Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Australia and Climate Change

Smoke rising from wildfires in East Gippsland, Victoria

The wealthiest country in the world also has the highest emissions per capita in the developed world, is by far the biggest exporter of coal in the world, is the biggest exporter of LNG in the world, is one of only five OECD countries whose emissions are rising, and also has among the most favourable opportunities for economic and ecological benefits after transition from a fossil fuel economy to an economy based on renewable energy. This country is cursed by having a political class who have wasted at least a decade in fruitless bickering and ineffective token policies.

The challenge for us is to somehow break the political stalemate and remove the country from being the disgrace of the world in climate policies.

Who is Responsible for the Australian Bushfire Crisis? — Tim Minchin

1) Australia was the wealthiest country in the world in 2018, when measured by median wealth.

2) Australia has the highest rate of carbon emissions per capita in the developed world, by domestically created emissions (not counting carbon exports).

Australia is one of only five OECD countries whose emissions are growing.

A chart showing OECD nations, with Australia one of just five to see levels increase since 2005.

3) If exports of fossil fuels were to be included as well as domestic emissions, the relative contribution of Australia to global climate change would be seen to be even greater.

Should Australia's fossil fuel exports be counted in its share of global carbon emissions? ABC Fact Check.

Australia's exports of coal and LNG have boomed in recent years.

According to figures from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, in 2016 (the latest year for which comparable global emissions data is available), Australia exported 391.2 million tonnes of coal, made up of 201.9 million tonnes of thermal coal (used mainly for power generation) and 189.2 million tonnes of metallurgical coal (used mainly for steel production).

Coal Exports by Country
Below are the 15 countries that exported the highest dollar value worth of coal during 2018.

Australia: US$47 billion (37.8% of total coal exports)
Indonesia: $20.6 billion (16.6%)
Russia: $17 billion (13.7%)
United States: $12.2 billion (9.8%)
Colombia: $6.6 billion (5.3%)
South Africa: $6.2 billion (5%)
Canada: $5.8 billion (4.7%)
Mongolia: $2.8 billion (2.2%)
China: $786.8 million (0.6%)
Mozambique: $761.6 million (0.6%)
Poland: $722.6 million (0.6%)
Netherlands: $696.7 million (0.6%)
Kazakhstan: $428.2 million (0.3%)
Vietnam: $372.4 million (0.3%)
Czech Republic: $294.2 million (0.2%)
By value, the listed 15 countries shipped 98.3% of global coal exports in 2018.

Australia's exports of LNG have also boomed, increasing more than five-fold over the past decade.

Australia is now the world's biggest exporter of LNG.

LNG contributes significantly to Australia's greenhouse gas contribution to the planet, both when it is burned, but also from 'fugitive emissions' during extraction, transport and processing.

A recent study from MIT shows that fugitive emissions from gas, which is mostly methane, may have a much worse effect on climate change than had been feared. Ref.

Although politicians favouring 'business as usual' have argued that Australia's emissions only represent 1.3% of global emissions, 'so whatever we do won't make any difference', if exports are included, the prediction is that Australia will represent 13% of global emissions by 2030. Ref.

Ahh, I hear you say, but the taxes they pay are what funds our schools, healthcare etc.

How much tax do they pay?

4) Australia is richly endowed with alternative sources of energy which would have major economic and ecological advantages.

Podcast here.

5) Media and links

The day that plunged Australia's climate policy into 10 years of inertia. Annabel Crabb

Australia seen as being ‘totally disconnected from reality’ on world stage, climate expert says.

While chunks of Australia’s east burns and Sydney chokes on dangerous smog, the global community is looking at Australia in dismay.

Five years after carbon price repeal, Australia remains in policy abyss

Australia's emissions are rising. It's time for this government to quit pretending

There was some movement in the right direction during the period of the carbon price. But when that was removed in July 2014 by the Abbott Government, the emissions graph continued upwards.

The irony is that one might expect the Coalition to support market mechanisms, rather than direct Government intervention, such as the Emission Reduction Fund, which Abbott brought in in December 2014. That sort of direct intervention is usually associated with socialist states.

Not only does it demonstrably not work, it is commonly associated with corruption as rent-seekers position themselves to get handouts from politicians who decide where the money goes.

It's simple: we need a proper price on carbon. The Australian Financial Review

Seven coal mines are planned for the Galilee Basin, at a time when coal and other fossil fuels should be phasing out.

Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) report came out on 10th December 2019. It rates countries by a number of different factors, including 'Climate Policy'. Australia scored 0.0, and came last out of 57 countries. How embarrassing!

Scott Morrison rejected the report as being 'not credible'. The author of the report refuted his rejection here.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global pre-tax and post-tax fossil-fuel subsidies in 2017 amounted to $296bn and $5.2trn, respectively, when including knock-on financial impacts (or “externalities”), such as global warming and air pollution. By comparison, global renewable energy subsidies amounted to $140bn in 2016, according to International Energy Agency (IEA) calculations.

The IMF estimates that annual energy subsidies in Australia total $29 billion, representing 2.3 per cent of Australian GDP. On a per capita basis, Australian fossil fuel subsidies amount to $1,198 per person. Ref.

