Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wong delays emissions target

AUSTRALIA'S delay in announcing its 2020 greenhouse target until after a UN summit is a defensive move suggesting the Government will not take a lead in post-Kyoto talks.

That assessment comes from observers of the climate negotiation process. 

Despite assurances that Climate Change Minister Penny Wong would fly to the summit in the Polish city of Poznan with a target on the table, the announcement has been delayed until December 15 — three days after talks conclude.

The delay also means Australia will not reveal its target until European leaders try to paper over growing divisions on a plan to cut emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020.

A news release late on Friday said Canberra would take account of international developments before revealing the depth of its emissions cuts.

Bill Hare, a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the delay was disappointing. He said US president-elect Barack Obama had offered positive signs, but broader leadership was needed to forge a deal by the deadline late next year.

"It is a defensive rather than a forward-moving, agenda-setting strategy, which is what the world needs now given all the great difficulties," he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation climate change program manager Tony Mohr said the Federal Government had given up a chance to make headway just as developing countries were waiting to see what it would do. The environmental lobby and leading climate scientists have called on Australia to cut emissions by least 25 per cent by 2020.

"Australia has really lost the opportunity to push the negotiations forward," he said. "We are still hoping to see it at the very least join with the European Union, which for quite a few years has been pushing the target of keeping global warming at no more than two degrees."

John Connor, chief executive of green think tank The Climate Institute, said the timing was curious. "If the Government has decided on targets that will help an effective global deal, then it would be far more preferable to share this with global climate negotiators in Poznan," he said.

But Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said it made little difference if Australia announced its 2020 target before or after the meeting.

"I suppose the Government would like to see what other countries are thinking — there has been some speculation on what the European Union will do," he told The Age.

Dr Pachauri said everybody was distracted by the financial crisis, but it should not stop firm action "once the dust settles, give it a month or two".

Britain recently boosted its 2050 target from 60 to 80 per cent, but some EU countries are wavering. Italy and Poland lead a group that is threatening to veto the planned 20 per cent cut unless they win concessions.

Senator Wong will join about 100 ministers at the final two days of the conference, which runs until December 12. Australia's final emissions trading blueprint will also be announced on December 15.

When climate change reform meets a slowing economy

THIS week in Poznan, Poland, the world's environment ministers are meeting to begin negotiations for a new treaty to reduce global warming. They are doing so in an unstable economic climate, with more countries moving into recession and unemployment rising. Traditionally, when times are tough, environmental issues take a back seat. In the words of Barbara Helfferich, the European Commission spokeswoman on the environment, "investing in reducing emissions is more difficult to do in times of economic downturn than when you have money to spend". But as the dangers of climate change become more apparent, our political leaders cannot afford to stick to old patterns. This time, they cannot pretend that the health of the economy does not ultimately depend on the health of the Earth.

Fortunately, US President-elect Barack Obama is backing the long-term view. Although he has not released the details of his proposed economic stimulus package, he has called upon America to produce "wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead". In other words, Mr Obama intends to pursue what Ms Helfferich describes as a counter-intuitive strategy. In her words: "Because there is an economic turndown, it is just the time to tackle the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy."

It is to be hoped that Mr Obama sticks to his plan, because the world is at a critical moment. Although no government has officially repudiated climate change goals, Italy's Environment Minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, said last month that profound changes were needed in the European Union climate change package because of the global economic crisis. Poland, a coal-based economy, has expressed similar concerns. Some industrialists have also become hesitant about green investments: T. Boone Pickens, an Oklahoma oil tycoon who leased thousands of hectares in Texas for a giant wind farm, has delayed the project. Another possibility is that the slump will halt investment generally, which may reduce emissions (and employment) in the short-term, while doing nothing to change the way energy is produced.

The challenges are enormous. According to the United Nations, 40 per cent of the world's power-generating capacity has to be replaced in the next five to 10 years. Earlier this month the International Energy Agency reported that the pace of growth in India, China and other developing countries meant greenhouse gas emissions were proliferating faster than any efforts by Western economies to reduce them. The agency said the five major emitters — China, the US, the European Union, India and Russia — had "to ensure secure energy supplies and to curtail rising emissions" despite the pressures of the financial crisis.

In Australia, Treasurer Wayne Swan has pointed out there is only a slight difference in the cost of reducing emissions by 5 per cent off 2000 levels by 2020, or by the scientifically responsible figure of 25 per cent. Last week the bank HSBC released a study of 12,000 respondents in 12 countries, including China, Brazil, India and the US, on attitudes to climate change. It showed almost twice as many people wanted governments to invest in ways of curbing greenhouse gas emissions than supported the Kyoto protocol. The world is waiting for leadership in Poland this week.

