Sunday, August 31, 2008

Arctic becomes an island as ice melts

By Auslan Cramb
Last Updated: 4:01pm BST 31/08/2008

The North Pole has become an island for the first time in human history as climate change has made it possible to circumnavigate the Arctic ice cap.

See the image here.

Global warming has caused the Arctic icecap to retreat from neigbouring continents creating opening a gap

The historic development was revealed by satellite images taken last week showing that both the north-west and north-east passages have been opened by melting ice.

Prof Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in the US said the images suggested the Arctic may have entered a "death spiral" caused by global warming.

Shipping companies are already planning to exploit the first simultaneous opening of the routes since the beginning of the last Ice Age 125,000 years ago. The Beluga Group in Germany says it will send the first ship through the north-east passage, around Russia, next year, cutting 4,000 miles off the voyage from Germany to Japan.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, has announced that ships entering the north-west passage should first report to his government. The routes have previously opened at different times, with the western route opening last year, and the eastern route opening in 2005.

The satellite images gathered by Nasa show that the north-west passage opened last weekend and the final blockage on the east side of the ice cap, an area of sea ice stretching to Siberia, dissolved a few days later.

Last year the extent of sea ice in the Arctic reached a record low that could be surpassed in the next few weeks, with some scientists warning that the ice cap could soon vanish altogether during summer.

Four weeks ago tourists had to be evacuated from a park on Baffin Island because of flooding caused by melting glaciers, and polar bears have been spotted off Alaska trying to swim hundreds of miles to the retreating ice cap.

Measurements on August 26 showed an ice cap of just over two million square miles, confirming the second biggest ice cap melt since records began. News of the opening of the passages emerged as the British explorer and adventurer Lewis Gordon Pugh began a kayak expedition to the North Pole aimed at drawing attention to the dramatic impact of melting polar ice.

"I want to bring home to world leaders, on this expedition, the reality of what is now happening here in the Arctic," said the 38-year-old environmentalist in his blog.

"The rate of change is clearly faster than nearly all the models predict, which has huge implications for climate change and how to tackle it."

Meanwhile Prof James Lovelock, of the University of Oxford, has claimed "planet-scale engineering of the climate" may have to be attempted to counter global warming.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Water plant to guzzle energy

AUSTRALIA could be using 400 per cent more energy to supply its drinking water by 2030 if the policy trend towards seawater desalination were to continue.

The warnings in a soon-to-be released report by the Water Services Association of Australia come after seawater desalination was likened to a petrol-guzzling "six cylinder" family car by one of Australia's top water bureaucrats at a major summit in Melbourne.

The WSAA energy report is understood to model several national water-supply scenarios for 2030, with a future based around seawater desalination the most energy-intensive.

The report will warn that if desalination became the primary source of supplying around 300 litres per person per day, energy use would rise by 400 per cent above today's levels.

During the severe water restrictions of 2007, Melburnians consumed a daily average of 277 litres per person.

If a mixture of water sources — including desalination, recycling and stormwater harvest — were used to supply Australians with around 220 litres per day, rises in energy consumption for water use could be closer to 200 per cent by 2030.

WSAA executive director Ross Young confirmed the report contained those statistics but said it was wrong to use them to criticise desalination.

"Pumping water long distances is also incredibly energy intensive, you've got to look at the options available for each city and assess them on a range of parameters."

"And of course energy use is one of those," he said.

State Governments have opted for seawater desalination in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and the Gold Coast, while the Federal Government has also been a financial supporter.

Speaking at a water summit in Melbourne this week Queensland Government scientistTed Gardner urged water professionals to carefully consider whether desalination was the best solution. "You have to wonder whether we are building another Ford Falcon. The most sophisticated six-cylinder car that Australia has ever made and nobody wants to buy it. The reason is they believe petrol is too expensive," he said.

"If we are going to go for the sophisticated technology in a future when energy costs are going to go a lot higher, I would have to question the wisdom of it."

Mr Young said the comparison was unfair and significant amounts of energy — up to 30 per cent of household consumption — was used to simply heat water.

Desalination uses the same technology to purify water as sewage recycling, but uses much more energy because seawater carries more dissolved salts and minerals.

Despite increasing pressure on energy supplies and prices, water sector officials believe their ability to create "green energy" out of bio-gas from sewage plants will keep help them remain profitable and environmentally neutral.

Mr Young said Melbourne's Werribee Treatment Plant was a good example, as its bio-gas production accounted for 72 per cent of its energy use.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

North Pole ice cap 'melting faster than ever'

ABC News Online, Posted 3 hours 8 minutes ago

The Arctic ice cap keeps melting under the effects of global warming and in August, saw its second largest summer shrinkage since satellite observations began 30 years ago, US scientists say.

