Climate Change: The Fiduciary Responsibility of Politicians & Bureaucrats in the Era of Existential Climate Risks


“Fiduciary: a person to whom power is entrusted for the benefit of another”

“Power is reposed in members of Parliament by the public for exercise in the interests of the public and not primarily for the interests of members or the parties to which they belong. The cry ‘whatever it takes’ is not consistent with the performance of fiduciary duty”

Sir Gerard Brennan AC, KBE, QC

After three decades of global inaction, none more so than in Australia, human-induced climate change is now an existential risk to humanity. That is, a risk posing large negative consequences which will be irreversible, resulting inter alia in major reductions in global and national population, species extinction, disruption of economies and social chaos, unless carbon emissions are reduced on an emergency basis. The risk is immediate in that it is being locked in today by our insistence on expanding the use of fossil fuels when the carbon budget to stay below sensible temperature increase limits is already exhausted.

As one of the countries most exposed to climate impact, and in the top half dozen carbon polluters worldwide when exports are included, as they must be, this should be of major concern to Australia. Instead, politicians and bureaucrats urge massive fossil fuel expansion to supply domestic and Asian markets, the latter justified on the grounds of poverty alleviation and the drug peddlers argument that: “if we don’t supply it, others will”. Blind to the fact that fossil fuels are now creating far more poverty than they are alleviating. In so doing Australia would be complicit in destroying the conditions which make human life possible. There is no greater crime against humanity.

Regulators now recognise that climate risk far outweighs the financial risks which triggered the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and demand action. Company directors have a fiduciary responsibility to understand, assess and act upon climate risk. Overseas, directors are already facing legal action, and personal liability, for having refused to do so, or for misrepresenting that risk. Compensation is being sought from carbon polluters for damage incurred from climate impact. Similar action will be taken here.

But what of our politicians and bureacrats and their contribution to this crime? The last few years have seen an unprecendented stream of lies and disinformation emanating from our official bodies around climate and energy policy, in blatant disregard of the facts, with seemingly no end to distortions designed to achieve short-term political advantage. What fiduciary responsibility do they have to the community they are supposed to serve?

Ministers repeatedly remind us that the first responsibility of government is the security of the people. On any balanced assessment of the science and evidence, climate change is now the greatest threat to that security and to our future prosperity.

Australia signed and ratified the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, presumably with the intent of meeting its objectives to limit global average temperature increase to “well below 2degC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5degC”, and “to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible —– in accordance with best available science”, recognising that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet”.

The voluntary Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) made by Paris participants, if implemented, would not meet the objectives, leading to a global temperature increase in the 3-4degC range, a world incompatible with an organised global community. The Australian commitment, of a 26-28% emission reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels is derisory on any fair international comparison.

Regional temperature variations would be far greater than these global averages, rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable even at 2degC, beyond the capacity of human physiology to function effectively. This may well be the case across much of Australia.   Since Paris, our Federal Government has ignored the Agreement, brushing off the increasingly urgent warnings of “the best available science” and ramping up fossil fuel expansion, whilst placing every possible obstacle in the way of low-carbon energy alternatives.

The fact that many Ministers and parliamentarians are climate deniers for ideological or party political reasons, does not absolve them of the fiduciary responsibility to set aside their personal prejudices and to act in the public interest with integrity, fairness and accountability. This requires them to understand the latest climate science and to act accordingly. It is not acceptable for those in positions of public trust to dismiss these warnings in the cavalier manner which has typified the last few years. Particularly when the risk is existential.

The Prime Minister failed this test recently by implying the disastrous Tathra bushfires had nothing to do with climate change. Every extreme weather event today has some element of climate change involved; it is irresponsible to imply otherwise.

Ministers justify their approach by misrepresenting international studies to support their fossil fuel expansion ambitions. Notably by citing the work of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA sets out its perspective on the energy sector over the next 25 years in its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO), exploring the implications of alternative climate and energy scenarios. Key scenarios are: current policies (CP) which assumes business-as-usual (4-5degC temperature increase), new policies (NP) which extends CP with policy committed to but not yet implemented (3.5-4degC temperature increase), and sustainable development (SDS) which is the pathway to meet various sustainable development goals. SDS claims to keep global average temperature increase below 2degC, but only with a 50% chance of success by relying on massive investment in sequestration technologies which have yet to be invented. In reality, SDS would result in temperature increase substantially above 2degC. There is no scenario which realistically achieves the Paris objectives.

The IEA is no paragon of virtue regarding climate change. It downplays both climate impact, and the potential of alternative energy sources, as a result of strong pressure politically from its developed country membership, and from vested interests who make up its advisory bodies such as the IEA Energy Business Council and the Coal Industry Advisory Board.

Consequently their scenarios are seized upon to justify further fossil fuel investment. For Australia, Asia Pacific coal demand is a key factor, this being our major export market. In the November 2017 WEO, under NP assumptions annual coal demand increases by 12% or 480 million tonnes by 2040, but under SDS assumptions it declines by 47% or 1880 million tonnes.

The IEA takes NP as their central scenario as this is where we are headed if governments implement their current commitments. However, in the fine print the IEA make it clear that NP is not a sustainable future. In the 2017 WEO, Executive Director Fatih Birol says: “Decision-makers also need to know where they would like to get to. — This is the point of the SDS scenario” – even though SDS does not meet the Paris objectives.

Having ratified Paris, presumably this is at least where Australia wants to get to. Not so our Ministers. At his National Press Club address on 28th March 2018, Resource Minister Canavan insisted on using the IEA NP Asia Pacific 480 million tonnes annual demand increase by 2040 to justify expansion of our coal industry, ignoring the SDS 1880 million tonnes decline. The latter is the minimum transition to approach a sustainable future; many existing operations become stranded assets before the end of their working life, and certainly no new coal investment. Ministers Frydenberg and Ciobo similarily insist on using NP estimates and ignore the SDS.

Canavan then assured the Press Club that in the first 40 years of this century, the world will use more coal than in the entire previous history of the coal industry. The IEA repeatedly emphasise that their scenarios are not forecasts. They are designed to give decision-makers an understanding of the implications of their actions, and they only cover part of the story. If the NP pathway is followed, there will be no market for export coal as Asia Pacific economies will shrink rapidly under the weight of climate impact. If more coal is used by 2040 than in previous history, humanity will become extinct. These are consequences the IEA does not discuss.