Australia's top negotiator says China's openness holds key to climate success

AUSTRALIA'S chief climate diplomat has backed China playing a significant role in a post-Kyoto treaty on climate change, saying the emerging giant could realistically commit to a legally binding deal to curb its greenhouse emissions from 2013.

Howard Bamsey, a veteran negotiator who was this year appointed Australia's special envoy for climate change, said China was open to a cut in emissions below "business as usual" — the level its greenhouse footprint would reach on its current path without steps to tackle climate change.

The comments come as ministers and officials from 185 countries gather for a key UN climate-change summit starting Monday in Poznan, Poland — the last big stepping stone before a new deal to avert catastrophic climate change is due to be signed in Copenhagen late next year.

The global financial crisis is looming large over the conference, with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change head Rajendra Pachauri this week warning an in-principle commitment by most rich nations to cut emissions to per cent below 1990 by 2020 had slipped on to "the back burner" until the economic maelstrom settled.

Also looming is the Federal Government's long-awaited announcement on how quickly it will cut greenhouse emissions, which Climate Change Minister Penny Wong last night announced would be delayed until she returned from the conference.

Climate scientists and environmentalists have warned Australia faces an international backlash if it fails to a cut of at least 25 per cent. Greenhouse adviser Ross Garnaut also recommended Australia agree to a 25 per cent cut under a proportionate global deal, but said a lesser deal demanding a 10 per cent cut was more likely.

Mr Bamsey said the Government had committed to setting an ambitious target. He said it was unlikely there would be much discussion of targets at Poznan, which will be focused on laying the groundwork for next year. "I don't think the specifics of numbers on the table at this stage are going to make a sensational difference one way or the other," he told The Age.

But Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said anything less than 25 per cent would take "a lot of steam" out of global negotiations. "We've been sounding other countries out and we know that the 15 per cent range will not be well-received at all," he said.

A commitment by China to limit its emissions would be a major breakthrough in the faltering climate negotiations, but would depend on wealthy nations promising much deeper cuts and spending vast sums on clean energy technology in the developing world.

Only industrialised countries are bound by greenhouse targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, as emerging economies were not responsible for historic emissions and needed to room to grow to drag themselves out of poverty.

Mr Bamsey said it was critical that the next climate-change deal included commitments from all major players, including China. "If you pushed me, I would say yes, it's realistic," he said. "But I think the nature of the emerging economies' commitments will be different from those of developed countries. We would say China is already taking a good deal of action, but it is action that is outside the (Kyoto) framework."

A global deal is contingent on a major commitment from the US, which refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol unless China and India made similar commitments. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to "engage vigorously" in climate talks, but US Senate delegation to Poznan leader John Kerry warned hopes the US could invest heavily to cut emissions in the developing world were threatened by the financial crisis.

In a press conference on Thursday, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said the spiralling economic problems would make it harder to reach an ambitious new treaty and underscored the need to make green technologies profitable.

Mr Bamsey said there was some evidence that investment in climate friendly technologies was holding up better during the crisis than in other areas.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

US scientists crack iceberg mystery

ABC News Online, Posted 4 hours 41 minutes ago 

Updated 4 hours 42 minutes ago

US scientists have figured out how icebergs break off Antarctica and Greenland, a finding that may help predict rising sea levels as the climate warms.

Writing in Friday's edition of the journal Science, they said icebergs formed fast when parent ice sheets spread out quickly over the sea.

"It won't help the Titanic, but a newly derived, simple law may help scientists improve their climate models" and predict ice sheet break-up, they said in a statement.

The Titanic sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg, killing 1,500 people.

Ice cracking off into the ocean from Antarctica and Greenland could be the main contributor to global sea level rises in the future. If all the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melted, seas would rise by more than 60 metres.

The formation rate of icebergs was less linked to factors such as ice thickness, width of the ice flow, distance from land or waves, the scientists said.

Ice sheets are giant frozen rivers, caused by snowfall, that slowly flow to the sea and then break up.

In Antarctica, the Ross Ice Shelf extends 800 kilometres over the ocean before the edges snap off and form icebergs. Many other ice sheets stretch just a mile or two.

Computer models that predict how ice sheets behave in warmer weather generally gloss over exactly how icebergs break off because researchers have failed to understand the mechanism, known as calving.

"For iceberg calving, the important variable - the one that accounts for the largest portion of when the iceberg breaks - is the rate at which ice shelves spread," the study said.