Measurements on August 26 showed an ice cap of 5.26 million square kilometres, just below the 5.32 million square kilometres observed on September 21, 2005, making it the second biggest summer Arctic ice-cap melt in history, said the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC).

Since the start of August, the Boulder, Colorado-based centre said, the Arctic polar cap shrank by 2.06 million square kilometres.

The melting is so fast and extensive it could shrink the ice cap to below the 4.25 million square kilometres reached in the summer of 2007, the smallest it has ever been observed by satellites, the centre said.

Since the end of the Arctic summer and the start of the freezing autumn is several weeks away, it said, the ice cap could dwindle even more than it did in 2007.

At the end of northern hemisphere summer 2007, the Arctic ice cap was 40 per cent smaller than the average 7.23 million square kilometres observed in 1979-2000, the NSIDC said.

The North Pole melting season begins in mid-June. The ice cap shrinks to its smallest area by mid-September and grows the most in winter by mid-March.

"The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summer time ice extent characterising the past decade continues," NSIDC said in a report.

The North Pole itself could even become free of ice by September for the first time in modern history, setting a new milestone in the effects of global warming on the Arctic ice shelf, NSIDC glaciologist Mark Serreze said in late June.

"We could have no ice at the North Pole at the end of this summer. And the reason here is that the North Pole area right now is covered with very thin ice, and this ice we call 'first-year ice,' the ice that tends to melt out in the summer," he explained.

Dr Serreze said the possibility the ice cap could vanish stood at 50 per cent.

If it does happen in September, he added, "it's possible that ships could sail from Alaska right to the North Pole".

The Arctic has been free of ice in the geologic history of the Earth, but never in modern history, Dr Serreze said.

"Clearly, if you look over what we have seen in the past three years and where we were headed, we are in... this long-term decline and we may have no ice at all in the Arctic Ocean in summer by 2030 or so," he added.

Not long ago, he said, the summer disappearance of the Arctic ice was predicted to happen between 2050 and 2100.

The NSIDC said the receding North Pole ice sheet was chiefly caused by the melting of ice in the Chukchi Sea, off the Alaskan coast, and the East Siberian Seas, off the coast of eastern Russia.

The Chukchi ice sheet is one of the natural habitats of the polar bear, where it hunts for seals, and its disappearance is a direct threat to the animal's survival.

The vanishing summer polar ice cap, however, also opens up the fabled Northwest Passage that winds through the northern Canadian islands and links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Shipping routes using the Northwest Passage would spare very long detours through the Panama Canal and around South America's Cape Horn.

An ice-free North Pole would also expose untold wealth of natural resources, including oil and natural gas, locked up beneath the Arctic Ocean waters, which Canada and Russia are already eagerly preparing to exploit.


Arctic sea ice now second-lowest on record

NSIDC, August 26, 2008
Update 9:15 am MT August 27: See below.

Sea ice extent has fallen below the 2005 minimum, previously the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. Will 2008 also break the standing record low, set in 2007? We will know in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues.

Figure 1. Daily Arctic sea ice extent for August 26, 2008, fell below the 2005 minimum, which was 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1979 to 2000 average extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Overview of conditions
With several weeks left in the melt season, sea ice extent dipped below the 2005 minimum to stand as the second-lowest in the satellite record. The 2005 minimum, at 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles), held the record-low minimum until last year.
Recent ice retreat primarily reflects melt in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast and the East Siberian Seas off the coast of eastern Russia.
Update 9:15 am MT August 27:
Arctic sea ice extent on August 26 was 5.26 million square kilometers (2.03 million square miles), a decline of 2.06 million square kilometers (795,000 square miles) since the beginning of the month. Extent is now within 430,000 square kilometers (166,000 square miles) of last year's value on the same date and is 1.97 million square kilometers (760,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

Figure 2. The graph above shows daily sea ice extent.The solid light blue line indicates 2008; the dark blue dotted line indicates 2005; the dashed green line shows extent for 2007; the gray line indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000. Sea Ice Index data. 
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Conditions in context
Through the beginning of the melt season in May until early August, daily ice extent for 2008 closely tracked the values for 2005.
In early August of 2005, the decline began to slow; in August of 2008, the decline has remained steadily downward at a brisk pace. The 2005 minimum of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) occurred on September 21.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where is the big picture?