Such ministerial naivety is laughable, but it highlights a serious governance failure. As with company directors, it is incumbent upon ministers to understand these issues, in particular the risks to which the Australian community is exposed by their decisions. The only possible justification for Minister Canavan’s view is that he does not believe climate change is even a problem, let alone accept the need to rapidly reduce emissions. Further, he has no understanding of the implications of his proposed action. Whatever the Minister’s personal position, or the views of those who voted for him, given the overwhelming science and evidence confirming the urgency to address climate change, such ignorance is unacceptable and a fundamental breach of his fiduciary responsibility to the nation.

At the National Press Club, the Minister reacted angrily to a suggestion that the coal industry will phase out, objecting strongly to any thought of planning a transition. The mining industry will undoubtedly remain an essential part of the Australian economy, but markets for commodities come and go. Irrespective of political preferences, absent some unlikely technological breakthrough to sequester its emissions, coal will phase out, not instantaneously but relatively rapidly. Coal has been through many transitions in the past. The lesson from these disruptions is the need for thorough planning, retraining and support to avoid many people being badly hurt. Even more will be hurt, with massive climate impact, social and economic chaos, if the coal industry is expanded. It is irresponsible for the Minister to leave communities unprepared for these realities.

Minister Canavan then turned on “well funded” environmental groups “abusing” our “robust environmental laws” to prevent or slow down major projects, such as the Adani coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. Australia’s environmental laws were developed when human impact on the environment was far less than today. As that impact has grown, far from being robust, these laws are no longer “fit for purpose”. In particular, being domestically focused, they do not take account of the greatest environmental risk of all, which is climate change.

Under current UNFCCC rules, emissions from fossil fuel exports such as coal or gas are accounted for in the consuming country and are ignored by Australian courts and institutions in granting approvals for projects such as Adani.

However carbon emissions have global impact; coal exports from the Galilee Basin, would have major climate and environmental implications in Australia, as well as in consuming countries such as India. Our laws must be reframed accordingly if they are to be meaningful. As for “well funded”? Vested interests pour vastly more money into supporting fossil fuel expansion than has ever been available to environmental groups.

Parliamentarians, particularly ministers seem to have lost sight of the fact that they have a fiduciary responsibility to the public, which imposes upon them a public duty and a public trust. Sir Gerard Brennan again: “all decisions and exercises of power should be taken in the interests of the public, and that duty cannot be subordinated to, or qualified by, the interests of the (parliamentarian/minister)”.

It is entirely appropriate, when the legal system fails, for affected parties to take action to correct such failure, as with Adani, and with CSG projects in many parts of the country. In fact these are the only groups who are genuinely acting in the public interest. That the Federal government is now trying to muzzle them indirectly via the proposed Foreign Donations Bill is a further breach of its fiduciary responsibility.

The public has the right to expect that Minister Canavan take an holistic view of the Adani project and the many other fossil fuel developments he is promoting, including an honest appraisal of their climate implications for the community. That is not happening.

Similarily with Environment and Energy Minister Frydenberg, who should be proactive in changing environmental laws to include the climate impact of fossil fuel exports on Australia, rather than advocating that Adani proceed on the grounds it has met current inadequate environmental approvals.

Minister Frydenberg, and the government generally, breach their fiduciary duty by promoting poor climate and energy policy as represented by the National Energy Guarantee, whatever that ultimately means. This lowest common denominator solution is only being considered because of the fiduciary irresponsibility of a minority group of right wing parliamentarians, inappropriately identified as the Monash Forum, who put their own self-serving ideological agenda ahead of the public interest.

To claim, as the Minister did in his National Press Club speech on 11th April 2018, that: “the future of energy policy must be determined by the proper consideration of the public’s best interest not ideologically-driven predisposition”, just adds insult to injury given that the Coalition is, and has been for two decades, in total ideological denial on climate which largely explains our current policy shambles. The cost to Australia of this self-indulgence is enormous.

The Minister also misrepresents IEA analysis of Australia’s energy policies. The IEA conducts a periodic review of individual member countries policies. The latest IEA Australian review in February 2018 was presented by Minister Frydenberg as “backing the government’s energy policies — commending Australia’s commitment to affordable, secure and clean energy”. The report itself did no such thing, being highly critical in many areas, including Australia’s continuing failure to comply with IEA membership oil stockholding obligations of 90 days net imports. We hold less than half that, thus rendering Australia incapable of contributing to IEA collective action in the event of an international oil crisis; a further major security threat to the Australia community which has not been addressed despite repeated representations over many years.

In the light of these ingrained fiduciary failings, what of the bureaucracy, historically reverred for providing “frank and fearless advice” to the political class? It seems that analogy no longer applies. In recent policy reviews, the refusal to accept and articulate the implications of climate change on Australia shines through.

The December 2017 Review of Climate Change Policy was one of the most dishonest reports ever published by government in the climate arena. What purported to be a comprehensive review of the climate change challenge, and responses to it, is nothing more than a re-iteration of Australia’s wholly inadequate and inconsistent policies. No discussion of the latest climate science and its implications, no preparedness to face up to the real action required. In short little more than political whitewash for public consumption, pretending to do something whilst doing little.

The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper acknowledged that climate change will be an important influence on international affairs, particularly in our region. It then anticipated: “buoyant demand for our exports of high-quality coal and LNG — ” based on the IEA NP scenario referred to above, around which policy is presumably centred, despite the fact that demand under this scenario would be decimated by climate impact. This should be unacceptable to DFAT as our lead Paris negotiator, as it is totally inconsistent with meeting Paris objectives.

The 2016 Defence White Paper for the first time did mention climate change in passing in one of its six key strategic drivers of Australia’s security environment to 2035 and it is understood the Department of Defence have since extended their planning to prepare for its impacts as a “threat multiplier”. This is encouraging, but far behind action being taken by the military overseas.

The overriding impression is that the Federal bureaucracy, with some notable exceptions, are not treating climate change with anywhere near the urgency it demands; whether because of political pressure to downplay the issue, or because of personal convictions, is not clear.

Either way, fiduciary responsibility arises again. The Australian Public Service Impartiality Value requires advice given to government to be: “apolitical, frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence”. Further, it must be: “objective and non-partisan; relevant comprehensive and unaffected by fear of consquences, not withholding important facts or bad news; mindful of the context in which policy is to be implemented, the broader policy direction set by government and its implications for the longer term”.

Henceforth, climate change will determine policy across the spectrum, encompassing national security, defence, energy, health, migration, water, agriculture, transport, urban design and much more. Given continued urgent warnings from scientists, including the government’s own experts, on the need for far more rapid action, the parlous state of our climate and energy debate and the shortcomings in policy formulation, the Federal bureaucracy is hardly meeting its own standards of fiduciary responsibility to the community.

