Category Archives: CO2 Emissions

A responsible nation?

Early or late, this year will bring a federal election where all voters can influence policy on emissions reduction and climate change. Philip Walker outlines some policy possibilities.

Australia must properly address its emissions reduction responsibilities now

Federal elections are approaching this year. There is a very important issue we are still not hearing much about. Many Australians are increasingly concerned about the future of our world under the effects of climate change. In spite of this, our decision makers continue to avoid addressing the issue seriously.

Australia remains one of the highest greenhouse gas-emitting countries, per unit of energy supply and consumption.

Dr Ross Garnaut

Ross Garnaut

Most Australians are not scientists, engineers or economists. It is difficult for many of us to hold an informed opinion about what measures should be taken in Australia in order to play our proper part in reducing carbon emissions world wide. However voters do have the opportunity to understand the fundamentals and to express their concerns.

A few years back we had the carbon tax. Some politicians, by stressing biased negative argument, soured public opinion about the tax, resulting in its repeal. However, there is considerable informed opinion worldwide advocating carbon taxes or fees to be the most effective form of carbon pricing to adequately address the problem.

A couple of US proposals could be applied to Australia

Economist William G. Gale, a US expert on tax policy, discussed options in the US economy at The Miller Center of the University of Virginia. He said: Carbon taxes would contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment and better environmental and energy policy by providing price signals to those who pollute. Not surprisingly, most analyses find that a carbon tax could indeed significantly reduce emissions.

Dr James Hansen

Dr James Hansen

Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has proposed a “carbon fee” system under which fossil fuels are taxed when they are produced or imported, rather than when they are consumed. Under his proposal, countries would collect a fee when fossil fuels are mined or imported, and distribute the revenue to their citizens, while charging extra border duties to countries without a similar scheme.

Such carbon pricing, used effectively, would discourage emissions in favour of clean energy sources. Whilst accounting for the external costs of impacts on climate and environment, it fairly distributes compensation to the people. There should be no subsequent incentives to selected energy sources. The energy markets should be allowed to determine the mix of clean energy systems used.

In July 2015 Renew Economy published Hugh Saddler’s discussion of the take-home messages from abolition of Australian carbon tax, illustrating the proven effectiveness of the tax in Australia. In reading his conclusions, it is evident that the induced changes were modest in both supply and consumption but were what economic theory would have predicted. Larger impacts of a price on carbon will only appear if the policy is maintained over the long term. Many factors besides the carbon price have influenced changes in the behaviour of electricity consumers and suppliers. Achieving larger and faster emissions reductions will require a wide range of policies, all working in the same direction. A price on emissions, whether through an emissions trading scheme or a tax, will be a key component of such a suite, but only one component.

Professor Ross Garnaut, speaking at University of Technology, Sydney on 24th September 2015, said: Once emissions reduction responsibilities have been allocated amongst countries, it is possible for each country to contribute its share of the mitigation responsibility not only through the application of a Carbon Tax or an ETS, but also by direct regulation of emissions-intensive activity, or by fiscal payments to low-emissions activities, or through multifarious regulatory and fiscal interventions. He indicated that small countries with currently high emissions, like Australia, will not be able to resist indefinitely the pressure from the larger countries to do their fair shares in a global mitigation effort. Sooner or later proper action will be required, which will then be at higher cost than if steady progress had been made from an early time.

Sometimes in Australia we see the leading political parties’ bilateral support for action on selected issues. Why not with action on climate change?

We need to be continually demanding that our politicians put forward policies that, once implemented, would enable us to effectively play our part in addressing world climate change.

References

Economist William G. Gale, US expert on tax policy, discussing options in the US economy, at The Miller Center of the University of Virginia. The wisdom of a carbon tax

US environmental scientist James Hansen, addressing a “carbon fee” in The Conversation December 2, 2015. James Hansen: emissions trading won’t work, but my global ‘carbon fee’ will

Hugh Saddler, One Year on from the Carbon Price Australia’s Emissions Rebound is Clear, Renew Economy 22 July 2015

Professor Ross Garnaut, speaking at University of Technology, Sydney on 24th September 2015. The Essential Role of Carbon Pricing

The Prime Minister’s droughts

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 2 April 2014. More articles from the CANWin column.

Image: Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons

As the Prime Minister says, a cycle of drought and flooding rain is normal for Australia. Thirty years ago scientists worked out that the source of this natural cycle is not on land, but in the Pacific Ocean.

In a four-stage cycle called the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), warmth and moisture move back and forth between Australia and the Americas.

Westerly winds skim off the warm surface layer of the sea, transport it westward and pile it up to the north of Australia. This warm surface layer evaporates, the source of our La Nina rains. Then eastward winds flow back across the Pacific towards central America, bringing rain to Peru and Ecuador but leaving Australasia in El Nino drought.

This cycle has been going on for centuries; it’s the normal drought regime. Well done Prime Minister!