By Amanda McKenzie

ABC News Online, Posted Tue Aug 26, 2008 8:42am AEST

The Business Council of Australia recently released a controversial report on the Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

The report advocates addressing climate change while in the same breadth proposes to rip the guts out of the Government's emissions trading scheme, rendering it an ineffective tool to reduce emissions and significantly reducing the scope for Australian business to capitalise on the burgeoning green global economy.

We want to be able to enjoy a climate similar to that of our parents, grandparents and generations of human beings before them - the climate that has allowed humanity to thrive and prosper. Two degrees Celsius of global warming is often cited in the scientific literature as a threshold beyond which we can expect to witness global climate disaster. Two degrees will cause catastrophic impacts on natural systems that support human life, for instance a 40 per cent drop in Australia's agricultural capacity. We should aim far, far below this threshold.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to give us a 50 per cent chance of staying below 2 degrees global warming we must stabilise greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million (ppm). This requires a minimum reduction in Australia's emissions of 40 per cent by 2020 and over 90 per cent by 2050. However, if you think that a 50 per chance - a flip of a coin - is not great odds, we would need even stronger reduction targets.

In contrast, the BCA advocates a greenhouse gas reduction target of no higher than 10 per cent by 2020. Such an inadequate target makes a mockery of the science and effectively accepts global warming of over 2 degrees and its devastating impacts. It also suggests a failure to appreciate the substantial consequences for many Australian businesses, particularly in agriculture and tourism, if we fail to take adequate action.

Finding fair solutions

Say I'd been dumping the rubbish from my business in the local tip for years. It's been great for me, increasing my profitability. However after some years the tip starts to smell rancid, it is affecting the health of children at a nearby school and the community can no longer use the creek behind it for fishing or swimming. The council decides that they will take action and lets everyone know about it. For 20 years there are consultations and discussions and I am particularly vocal. They then announce that in a further two years they will impose a cost on dumping in the tip. I am outraged and demand compensation from the community. I argue that as I have had a free ride for so long I should continue to have it. What would you say to me?

Similarly generators of coal-fired electricity have used the atmosphere as a dumping ground for greenhouse pollution for years. They have been artificially profitable because they have not had to pay for the climate change consequences of their actions. Now, despite knowing about climate change and the likelihood of an emissions trading scheme for many years, the BCA advocates that these generators continue their free ride by receiving a substantial amount of free emission permits. Why should the rest of the community - households, other businesses and government - have to pay for their poor planning?

As the BCA notes, some industries that rely on international trade and cannot pass their costs onto consumers may require some assistance. However, this does not mean these companies should be "compensated". Any assistance should be carefully tied to push companies to transition into the clean energy economy and to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The quantity of this assistance must be carefully weighed up as it will increase the burden on the rest of the economy. Every dollar given to polluters is a dollar that is not used to help households adjust.

Economic opportunities

The BCA report fails to highlight the wealth of opportunities for economic growth, innovation and job creation from implementing a robust emissions trading scheme. In Germany the government has created a regulatory regime favourable to reducing emissions and participated in the European emissions trading scheme, which has enabled their green economy to boom. Cloudy Germany is now is a world leader in renewable energy exporting their technology to the world. Businesses have capitalised on the new regulatory environment with turnover in the renewable energy industry increasing nearly four fold since 2000 and jobs doubling between 2004 and 2007. Jobs in renewable energy in Germany are expected to increase from 250,000 to 710,000 by 2030.

With a favourable regulatory environment Australian companies can also begin to reap the rewards of this growing global green economy. We are the sunniest country in the world and one of the windiest - where better to develop renewable technology? However Australia must move quickly as Germany, Spain, China, the US are all leaving us in their wake. It is in Australia's interests to be creating and exporting the solutions to climate change, rather than waiting and having to import them from the rest of the world.

Report lacks rigour

What is most disappointing about the BCA's report is that it lacks academic rigour and impartiality. The report is moulded to achieve a certain political outcome rather than to contribute productively to the Australian policy debate. For instance, the report assumes a carbon price of double what is expected in an Australian scheme and hand picks 14 unidentified, relatively strongly affected companies as its reference point. It is a shame that some valid points in the report have been undermined by the poor quality of the whole.

Climate change is desperately urgent. Melting is occurring so rapidly in the Arctic that we can now expect that there will be no summer ice by 2013, 100 years earlier than scientists had previously predicted - we have already changed the map of the world. At this time we need quality impartial research which seeks to provide an objective and informative assessment of the best policy to solve this crisis in the interests of us all.

