Carbon price – Rio Tinto wants one too

LOTS of excitement after the boss of mining giant BHP Billiton gave a speech in which he said was in favour of a price on carbon and would quite like it if Australia’s Labor-led coalition government could get on with it.

Perhaps BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers was still a little dizzy from his company’s recent $13.8 billion profit announcement, but here’s a bit of his speech.

The decisions that we are taking now on power production and building infrastructure will still be with us by the time we expect a global price for carbon to be in place. With about 90% of the carbon emissions from our electricity sector coming from coal fired power stations, Australia will need to look beyond just coal towards the full spectrum of available energy solutions.

Failure to do so will place us at a competitive disadvantage in a future where carbon is priced globally. My main point is a simple one – we need to anticipate a global price for carbon when taking decisions with long dated impact. The decisions we take now on power production will still be with us long after a global price for carbon is finally in place.

Editor of Climate Spectator, Giles Parkinson, declared Kloppers was showing “the sort of leadership from the biggest companies that has been so desperately lacking in the last 12 months”. Greens leader Bob Brown said Kloppers’ statement would add strength to the efforts by the new government’s climate change committee as it tries to find a route to a carbon price.

But BHP Billiton isn’t the only gigantonormously-really-quite-big mining company to have laid their carbon cards on the table in recent weeks. The Queensland Parliament’s Environment and Resources Committee is currently in the midst of an inquiry into renewable energy which currently accounts for just two per cent of all the state’s electricity.

Among the submissions to the inquiry is this from Rio Tinto Alcan and Rio Tinto Coal Australia.

It is widely understood that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require a transformation in the way we produce and use energy. While renewables will play an important part, they must be seen as part of a portfolio of low emissions energy technologies (including nuclear, renewables and carbon capture and storage) that deliver increased energy efficiency. A carbon price on all terrestrial carbon is required to deliver that transformation.

So now Rio and BHP Billiton have joined the lengthening line of companies asking for a carbon price, such as electricity retailer AGL and technology company Siemens which were co-signatories of an open letter earlier this year.

Is this the bit where we point out that Liberal leader Tony Abbott has declared he’d never put a price on carbon, even if his policy announcements before the election seemed to declare the opposite?

Share

Abbott and Gillard offer to widdle on the climate change bonfire

ACCORDING to Tony Abbott, only the coalition has a credible climate change policy to achieve a five per cent cut in Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020.

Allow me, if you will, to equate this climate change challenge to a gigantic raging bonfire of all Tony Abbott’s currently and previously-owned pairs of budgie-smugglers which would surely be a blaze three-storeys high visible from Christmas Island.

Presented with the challenge of controlling this three-story high bonfire of budgie-smugglers, what Tony Abbott is saying is that only he has a credible policy to enable him to pee on it, such is the gap between what is being offered and what is needed.

A couple of days ago, I was on a journalist’s panel listening to the three candidates for the seat of Brisbane talk climate and conservation to a group of gathered greenies. Both Labor’s Arch Bevis and Liberal Theresa Gambaro re-iterated their leaders “commitment” to that 5 per cent cut (the Greens candidate Andrew Bartlett pointed out they would be looking for a 40 per cent cut).

At one point  Mr Bevis stated that Labor was following the “science” on climate change, at which point I surmised that you’d be hard-pressed to find a credible climate scientist advocating a five per cent cut.

So what does the “science” think of a five per cent cut?

Well the minimum recommended by Professor Ross Garnaut’s comprehensive government review two years ago, was a 10 per cent cut. This 10 per cent cut, Garnaut said, would represent a fair shake of the sauce bottle from Australia as part of a global effort to stabilise emissions at 550 parts per million in the atmosphere.

Continue reading “Abbott and Gillard offer to widdle on the climate change bonfire”

Share

Feature – Electric cars are coming and this time they mean it.

YEH I know, you’ve heard it all before.

Electric cars are coming to take over the world, robbing petrol-heads everywhere of their fossil fuel-loving internal combustion engines with all that grrrrrr and CO2.

Well it seems that while many finally dismissed the claims of EV enthusiasts as little more than science fiction, the car companies, local governments and savvy entrepreneurs have been getting on with the job.

Keep reading for a feature I’ve just had published in Brisbane’s bmag looking at what seems to me to be the inevitable rise of the electric car. Not even a jobsworth wheel clamper can stop the revolution now.

The Buzz about electric cars

Mark down 2010 on your driveway or scratch it on your garage wall as a reminder of the year when the wheel clamps and handbrake were finally released on the electric car.

For more than a century, the cleaner and greener electric vehicle (EV) has been held back thanks to a plentiful supply of liquid fossil fuel. But as cheap oil runs out and evidence mounts of the damage to the planet of extracting and burning fossil fuels, the long-time “concept vehicle” is stepping out of the sci-fi movie and on to a road near you.

Dozens of models of electric cars are going into mass production around the world, with some already being sold. And, if 2010 is the year the electric car industry finally got going, then July could be credited as the month when Queensland started to take them seriously.

“You now have electric vehicles popping up everywhere,” says Brisbane-based clean technology consultant Philippe Reboul. “It is getting serious.”

Continue reading “Feature – Electric cars are coming and this time they mean it.”

Share

And now for the inquiry into sceptics?

WE’VE now had four major reviews into climate change science, all of them prompted and demanded by deniers, sceptics, [insert appellation of choice here] or whatever other descriptor you choose.

Most of the grist for this mill came from the illegal hacking of emails and data from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, but other bits of raw material came via accusations of the methods of the IPCC.

According to the cacophony from some media commentators, climate scientists had tricked the global public, manipulated data, conspired to ban sceptics from peer-reviewed journals, killed Bambie, drowned one of the Care Bears and plotted to take over the world.