A fast spread means cracks form throughout the shelf and make it crack up. A slower spread means that deep cracks do not form as fast and the ice sticks together.

"The problem of when things break is a really hard problem because there is so much variability," lead author Richard Alley, of Pennsylvania State University, said.

"Anyone who has dropped a coffee cup knows this. Sometimes the coffee cup breaks and sometimes it bounces," he said of the problems of understanding cracking.

- Reuters

Coal industry 'costs environment, society $717b each year'

ABC News Online, Posted 8 hours 25 minutes ago 

Updated 5 hours 36 minutes ago

Costly: A new Greenpeace report has put a price tag on coal's environmental impact (ABC News: Craig Heerey)

A report commissioned by Greenpeace has found the coal industry contributes more than $700 billion damage to the environment and society every year.

The research, by a Dutch environmental consultancy, calculates the cost of dealing with natural disasters caused by climate change.

It also looks at the health problems caused by air pollution such as respiratory diseases.

Greenpeace spokesman Julien Vincent says Australia is a major contributor.

"Australia is the number one exporter of coal around the world, so we're actually playing a key role in peddling this substance, this number one climate polluter around the planet, and we've got plans to mine and export more coal," he said.

The research found that over the next 10 years the coal industry will have caused damages in excess of $7 trillion.

Heat we emit could warm the Earth

EVEN if we turn to clean energy to reduce carbon emissions, the planet might carry on warming anyway due to the heat released into the environment by our ever-increasing consumption of energy.

That's the contentious possibility raised by Nick Cowern and Chihak Ahn of the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at Newcastle University, UK. They argue that human energy consumption could begin to contribute significantly to global warming a century from now.

Cowern and Ahn considered an emissions scenario proposed by James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and others. Under this scenario, which envisages greenhouse gases being cut significantly through phasing out coal over the next 40 years, Cowern and Ahn calculate that the greenhouse effect will start to diminish by 2050, stabilising the climate.

But things may not go according to plan. The energy we generate and consume ultimately ends up being dissipated into the environment as heat. This input is relatively small today but might become significant in the next century, Cowern and Ahn suggest.

Their calculations show that if global energy use increases at about 1 per cent per year - slower than in the recent past - then by 2100, the heat dissipated could become significant enough to cancel out the benefits of cuts in emissions (

Being aware of this potential problem should inform what types of clean energy we adopt, say the pair. Nuclear power has the most harmful effect in that it releases energy that is otherwise locked up. Solar power is better as it exploits energy that the Earth is absorbing anyway, though Cowern and Ahn point out that solar cells tend to absorb more energy from the sun's rays than Earth's surface does, some of which ends up warming the local environment. One way round this could be to develop solar cells which absorb only the most energetic frequencies in the sun's rays. This could be done using "wide band gap" photovoltaic cells, containing layers that reflect low-frequency rays back. In the meantime, the cleanest energy options are wind and tidal power, say the researchers, as these tap into energy flows already present on Earth without significantly affecting them.

Cowern and Ahn's argument is logical, says Jonathan Gregory, a climate expert at the University of Reading, UK. "Human energy dissipation is currently small compared with other factors, but you can imagine it becoming much bigger." However, he adds that energy production would need to grow significantly for the effect to kick in. "It's fair to ask if we could ever produce so much power," he says.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Greenhouse gases rise to record levels in 2007: WMO

ABC News Online, Posted 1 hour 48 minutes ago

Levels of climate-warming greenhouses gases rose to record highs in 2007, leading to a 1 per cent increase in the overall warming effect, the World Meteorological Organisation said.

Carbon dioxide rose 0.5 per cent from 2006 to reach 383.1 parts per million, while nitrous oxide levels were up 0.25 per cent, according to latest WMO statistics.

Methane meanwhile increased 0.34 per cent, surpassing the highest level recorded in 2003.

"Using the NOAA Annual greenhouse gas index, the total warming effect of all long-lived greenhouse gases was calculated to have increased by 1.06 per cent from the previous year and by 24.2 per cent since 1990," said the WMO.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have risen 37 per cent since the 18th century, added the WMO.


The planet is now so vandalised that only total energy renewal can save us

It may be too late. But without radical action, we will be the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse

George Bush is behaving like a furious defaulter whose home is about to be repossessed. Smashing the porcelain, ripping the doors off their hinges, he is determined that there will be nothing worth owning by the time the bastards kick him out. His midnight regulations, opening America's wilderness to logging and mining, trashing pollution controls, tearing up conservation laws, will do almost as much damage in the last 60 days of his presidency as he achieved in the foregoing 3,000.