So what can be done? Many argue that current failures are the nature of politics and we should expect little else. But when the key issues are existential, that is to consign democracy to the dustbin of history and to accept increasing social chaos. In contrast to earlier eras, the concepts of fiduciary responsibility, public interest and public trust, are clearly not understood by the incumbency, from the Prime Minister down. This has to be corrected.

A Federal Parliament with any degree of such responsibility, would recognise that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to Australia’s future prosperity, requiring emergency action. To those prepared to honour this obligation, there is ample information before parliament to warrant that conclusion. In the public interest, parliamentarians would set aside party political differences, adopting a bipartisan approach to structuring such action, with the bureaucracy in full support.

That is highly unlikely, so there remains legal action. Around the world the seriousness of the climate threat, and the inaction of governments, is prompting communities to take this step, with increasing success. The same will happen in Australia, absent an outburst of commonsense within the political class.

This article was published on Pearls & Irritations, RenewEconomy and Climate Code Red

April 23 / 2018

If Business Leaders Want To Regain Our Trust, They Must Act On Climate Risk

Business leaders seem astonished that community trust in their activities is at an all-time low, trending toward the bottom of the barrel inhabited by politicians. To the corporate leader dedicated to the capitalist, market economy success story of the last 50 years, that attitude is no doubt incomprehensible and downright ungrateful.

But it is hardly surprising given continuing scandals and declining ethics across the corporate and banking worlds, driven by the pernicious impact of short-termism, rising inequality and undue political influence; in large part the outcome of the oxymoron of “pay-for-performance” remuneration. So how is trust regained? The need for stronger leadership, ethics, greater transparency, open communications and improved culture feature prominently in current responses.

But a far more fundamental requirement is ignored, namely that business must lead on really critical issues, particularly the point raised long ago by economist Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who considers economic growth can continue indefinitely in a finite system is either a madman or an economist”. The constraints Boulding anticipated have now arrived, as burgeoning population and economic growth crash into global biophysical limits which cannot be circumvented.

Those constraints, encompassing resource shortages, biodiversity loss and pollution in various guises, do not feature in the capitalist economic lexicon, as technology and the market are supposed to overcome all as we march toward the sunlit uplands of the neoliberal nirvana. In the real world, the entire growth model under which Australia and global economies operate, is not longer sustainable; it sowed the seeds of its own destruction some time ago and is rapidly driving itself into the ground as growth rates decline. This is the great “black elephant” of business and politics; a known, knowable fact that no-one wants to acknowledge – the unmentionable in the Business and Governance Summits currently in full swing around the country, as our leaders strive mightly to compound the problem with self-defeating subterfuges to maximise growth, not least corporate tax cuts and trade agreements.

To the community, these constraints are increasingly obvious as the quality of life for the average person deteriorates in myriad ways. The greenwash and rhetoric of much-vaunted corporate social responsibility no longer holds water when our supposed leaders are not prepared to address the issues that really count for our survival, let alone prosperity.

These range from basic considerations such as ensuring food and water availability, to the creation of genuinely sustainable global societies. However the first priority must be human-induced climate change, manifest as the lack of an atmosphere into which we can continue dumping carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation, without causing catastrophic consequences.

Climate change is accelerating far faster than expected, to the point where it now represents an existential threat to humanity, that is a threat posing permanent large negative consequences which will be irreversible, an outcome being locked in today by our insistence on expanding the use of fossil fuels. This should be a major concern in Australia given that we are more exposed than most, but instead our leaders would have us embark on massive fossil fuel expansion. Already one of the world’s largest carbon polluters when exports are included, Australia is complicit in destroying the conditions which make human life possible. There is no greater crime against humanity.

The economic and social impacts will be devastating unless that policy is rapidly reversed. The unprecedented hurricane season in the Atlantic, bushfires in the Californian winter, extreme heat in many parts of South Asia and rapid heating of the Arctic with associated instability in the Northern Hemisphere weather system, are only the most recent portents of what is to come. The worst outcomes can only be avoided now by emergency action, akin to restructuring economies on a war-footing.

It finally seems to be dawning on corporate and investor leadership that climate change is a real and present danger which is not going away. Company directors are personally liable for failing to assess and act upon climate risk, but the greenwash continues. Major corporates parade their credentials in support of serious climate action, but none of their scenarios and policies are in line with the Paris objective of constraining global temperature increase “well below 2degC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5degC”.

Fortunately, as understanding of the risks improves, regulatory pressure mounts. The recommendations triggered by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, via the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) are gradually being taken up, with companies voluntarily disclosing the impact which a 2degC policy framework would have on their organisation, assuming such a framework was ever put in place (by governments?). Progress, but reactive and certainly not leadership. The question that must be answered is: “what are you doing proactively as a company to create a 2degC world” – more realistically closer to 1.5degC, as it is now patently clear that 2degC is far too high?

If business genuinely wishes to regain trust, it must proactively face up to the challenge posed by climate change and initiate emergency action. Beyond that, it must open up honest debate on a new economic model to replace conventional growth. It is the only way business will be sustainable in the 21st Century with a real social licence to operate.

In Churchill’s words: “Sometimes we have to do what is required”.

An edited version was published in The Guardian.

March 15 / 2018
Author itdunlop
Category Uncategorized
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Climate & Energy – Appeasement Does Not Work

The current chaos around climate and energy policy brings to mind George Santayana’s caution that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That is exactly what we are witnessing, albeit with far more profound implications even than the advent of the Second World War.

In November 1936, Winston Churchill, concerned at the dangers posed by the Third Reich, warned the House of Commons about the refusal of the British establishment to face up to reality:

They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent……Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have now entered upon a period of great danger ….. The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In it’s place we are entering a period of consequences….. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now …..”

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, not to be diverted from the appeasement path, returned from Munich in September 1938 waving his “peace in our time” paper signed with Hitler. The rest is history; the war started a year later.

So it is with the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). Conjured out of nowhere, with experts press-ganged to provide underwhelming technical credibility, warning lights flashed red when the little Hitlers of the Coalition’s right wing, such as Craig Kelly, Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott himself, gave effusive support.

Most media commentators demonstrated their profound ignorance by instantly heralding the NEG as the answer to our energy prayers, despite a total absence of detail and minimal reference to the climate implications.

For climate is the key. Until climate drives energy policy, there will never be the certainty for investment, reliability, security and affordability, that everyone craves. Kelly gave the game away by letting slip the magic word “backloading”. Put simply, to satisfy these little Hitlers, when detail of the NEG does emerge, it will guarantee business as usual for energy supply, ramping up coal and CSG, with any attempt to reduce carbon emissions in line with our wholly inadequate Paris Agreement commitments, left until the last possible minute prior to the 2030 deadline.

The rationale being that the cost of compliance by then will be greatly reduced due to technology improvements.