In contrast, this report demonstrates the worst of narrow self-interest, seeking to capitalise on the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the debate on emissions trading. To remain relevant to business in the 21st century, the BCA must adapt to the reality of climate change and the rapidly emerging green global economy. Rather than holding us back, the BCA should propel us forward - assisting Australian businesses to shoulder their fair share of the burden, as well as to capitalise on the vast array of opportunities emerging.

Amanda McKenzie completed her honours thesis in climate law at Monash University in 2007 and is the national coordinator of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, a partnership between youth organisations across Australia.

Analyst warns of looming global climate wars

ABC News Online, Posted Mon Aug 25, 2008 3:14pm AEST 

Updated Mon Aug 25, 2008 3:18pm AEST

The prospect of global wars driven by climate change is not something often discussed publicly by our political leaders.

But according to one of America's top military analysts, governments in the US and UK are already being briefed by their own military strategists about how to prepare for a world of mass famine, floods of refugees and even nuclear conflicts over resources.

Gwynne Dyer is a military analyst and author who served in three navies and has held academic posts at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and at Oxford.

Speaking about his latest book, Climate Wars, he says there is a sense of suppressed panic from the scientists and military leaders.

"Mostly it's about winners and losers, at least in the early phases of climate change," he said.

"If you're talking about 1 degree, 2 degrees hotter - not runaway stuff - but what we're almost certainly committed to over the next 30 or 40 years, there will be countries that get away relatively cost free in that scenario, particularly countries in the higher latitudes."

But he says that closer to the equator in the relatively arid zone - where Australia is situated - there will be very serious droughts.

"[There will be] huge falls in the amount of crops that you can grow because there isn't the rain and it's too hot," he said.

"That will apply particularly to the Mediterranean... and so not just the north African countries, but also the ones on the northern side of the Mediterranean.

"The ones in the European Union like Spain and Italy and Greece and the Balkans and Turkey are going to be suffering huge losses in their ability to support their populations.

Climate refugees

He says a fall in crops and food production means there will be refugees, people who are desperate.

"It may mean the collapse in the global trade of food because while some countries still have enough, there is still a global food shortage," he said.

"If you can't buy food internationally and you can't raise enough at home, what do you do? You move. So refugee pressures - huge ones - are one of the things that drives these security considerations."

In Climate Wars, even the most hopeful scenarios about the impact of climate change have hundreds of millions of people dying of starvation, mass displacement of people and conflict between countries competing for basic resources like water.

"India and Pakistan are both nuclear-armed countries. All of the agriculture in Pakistan and all of the agriculture in northern India depend on glacier-fed rivers that come off the Himalayas from the Tibetan plateau. Those glaciers are melting," Dr Dyer said.

"They're melting according to Chinese scientists to 7 per cent a year, which means they're half gone in 10 years.

"India has a problem with this. Pakistan faces an absolutely lethal emergency because Pakistan is basically a desert with a braid of rivers running through it.

"Those rivers all start with one exception in Indian-controlled territory and there's a complex series of deals between the two countries about who gets to take so much water out of the river. Those deals break down when there's not that much water in the rivers."

And then you have got the prospect of a nuclear confrontation, Dr Dyer says.

"It's unthinkable but yet it's entirely possible. So these are the prices you start to pay if you get this wrong," he said.

"Some of them, actually, I'm afraid we've already got them wrong in the sense that there is going to be some major climate change."

Dr Dyer explains the least alarmist scenario for the next couple of decades still involves enormous pressures on the US border.

"That border's going to be militarised. I think there's almost no question about it because the alternative is an inundation of the United States by what will be, effectively, climate refugees," he said.

"They [US] are concerned actually about losing a lot of land and a lot of crop production within the United States itself.

"A lot of Florida's basically about six inches above sea level - and the Mississippi River Delta, well we've already seen what one hurricane did there - plus of course many interventions overseas by the American armed forces as much bigger emergencies occur in much bigger parts of the world."

Worst-case scenario

But the real insight into the US study is that the more severe climate change scenario is the one that analysts think is the more likely one.

"And it's not just the analysts. I spent the past year doing a very high-speed self-education job on climate change but I think I probably talked to most of the senior people in the field in a dozen countries," Dr Dyer said.

"They're scared, they're really frightened. Things are moving far faster than their models predicted.

"You may have the Arctic ocean free of ice entirely in five years' time, in the late summer. Nobody thought that would happen until about the 2040s - even a couple of years ago."

Dr Dyer says there is a sense of things moving much faster, and the military are picking up on that.

He also says we will be playing climate change catch-up in the next 30 years.

"The threshold you don't want to cross, ever, is 2 degrees Celsius hotter than it was at the beginning of the 1990s," he said.