All four of the reviews have found the main thrust of the accusations to be without substance or, in other words, plain wrong.

Before a single review had made its conclusion, some commentators screamed it was the greatest science scandal of the modern age and proved that human-caused climate change was a conspiracy  made-up to scare people witless.

At the time, I claimed the scandal was the greatest since Darren from Year Seven torched the Year Nine science project with a bunsen burner.

After two independent reviews, a UK parliamentary inquiry and a Dutch government agency review, I think it’s fair to say my analysis was the closest. I’d like to call Darren, but we’re no longer in touch.

Continue reading “And now for the inquiry into sceptics?”

Share

Climate blogging

ECOS magazineCHEERS go to bloggers Tim Lambert at Deltoid and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg at Climate Shifts for giving a nod to a feature of mine just published in ECOS magazine.

The feature looked at climate blogging and had input from Ove, Tim and also John Cook at the excellent and world famous Skeptical Science website (well OK, maybe not world famous, but if you’ve been featured on the websites of The Guardian and the New York Times, then I reckon that’s as close as you’re going to get in this line of work).

All three of the blogs featured have done as much, if not more, to communicate the science of climate change than any politician has been able to manage, perhaps because it does actually take more than a 30-second news grab to explain the complexities.

Anyway, the feature is available free here.

Share

After first break, we’ll have some dogma

FROM an open letter penned by 255 members (including the President of the Australian Academy of Sciences Professor Kurt Lambeck) of the US-based National Academy of Sciences.

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence.

From Tony Abbott, leader of the Opposition in Australia, to some  year five and six kids at a school in Adelaide.

OK, so the climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth the climate was considerably warmer than it is now.

So which to choose – political dogma, religious dogma or the special interests? In this case, we can have all three.

The first telling of this classroom story came from The Australian which made no attempt to check the scientific validity of Abbott’s statement with any reputable working climate scientists. If it had, the story would have read more like the version told here by The Age, in which Professor David Karoly of Melbourne University has this to say.

It seems strange to me that the leader of a political party would be seeking to disagree with Australia’s chief scientist, the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and Australia’s support of the work of the IPCC. He obviously knows better.

Karoly suspects Abbott’s statement is derived from the book Heaven + Earth, written by mining director and denialist geologist Professor Ian Plimer. In 2008 and 2009, IR Plimer made $306,000 from his directorship with CBH Resources (see annual report here). Likewise, over the same period he made a whopping $475,579 from his directorship with another mining company, Ivanhoe Australia. That’s more than three quarters of a million dollars of special interest!

Then there’s the political dogma as espoused to ABC Four Corners by Liberal Senator Nick Minchin, the man who helped broker the deal that put Tony Abbott in his now unfortunately influential position.

NICK MINCHIN, SENATOR, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: For 10 years the left internationally have been very successful in exploiting peoples’ innate fears about global warming and climate change to achieve their political ends.

NICK MINCHIN: For the extreme left it provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the left, and the, and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.

Special interests meet political and religious dogma, all wrapped up in Tony Abbott. Those poor kids in Adelaide never stood a chance.

Share

Climate voodoo nation?

Fairies anyone?LATE last year there was an opinion poll knocking around from Nielsen which suggested that some 56 per cent of Australians believed in a heaven.

There’s a lot to like about pearly gates, permanently-white linen smocks, fluffy clouds, twinkly escalator music, never ending lines of chilled carbon-neutral beer or whatever it is that people think a heaven might be.

Aussies like miracles too – 63% believed in those. Astrology got 41%, angels 51% and psychic power  gets 49%. Miracles score 63% but evolution came in at 42% – go figure.

But an interesting phenomenon which this survey, albeit on a small sample, revealed was the way many people are far more prepared to sign-up to fluffy stuff than they are the nasty or challenging bits.

Because while heaven scored 56%, hell only got 38%. Angels beat witches by 51 to 22.

I wonder how much of this is at play in the recent opinion polls suggesting increasing numbers of Australians think humans have had little or no effect on our climate.

The latest poll out today suggests a little over a third accept that humans are changing the climate (although it was commissioned by right-wing think tank and climate change deniers the Institute of Public Affairs).

So an issue backed by decades of peer-reviewed science and observations of the climate is less convincing than psychic powers, astrology, gods, angels and miracles.

Mumbo-jumbo trumps science.

Share

ETS v CARBON TAX = delay

NOW that Australia’s emissions trading scheme has been placed in deep freeze, on the back burner or whatever other analogy you might care for, talk is turning to an alternative market-based system to cut down emissions.

Donna Green and Liz Minchin at newmatilda make a decent stab at suggesting we should have plumped for a carbon tax all along.

Compared with an ETS, a tax is a simpler, more effective, faster solution for cutting emissions. That’s why so many people and major financial institutions — from renowned economists like Jeffrey Sachs and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz to world-leading scientists like NASA’s James Hansen — all back a tax over trading.

Minchin and Green’s analysis of the issue runs over similar ground to that long-argued by the Carbon Tax Center in the US, which also thinks a tax would be faster to implement, encourage more predictable energy prices and be harder to fiddle than cap and trade.

I wonder though if this emerging debate will have a similar effect to the one artificially generated by climate change sceptics over the strength of the scientific evidence backing action on climate change?

Minchin and Green say a tax would be quicker to implement than an ETS. We should remember though that it took the best part of 15 years for Australia to introduce another consumption-based tax, the GST.

What this debate really adds up to is further delays and while this policy uncertainty is certainly harming the renewable energy sector, the same can’t be said for the resources sectors.

In the meantime, why not fiddle around with one of the only policy success stories to come out of the climate change box in recent years – the 20% by 2020 Mandatory Renewable Energy Target?

100% anyone?

By the way… this is the first post of my new blog. My old one is still sitting there with News Ltd.

Share