In that one word, the government has completely abrogated its first responsibility to safeguard the people and their future wellbeing, for everything about this “elegant” solution is wrong.

Many parliamentarians still do not believe human-induced climate change even exists; a view closely correlated with massive political donations from the fossil fuel industry. For a country whose wealth has been based on the sensible application of science and technology, a parliament so corrupt and lacking in basic scientific, technical and economic understanding, and commonsense, is the greatest threat to our future security and prosperity.

In the real world, beyond the Canberra goldfish bowl, human-induced climate change is accelerating far faster than expected. The unprecedented hurricane season in the Atlantic, devastating bushfires in California and extreme heat in many parts of South Asia are only the most recent portents of what is to come.

The lower Paris objective, of limiting temperature increase to 1.5degC above pre-industrial levels, is no longer achievable. Staying below the upper objective of 2degC requires a halt to the burning of fossil fuels today. That will obviously not happen, but the more carbon that is pushed into the atmosphere, the greater the overshoot beyond 2degC and the greater the catastrophic conditions we create for ourselves.

For Australia, as one of the hottest and driest continents, this is extremely dangerous, particularly for our rural communities and for Northern Australia.

The climate impact of carbon emitted today does not manifest itself for years to come. In these circumstances, to seize upon “backloading” as a key policy plank, deliberately encouraging Adani and other Galilee Basin coal mines, the expansion of domestic coal-fired power, and CSG which is worse than coal from a warming perspective, is the height of irresponsibility, for it would automatically lock-in catastrophic outcomes.

Emissions have to be reduced now, not a decade hence. Lower energy costs will only come from a major investment in renewables, improved energy efficiency and changing social values, not from massively expanding fossil fuels and continuing to subsidise them by refusing to price carbon.

For the last twenty years, beginning with John Howard, both major parties have continually played the appeasement card on climate policy. Howard signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and as a result triggered the first design of an Australian emissions trading system, completed in 1999 (see disclosure below).

Despite strong business support, he shelved it when George W Bush refused to sign Kyoto. Business interest in climate action evaporated and fossil fuel industry resistance grew.

To appease the fossil fuel lobby, every proposal subsequently has been used as a starting point to further ratchet down sensible climate policy ambition, the most recent example being the Finkel Review. In good faith, Alan Finkel put forward an honest proposal for a politically acceptable climate and energy policy, albeit far from ideal. It was simply taken as the starting point to be ratcheted down again to the magical vision of the NEG.

Those who have any genuine concern for the future of this country need to call out climate appeasement for what it really is, namely the destruction of our security and prosperity by a bunch of ignorant, self-serving ideologues who have no regard for the Australian people they so earnestly claim to represent.

Appeasement never works. The devastation wrought by Hitler pales into insignificance compared with the risks to which we are now exposed by the government’s refusal to adopt sensible climate policy. The period of consequences is upon us and there are certainly no Churchills in sight.

(Disclosure: I chaired the AGO Experts Group which designed this first emissions trading system for Australia under the Howard government in 1998/99)

This article was published on RenewEconomy and Pearls & Irritations.  

November 28 / 2017
Author itdunlop
Comments No Comments

Australia’s Coal & CSG Delusion

Energy policy is the issue to trump them all.  We have already lost several Prime Ministers in its cause, and more will likely walk the plank before commonsense prevails.  But the last few weeks have set new standards for national stupidity .

The political rhetoric grows ever more florid, starting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last October: “Coal is going to be an important part of our energy mix, there is no question about that, for many, many, many decades to come, on any view”. Just as he launched an independent review into the future security of the national energy market by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel; no pre-conceived ideas here.

Then, at the National Press Club on 1st February 2017: “Old, high emissions coal-fired power plants are closing down, reducing baseload capacity. They cannot simply be replaced by gas –because it’s too expensive – or by wind and solar because they are intermittent.  Storage has a big role to play, but we will need more synchronous baseload power, and as the world’s largest coal exporter we have a vested interest in showing that we can provided both low emissions and reliable baseload power with state-of-the-art clean coal-fired technology. —- The next incarnation of our energy policy should be technology agnostic – Policy should be ‘all of the above’, working together to deliver the trifecta of secure and affordable power while meeting our emission reduction commitments” And to ram the point home : ”Those people who say coal and other fossil fuels have no future are delusional and they fly in the face of all of the economic forecasts”.

 Simultaneously, former Resource Minister Matt Canavan was spruiking the benefits of Galilee Basin coal, initially in the shape of the Adani Carmichael Mine, subsidised with a cheap loan from NAIF; then domestic High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) power stations; and finally the full blown development of five or six Galilee Basin mega-mines in addition to Adani. All very technology agnostic.

 Unfortunately the independent reports commissioned by the government from Finkel and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), did not toe the party line. The experts set out sensible steps to solve the problems of our energy market, with the electricity system moving toward increasing use of renewable energy and no need for additional investment in coal – the result being lower electricity prices and no energy crisis.  The pre-requisite is a sensible policy framework delivered by government; a big ask after two decades in which the abject failure of political leadership on these issues, from John Howard onwards, created the current mess.

Not to be diverted from the Minerals Council of Australia’s roadmap for a coal-based future, the government instantly twisted one AEMO recommendation, to establish a 1000MW flexible dispatchable reserve to maintain supply reliability in South Australia and Victoria over the coming summer, to claim we face a massive energy crisis.  In a mind-boggling non-sequitur, it is now using this lie to justified its attempt to force AGL to keep open the oldest, least efficient and dirtiest baseload coal–fired power station in Australia, at Liddell NSW, for a further five years after its planned 2022 closure date.  No one has apparently told the government that baseload coal-fired power is neither flexible nor dispatchable.

But the rhetoric soared: Matt Canavan assured us that “Renewables are just a short-term sugar hit”, Barnaby Joyce sternly lectured us that “We must not lose sight of the main game. Baseload coal-fired power it is, and will remain”. The Prime Minister insisted his energy policy was based on “engineering and economics, not ideology”.

Such visionary leadership brings to mind Field Marshal Earl Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during WW1. In 1925, a decade after his disastrous WW1 campaigns, he still opined that: “Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse – the well-bred horse – as you ever have done in the past”. A sentiment that might appeal to the National Party, given its rural origins.

But the analogy goes far beyond horses.  Haig’s pigheaded arrogance and failure to imagine the consequences of his actions, contributed to the death or injury of hundreds of thousands of men in the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, including many Australians. Yet he learnt nothing from the experience.

Today, we see history repeating itself with the same pigheaded arrogance and failure of imagination, as both the Federal Government and Opposition avoid the over-riding issue which must determine energy policy, namely human-induced climate change, which the government is sweeping under the carpet to appease conservative climate deniers and their fossil fuel industry funders.

