Climate Change


Millions of dollars of NSW taxpayers’ money is being spent on tiny cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. One charity has received a grant to reduce emissions by just two tonnes over 10 years.

The opposition has criticised the Climate Change Fund, which sets aside about $5 million of its $300 million budget for not-for-profit groups to make their buildings more water- and energy-efficient.

The Central Coast Community College was given $21,018 to save 4.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, the equivalent of $4670 a tonne, and the Central Coast Campus Union received $38,000 to save nine tonnes of emissions at $4222 a tonne.

In another case, a family support group in Newcastle received $1400 to tint their windows to reduce electricity use and lower emissions by just two tonnes over the next 10 years.

A Liberal MP for Castle Hill, Michael Richardson, said he supported groups cutting their carbon footprint but not at any cost.

”This fund has been a monumental waste of taxpayers’ funds, given the need to cut millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide,” he said.

”Taxpayers want the Climate Change Fund to succeed, but that can only happen if the government achieves value for money. There isn’t a bottomless pit of funds to draw on.”

Last month the Environment Minister, Frank Sartor, called on groups to apply for a slice of the $5.4 million funding under the Community Savers program.

Mr Sartor said $6.6 million had been given to 281 projects since the program began last year, saving about 1.3 billion litres of water, 48,000 tonnes of carbon pollution over the next 10 years and $1.3 million on bills.

He said as much as $40,000 was available to groups to undertake measures such as installing rainwater tanks, switching to solar hot water and installing water-efficient fixtures.

Source: AuSES.

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AUSTRALIANS would need to cut their energy use by an average of 16 per cent over the next decade under an ambitious proposal before the Gillard government to lift energy efficiency and help tackle climate change.

Expert advice to the government, obtained by The Age, recommends boosting the nation’s energy efficiency by 30 per cent by 2020 to lift economic productivity and help Australia move to a low-carbon future.

But the report – prepared by a task group set up by former prime minister Kevin Rudd – emphasises Australia needs a carbon price to do the ”heavy lifting” to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Details of the report emerged as the first meeting of Julia Gillard’s multiparty climate change committee yesterday buried her much-maligned plan for a ”citizens’ assembly” of Australians to debate carbon policy.

Speaking after chairing the first meeting of the committee – which includes ministers, Greens and two independent MPs – Ms Gillard said it had been agreed that ”other ways of harnessing public dialogue” on the issue, apart from a citizens’ assembly, would be pursued.

Adding to speculation that the government could move in this term to introduce a carbon price, Ms Gillard said recent electricity price rises were being driven in part by uncertainty over the issue. ”Many experts will tell you that one of the problems with electricity generation is uncertainty about pricing carbon preventing people from making long-term investment – that puts upward pressure on prices,” she said.

Climate Minister Greg Combet also signalled that putting a price on carbon would remain the first priority. ”We believe that the most efficient and cost effective way to achieve reductions in carbon pollution is through a price on carbon.”

The report of the energy efficiency task group proposes an extensive energy savings plan and measures covering transport, buildings, energy markets and appliance efficiency standards.

The government received the report in July, but delayed its release during the election campaign after facing heavy criticism over climate policy.

The report proposes setting a target of cutting energy intensity (the amount of energy used per dollar of gross domestic product) by 30 per cent over a decade. It would require an average cut of 16 per cent in energy use for every Australian.

To get there, the government would introduce a national energy savings initiative – which might entail demanding that energy companies meet annual energy savings targets.

Households and businesses would earn credits for taking energy saving steps, such as buying more efficient fridges or heating and cooling systems, and could sell the credits to energy companies.

The report estimates a national energy savings scheme would cut average household power bills by between $87 and $180 a year, compared with what they would otherwise be.

The task group found energy efficiency was an ”untapped resource” that could both boost productivity and help Australia move to a cleaner future.

Yet while other countries were already finding competitive advantages by improving energy use, Australia was falling behind. Its energy efficiency policies had been piecemeal, poorly designed and at times costly without leading to any improvement.

State efficiency programs – including a Victorian scheme that has recently been doubled to a target of saving 5.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – would be swallowed into the national program.