FloodedPlaygroundSignsBut our times are not normal, and the sooner you learn the difference, the better it will be for all of us. Man-made greenhouse warming is disturbing the natural balance. If we don’t all take the present global warming trend seriously, man-made greenhouse warming will double the frequency of extreme droughts. Prime Minister, it’s time to listen to the experts.

The experts will tell you that the surface mixed layer in the eastern Pacific gains more heat from man-made fossil fuel emissions than the west, where evaporation has a net cooling effect. This means that extreme droughts (such as 1982-83) are likely to return every 10 years instead of every 20. That leaves the food sources of the nation with not enough time to recover from the last severe drought.

So Prime Minister, why are you so heavily subsidizing dirty coal-fired power stations when renewable alternatives are available? Why do you allow such industries to off-load the costs of their pollution to other industries and the populace at large? Where is the level playing field for electricity generation? Why do you expect people to bear the cost of profligate spending on poles and wires for outdated, grid-based, 19th century technology?”

How about taking care of your grand-children’s future rather than your own?

Will Steffen: Science Meets Action

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 5 March 2014. More articles from the CANWin column.

At CANWin’s first Speaker Night for 2014 Professor Will Steffen, of the crowd-funded Climate Council, gave a lot of information and a powerful call to action:

To stabilise the climate at a manageable level, most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

The global carbon cycle

Professor Steffen showed that the carbon in fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – was locked away under the ground for millions of years. Right up till about 1850, that locked carbon could not affect the climate. The remaining carbon cycled naturally through the “earth system” – air, soil, oceans, plants and animals – but the total amount of carbon in the system stayed pretty much the same.

Then came the Industrial Revolution, when humans started burning fossil fuels. That sets free the carbon that was safely locked away. We are overloading the natural carbon cycle, and the unintended result is that we are changing the world’s climate.

That’s why energy efficiency and renewable energy are critically important. It’s also one, maybe even bigger than the risk to water and food, of many reasons to oppose coal and gas mining. In Professor Steffen’s words:

The evidence for climate change is overwhelming and clear. It is beyond reasonable doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause.
We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental impacts of a changing climate, especially extreme events. The risks rise as climate shifts further.

Six things you can do

  • Learn as much as you can. CANWin’s website resources are one good starting point. Facebook can be an excellent source for breaking news. You’ll find free online courses at websites such as www.coursera.org. Spencer Weart’s excellent The Discovery of Global Warming is available as both a book and a website.
  • Connect with other people who understand that climate is critical. Local groups include CANWin, Lock the Gate, SHCAG, and Stop CSG Illawarra.
  • Just turn up to as many events as you can. Most events are publicised on Facebook, and the CANWin website has a calendar of local events.
  • Keep up those electricity, gas, and water saving habits. They really do help your wallet as well as the climate.
  • Switch to renewable energy or green power.
  • Support renewable energy projects, through organisations such as CANWin partner CORENA

Plus One

And a bonus action: Support the Climate Council. It’s one of Australia’s best sources of climate information that’s both understandable and reliable.

Burning Wood for Warmth

Wood fire and fluffy sleepersBurning wood for warmth is as old as yarning round a camp fire, but these days there’s more to think about than where the next log is coming from. Here are ten websites with information about broader aspects of wood fires.

1. Asthma Foundation. How asthma friendly is your winter heater?
[available at: www.asthmafoundation.org.au/wood_fire_heaters_addendum.aspx ]
Extract: “Consumers have a wide array of heating options to choose from, but people who live with asthma should consider their asthma triggers when deciding what type of heating to have in their homes.”

2. Australia. Department of Environment and Heritage. Wood Heater Particle Emissions and Operating Efficiency Standards: Cost benefit Analysis. 2006.
[available at: http://www.environment.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/publications/pubs/wood- particle-emissions.pdf ]
Extract: “Currently, most Australian jurisdictions require new wood heaters to meet the 1999 emissions standard of 4 grams of particles per kilogram (g/kg) of fuel burnt as determined by the Australian / New Zealand Standards AS/NZS 4013 – Domestic solid fuel burning appliances – Method for determination of flue gas emission. Some jurisdictions have extra measures to curb particle emissions from wood heaters. However, no jurisdiction requires wood heaters to meet a minimum efficiency standard, as none is currently specified in the Standards.”

3. Australia. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Woodheaters and woodsmoke: Air quality fact sheet. 2005
[available at: www.environment.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/publications/woodsmoke.html ]
Extract: “When wood is heated to a high enough temperature it breaks down into a complex mixture of gases. These gases burn in the presence of oxygen to give off heat. If there is not enough oxygen, or not enough heat, the gases will only partially burn and the un-burnt gases will go up the chimney into the air outside.
Once outside, these gases cool down and condense into tiny droplets of oils and tars. These are known as particles. A single particle is far too small to see with the naked eye, but a lot of particles together are seen as woodsmoke. Particles cause many of the environmental and health problems associated with woodsmoke. They are a major source of air pollution in wintertime, especially where many people use woodheaters for home heating.”