Climate change is no longer a benign theory which might have impact decades hence.  It is happening now, faster and more extensively than expected, as escalating extreme events such as the spate of unprecedented hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, and the devastating monsoon on the Indian subcontinent demonstrate.  The cost of these disasters is already a major constraint on economic growth, even in the USA.  But worse lies ahead because climatic tipping points, where the climate jumps from one state to another far less conducive to human survival and prosperity, are beginning to trigger. Once such changes gather momentum, humanity’s ability to influence outcomes will rapidly disappear, bringing with it death and devastation on a massive scale. A substantial reduction in global population would result, with Australia, one of the driest and hottest continents on Earth, particularly impacted.  In an ironic reversal of “Stop-the-Boats”,  many Australians may find themselves having to migrate.

To have a realistic (90%) chance of staying below the 2oC temperature increase which is the upper limit of the Paris Climate Agreement, global carbon emissions must reduce rapidly, with an immediate halt to all new investment in fossil fuel projects, as we have no carbon budget left. It is not a question of whether we transition to a low-carbon world; we have no choice.  We have to make renewable technologies work as an absolute priority, dramatically improve the conservation and efficiency of energy use, and reboot our economic and social systems to operate within the biophysical constraints we now face.  Business craves policy certainty before investing; but certainty, secure and affordable power will be mirages until emissions reduction becomes the top priority of energy policy. And those reductions have to be far greater than our wholly inadequate Paris voluntary commitments.

Denying this reality, the government dances to the tune of the fossil-fuel industry, trying to establish as many new coal, Coal Seam Gas (CSG), LNG and oil projects as it can before the shutters finally come down on the industry, which they will.  But our leaders deliberately ignore the fact that the full climatic outcomes of these projects do not manifest themselves for decades hence. If they proceed, with lives of 30-40 years, the result will be suicidal globally – and nationally given the damaging impact of climate change on Australia’s water and soils.  The massive Adani mine alone, in the absence of any further carbon budget, will push the world above the 2oC limit. None of the arguments routinely trotted out to justify these projects, such as poverty alleviation or the HELE power stations being built in Asia and their supposed “emission reductions”, are credible in these circumstances.   Demands to expand CSG fracking are particularly flawed, given that experience demonstrates CSG’s global warming impact is worse than using coal, due to methane leakage, quite apart from its disastrous effects on agricultural productivity and water availability.

The current Federal government energy policy, to the extent it exists, is criminally negligent. So what should be done? We need bipartisan agreement to three principles on which policy must be based:

First, human-induced climate change now represents an immediate existential risk to humanity. Second, an emergency response is essential if that risk is to be managed realistically. Third, it must be based on action to achieve clearly defined objectives, rather than accepting “politically realistic”, and wholly ineffectual, pathways.

An existential risk poses large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone, and which would either annihilate intelligent life or drastically curtail its potential. The risk is immediate as, in the absence of any carbon budget, our actions are locking-in irreversible, existential outcomes today.  Sensible risk management addresses risk in time to prevent it happening and that time is now.

Having accepted the principles, politicians should then get out of the way, taking their ideology with them, and let the experts, who really do understand engineering and economics, reform our energy system accordingly.  And that includes pricing carbon to remove the greatest subsidy of all, which the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed since the Industrial Revolution by not having to account for the full costs that they impose on society, such as health and climate impact.

Australia’s low-carbon energy resources mean its potential to prosper in the low-carbon 21st Century is far greater than in the high-carbon past. The Prime Minister’s real duty is to ensure the Australian people can realise that potential, not see it thrown away in the delusional pursuit of coal and CSG. His grandchildren, and mine, deserve better than the appalling leadership failure we are seeing at present – and the destructive, nihilistic nonsense being spouted by Tony Abbott. Unconscionable indeed!

Published in Pearls & Irritations and RenewEconomy

 

September 26 / 2017
Author itdunlop
Comments No Comments

Facing “Disaster Alley”, Australia Shirks Responsibility

 

The first responsibility of a government is to safeguard the people and their future wellbeing. The ability to do so is increasingly threatened by human-induced climate change, the accelerating impacts of which are driving political instability and conflict globally. Climate change poses an existential risk to humanity which, unless addressed as an emergency, will have catastrophic consequences.

An existential risk is an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.

In military terms, Australia and the adjacent Asia-Pacific region is considered to be “Disaster Alley”, where the most extreme impacts are already being experienced. These risks are either not understood or wilfully ignored at the leadership level in Australia, which is a profound failure of imagination, far worse than that which triggered the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The management of existential risk cannot be handled with conventional, reactive, learn-from-failure techniques. We only play this game once, so we must get it right first time.

This should mean an honest, objective look at the real risks to which we are exposed, guarding especially against the more extreme possibilities which would have consequences damaging beyond quantification, and which human civilization as we know it would be lucky to survive.

Instead, the climate and energy policies adopted by successive Australian governments over the last twenty years, largely driven by ideology and corporate fossil fuel interests, have deliberately refused to acknowledge this existential threat to our future well-being, as the shouting match over the wholly inadequate reforms proposed by the Finkel Review demonstrates only too well. Our leaders have access to the best possible scientific advice and to the overwhelming evidence that we have badly underestimated both the speed and extent of climate change impact. In such circumstances, to ignore this threat is a fundamental breach of the fiduciary responsibility with which political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are entrusted by the community they are supposed to serve.

A hotter planet has already taken us perilously close to, and in some cases over, tipping points which will cause profound changes in major climate systems: at the polar ice-caps, in the oceans, and the large permafrost carbon stores. Physical impacts of global warming include a hotter and more extreme climate, more frequent and severe droughts, desertification, increasing insecurity of food and water supplies, stronger storms and cyclones, and coastal inundation.

Climate change was a significant factor in triggering the war in Syria, the Mediterranean migrant crisis and the “Arab Spring”, albeit this aspect is rarely discussed. Our current global carbon emission trajectory, if left unchecked, will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, forced migrations, political instability and conflicts.

Australia is not immune, domestically or regionally. We already have extended heat waves above 400C, catastrophic bushfires, intense storms and flooding. The regional impacts do not receive much attention but they are striking hard at vulnerable communities in Asia and the Pacific, forcing them into a spiral of dislocation and migration. Impacts on China and South Asia will have profound consequences for employment and financial stability in Australia.

In the absence of emergency action to reduce Australian and global emissions far faster than currently proposed, the level of disruption and conflict will escalate to the point that outright regional chaos is likely. Militarised solutions will not be effective. Australia is failing in its duty to its own people, and as a world citizen, by downplaying these implications and in shirking its responsibility to act.