In comments strongly backing the need for a carbon price, the report says: ”By far the most important element in a vision of a step change in Australia’s energy efficiency improvement is the presence of an explicit price on carbon.”

”Energy efficiency policy is an important part of a suite of responses to climate change, but it cannot realistically be expected to do the ‘heavy lifting’ needed to deliver Australia’s greenhouse gas reduction targets”.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said Ms Gillard had now ditched her two big climate election promises – the citizens’ assembly and the pledge not to have a carbon tax. ”How can the public trust her not to double electricity prices?”

Source: Cool Sydney.

At what point does something become normal? It’s not quite a simple as waiting for the moment when a majority of the population supports an issue. Plenty of philosophies and technologies are adopted by just a small minority of people and yet are deemed normal, while there are also incidences throughout history, most of them tragic, where something is deemed normal but in retrospect emerges as being staggeringly abnormal.

The identification of this crucial tipping point, to use the Gladwellism, between niche and normal is of huge importance to any social and economic movement – not least the transition to a low carbon economy.

The roll out of low carbon technologies and business models faces many economic and cultural challenges, but one of the most important and least well understood is the perception that green solutions are not yet the norm. Whether it is the solar panel on your roof, the hybrid car in your drive, or the carbon label on the bottle of milk you just bought, there is a sense that these products are in some way unusual, niche, perhaps even elitist.

It is in this context that President Obama’s decision to put a solar panel on the White House roof may prove to be of immense significance.

It is easy to see why the Obama administration agonised for so long over this decision, initially rejecting calls to install a solar system before this week announcing that panels would now be deployed. The last President to install solar panels on the White House roof was one term Democrat Jimmy Carter and the last thing Obama needs during election season is to provide right wing nutjobs with another excuse for them to characterise him as an effete elitist tree-hugger.

But regardless of the inevitable brickbats this move will attract, the Obamas have done the low carbon economy a huge service by announcing the installation. The White House is arguably the most famous home on the planet and while this is unlikely to prove the tipping point for mass adoption, installing solar panels at such a high profile site inevitably helps to move the technology a step closer to normalisation.

For anyone who sneers at the Obamas’ environmental concerns, others will conclude that if it is good enough for the president it is good enough for them.

It is for this same reason that the UK’s recently introduced feed-in tariff is so important. As many critics have pointed out the scheme is not the most cost effective means of reducing carbon emissions, but in addition to increasing renewable energy capacity each solar panel and wind turbine installed as a result of the incentive is helping to normalise low carbon technology. It will become much harder for people to be cynical about the green agenda when they can see it in action on their street.

I attended a round table event last week where one of the participants argued that we needed to reach a stage where a solar panel could be installed on the Queen Vic and no one would regard it as strange.

Currently, any effort to feature solar panels or smart meters as part of a long running soap would prompt accusations of government-approved preaching, or even worse, subliminal advertising. But were such technologies to become an increasingly normal part of the urban fabric, then they would also become part of the media landscape, further encouraging real world adoption in what would become a virtuous circle.

Similar adoption curves can be seen time and time again throughout history and they remain one of the few reasons to be optimistic about the prospect of us building a sustainable economy over the next few decades.

Whether it is the break-neck pace at which people bought iPods during the noughties or the decades-long battle to normalise equality in the workplace that is gloriously illustrated in TV show du jour Mad Men, it has repeatedly proved possible to engineer economic and social tipping points.

The lesson for those businesses and governments keen to drive the development of the low carbon economy the lesson is clear: there are benefits attached to the visible deployment of green technologies and business models that go over and above the immediate carbon and energy savings.

This is particularly the case for those firms in the media sphere that have the potential to accelerate or slow the normalisation process.

One of the most significant victories secured by environmentalists in recent years was Rupert Murdoch’s acknowledgement of the threat posed by climate change and his promise to mobilize his vast media resources to address the challenge. What followed was an encouraging season of green programmes and articles across the News International portfolio that served to further push the environment up the political and social agenda in the run up to last year’s Copenhagen Summit.