His backers - among them the nastiest pollutocrats in America - are calling in their favours. But this last binge of vandalism is also the Bush presidency reduced to its essentials. Destruction is not an accidental product of its ideology. Destruction is the ideology. Neoconservatism is power expressed by showing that you can reduce any part of the world to rubble.

If it is too late to prevent runaway climate change, the Bush team must carry much of the blame. His wilful trashing of the Middle Climate - the interlude of benign temperatures which allowed human civilisation to flourish - makes the mass murder he engineered in Iraq only the second of his crimes against humanity. Bush has waged his war on science with the same obtuse determination with which he has waged his war on terror.

Is it too late? To say so is to make it true. To suggest there is nothing that can be done is to ensure that nothing is done. But even a resolute optimist like me finds hope ever harder to summon. A new summary of the science published since last year's Intergovernmental Panel report suggests that - almost a century ahead of schedule - the critical climate processes might have begun.

Just a year ago the Intergovernmental Panel warned that the Arctic's "late-summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely towards the end of the 21st century ... in some models." But, as the new report by the Public Interest Research Centre (Pirc) shows, climate scientists are now predicting the end of late-summer sea ice within three to seven years. The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth.

Forget the sodding polar bears: this is about all of us. As the ice disappears, the region becomes darker, which means that it absorbs more heat. A recent paper published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the extra warming caused by disappearing sea ice penetrates 1,000 miles inland, covering almost the entire region of continuous permafrost. Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire global atmosphere. It remains safe for as long as the ground stays frozen. But the melting has begun. Methane gushers are now gassing out of some places with such force that they keep the water open in Arctic lakes through the winter.

The effects of melting permafrost are not incorporated in any global climate models. Runaway warming in the Arctic alone could flip the entire planet into a new climatic state. The Middle Climate could collapse faster and sooner than the grimmest forecasts proposed.

Barack Obama's speech to the US climate summit last week was an astonishing development. It shows that, in this respect at least, there really is a prospect of profound political change in America. But while he described a workable plan for dealing with the problem perceived by the Earth Summit of 1992, the measures he proposes are hopelessly out of date. The science has moved on. The events the Earth Summit and the Kyoto process were supposed to have prevented are already beginning. Thanks to the wrecking tactics of Bush the elder, Clinton (and Gore) and Bush the younger, steady, sensible programmes of the kind that Obama proposes are now irrelevant. As the Pirc report suggests, the years of sabotage and procrastination have left us with only one remaining shot: a crash programme of total energy replacement.

A paper by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shows that if we are to give ourselves a roughly even chance of preventing more than two degrees of warming, global emissions from energy must peak by 2015 and decline by between 6% and 8% per year from 2020 to 2040, leading to a complete decarbonisation of the global economy soon after 2050. Even this programme would work only if some optimistic assumptions about the response of the biosphere hold true. Delivering a high chance of preventing two degrees of warming would mean cutting global emissions by more than 8% a year.

Is this possible? Is this acceptable? The Tyndall paper points out that annual emission cuts greater than 1% have "been associated only with economic recession or upheaval". When the Soviet Union collapsed, emissions fell by some 5% a year. But you can answer these questions only by considering the alternatives. The trajectory both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have proposed - an 80% cut by 2050 - means reducing emissions by an average of 2% a year. This programme, the figures in the Tyndall paper suggest, is likely to commit the world to at least four or five degrees of warming, which means the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet. Is this acceptable?

The costs of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, the speed improbable. But the governments of the rich nations have already deployed a scheme like this for another purpose. A survey by the broadcasting network CNBC suggests that the US federal government has now spent $4.2 trillion in response to the financial crisis, more than the total spending on the second world war when adjusted for inflation. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?

This approach is challenged by the American thinker Sharon Astyk. In an interesting new essay, she points out that replacing the world's energy infrastructure involves "an enormous front-load of fossil fuels", which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest. This could push us past the climate tipping point. Instead, she proposes, we must ask people "to make short term, radical sacrifices", cutting our energy consumption by 50%, with little technological assistance, in five years.

There are two problems: the first is that all previous attempts show that relying on voluntary abstinence does not work. The second is that a 10% annual cut in energy consumption while the infrastructure remains mostly unchanged means a 10% annual cut in total consumption: a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced. No political system - even an absolute monarchy - could survive an economic collapse on this scale.

She is right about the risks of a technological green new deal, but these are risks we have to take. Astyk's proposals travel far into the realm of wishful thinking. Even the technological new deal I favour inhabits the distant margins of possibility.

Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No, we can't.