Yet people understand climate risks, even as political leaders wilfully underplay or ignore them. 84% of 8000 people in eight countries recently surveyed for the Global Challenges Foundation consider climate change a “global catastrophic risk”. The figure for Australia was 75%. Many people now see climate change as a bigger threat than other concerns such as epidemics, weapons of mass destruction and the rise of artificial intelligence threats.

So what is to be done if our leaders are incapable of rising to the task?

First, establish a high-level climate and conflict task-force in Australia to urgently assess the existential risks of climate change, and develop risk-management techniques and policy appropriate to that challenge.

Second, recognise that climate change is now a global emergency which threatens human civilisation, and  contribute to building practical steps internationally for a coordinated global emergency response

Third, launch a domestic emergency initiative to decarbonise the economy no later than 2030 and build the capacity to drawdown carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Fourth, build more resilient communities domestically, and also in the most vulnerable nations regionally by high-level commitments and development assistance; build a flexible capacity to support communities in likely hotspots of instability and conflict; and rethink refugee governance accordingly.

Fifth, ensure that Australia’s defence forces and government agencies are fully aware of and prepared for this changed environment; and ensure their ability to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Sixth, establish a national leadership group, outside conventional politics, drawn from across society, charged with implementing the national climate emergency programme.

A pious hope in current circumstances? Our leaders clearly do not want the responsibility to secure our future. So “Everything becomes possible, particularly when it is unavoidable”.

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An edited version of this article appeared in Fairfax Media. It is extracted from “Disaster Alley: Climate change, conflict and risk”, by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt: 

 

June 22 / 2017
Author itdunlop
Comments No Comments

The Leaders We Deserve ?

Rarely have politicians demonstrated their ignorance of the real risks and opportunities confronting Australia than with the recent utterances of Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and other ministers promoting development of Adani and Galilee Basin coal generally, along with their petulant foot-stamping over Westpac’s decision to restrict funding to new coal projects.  Likewise, Bill Shorten sees no problem in supporting Adani.

The media are no better; discussion instantly defaults to important but secondary issues such as Adani’s concessional government loan, the project’s importance to the economy, creating jobs for North Queenslanders and so on.

Nowhere in the debate is the critical issue even raised, namely the existential risk of climate change which such development now implies. Existential means a risk posing large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone.  One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate life, or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.

This is the risk to which we are now exposed unless we rapidly reduce global carbon emissions.

 In Paris in December 2015, the world, Australia included, agreed to hold global average temperature to “well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.50C”, albeit the emission reduction commitments Australia tabled were laughable in comparison with our peers and with the size of the challenge.

Dangerous climate change, which the Paris Agreement and its forerunners seek to avoid, is happening at the 1.20C increase already experienced as extreme weather events, and their economic costs, escalate. 1.6oC is  already locked-in as the full effect of our historic emissions unfolds.

Our current path commits us to a 4–5oC temperature increase; a totally disorganised world with a substantial reduction in global population, possibly to less than 1 billion people from 7.5 billion today.

The voluntary emission reduction commitments made in Paris, if implemented, would still result in a 3oC increase, accelerating social chaos in many parts of the world with rising levels of deprivation, displacement and conflict.

It is already impossible to stay below the 1.50C Paris aspiration.  To have a realistic chance of staying below even 20C means that no new fossil fuel projects can be built globally, coal, oil or gas, and that existing operations, particularly coal, have to be rapidly replaced with low carbon alternatives.  Further, carbon capture technologies which do not currently exist have to be rapidly deployed at scale.

Climate change has moved out of the twilight period of much talk and limited impact.  It is now turning nasty. Some regions, often the poorest, have already seen major disasters, as has Australia.  How long will it take, and how much economic damage must we suffer, particularly in Queensland, before our leaders accept that events like Cyclone Debbie and the collapse of much of the Great Barrier Reef are being intensified by man-made climate change?  Of that there is no doubt, nor has there been for decades.  The uncertainties, regularly thrown up as reasons for inaction, relate not to the basic science but to the speed and extent of climate impact, both of which have been badly underestimated.

The  most dangerous aspect is that the impact of fossil fuel investments made today do not manifest themselves for decades to come. If we wait for catastrophe to happen, as we are doing, it will be too late to act.  Time is the most important commodity; to avoid catastrophic outcomes requires emergency action to force the pace of change.  Australia, along with Asian regions to our north, are now considered to be “disaster alley”; we are already experiencing the most extreme impacts globally.

In these circumstances, opening up a major new coal province is nothing less than a crime against humanity.  The Adani mine by itself will push  temperatures above 2oC; the rest of the Galilee basin development would ensure global temperatures went way above 3oC.  None of the supporting political arguments, such as poverty alleviation, the inevitability of continued coal use, the superior quality of our coal, or the benefits of opening up Northern Australia, have the slightest shred of credibility. Such irresponsibility is only possible if you do not accept that man-made climate change is occurring, which is the real position of both goverment and opposition.

Likewise with business.  At the recent Santos AGM, Chairman Peter Coates asserted that a 4oC world was “sensible” to assume for planning purposes, thereby totally abrogating in one word his responsibility as a director to understand and act upon the risks of climate change.  Westpac’s new climate policy is a step forward, but fails to accept that no new coal projects should be financed, high quality coal or not. The noose is tightening around the necks of company directors. Personal liability for ignoring climate risk is now real.

Yet politicians assume they can act with impunity.  As rumours of Trump withdrawing from Paris intensify, right on cue Zed Seselja and Craig Kelly insist we should do likewise, without having the slightest idea of the implications.

The first priority of government, we are told, is to ensure the security of the citizens.  Having got elected, this seems to be the last item on the politician’s agenda as climate change is treated as just another issue to be compromised and pork-barrelled, rather than an existential threat.

We deserve better leaders. If the incumbency is not prepared to act,  the community need to take matters into their own hands.

Edited versions of this article were published in the Canberra Times and RenewEconomy on 19th May 2017


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 15 / 2017
Author itdunlop
Comments No Comments

Submission to the Review of Climate Change Policies 2017

 

 Contents:

  • Preamble
  • The Key Issue – Existential Risk 
  • The Rapidly Changing Context of Global Climate Change 
  • Practical Implications 
  • The Australian Context 
  • Existential Risk Management 
  • Reframing Australia’s Climate Change & Energy Policies

Author:   Ian Dunlop

Ian Dunlop has wide experience in energy resources, infrastructure, and international business, for many years on the international staff of Royal Dutch Shell.  He has worked at senior level in oil, gas and coal exploration and production, in scenario and long-term energy planning, competition reform and privatization. 