Unfortunately, since then Murdoch has reverted to type, unleashing Fox News to attack the Obama administration’s green agenda and providing millions in funding to a Republican Party that remains in hock to climate change sceptics.

If ever there was an illustration of why it is so important to change what is regarded as the norm, this is it.

Source: Business Green Blog.

By now, it’s clear to most that accelerating the transition to renewable energy is critical for a variety of climactic and geopolitical reasons. Nobody wants to see continued environmental destruction, and even deaths, from air pollution and increasingly extreme weather, which we must conclude are at least partially caused by the way we currently generate energy. Not to mention, few of us want to keep funding corrupt and violent dictatorial regimes that are enriched by our consumption of oil.

There’s something else that nobody seems to want, too: the invoice.

While state legislatures, under pressure from constituents, have provided utilities with target dates to reach higher levels of renewable energy capabilities, state governments are unlikely to hike taxes that might provide subsidies for the utilities to cover the costs of delivering clean power. Utilities are also sometimes finding it difficult to get state utility commissions to approve the raising of their rates to be able to fund these projects. That would cost politicians votes and utilities customers.

This same lack of willingness to find a way to foot the bill also discourages voters from being willing to bankroll an improvement in air quality. Everyone is green, in the abstract, as long as it doesn’t demand much of them personally. In most constituents’ minds, renewable energy is something the bloated utility companies ought to be able to spring for. Life is expensive enough these days, they figure.

How, then, can we expect the utilities to be excited about clean energy, when they are the ones who will have to pay for it? Infrastructure change will cost billions of dollars, not to mention the losses on the assets they’ve already invested in.

When enough cheap energy capacity already exists via coal plants (5 times cheaper than solar) and natural gas, and when no related rise in consumption or patronage is promised to them as a future result of their efforts, why should they bother? Why should they lay out capital aimed at new forms of renewable energy generation when consumption is hardly expected to rise? And why should utilities be expected to be greener than either the state government or the utility customers (the voters) are willing to be, in practical, pecuniary terms?

However, utilities can’t say that it’s bad math for them to convert to clean energy. That would be even worse for business (from a PR standpoint at least, seeing that many of these companies are actually monopolies — another problem altogether.)

Instead, utilities invoke “insurmountable” logistics: namely, their inability to run underground transmission lines through the necessary private areas, or the lack of a good utility-scale storage solution (short of a dam, which can’t work just anywhere.) Given the intermittency of solar and wind generated energy –the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow 24/7 — the utilities would be correct in suggesting that these issues are crucial if they are to provide a workable solution.

Citing these issues whenever conversion deadlines (Renewable Portfolio Standards) loom, the utilities have managed to largely avoid the real issue: They aren’t that into it. It doesn’t make sense to them economically.

Other than huge government subsidies from an already deficit-ridden federal budget, the only solution I see emerging successfully is technology. Demand pricing, rate hikes and carbon taxes could do a little. But ultimately, I’m betting on better technology to kill the coal plant, much as VoIP killed the telecom monopolies.

Within the better technology category, I’m staying focused on utility-scale storage.

While I believe that distributive-scale storage is also a possible solution (i.e., an ad hoc solar solution for every home and business), meeting demand and making these devices to price might take several decades. Since transmission lines are indeed a huge hurdle to implement in a democracy where people hold their property values dear, I believe we’re going to have to lay down as few of these as possible, leading out of towns to massive storage facilities.

That means only truly transformative and highly efficient utility-scale storage facilities are going to do the trick of eclipsing coal, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it becomes easier and relatively inexpensive, as well. We then stand a chance of enthusiastic consumer participation, once doing so is no longer a burden, but feels more like a good choice.

Indeed, today’s best clean tech startups are focusing their energy right there.

Source: Gigaom.

Just before lawmakers left Washington on Friday to focus full time on the November elections, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced a package of tax incentives intended to support domestic clean energy manufacturing as investment from temporary stimulus measures expire. (E&E News Subs. Req.)

The bipartisan bill includes $2.5 billion to extend the section 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit, which would help domestic manufacturers retool or expand their operations to produce clean energy technologies. That tax credit is due to expire with the stimulus. As the Breakthrough Institute has long argued, incentives like these are critical to help U.S. companies compete in global clean energy markets and create jobs at home.