"That is a margin we have effectively already used up more than half of. It would require pretty miraculous cooperation globally and huge cuts in emissions."

And if the world does not decarbonise by 2050, you don't want to be there, according to Dr Dyer.

"My kids will and I don't think that is going to be a pleasant prospect at all, because once you go past 2 degrees - and you could get past 2 degrees by the 2040s without too much effort - things start getting out of control," he said.

"The ocean starts giving back to the atmosphere the carbon dioxide it absorbed. That world is a world where crop failures are normal.

"Where, for example, Australia does not export food any more, it is hanging on to what it can still grow to feed its own people but that is about all that it is going to be able to do, and many countries can't even do that."

He says China will take an enormous blow.

"There is a study out from the Chinese Academy of Scientists and then swiftly disappeared again, but about two years ago, we predicted the maximum damage that would be done to China under foreseeable climate change in the 21st century was 38 per cent cut in food production," he said.

"That is only about three-fifths of the food they now eat and there will be a lot more of them.

"I think we will end up having to do things that at the moment nobody would consider doing like geo-engineering, ways of keeping the temperature down while we get our emissions down."

- Adapted from an interview first aired on The World Today, August 25.

Plant's carbon bill 'too high'

Adam Morton 
The Age, August 26, 2008

A LEGAL analysis throws into doubt the economic viability of a planned coal-fired power station in Victoria, finding the proposed emissions trading scheme will offer it no compensation for an estimated annual carbon bill of $50 million.

The $750 million power plant — signed off last month by the State Government, but without finalisation of its funding — does not qualify for either of the industry compensation schemes outlined in the Federal Government's emissions trading blueprint, according to analysis by community legal centre the Environment Defenders Office.

As the station is a local electricity supplier, it cannot be argued that it is trade-exposed, and it was commissioned too recently — after the June 3, 2007 cut-off — to qualify for the compensation available to shareholders of existing brown-coal power stations.

"Even if you are quite generous about it, I don't think you will find this is a case where compensation is available. This is still a twinkle in someone's eye," Environment Defenders Office principal solicitor Brendan Sydes said.

A joint venture between coal technology specialist HRL and Chinese giant Harbin Power, the station will trial a drying and gasification process estimated to cut greenhouse emissions from brown coal by 30%.

HRL spokeswoman Maria Brejcha declined to comment beyond saying the Government's emissions trading scheme was not yet finalised.

The HRL plant has been pushed back four years to 2012 due to delays in securing a suitable site.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Mark Wakeham, who commissioned the legal advice, said without compensation the plant was unlikely to compete with new renewable energy projects and gas-fired electricity generation.

Assuming a carbon price of $20 a tonne — the scenario used in the Government's emissions trading green paper — HRL would have to buy at least $50 million worth of carbon permits to cover its annual emissions of more than 2.5 million tonnes, he said.

State Energy Minister Peter Batchelor's spokesman, Dan Ward, said emissions trading would make technology that cut emissions from coal-fired stations more attractive, not less.

"Eligibility for compensation under (emissions trading) is not the sole determining factor in whether the plant is financially competitive."

Big business can't take care of itself? It's a joke, right?

WHEN the Hawke- Keating government opened up the economy and phased out protection, economic rationalists hoped this would bring an end to rent-seeking. Rather than running to the government for handouts, businesses would learn to rely on their own enterprise. Fat chance.

For a while, it looked as if our big-business people accepted the need for Australia to do something serious about climate change, wanted our government to show leadership, and were prepared to play their part and shoulder their share of the burden.

But no. Last week's plea for special treatment by the Business Council of Australia was just the latest in a long line of business lobby group responses to the green paper on a carbon pollution reduction scheme, all of them predicting death and destruction unless they were let off the hook.

The media have yet to twig that all modelling is only as good as the assumptions on which it rests. And you can get pretty much any result you want by choosing the right assumptions.

In the Business Council's case, it seems to have reached its dire conclusions by assuming its businesses have no scope to pass to customers the cost of the emission permits they'll need to buy, no scope to eliminate wastefulness in their use of fossil fuels and no scope to reduce the need for permits by improving their technology.

In short, the Business Council seems to assume its members are completely lacking in enterprise. Without a bigger handout from government, they'll just lie down and die — or move to Burkina Faso. What a vote of no confidence in the initiative of Australia's big-business executives.

As for the tired old threat to move emissions-intensive production to a country with no emissions-reduction scheme, it's surprising journalists still fall for it. You can be sure the econocrats and their masters don't.

We're not talking about finding the cheapest place in the world to make T-shirts and thongs. The truth is that our emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries are in Australia for good reason and it would take a mighty lot to make them move.

