t pay out on fourth. And voters seldom return a politician who has shown poor judgement on serious global issues.
Imagine if there was indeed a race, the winner of which would be allowed to implement their method of repelling the advances of global warming.
The Climate Change Stakes.
“The horses are parading for the Climate Change Stakes. Looking fit and determined in the birdcage is Mitigation, the 6-4 on favourite, heavily backed by every greenie on the planet. Climate Denier, a 33-1 pop with a reputation for coming home when least expected, is expected to struggle with its big weight and the track conditions (wet again). Pay the Polluters has found some support from the Society for Illogical Thinking. Carbon Tax Mk II, having his first run for the Green stable, will find it hard from the outside barrier, but if he gets an inside run coming into the home turn, look out. Solar Leader, a German import, will need a sunny day, as will Sunshine Valley Stables entry, South Australia’s Beam Me Up. The Northern Territory entry, Diesel Rules, is a late scratching. Apparently his transporter ran out of fuel. CeeCeeEss was disqualified for having a stupid name.”
It is now nine months since the chairman of the Climate Change Committee, UK conservative Lord Deben, described the Australian government’s then plan to scrap the carbon tax (which it has since done) as irresponsible.
“Australia’s actions are appalling,” Lord Deben (a former MP in the Thatcher government), said in a statement. “While the 66 countries that account for 88% of global emissions have passed laws to address global warming, Australia is repealing them.”
The IPCC’s synthesis report made four key recommendations, all based on broad scientific consensus.
If the planet is to be kept from warming by more than two degrees:
• Renewable energy (i.e. solar, wind power, wave power et al), nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS), should comprise 80% of the world’s energy by 2050 (it is currently about 30%);
• Investors need to switch their allegiances from polluting industries to clean energy sectors;
• The world must stop using fossil fuels by 2100 (unless fossil fuel power generation uses CCS),
• Greenhouse gases must be cut by 40% to 70% by 2050, and to less than zero by 2100.
Meanwhile, Team Australia got its Direct Action Bill through. An alternative to the carbon tax, it pays polluters to clean their act up. Under political pressure, the Abbott government is now talking about a renewable energy target of 5% by 2020, rather than scrapping the original RET of 20%, so there is a glimmer of hope.
My research assistant Little Brother found a gem of a story in The Guardian which harked back to Budget cuts in May. While Mr Abbott has recently said Australia’s energy future lies in coal, five months ago his government cut $495.3 million in forward research funding to develop carbon capture and storage technology. CCS captures carbon emissions that would otherwise have been expelled into the atmosphere and stores them underground. LB says there is only one large CCS plant in operation (in Saskatchewan, Canada). The science has many detractors.
The Labor government also slashed funding for CCS, so while it has been flagged as an alternative by the IPCC, it seems out of favour here, with just $191.7 million left to develop trial plants over the next seven years.
Despite all the obstacles in its way, the solar energy sector keeps signing up new industries (the Brisbane Markets is using the massive amounts of roof space it has at Rocklea to install a 1.06MW system). Construction will start next year and when completed it will be one of the largest in Australia.
Last time I wrote about renewable energy a reader studying the solar sector wrote to tell me that financially disadvantaged sections of the community continue to pay more for electricity as a result of past solar policies. And so far, commercial solar power stations can’t compete with coal-fired stations. But while that debate is played out, more households and commercial businesses are installing solar systems so they can control their own destiny. Smarter technology (thermal storage) and a mass market, will make solar a less expensive option. Besides, it’s irrelevant whether solar “stacks up” in the conventional sense of being the cheapest alternative. As the IPCC says, we have to act and we have to act NOW.