People at risk in forest protection, greens tell UN

Alok Jha, London 
The Age, November 26, 2008

INTERNATIONAL proposals to protect forests as a way of tackling climate change could displace millions of indigenous people and fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalists have warned.

In a report to be published tomorrow, Friends of the Earth International says current plans to slow the decline of forests by making rich countries pay for the protection of forests in tropical regions are open to abuse by corrupt politicians or illegal logging companies in the parts of the world where the money will end up.

Working out a way to protect forests will be a key issue for next week's United Nations climate change summit in Poznan, Poland, which marks the start of global negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

Forests lock up a significant amount of carbon and cutting them down is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, currently accounting for around 20% of the world's total.

Deforestation also threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of more than 60 million indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests.

Government representatives at the meeting will consider adopting the "Redd" mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries, which is based on the idea that richer countries could offset their emissions by paying to maintain forests in tropical regions.

The idea has some of its roots in the 2006 review of the economics of climate change by Nicholas Stern, who said $US4 billion a year could be enough to prevent deforestation across the eight most important countries. But Professor Stern argued that for such a scheme to work, institutional and policy reforms would be required in many states with protected forests, such as Indonesia, Cameroon and Papua New Guinea.

In principle, Friends of the Earth agrees that forests could be included in climate change targets, but says that in its current form Redd is fraught with problems. It says the proposals seem to be aimed at setting up a way to profit from forests rather than stop climate change.

"It refocuses us on to the question, who do forests belong to?" said Joseph Zacune, a climate and energy co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth. "In the absence of secure land rights, indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities have no guarantees that they'll benefit from Redd. There's increased likelihood of state and corporate control of their land, especially if the value of forests rises."

At the climate talks next week, the organisation plans to lobby for forests to be kept out of carbon markets, and for land rights to be enforced as the basis of any future forest policy.

"We want some kind of mechanism to stop deforestation," Mr Zacune said. "If there was to be agreement, it would have to be developed through a joint process with other forest conventions and human-rights instruments, like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

Another problem is that, under Redd, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a forest: the UN includes single-species plantations such as those for palm oil or other agriculture, which are often grown in areas cleared of virgin rainforests. "Even at their best, they store 20% of the carbon that intact forests do," Mr Zacune said.

Friends of the Earth's conclusions echo those of the Rights and Resources Initiative, an international coalition of global non-government organisations that argued that the rush to protect forests could have unintended consequences.

In two reports published in July, the Rights and Resources Initiative warned that the money aimed at protecting trees might end up in the hands of central government officials in areas of the world where they were closely tied to illegal logging and mining activities.

Mr Zacune also warned that protecting forests should not become a way for rich countries to buy their way out of reducing emissions. "We need to tackle consumption of agrofuels, meat and timber products which drive deforestation."


Monday, November 24, 2008

Gardens create national safety net for plants in peril

BOTANIC gardens have joined forces to save Australian plants from the perils of climate change by creating a national seed bank, which could be used to reintroduce extinct species into the wild.

As environments change faster than species can adapt, iconic Australian plants such as some banksias could cease to exist in the wild.

In a ground-breaking initiative, Australia's botanic gardens yesterday released a national action plan to conserve species in danger of extinction from climate change.

Under the plan, a nationally co-ordinated seed bank of plant species will be established, to provide a safety net for Australia's plant species.

The action plan says climate change is a major new challenge for botanic gardens, with the early impacts already having a significant impact on where plant species can live.

"Montane rainforests, alpine regions, wet tropics, coastal and freshwater wetlands, heathlands and coral reefs will be among the most vulnerable systems," the action plan says.

"Depending partly on the rate and extent of climate change, and partly on adaptive management measures, some species will become extinct and the range of others will be severely depleted."

Of Australia's known plant species, 7 per cent are considered threatened or vulnerable and represent 15 per cent of the world's threatened plant species.

The report said that while the nation's botanic gardens already had significant seed and gene banks and living collections, which were vitally important, there had been no national co-ordination. About 3800 Australian species have already been collected in seed banks, including 1281 threatened species.

Under the plan, botanic gardens would also provide information to scientists and the public about where plants grow in the wild, their vulnerability to climate change, the risk of weeds and disease and how to grow them outside their natural ranges.

Botanic gardens would also monitor the long-term responses of plants to climate change, and increase visitors' understanding of climate change and what could be done to abate it.

Australia's eight capital city and 150 regional botanic gardens attract 13 million visitors a year, with 41 per cent of Australian adults going every year. Botanic gardens are the second most visited places in the country after cinemas.