 He chaired the Australian Coal Associations in 1987-88. From 1998-2000 he chaired the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading which developed the first emissions trading system design for Australia.  From 1997 to 2001 he was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.  Ian has a particular interest in the interaction of corporate governance, corporate responsibility and sustainability. 

 An engineer from the University of Cambridge (UK), MA Mechanical Sciences, he is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Energy Institute (UK), and a Member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers of AIME (USA).

 Ian is a member of the Board of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science based at UNSW.   He is a Director of Australia 21, Deputy Convenor of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil, a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development, a Member of The Club of Rome and a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Climate Change Task Force. He advises and writes extensively on governance, climate change, energy and sustainability.  He was a candidate in 2013 and 2014 to join the Board of BHP Billiton on a climate change and energy platform.

Preamble

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on Australia’s Climate Change Policies as part of the 2017 Review.

The Review Discussion Paper states that the Australian Government is “committed to addressing climate change —-“  and “is playing its role in global efforts to reduce emissions —-“ with “among the strongest targets of major economies (on a per capita basis) —–“.

Frankly that is a completed misrepresentation of Australia’s position over recent years, and particularly during the tenure of the present government, for the following reasons:

  • The objective of the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement is to to hold global average temperature to “well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.50C” [1]. A realistic assesment of the latest scientific and engineering mechanisms to achieve this objective indicates that, due to global inaction historically, it is now impossible to stay below 1.5oC, and it will require an extremely rapid, unprecedented technological, economic and societal transformation to have any chance of staying below even 2o
  • Australia signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, presumably accepting the necessity of addressing climate change urgently and achieving its objective . However our INDC emission reduction commitments, far from being among the strongest, when viewed in absolute terms are laughable, both in comparison with our peers globally, and in making a fair contribution to the Paris challenge.
  • Subsequent to Paris, the Federal Government has done its utmost to ensure the Paris objective will never be met by impeding the Australian transformation to a low carbon economy, favouring our traditional fossil fuel industries and discouraging rapid renewable energy innovation on the spurious grounds of “preserving energy security”. Our progress in taking up renewable energy is in spite of government policy, not because of it.
  • But most damning is the proposed opening up of an entire new coal province in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. This would be initiated with the Adani Carmichael coal mine, the largest ever built in Australia if it proceeds, with another six mines being contemplated. Most of this coal would be exported, but some earmarked for a new power station to underpin the development of Northern Australia.
  • This is hypocrisy at its worst. The domestic emissions from these coal developments would totally counteract our Paris INDC obligations for a start. But the global implications would be far more damaging, as one or two of these mines alone would ensure the world could never meet the Paris objective.

Only a government which does not believe anthropogenic climate change is a real issue, and has no intention of taking serious action, could have taken such positions. Previous governments of both political persuasions have been guilty of similar hypocrisy, with the result that the policies that do exist today are a dysfunctional and disconnected shambles brought about by years of denial and inaction. They are the cause of our so-called “energy crisis”.

The Review Discussion Paper, as so often with the climate change debate in Australia, defaults to important but essentially secondary sectoral issue.  It ignores the threshold policy determinant, and that is the urgency with which we must address climate change.

Time is of the essence. If the world seriously intends to address climate change, then far more urgent action is required than we are seeing thus far, particularly from Australia, who is a notable laggard despite the fact that we are one of the countries most exposed to climate risk.

In reality, it demands emergency action, akin to placing economies on a war-footing.  We have left it too late to achieve a smooth transition to a lower-carbon economy.  The rationale for this view is set out below:

The Key Issue – Existential Risk

Climate change is about global risk management.  Government policy, and the Discussion Paper, fails to recognise that climate risk is an existential risk beyond the conventional risk management experience of corporates, investors, financial markets and regulators.  It is an unprecedented challenge to humanity.

The concept of existential risk is not understood or accepted in our political and policy considerations:

It is a risk posing permanent large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone. One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential [2] [3]

Expert opinion considers this is the risk we are now exposed to unless we rapidly reduce global carbon emissions.  Our current global emission trajectory would lead to a temperature increase in the 4-5oC range, a world which would be “incompatible with an organised global community”, with global population dropping from 7 billion to below 1 billion as the impact of climate extremes takes effect [4].  The World Bank has pointed out that “There is no certainty adaptation to a 4oC world is possible[5].

Even the 2.7 – 3.5oC outcome which would eventuate if current voluntary Paris commitments were implemented, would result in outright social chaos in many parts of the world.   The US Military Advisory Board warns against a “failure of imagination” in thinking through these implications of climate change [6], which is exactly what is occurring in Australia at present. This is particularly dangerous given our exposure to climate risk.

Existential risk requires fundamentally different risk, and opportunity, management from conventional practice. This should be the over-riding consideration determining the climate change policies which Australia now requires.

The Rapidly Changing Context of Global Climate Change

Any balanced assessment of the climate science and evidence accepts that climate change is driven primarily by human carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and land clearing, superimposed on natural climate variability, and that it is happening faster and more extensively than previously anticipated.

In this context, scientists have long been concerned about the extreme “tipping point” risks of the climate system; non-linear positive feedbacks which trigger rapid, irreversible and catastrophic change.

These feedbacks are now kicking in.  For example, Arctic weather conditions are becoming increasingly unstable as jetstream fluctuations warm the region 200C or more above normal levels; sea ice is at an all-time low with increasing evidence of methane emissions from melting permafrost [7].  Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at worst-case rates [8], with the potential for several metre sea level rise this century [9]. The Antarctic Larsen ice sheet and Pine Island glacier are showing signs of major breakup as a result of warming Southern Ocean waters, a process which is probably now irreversible [10] [11]. Coral reefs around the world, not least the Australian Great Barrier Reef, are dying off as a result of record high sea temperatures [12]. Global temperature increases are accelerating, with 2016 being the hottest year on record [13] [14].  Major terrestrial carbon sinks are showing signs of becoming carbon emitters [15]. And much more.

The social disruption and economic consequences are already devastating, leading to extensive forced migration and economic collapse in some countries.  The refugee crisis engulfing Europe, emanating from Syria and North Africa, is fundamentally climate change driven [16] and a precursor of greater conflict ahead. The viability of the Middle East in toto is questionable in the circumstances now developing [17] [18].  Major centres of economic activity, such as the Pearl River Delta, responsible for 40% of China’s exports, the Mekong River Delta and other parts of SE Asia are now under threat from climate-induced sea level rise prior to 2050 [19]. This has profound implications for Australia’s future.