We're talking about capital-intensive industries that need to be close to abundant supplies of cheap raw materials and to skilled labour. Our electricity is very cheap and even after the carbon scheme raises its price it may still be cheaper than in many countries.

Problems with undeveloped physical and financial infrastructure, corruption and dodgy legal systems make setting up in developing countries far from a picnic.

It would take perhaps a decade or more to shift production plants, and who's to say that by then the country you moved to wouldn't have introduced a carbon scheme of its own?

Or that the developed countries wouldn't have established a system of countervailing duties on imports of emissions-intensive goods from countries without their own carbon scheme?

Any executive who thinks he could escape carbon-scheme uncertainty by moving to another country isn't very bright.

None of this implies that emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries shouldn't be given relief during the period in which competitor countries haven't yet established their own schemes.

They should and the green paper provides for such relief. But it stops short of giving complete relief to all export industries.

Were we stupid enough to agree to get ourselves in deeper than we already are, the ultimate cost to the economy would be that much higher.

Japan to mandate carbon labelling

The Age, August 22, 2008

JAPAN is to enforce carbon footprint labelling on food packaging and other products in an ambitious scheme to persuade companies and consumers to do more to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The labels will appear on food, drink, detergents and electrical appliances from next year, providing detailed breakdowns of each product's carbon footprint under a calculation and labelling system being formulated by the Trade Ministry.

The ministry said the labels would show emissions produced by the manufacture, distribution and disposal of each product.

To promote the scheme, the ministry released details of the carbon footprint of a packet of chips.

One bag produces 75 grams of carbon dioxide: 44% from growing potatoes, 30% in production, 15% from the packaging, 9% during delivery and 2% from disposal.

Last month, the Government vowed to reduce total carbon emissions by up to 80% by 2050.


Business Council argument "rubbish" says ACF

Carbon bill to backfire, big business threatens

Chris Hammer 
The Age, August 22, 2008

BIG business has attacked the Federal Government's proposed emissions trading scheme, saying it will force companies to the wall or drive them offshore.

But environment groups have responded angrily, accusing industry of promoting "carbon protectionism" through "a rubbish argument", while the Government has said there is not a bottomless pit of money to support heavily polluting industries.

The Business Council of Australia, representing the country's top 100 companies, has analysed the impact of emissions trading on 14 companies and found that three would be forced to shut down immediately if carbon pollution permits hit $40 a tonne.

Another four would need to modify their operations fundamentally and the other seven would have to reduce costs significantly, it said in a report.

The BCA would not release the names of the surveyed companies, taken from across 12 industry sectors.

It said it supported the proposed emissions trading scheme, but compensation was inadequate for companies competing internationally and for electricity generators.

"There are some very significant, and I believe unintended, consequences of the mechanism the Government proposes," BCA president Greig Gaily said. "The reductions in emissions that are being asked of the electricity generation sector are a huge ask if that sector is to make the transition and keep the lights on."

The BCA recommended that Australia should either have modest emission reductions and a relatively low carbon price or fix the price of permits at a relatively low price of between $10 and $20 for each tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere.

"If you go beyond a certain level you'll just achieve your extra abatement at the cost of sending industry offshore," said the BCA report's author, Rod Sims.

But environment groups have denounced its findings, with Australian Conservation Federation executive director Don Henry calling the recommendations irresponsible and "a rubbish argument".

"This is a scare campaign," he said, "and if they're prepared to be that irresponsible with Australian children's future, then perhaps they don't deserve to operate here."

Climate Institute chief John Connor said: "The Government's got to hold its course … it's got to resist these calls that seek to handball the responsibility onto others than the big polluters."

Treasurer Wayne Swan did not sound immediately sympathetic to the BCA's case, saying "we've got to understand there is not a bottomless pit of money here. We will take responsible decisions in the national interest."

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said: "We have to be very conscious that any decision to shield one sector or increase the protection to one sector will inevitably place greater costs on other parts of the community and on other parts of the economy."

The Government is to release its own modelling of the economic impact of emissions trading in October.

Monday, August 25, 2008

ETS money can help lo-carb economies: institute

UP TO $11 billion generated from the Federal Government's emissions trading scheme over 10 years should be channelled overseas to help developing countries make the transition to a low-carbon economy, says a leading economic advisory group.

The plan comes in a policy paper by the Climate Institute, which has called on business to support the move.

Institute chief executive John Connor said allocating 10% of the revenue raised through the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme to help developing countries grow while cutting carbon emissions would mitigate climate change.