Developing nations urged to slash carbon emissions

THE world will fail to halt global warming in time unless key developing countries join the West in slashing carbon emissions "substantially below business as usual", the world's chief energy watchdog has warned.

     The executive director of the International Energy Agency, Nobuo Tanaka, told The Age that, on current policies, developing countries will generate 97 per cent of the growth in greenhouse emissions between now and 2030.

     "After 2020, the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) must participate", Mr Tanaka said. "Without some of them, it's simply impossible to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees.

     "Our modelling shows that even if all the OECD economies reduce their emissions to zero, it still wouldn't be enough. They (the BRICs) simply have to join."

     In Australia to address the Clean Energy Council conference today, Mr Tanaka strongly rejected calls for Australia and other Western countries to put off tackling climate change because of the financial crisis.

     He said issues of climate change and depleting oil supplies were far too important to be shelved because of the economic slump. To do nothing now would raise costs in future, making it harder to recover from the slump.

     "Many international oil companies have postponed investments because of the credit crunch," Mr Tanaka said. "This will create a possible supply crunch when demand is coming back after the crisis is over.

     "We want to see the investment happening now, and it's the same with climate change. If we don't have the investment now, the cost of mitigation will be higher in future. We should not slow down."

     The agency is the West's think tank on energy issues, and is funded by 22 governments, including Australia.

It has long criticised Australia, the United States and others for delaying action on climate change.

     But Mr Tanaka gave the Rudd Government high marks on everything except its refusal to consider nuclear power - which the IEA argues will be needed to halve global emissions at least cost. He praised the Prime Minister's plan to set up a global research fund for carbon capture and storage.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Households to be paid for solar power

ABC News Online, Posted 3 hours 57 minutes ago

New South Wales households will become the last in the country to be paid by a state government to feed their spare solar electricity back into the power grid.

State Climate Change Minister Carmel Tebbutt yesterday told ABC TV that the Government would pay a "feed-in tariff" for solar power not used by the household.

"What sort of return people get will depend on how sunny it is, will depend on how much electricity they can return to the grid," she said.

Ms Tebbutt said the surplus power sent back to the electricity grid could attract a tariff of up to 60 cents per kilowatt, four times the cost of producing conventional electricity.

NSW is the last state to introduce the policy. It will come into effect next year, with the amount paid to be determined by a special taskforce.

Ms Tebbutt says the tariff would eventually cover the costs of installing solar energy panels.

"There's already a rebate that's available from the Federal Government for solar panels and what a feed-in tariff does, it allows people to pay off the cost of installing solar panels much more quickly," she said.

"But it's also important to note that it does return electricity back to the grid. That's a really positive thing. It will help us also meet our renewable energy targets."

Clean Green Council spokeswoman Andrea Gaffney says the plan could dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to pay off buying solar technology.

"We certainly welcome the announcement by the Government and are looking forward to working with them to finalise that particular program and scheme," she said.

Ms Gaffney says it should be extended to industry.

"We certainly would encourage governments to expand it to the community sector, to the commercial sector, to the industrial precincts," she said.

"Once the industries start to deploy hundreds of panels at a time, then we start moving down the cost curve a lot quicker and it makes solar PV panels a lot cheaper for everybody. "

The Climate Change Minister will announce the tariff today.

Rudd reveals carbon capture plans

ABC News Online, Posted 2 hours 18 minutes ago

The Prime Minister has released a paper about Australia's plans to spend up to $100 million a year to encourage carbon capture and storage.

Kevin Rudd says the technology is vital if the world is to make deep cuts to greenhouse gas levels.

The paper says Australia will lead the way in developing carbon capture and storage technology over the next decades for commercial use.

Australia will be the headquarters for a new global carbon capture and storage institute and a two-day meeting starts in London today to discuss how it will work.

Mr Rudd says Australia needs to take a leading role because it is the world's largest coal exporter and the institute will work towards getting the G8's goal of 20 projects up and running.

The paper also says the institute would collaborate with other countries such as the United States, the UK, Canada, Japan, Brazil and Norway to make use of work already underway.

But the Greens Senator Christine Milne says it is taking the wrong approach to the next global meeting on climate change in Poland.

"I think the Rudd Government has been totally captured and stored by the coal industry in its first year, just as Barack Obama is coming with the green energy revolution - the green new deal, millions of jobs investment in solar and wind," she said.

