Global climate rallies
Estimates of the crowd at the Melbourne climate change march last Sunday ranged from 25,000 to 30,000. The Sydney climate change rally in Bicentennial Park, Glebe, was a more modest affair of about 1000, competing as it did with the Sydney Marathon and a nearby Balmain/Rozelle event to commemorate those killed in the recent Darling Street explosion.
The Australian crowd sizes were similar to those at the November 2013 rallies, but were dwarfed by the estimated 40,000 climate marchers in London and 400,000 in New York City. Many hundreds of thousands of people mobilised in climate rallies across an estimated 150 countries.
The main focus at the Sydney rally was opposition to the continuing expansion of coal mining projects and coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and extraction, especially those involving fracking and potential impacts on groundwater. Many called for increased changeover to sources of renewable energy. The opposition to coal and gas was highlighted and had everyone’s arms waving when a small drone was launched to photograph the crowd forming a ‘people-sign’ spelling out “Beyond Coal + Gas”.
Placards criticising the federal government, and specifically Tony Abbott, for a lack of commitment and leadership on climate change were prolific. Mr Abbott, along with the national leaders of China, India and Canada will not be attending the forthcoming UN Climate Summit in New York. Leaders who will be attending in person include Barack Obama, David Cameron and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Protection of the Great Barrier Reef and financial pressure on banks
The four major Australian banks were also challenged at the Sydney rally to follow the lead of their international counterparts Deutsche Bank and HSBC. These foreign banks will not provide funding to support the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal until there is consensus between the Australian government and UNESCO regarding the impacts of the expansion on the Great Barrier Reef.
A campaign to launch a concerted SMS barrage against the four Australian banks, to deny funding to the project, was announced at the rally.
Global action protesting the expansion of fossil fuel use and calling for leadership and action to stop climate change is growing rapidly. The Independent reported recently that 700 British financial institutions controlling £30bn of assets have joined a “dirty-energy divestment” campaign and pledged to pull their money out of investments that exacerbate climate change.
Universal call for urgent action
The need for action is urgent and undeniable. A 2014 Report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, points out that climate change is not necessarily a gradual phenomenon.
If global temperatures are pushed past certain thresholds, abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes could be triggered, with disruptive and large-scale impacts. At that point, even if no additional CO2 is added to the atmosphere, potentially unstoppable processes would be set in motion.
A draft ‘Synthesis Report’ was released recently by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Based on a clear and overwhelming consensus among the world’s leading scientists, it reports that failure to adequately acknowledge and act on previous warnings has put the planet on a path where “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” of human-caused climate change will be felt in the decades to come.
Government response to RET review
The Government-sponsored Review into the Renewable Energy Target (RET) has been released and now awaits a response from the Abbott Government. The review was led by climate sceptic Dick Warburton. “I am not a denier of climate change,” Dick Warburton said following his appointment, “I am a sceptic that man-made carbon dioxide is creating global warming.”
In summary, the RET review recommends scrapping or a considerable scaling back of the 2020 target of 41,000 gigawatt hours.
When this target was initially set, it represented 20 per cent of the estimated total energy demand in 2020. Due to a range of factors – widespread thermal insulation of homes, shutdown of manufacturing industries, changed energy use patterns, opportunistic price increases – the likely total demand in 2020 has decreased to where a target of 20pc would equate to 27,000GWh.
If the 41,000GWh is maintained, it would represent an oversupply in capacity; hence the review’s recommendation to scrap or decrease the target. This would also ‘save’ expenditure on government subsidies to the renewable energy industry, in line with the Abbott Government’s budgetary objectives.
On the other hand, a trend toward oversupply would potentially lower energy prices over the next five years – good for consumers. It would also increase pressure to close some of the older, costlier and most-polluting coal-fired power stations – good for humanity.
The recommendations of the review have met with widespread condemnation. Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party say they will use their power in the Senate to oppose legislation to adopt the recommendations of the review. The Clean Energy Council and many within the renewable energy industry have positions opposed to the recommendations of the RET review.
Even AGL and Origin, both of whom have large investments in gas exploration and production, have reservations about the recommendations, as evidenced by their RET review submissions. Origin has lobbied to maintain the basic 20pc target – but suggests that there be separate targets for wind and solar power.
AGL supports a RET and their position is set out in the AGL RET submission. AGL is building the largest Solar power plant in Australia and commented: “Last financial year AGL’s renewable power stations produced 3,952GWh of renewable energy, which is enough to power over 650,000 average Australian homes. We also operate 1,740MW of renewable generation capacity, with a further 155MW under construction at our new solar plants”.
While clearly investing in and supporting renewable energy, AGL does express reservations about the achievability of the current targets – on the basis that future investment are difficult to justify, given “policy uncertainty, associated barriers to exit (due to policy uncertainty); declining electricity demand; and the design of the National Electricity Market (being an energy-only market).” They advocate that any RET review and changes to policy should be science-based.
The flow-on of the RET review’s recommendations (even if they were introduced, but not passed by the Senate in parliament) would cause extensive market uncertainty, a massive decrease in private investment in renewable energy projects (with corporate failures likely) and a significant loss of employment – and of course a lost opportunity to take an even greater step towards a sustainable energy future and managing climate change.