Scott Morrison and the Coalition are fiddling as Australia burns. 'On climate action, the Coalition is the party of wreck, defer and obfuscate, the party with a shameful and indefensible record.' A good political summary by Katharine Murphy.

Scott Morrison and the big lie about climate change: does he think we're that stupid? Excellent summary by Richard Flanagan.

Australian Government Smugness

One of the world’s biggest emitters is trying to fly under the radar at Cop25. The Australian Government's smugness about our climate change policies is based on what has been described as 'dodgy accounting'.

Carryover Credits explained

The Kyoto Protocol (1997 - 2012) was ratified by 36 mostly rich countries, including Australia. It did not include China or India, and was not ratified by the US Senate. Canada withdrew.

The Howard Government declined to ratify Kyoto, but the Rudd Government did shortly after the November 2007 election win.

   Annex B parties with binding targets in the second period
   Annex B parties with binding targets in the first period but not the second
   non-Annex B parties without binding targets
   Annex B parties with binding targets in the first period but which withdrew from the Protocol
   Signatories to the Protocol that have not ratified

Kyoto Protocol and Australian government action

Greenpeace has called clause 3.7 of the Kyoto Protocol the "Australia clause" on the ground that it unfairly made Australia a major beneficiary. The clause allows countries with a high rate of land clearing in 1990 to set the level in that year as a base. Greenpeace argues that since Australia had an extremely high level of land clearing in 1990, Australia's "baseline" was unusually high compared to other countries.

Government negotiators ensured the Kyoto agreement allowed Australia to have net greenhouse gas emissions of 108% of 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012. (I.e. we were allowed to increase emissions by 8%.)

Australia beat this target because it polluted at a lower rate, meaning emissions by the end of the period were at 103% of the 1990 level. (An increase of 3%). Much of this 'achievement' was by reducing the extreme rate of deforestation, especially in Queensland (see below).

That means the nation was given credits to carry over and use towards subsequent agreements under Kyoto. They are called 'carryover credits'.

In 2012 the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, sometimes known as Kyoto II, failed to get ratified because not enough countries signed up to it.

For Kyoto 2 - covering emissions from 2013 to 2020 - Australia pledged to cut greenhouse gas to 99.5% of 1990 levels.

In 2015 adoption of the Paris Agreement, which is a separate instrument under the UNFCCC rather than an amendment of the Kyoto Protocol. Paris involved 192 countries.

   Parties also covered by European Union ratification

At the Cop25 conference in Madrid, the Australian approach of linking events prior to Kyoto to current targets was rejected by most other countries, including the EU, Britain, Germany, and New Zealand. Australia's climate stance sparks anger on final day of UN summit.

The Australia Institute has argued that there is no legal basis for Australia to use Kyoto carryover credits to meet commitments in the Paris Agreement. 

Key findings:

There is currently no legal basis for the ‘carryover’ of pre-2021 units from the Kyoto Protocol for use under the Paris Agreement. The Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement are separate treaties.
  • Even within its own legal framework, the Kyoto Protocol does not permit the carryover of units or underlying reductions beyond the 2013-2020 second commitment period.
Most of the claimed ‘overachievement’ derives directly from the fact that Australia had substantial domestic deforestation emissions in 1990. It would be perverse to reward Australia in 2030 for the existence of large-scale deforestation that took place forty years earlier.
  • So called ‘overachievement’ can also be said to come directly from Australia's decisions to allow itself an increase of 8% in its emissions in the first Kyoto commitment period compared to 1990 levels and a minimal 0.5% reduction for the second period. Having chosen far less ambitious targets than other countries Australia is now claiming to have ‘overachieved.’
Efforts to seek recognition under the Paris Agreement for these historical artefacts as ‘overachievement’, in an effort to minimize future mitigation efforts, would be antithetical to the goals and principles of the Paris Agreement, to which Australia has itself subscribed as a Party.
  • Australia’s exploits to water down its climate action through loopholes would only encourage other countries to follow suit.
Were Australia to succeed in using carryover credits in the way it has proposed it would reduce Australia’s 2030 target from 26% to only a 14.3% reduction below 2005 emissions levels using 2018 projections (the cut is even greater under 2019 projections)

Climate scientist slams Australia’s 'disgusting' performance at COP25

Australia is among a number of countries being blamed for blocking climate agreement at COP25

6) The role of deforestation.
The chart above showing percentage change in emissions between 1990-2009 showed Australia as an outlier, with 51.8% increase, more than any other country. A significant part of this was represented by deforestation, especially in Queensland.

'Queensland clears more land each year than the rest of Australia put together, and the rate at which it is destroying its vegetation is comparable with the infamous deforestation that occurs in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazil bulldozes about 0.25% of its part of the Amazon each year; Queensland clears about 0.45% of its remaining wooded areas.'

The high rate in 1990, with a reduction by 2009 was the basis of the 'overachievement' in Australia meeting its very modest goal in Kyoto 1, which got turned into the demand for 'carryover credits' in Cop25.

How Australia became one of the worst deforesters in the world.