"In the European Union there is a proposal to dedicate the revenue raised from including aviation into the trading scheme towards developing countries. Mexico has a similar proposal," he said. "It is time for Australia to get on board as well. This would generate $11 billion by 2020 and that is far better than investing $150 million here and $150 million there."

The proposal would be in addition to the Clean Development Mechanism, developed under the Kyoto Protocol as a private sector-based fund devoted to assisting developing nations in mitigating climate change.

The fund has come under fire at the UN-sponsored climate change talks in Ghana, which conclude tomorrow. Many African counties have expressed anger that only about 2% of the entire CDM projects worldwide are locally based, compared with 45% in China, 16% in India and 13% in Chile.

Mr Connor said the climate discussions showed that more needed to be done in developing countries and said the Business Council of Australia should show leadership on the issue and encourage government to adopt its policy.

He attacked modelling commissioned by the BCA that showed that of 14 companies selected three would shut, four would have to restructure their operations and the remaining seven would need to cut costs in response to the Government's emissions trading scheme.

"Essentially (through this analysis) they are seeking to put a carbon pollution wall around several of the big polluters. I won't say that I am overwhelmingly confident of businesses' support on our proposal but they need to sit back and take a look at the bigger picture."

A spokesman for the BCA said the council supported the revenue allocation outlined in the Government's green paper, which allocated 30% towards business.

"We agree that Australia will need to use the revenue from permits to deal with its emissions-intensive, trade-exposed businesses, strongly affected industries, assistance for low-income households, and research and development," he said.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wong stands by renewable energy target

ABC News Online, Posted Tue Aug 19, 2008 12:26pm AEST 

Updated Tue Aug 19, 2008 12:27pm AEST

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong has vowed the Federal Government will bring in a renewable energy target despite mounting pressure to scrap it.

The Government wants 20 per cent of Australia's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

The Australian Industry Group says the target is risky and ill-conceived because it will make offsetting greenhouse gas emissions significantly more expensive.

Senator Wong says there will be consultation but the target will not be scrapped.

"It's a commitment we will be meeting," she said.

"We're very happy to consult with industry about the technicalities.

"We put out a consultation paper last month and we look forward to continuing to consult with the industries about the shape of that renewable energy target.

"But we do remain committed."

Sea levels could rise 4m this century: climate expert

ABC News Online, Posted Tue Aug 19, 2008 11:49am AEST 

Updated Tue Aug 19, 2008 5:44pm AEST

An expert in climate change says the world's sea levels could rise by up to four metres this century.

The head of the climate change unit at the Australian National University and science adviser to the Federal Government, Professor Will Steffen, says he believes the scientific community is underestimating the speed at which the climate is changing.

Professor Steffen has raised the concerns at the Coast to Coast Collaboration Conference in Darwin.

He says polar ice sheets across the northern shelf are melting quickly and last year was a record year in the loss of ice.

"The evidence over the past 12 to 18 months suggests that we have underestimated how fast this aspect of the earth's system can change," he said.

"We see things happening much faster than we thought."

A four-metre rise could have devastating effects on many low-lying areas in coastal Australia, including Darwin, where the Northern Territory Government was recently a major contributor to a billion-dollar waterfront redevelopment including the conference centre where today's meeting is being held.

Crucial for our future

AUSTRALIA'S green paper on emissions trading seems to be so bipartisan that the only thing the political parties can argue over is the difference by a year or so in the date on which it all comes into force. One of the reasons for that is the comparative absence of any numbers. No modelled data yet, either from Ross Garnaut or the Government. No figures for the level of emissions cuts, just a framework that will be filled after the closing date for comments on the green paper itself. And no more than broad hints about the level of protection that will be offered to export-oriented industries. Plus statements and promises that one group or another, apparently responsible for Australia's dismal position as, per capita, the most carbon-intensive major economy in the world — drivers, households, coal — will not have to worry because they too will be looked after.

If all that's true, what's the point of the thing? If it's not, just how bad an economic effect is the Government afraid of?

There's no doubt that for an export-dependent economy with a major stake in fossil fuel production and a long history of reliance on cheap energy, pricing carbon is a serious risk. But Australia is not alone in taking this risk, and all the other routes look considerably worse.

First, remember that climate change is, over time, a killer for Australian growth. Even for those indifferent to the massive impacts on irrigated agriculture (dwarfing today's water shortages) and tourism, and indifferent to the health impacts and the sort of country that Australia's children will inherit, consider the indirect impacts of the much worse position of major export markets.

Cleaning up typhoons, depopulating inhabited coastal areas and building flood defences is going to seriously divert the growth of Indonesia, Vietnam and China on which much of Australia's recent prosperity has depended.