"The Rudd Government's about to head to Posnan with a coal agenda."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

MPs pass landmark climate change bill

AFP, 19 November 2008

LONDON (AFP) — MPs have given final approval to a bill committing Britain to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 -- the first country to have such a legally binding framework on climate change.
Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said on Tuesday that the bill, which must now be signed into law by the queen, "makes Britain a world leader on climate policy".
"It's the first legislation of its kind in the world. It will tie this and future governments into legally binding emission targets -- an 80 percent cut by 2050, with five-year carbon budgets along the way," he said.
"It sends a clear message before European and global climate talks that serious action is possible."
Britain originally intended to cut emissions by 60 percent on 1990 levels by 2050, but changed this to 80 percent last month on the recommendation of a government-appointed committee.
The committee said the cuts would cost about one to two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and were "challenging but feasible".
Under the bill's other measures, an independent committee on climate change will be created to advise the government on new carbon budgets, which will cap Britain's pollution over five-year periods.
The government is then obliged to report to parliament on how it plans to meet these limits, which include all industries, including international shipping and aviation to and from Britain.
The legislation also contains powers to establish emissions trading schemes, measures on biofuels, powers to reduce household waste and to require retailers to reduce the use of plastic bags.
Ministers are also obliged to report every five years on the risks climate change poses to Britain, and say how it intends to address these.
Climate change minister Joan Ruddock said she had recently spoken to officials in the US Congress and they had praised the way British lawmakers worked together on such an important issue.
The bulk of the bill was passed last month by 463 votes to three.
Ruddock said she hoped the election of Barack Obama as new president would lead to changes in the US policy on emissions.

Obama's video message energizes climate conference

President-elect tells delegates gathered in L.A. to debate tactics for reducing planet-warming pollution that his administration will help lead way to 'a new era of global cooperation.'

By Margot Roosevelt 
Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama sent an explicit message Tuesday to international negotiators of a new global warming treaty that, under his administration, the U.S would move to slash its own greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% by mid-century, and "help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change."

The videotaped message, played to a conference on climate change in Los Angeles, electrified more than 700 delegates from 19 countries gathered to debate strategies for cutting planet-warming pollution. 

"It looks as if we're about to have a climate emissions Terminator in Washington," panel moderator Steve Howard, chief executive of the London-based nonprofit the Climate Group, told the conference, which was convened by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Several European countries reportedly approached Obama's transition team to ask that he signal his intentions to diplomats who will gather in Poland next month to craft a successor to the 2005 Kyoto Protocol. Some environmentalists have called publicly on the president-elect to attend the talks, even though the Bush administration will be in charge of the U.S. delegation.

In his message, Obama pledged "a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change . . . that will start with a federal cap and trade system. We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050."

The pledge echoed Obama's campaign positions, but tying them explicitly to the Poland talks "puts wings on the negotiations," said Annie Petsonk, international counsel to the Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. advocacy group. "It sends a clear message to the international community that the U.S. will back cap and trade."

Under the carbon trading system adopted under the Kyoto Protocol, nations agree to set a limit on their greenhouse gas emissions but allow industries to trade pollution allowances among themselves to reduce the cost of meeting the targets.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that has declined to join the Kyoto agreement. Last spring, national legislation to cap climate emissions failed in the U.S. Senate, amid lobbying from utilities, oil companies and automakers.

The Bush administration has contended that the U.S. should not be forced to slash emissions as long as fast-developing nations such as China, India and Brazil refuse to accept firm caps on their emissions. China has surpassed the U.S. as the world's leading greenhouse gas polluter.

But Obama, in his taped message, pointed to rising sea levels, record drought, spreading famine and stronger storms as evidence of climate change. "The science is beyond dispute, and the facts are clear," he said.

He added, "Let me also say a special word to the delegates from around the world who will gather at Poland next month: Your work is vital to the planet. While I won't be president at the time of your meeting, and while the United States has only one president at a time, I've asked members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there."

In a clear reference to the Bush administration's stance, Obama declared, "Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations. . . . Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response." 

Tuesday's gathering included another development. Representatives from four Brazilian states and two Indonesian provinces signed an agreement with California, Illinois and Wisconsin to work cooperatively to reduce the carbon emissions that escape into the atmosphere from tropical deforestation. 

California officials say that U.S. companies may be able to meet part of their obligations to reduce global warming by paying to preserve tropical forests. In many cases, that would be less expensive than installing equipment in U.S. factories or building alternative energy facilities.

But to set up such an international credit system would require technical expertise and a method to ensure that measurable carbon emissions from cutting or burning trees are being prevented.

Treaty negotiators in Poland, and in Copenhagen, where the next agreement is to be signed in 2009, will discuss whether and how to include incentives for tropical nations to preserve their forests. 