4. Australian Home Heating Association. Fact Sheet
[available at: www.homeheat.com.au/pdf/fact.pdf ]
Extract: “The AHHA is the peak industry body representing the manufacturing, retailing, installation, maintenance and firewood sectors of the wood heating industry. The AHHA is also committed to an ecologically sound supply of firewood through the support of Landcare programs, firewood plantations, and better integration of conventional logging operations. The AHHA supports the removal of polluting older style wood heaters and open brick fireplaces, but encourages the continuation of wood heating as a viable and environmentally friendly home heating option, through the use of clean-burn wood heaters.”

5. Canada. Natural Resources. A guide to residential woodheating. 2002. [available at: http://www.cleanairplan.ca/documents/woodguide.pdf ]
Extract: “This guide is part of a series of buyer’s guides on renewable energy systems for residential use. More documents on residential woodheating include:
a. All about Wood Fireplaces
b. An introduction to Home heating with with wood”

6. Consumers’ Federation of Australia. Does your wood heater conform to Australian Standards? 2013.
[available at: www.consumersfederation.org.au/does-your-wood-heater-conform-to-australian-standards/ ]
Extract: “The Standards Australia Technical Committee CS-062 is currently developing and amending AS/NZS 4012 Domestic solid fuel burning appliances – Method for determination of power output and efficiency and AS/NZS 4013 Domestic solid fuel burning appliances – Method for determination of flue gas emission.

7. D. Driscoll, G. Milkovits and D. Freudenberger. 2000. Impact and use of firewood in Australia.
[available at: www.environment.gov.au/land/publications/firewood-impacts.html ]
Extract: “The report provides a national perspective of the extent and impact of firewood collection. The report reviews existing information and provides new survey results from Australian households, firewood merchants, and state government agencies.”

8. New South Wales. Environment Protection Authority. Selecting, installing and domestic solid fuel heaters. 1999
[available at: www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/woodsmoke/woodguide.pdf ]
Extract: “This guideline is one of a range of actions to reduce pollution from solid fuel heaters. Overall, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) estimates that solid fuel heaters contribute 40% of air particle pollution in winter. This is an important issue for the community. Smoke from solid fuel heaters contains a mix of pollutants, including carbon monoxide, fine particles and other chemical compounds. These pollutants can affect human health, especially the health of older people, children and people with respiratory illnesses.”

9. Robinson, D. Australian wood heaters currently increase global warming and health costs [in] Atmospheric Pollution Research 2 (2011) 267-274
[available at: http://www.atmospolres.com/articles/Volume2/issue3/APR-11-033.pdf ] Extract: “Firewood production is often considered to be CO2–neutral, if the carbon dioxide emitted by burning the wood is absorbed by replacement trees. However, burning firewood in the domestic heaters that are currently available in Australia produces methane and black carbon particles that increase global warming. The aim of this study was to estimate the amount of global warming from wood heating in Australia and evaluate ways in which this might be reduced.”

10. Todd, John. Wood-Smoke handbook: Woodheaters, firewood and operator practice. 2003 [available at: www.environment.gov.au/atmosphere/airquality/publications/handbook/index.html ]
Extract: “This Handbook has been prepared to assist local government officers, and others, in identifying and dealing with localized wood-smoke nuisance and broad-scale wood-smoke pollution.”

At last, a fossil carbon price

Today Australia starts to charge some 300 businesses and organisations for the fossil carbon they release to the air. The carbon price they pay will go towards helping us all adjust to the new, clean energy century.

Clean energy is especially important for regional Australia because it makes sense at all scales, from solar panels on traffic warning signs to multi MegaWatt solar thermal power stations. Small scale projects don’t hit the headlines, but hundreds of renewable energy systems are already making their mark on national demand.

Continue reading

Reissue: CANWin Fact Sheets

CANWin Fact Sheet imageIn 2007 a group of CANWin members formed a research group to investigate and report on the science of global warming and policy options for dealing with it. They produced four fact sheets, which are interesting to read again as Australia takes the first steps towards a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Is Humanity Really Causing Climate Change?

How the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses and summarises scientific studies about climate for governments Download Is Humanity Really Causing Climate Change?

Carbon Trading: What’s it all about?

How a carbon trading scheme could reduce carbon emissions. Download Carbon Trading: What’s it all about?

Carbon Offsets and Carbon Neutral

An important and contentious part of emissions policy. Can we really buy our way out of global warming? Probably not. Download Carbon Offsets and Carbon Neutral

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Australia

To price carbon emissions you have to measure them. This fact sheet used official sources to summarise how Australia’s greenhouse emissions are produced and where they occur. Download Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Australia

Clean Energy Workshop: First reactions

Matthew Wright discusses the zero carbon energy generation

Matthew Wright, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions, gave a summary of existing technologies capable of meeting Australia’s electricity needs within 10 years. Some of these are practical for Wingecarribee.

The energy and enthusiasm of more than 100 Wingecarribee locals stored information and set ideas flowing.
Clean energy is practical now.
Keep watching this website for more information.

Updates:

Preliminary draft of the proceedings is now available here.

Press reports from the workshop:
Local champions for clean energy
Think tank yields clean energy ideas
People power behind clean energy