Last May, Rob Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and a co-author of our joint report, “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” testified before Senator Bingaman’s Energy Committee on the importance of supporting domestic clean energy manufacturing:

“Without a policy focused on the supply side (e.g., developing a robust clean tech industry in the United States), there is a very real chance that any policies to spur demand for clean energy will simply result in that demand being filled by foreign supply. If that is the case and the United States continues to run trade deficits in clean energy, the United States will be a net loser of jobs in this growth industry.”

A short lame-duck session planned for after the November elections is now all that remains between the expiration of critical clean energy manufacturing tax credits and the continuation of America’s clean tech momentum.

Source: The Breakthrough Institute.

It’s been a tough year for those of us committed to tackling the climate crisis. The previous government tried fruitlessly to legislate for an emissions trading scheme, while the tragic floods in Pakistan, record heat waves in Europe, and steadily melting ice in the arctic all hint at what life in a warming world could look like.

Still, even as one who approaches politics with a healthy dose of realism, I’m optimistic that we are turning a corner in the effort to cut the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving climate change.

First, while it may seem incomprehensible that our leaders would sit idly by while study after study made it clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the climate was changing, and that the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for it, we know that politicians, being politicians, act more frequently out of self-interest than they do out of common interest.

And so one must greet the announcement this week that Prime Minister Julia Gillard will herself chair a committee specifically dedicated to tackle climate change, by acknowledging the possibility that what is good for politicians is finally starting to align with what is good for the planet.

This assertion is supported by a new political reality that has the Greens enjoying more leverage in parliament than at any point in history, as well as a recent Australian Conservation Foundation poll that shows more than 80 per cent of Australians want the new government to rapidly invest in clean energy alternatives such as wind, solar and geothermal. (Incidentally the poll showed that regional Australians are even more enthusiastic than those from cities about the switch to renewable power, dispelling an age-old myth about a rural-urban divide when it comes to cutting carbon.)

It is truism in politics that those in power, even the ones we think are on our side, don’t change, maybe can’t change, unless we make them.

Fortunately, the numbers are beginning to look like we are on the cusp of what the fight to tackle climate change needed all along, not more data about how gases were dangerously accumulating in the atmosphere, or tired old laments about the uselessness of politicians, but a movement of people, young and old, rural and urban, that won’t take no for an answer. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd certainly learned the hazard of opposing an idea whose time has come.

And so at 350.org we’re working with people from all walks of life, from across Australia and across the world, to empower and amplify the voice of the climate movement through the power of the internet.

Last October, we organised 5200 rallies in 182 countries in what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history”, to support the goal of stabilising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 350 parts per million. You can see the energy of the movement in the 20,000 photos that streamed into our Flickr set over the day.

Our latest effort is the 10/10 Global Work Party. Working with the 10:10 campaign and many others, we are co-ordinating what is expected to be the largest practical day of action to fight climate change in history on October 10. From women in Pakistan learning to cook with solar ovens, to sumo wrestlers in Japan riding their bicycles to work, to villagers in Fiji restoring mangroves damaged by Cyclone Tomas, people are getting to work on climate solutions and sending the message to world leaders while they’re at it: “We’re doing our work, what about you?”

Scores of events are planned in Australia as well. For example, in Victoria, hundreds will be gathering outside the Hazelwood power plant, calling on their leaders to close one of the industrialised world’s dirtiest and most inefficient coal-burning facilities. At Macquarie University, students will plant carbon-gobbling trees and share ideas on how to go green. In Townsville, folks are focusing on how permaculture can help alleviate the climate crisis.

Of course, this isn’t enough. No person or country or leader can solve the crisis alone. But I’m optimistic that in Australia, even if the evidence that the world is coming to end isn’t enough to spur our politicians to act on climate change, the reality that their careers will come to end if they don’t, finally will.

Emily Mulligan is Australian national director of 350.org, which is creating a global movement to combat the climate crisis.

Source: Cool Sydney.