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What are the top five climate challenges for Australia?

Hazelwood Power Station, Australia

Hazelwood Power station in the Latrobe Valley, which produces around 2.8% of Australia’s total CO2 emissions. Photograph: David Crosling/AAP


Powered by article titled “What are the top five climate challenges for Australia?” was written by Alexander White, for on Monday 10th February 2014 20.41 UTC

Environment Victoria is one of the most innovative and active environmental organisations in Australia. Especially on climate change, fossil fuels and coal, Environment Victoria is leading the way on community activism and action.

Earlier this year, I invited the new Safe Climate Campaign Manager, Nicholas Aberle, to summarise what he saw as the main climate change challenges facing Australia. I think he’s done a great job in summing up the key issues.

Australia more than almost any other nation, is uniquely vulnerable to extreme climate change. In my home state of Victoria, we’ve experienced yet another round of extreme heat and a new wave of bushfires. Victoria is also home to one of the most polluting coal fired power stations in the world, Hazelwood, which in the past few days was threatened by those bushfires.

The question of coal and electricity generation is one that Australia must face up to, as Nicholas discusses below.

The top five climate challenges for Australia

It has been a busy time for those at the, ahem, coal face of action on climate change. Backward steps being taken at almost every turn. While dealing with spot-fires, it can be hard to keep one’s eyes on the prize: what we as Australians need to make happen as our contribution to a safe climate.

1.   Getting off coal

Australia’s emissions come predominantly from burning coal for electricity. The likely soon-to-be-dismantled carbon price was designed to send a clear price signal to coal-fired power stations by charging them for each tonne of CO2 emitted. This signal was partly masked by unnecessary compensation arrangements with the most polluting plants, but recent figures show the carbon price is having some success at reducing emissions.

As a replacement climate policy, the Government’s proposed Emissions Reduction Fund will, at best, tinker around the edges of an electricity generation system that needs wholesale change to achieve credible emissions reductions. At prices likely to be available under the fund, old coal-fired power stations will have few opportunities, let alone the incentive, to reduce their emissions.

While we continue to burn coal, power station efficiency and technical advances will only get us so far. The importance of maintaining a price on carbon can’t be overstated.

2.     Getting on to renewables

Where, then, does our energy come from? Three studies have now demonstrated the technical viability of a 100% renewable electricity grid. In the scenarios from the grid operator AEMO, it appears that 100% renewables wouldn’t even cost that much more than business-as-usual (since many existing generators would need to be replaced anyway). So what is standing in the way?

Threats to break an election promise and weaken the Renewable Energy Target are damaging investor confidence in renewables projects. Plans by the Abbott government to conduct its own review of the RET (hot on the heels of the Climate Change Authority’s legislated review) are compounding the problem. The survival of a strong RET is essential for continued investment in non-polluting energy.

Barriers to uptake of renewables are also found in state planning policies first implemented in Victoria (and now being adopted or considered in other states). By allowing a single local resident to veto a wind project and otherwise restricting where wind turbines can be located, these policies are actively inhibiting the roll-out of wind farms, at the cost of higher emissions and lost regional investment. In these states, it is now easier to dig a new coal mine than to build a wind farm.

3.     Ending fossil fuel subsidies

Discouraging the production and consumption of fossil fuels, in all their forms and applications, goes hand in hand with other efforts to reduce domestic emissions. Currently, the Federal Government provides around $10 billion each year encouraging more fossil fuel use: including rebates to make fuel cheaper for large industries and tax loopholes for mining, oil and petroleum companies, amongst a host of others.


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