7) The Risks of Recalcitrance.
As this blog has amply demonstrated, Australia is an outlier in a world which is increasingly anxious about climate change. Efforts to ameliorate the situation with treaties such as Kyoto and Paris have been frustrated by uncooperative responses by Australia, and to a lesser extent Brazil and the US.

This is a situation which is likely to lead to an increase in anger, aimed especially at the most recalcitrant nations, particularly ones that are vulnerable to pressure. The US is too powerful to be vulnerable to pressure. Australia is not.

When a herd is insufficiently cohesive, it is common for uncooperative members to be given a nip around the ankles, partly pour encourager les autres.

It would not be unreasonable to predict an international campaign targeting Australia and Brazil.

This media release gives an idea of its possible scale. If 631 institutional investors managing more than $37 trillion in assets decided to make an example of Australia by disinvesting from our ten 'carbon majors', or even more widely, it might have catastrophic financial consequences for the country.

Sweden's central bank dumps Australian bonds over high emissions

8) Excellent overview of Australian Government climate policy by the Climate Council, a private group set up after Tony Abbott closed down the Climate Commission. Prominent members include Tim Flannery. Climate Cuts, Cover-ups, and Censorship.

How is Australia tackling climate change? BBC Reality Check. The article has similar conclusions to this blog. One difference is that their figures for coal exports are in tons, whereas the figures I give above are in dollars. I think the distinction is that Australia exports a lot of more valuable coking coal than Indonesia.

9) Some pessimistic views.

A school of thought is developing that it is becoming too late to make effective transitions with the power of the political and corporate forces opposing change.

Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy Prof Jem Bendell

What If We Stopped Pretending? by Jonathan Franzen
The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.

10) Some graphs for climate change sceptics to explain.

Results from the question ‘Australia is facing a climate change emergency and should take emergency action’. Source: The Australia Institute

Can Australia's Scott Morrison recover from the fires?

There is, of course, dispute about the degree to which the fires reflect climate change, arsonists, and Greenies preventing hazard reduction burning.

Nature.  23 January 2020
The race to decipher how climate change influenced Australia’s record fires
Researchers have started an attribution study to determine how much global warming is to blame for the blazes that have ravaged the continent.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Tesla road trip

I have been following the fortunes of Elon Musk and his companies, including Tesla, for some time. It has been inspiring to see how he has tried to address some of the major problems facing the planet, such as global climate change, by encouraging the transition from fossil fuels to solar power and electricity.

So the announcement of a more affordable electric car, the Tesla Model 3, was exciting. One had to sign up to join a waiting list, which I did on 6th November 2018. Then in May this year I had to confirm the order and specify options. I chose the blue 'Stealth Performance' model (George said "you wouldn't want the gutless version!"), with dual motors and Full Self-Driving computer, but not the sports option ('Look-at-me', bigger wheels, lower suspension, special brakes, aluminium pedals, and go-faster spoiler).

After much waiting, she arrived in Brisbane on 28th September. I traded the Audi Q5, because Tesla gave me a better price than other offers I got more locally. George and I drove up and brought 'Blue Beauty' down. 

She really is a beauty! By a long shot the fastest car I have ever driven. From home she is entirely powered by our solar panels. Silent, except for tyre noise. No NOx or CO2 emissions. O - 100kmh in 3.4 seconds! Partial self-driving, such that the car steers itself on the motorway, and maintains an appropriate distance from the car in front.

A good review by Car Advice.

 An enthusiast raves about the Tesla Model 3

We decided to take a road trip down to see Anna, Sim and Aelie in the Victorian Alps. A good way to get used to the new car and stretch her legs. 

While at home, her battery is charged by our solar panels, which have been upgraded this year.

A typical day, charging the car from the panels on the house (see the blue section between 10 am - 12 noon). The panels on the stable in the distance feed into the grid.

When on a road trip away from home, one needs to plan visits to a 'supercharger'. Tesla makes this reasonably easy to organize. Put in a route, like to go from home to Narbethong in Victoria, via Sydney, and this plan comes up with stops and times.

This is pretty much what we did, stopping for the night with friends in Port Macquarie, in Sydney at George's old family home, while we visited her ailing and aging mother, and then again in a few AirBnBs.

Camden Haven, near Port Macquarie

A 'Rabbiter's Hut', an AirBnB on a sheep property near Gundagai.

Then on to Myrtleford, near Bright, with some gorgeous walks on Mount Buffalo.

Lake Catani, Mount Buffalo

The Horn, Mount Buffalo

Hansel & Gretel's cottage in the forest at Narbethong.

The Black Spur Road

Sim, Anna & Aelie (6)

Granny George & Aelie

For those of a technical bent, this is a long video, which is a panel presentation by Tesla to some potential investors explaining about self-driving, or 'autonomy'. As well as Elon doing his thing, there are some of the backroom geeks explaining their role and answering questions.

Tesla Autonomy Day 
Real stuff begins at 1:09:15
1:09:15 Hardware.
1:51.00 Neural Networks and computer vision 
2:50.30 Software

I particularly recommend the Neural Networks section.