Second, Australia is not exactly alone in introducing trading. The 27 EU countries are committed to continuing their carbon pricing and trading system, started in 2005 and now the base for a $100 billion global business, whatever happens in the UN negotiations.

Canada and New Zealand are on the road, both presumptive US presidential candidates are committed to its introduction (with 100% auctioning of allowances too), and trading of one sort or another is proposed in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, parts of China and even India. The issue of the future is not going to be "why add costs to your exports?" but "don't expect exports without carbon pricing to get in free".

Third, there can be little doubt that making emissions reduction obligations tradeable makes sense. If you need to control the total amount of a pollutant, but it doesn't matter where the reductions happen (the global atmosphere does not care if carbon emissions are reduced in Armadale, Adelaide or Alaska, just as long as they are reduced), then why would you not allow people to trade those reductions?

Surely by now we know that the market is better than bureaucrats at distributing costs to minimise impacts on the economy.

Some economists argue that a carbon tax would be better. But politicians generally avoid new taxes like the plague, and the prospects of a world tax — because ultimately all major countries' emissions must be brought into this system — are far, far worse than the prospects of a global trading market, like other global markets. Plus we don't really know what level of emissions reductions a tax would produce, and we have left fighting climate change so late that the first thing we must be certain of is delivering an agreed total.

So Australia, having now realised that controlling emissions is an essential complement to supporting new technologies, has made the right choice in going for a carbon trading system.

The system set out in the green paper is built on knowledge about running a regulatory market that has developed across the world; not least the work done in Australia 10 years ago by the government, the Sydney Futures Exchange and other bodies, plus US sulphur and nitrogen oxide trading, which was the basis for the design of the Kyoto system. In addition, there is all the recent work by the Australian states, which is now sensibly being incorporated in the creation of a larger, more efficient market. On this foundation, the Government has put together a formidably comprehensive and considered set of design proposals, even if they are as yet not brought to life by the addition of numbers.

When those numbers come, expect a whole new edge to the debate. No one falling under this scheme will be exempt from radical re-examination of costs, strategies and product lines. Some activities just will not make sense any more. Some will require changes in existing regulation to enable costs to be shared more equitably. Some may even be shifted overseas — but beyond a few industries clearly in need of special treatment, it is very easy to exaggerate the impact of an energy cost increment far less than the recent fluctuations in basic prices.

There are an awful lot of one-off costs in moving production facilities overseas, particularly if you consider the political risks including, importantly, the likelihood that in a few years the larger developing countries will be constraining their carbon emissions for fear of the consequences if they don't.

Carbon pricing is meant to be a cold bath — a shock to the economic system.

Not such as to induce heart failure, so it must be eased in to some degree. But when the complaints really start flying, the Government — and those who can see that a low-carbon revolution offers as many opportunities as the digital revolution — must keep its nerve, because all the alternatives, including making sure the price is so low that it has no real effect for many years, are worse.

Henry Derwent is the chief executive of the International Emissions Trading Association and until recently was a senior British official dealing with international and domestic climate change policy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Grid idea powers renewables push

A BIG move to modernise the national electricity grid will be unveiled today as debate continues over what contribution renewable energy should make to Australia's needs.

The CSIRO will team with five Australian universities in a multimillion-dollar effort to make the grid more capable of using renewable energy sources, including wind and solar.

The CSIRO's John Wright said the highly computerised network would be capable of accommodating thousands of tiny, decentralised generators, and use weather forecasting to moderate power flows.

"The whole network will predict some hours ahead what supply can be expected and what demand can be expected," Dr Wright said. "There will be huge information flows."

Large, centralised coal-fired power stations now generate about 80% of electricity.

Meanwhile, the Clean Energy Council has criticised a move to wind back the Government's renewable energy target. The council said the Government's target of sourcing 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 had already caused a flood of investment.

Business organisations have criticised the target. The Australian Industry Group described it as "ill-advised and risky". The Productivity Commission has said the target would become counter-productive once emissions trading was introduced.

But Greens senator Christine Milne said the target was the Federal Government's only remaining scrap of credibility on climate change after it had compromised on the design of an emissions trading system.

The debate has emerged as rival renewable technologies jockey for investment dollars.

A week after engineering company WorleyParsons said it planned to build a 250-megawatt solar thermal plant, geothermal energy company Petratherm said hot-dry rock technology could compete with market-leading wind technology on price, as well as being more reliable.

The company plans to generate its first commercial electricity in 2010 from a site in South Australia's northern Flinders Ranges.