Schwarzenegger plans to issue a declaration today signed by 12 U.S. governors, as well as provincial leaders from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia and India, to share technology and seek strategies to reduce emissions in high-polluting industries. 

Roosevelt is a Times staff writer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thermal power rolling by March

Meredith Booth 

Courier Mail, Thursday 20/11/2008

HOT-rocks explorer Geodynamics ( power Innamincka with geothermal generated electricity before March 31, the company said  this week.  Geodynamics' 1MW pilot  geothermal power plant in the Cooper Basin would also power its joint-venture operations with Origin Energy near the town and be commissioned from February 1,  managing director Gerry Grove-White said. 
The dates are the firmest since the project started and come ahead of Geodynamics'  annual meeting on Thursday. Mr Grove-White said Geodynamics should achieve its milestones early next year, including the successful completion of the proof-of-concept stage. He said construction of a 50MW power station would begin before December next year to deliver commercial-scale power in 2011. 
"The later we leave it the more it will cost so December '09 looks credible, challenging but credible," he said. 

The company had increased its full-time work-force from 12 to 50 since August last year and had raised enough money from share issues this year. Geodynamics had $120.58 million in the bank at September 30 and $150 million in development funding committed from Origin Energy. Funds raised from Indian company Tata Power's $44.1 million corner-stone placement also had strengthened its balance sheet. 
Down the track, Geodynamics hopes to deliver 500MW to the electricity grid annually by 2015. Mr Grove-White said Geodynamics would work towards final investment decisions in late 2009 on a 50MW plant including costs of building, technology acquisition, financial capacity, power station design and transmissions. 

Obama vows to engage world on climate change

ABC News Online, Posted Wed Nov 19, 2008 11:29am AEDT

US President-elect Barack Obama says he will "engage vigorously" in global climate change talks and denial is no longer an acceptable response to global warming.

In a surprise video message to a summit of US state governors on climate change, Mr Obama said he would show new leadership on the issue as soon as he takes office in January.

The President-elect also addressed his message directly to delegates at United Nations climate change talks in Poland next month.

"While I won't be president at the time of your meeting, and while the United States has only one president at a time, I've asked members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there," he said.

"And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.

"Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious."


Monday, November 17, 2008

BP to close solar power production plant

Ross Kelly

The Australian, November 18, 2008,28124,24668506-36418,00.html

Article from: 

BP will shut down its solar power production plant in Sydney to focus on larger-scale plants in lower-cost manufacturing countries.

In a statement today, BP said it will stop producing solar photovoltaic power cells at the plant in Sydney's Olympic Park at the end of March, with the closure resulting in about 200 job losses.

"The challenge for solar power is to reduce its costs to the level at which it competes on an equal footing with conventional electricity delivered through the power grid," BP solar chief executive Reyad Fezzani said.

"To do this we need to expand at scale and reduce costs."

Mr Fezzani said it was "a sad day" for BP and the Sydney plant, but the site's physical location, lack of expansion potential and lease agreements made it uncompetitive.

"The modern Solar PV manufacturing plants are up to 20 times larger than our Sydney site and we are competing in a global market," Mr Fezzani said.

BP said it is investing about $US1.5 billion globally each year in alternative energy sources.

BP Solar also has manufacturing operations in Spain, India, China and the US.

Last year, it commenced an expansion of its solar cell manufacturing capacity at its European headquarters in Madrid, and at its Indian solar joint venture, Tata BP Solar, in Bangalore.

Dow Jones Newswires 

Droughts to become more frequent, severe: researchers

ABC News Online, Posted Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:02pm AEDT 

Updated Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:14pm AEDT

Canberra scientists say they have proven that the world's climate is changing faster than ever before.

The international research team drilled core samples from living corals off the Indonesian coast and found an increased frequency in the weather phenomenon known as the "Indian Ocean Dipole".

Like the El Nino weather effect, the Indian Ocean Dipole has a dramatic impact on the Australian climate, and can cause severe droughts.

Australian National University researcher Dr Mike Gagan says his coral samples show the dipole is occurring more regularly and that is changing Australian weather patterns.

"There's going to be not only more propensity for drought, there's going to be more variability," he said.

"If you get a dipole event superimposed onto an El Nino event, what may be a moderate El Nino event turns out to be a very strong drought."

Dr Gagan says the Dipole used to occur every 20 years, but is now happening about every four years.

He says Australia is in for more severe droughts in coming years.

"Now that we have a 160-year record we can see a clear trend towards more frequent dipole events," he said.

"When you look at what the climate models are telling us should happen as you warm the planet, a stronger Indian Ocean Dipole is something that climate models predict."