Practical Implications

The Paris Agreement, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, came into force on 4th November 2016. It requires the 195 countries participating to hold global average temperature to “well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.50C” [20]. Regional temperature variations would be far greater than these global averages, rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable even at 20C, beyond the capacity of human physiology to function effectively.

Without rapid carbon emission reductions far greater than Paris commitments, the planet will become ungovernable. Dangerous climate change, which the Paris Agreement and its forerunners seek to avoid, is happening at the 1.20C increase already experienced as extreme weather events, and their economic costs, escalate. The negative impact on human health is already substantial [21] [22].

It is impossible to stay below the 1.50C Paris aspiration.  To have a realistic chance, say 90%, of staying below even 20C, rather than the unrealistic 50-66% chance upon which official analyses are based, means that there is no global carbon budget remaining today.  Thus no new fossil fuel projects can be built globally, that existing operations, particularly coal, have to be rapidly replaced with low carbon alternatives, and that carbon sequestration technologies which do not currently exist have to be rapidly deployed at scale [23] [24].  Even accepting the 50-66% risk levels excludes new projects in toto.

Most dangerously, the climate impact of investments made today do not manifest themselves for decades to come. If we wait for catastrophe to happen, as we are doing, it will be too late to act. However governments, business and investors are complacently allowing the continuation of such investment on the basis that the 20C limit is some way off, with a substantial carbon budget still remaining. Neither proposition is correct and the existential risk implications are being ignored.  Indeed, in circumstances of high uncertainty, which is the case currently with tipping points, even greater precautions should be taken than might be the case with better scientific knowledge.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is unprecedented. We have the technology, the expertise, wealth and resources to make it happen. What we lack is the maturity to set aside political ideologies and corporate vested interests to cooperate in the public interest.

And most importantly, time. Any realistic chance of avoiding catastrophic outcomes, requires emergency action to force the pace of change, starting with a serious price on carbon to remove the massive subsidy propping up fossil fuels. The irony is that this transition is the greatest investment opportunity the world has ever seen and Australia has some of the best low-carbon resources to benefit from it.

These views are not irrational alarmism. They may be regarded as extreme relative to mainstream debate within the corporate, financial and investment communities.  However they are well-grounded in the science and evidence, as set out in more depth in the “Climate Reality Check” paper referenced [25] and in the increasingly outspoken views of leading scientists [26].

The Australian Context

As the Prime Minister’s speech to the National Press Club on 1st February 2017 [27] implied, although this was not stated, climate and energy policy must be integrated and treated holistically, not in silos as we have beeen doing.

He emphasised the need for “affordable, reliable and secure energy”, denounced the States for their “unrealistic” renewable targets, encouraged energy storage, but then placed the emphasis back on coal. Priority would be given to “clean coal and carbon capture and storage (CCS) and onshore gas (CSG)”, implying that renewables were neither affordable or reliable. Further “The next incarnation of our energy policy should be technology agnostic – it’s security and cost that matter, not how you deliver it.  Policy should be ‘all of the above technologies’ working together to meet the trifecta of secure and affordable power while meeting our substantial emission reduction commitments”.

 This approach ignores numerous inconvenient realities.

First, the speech skirted around our biggest risk, namely accelerating climate change. Whilst Australia ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, our emission reduction commitments are not “substantial”. They are laughable both in comparison with our peers globally, and to have any chance of making a fair contribution to the Paris objective..

Second, to have a realistic chance, say 90%, of meeting the Paris objectives, the world should no longer emit any carbon to atmosphere.  We still emit record amounts today and need some fossil fuels to build the new low-carbon economy, so that is not going to happen.  But emissions must peak and decline rapidly.  There is no space for any new fossil fuel projects, coal, oil or gas.

Third, “clean coal” is neither new nor clean.  These technologies can reduce emissions by up to 40% relative to conventional practice, but that does not solve our problem when the global carbon budget has already been exhausted. Further, costs are increased by up to 30%, rendering coal even less competitive with renewables.

Fourth, years of research have failed to establish the basis for CCS expansion at scale.  CCS works where emissions are stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, which the oil industry has practised for decades.  Storage in other types of geological structures is far harder.  The few commercial operations in the world today are in the former category.  The substantial additional costs of CCS again reduce coal’s competitiveness, particularly if you refuse to price carbon, as the government are doing. CCS will be useful at the margin, but it will not save fossil fuels from their inevitable demise.

Fifth, energy prices rose largely because our flawed regulatory framework allowed power companies to invest  in unnecessary infrastructure on which they were guaranteed a return. Gas prices rose because the East Coast was opened up to the higher priced international gas market with the construction of export facilities at Gladstone.  The unseemly rush into CSG resulted in substantial processing overcapacity, with economic pressure increasing as CSG production was constrained by community objection to the damage caused to arable land and water.  Further, high methane leakage rates result in CSG having a greater warming effect than using coal, thereby negating its supposed benefit.

Sixth, there is nothing “agnostic” about choosing energy sources when the fossil fuel industry continues to enjoy a massive subsidy, far greater than renewables, by the lack of carbon pricing.  A subsidy the IMF estimate to be around 60% of coal’s market price [28]. And this is the nub of the problem. Our climate and energy policies are a disconnected and dysfunctional shambles, brought about by years of denial and inaction from Federal Governments of both persuasions who do not accept that climate change is happening.

But that game is up.  Climate change has moved from the twilight phase of much talk and relatively limited impact. It is now turning nasty.  Events are moving faster than expected as irreversible climate tipping points are crossed.  The economic and social costs of inaction can no longer be swept under the carpet, with regulators here and overseas demanding action to head off a climate-induced financial crisis.

The only way we can avoid catastrophic climate impact now is to initiate emergency action, akin to a war-footing.  That will be accepted before long as impacts bite and low carbon technology undermines the fossil fuel industry

Our antiquated electricity grids are undoubtedly in need of overhaul, but 100% renewable grids are being constructed around the world in only a few years, providing genuine energy security and making traditional concepts of base-load power irrelevant.

As for affordability, energy prices will rise given the extent and speed of change. It is irresponsible to suggest otherwise. However they will rise less with renewables than with coal, with greater prospects of cost reduction as technology improves.

We need a new narrative, built around our potential to prosper as a low-carbon society. We have the world’s best renewable resources, the science, the technology and engineering expertise to seize what is the biggest investment and job-creation opportunity this country has ever seen.  Government policy has been preventing that opportunity from being realised.

Existential Risk Management

The risks outlined above require that existential risk should now be the primary consideration in managing climate change and energy policy.  That policy should be built around existential risk management unlike anything being contemplated officially at present. The components would encompass:

  • Normative Goal Setting. “Politically realistic”, incremental change from “business-as-usual” is not tenable. This must be replaced with a normative view of limits which must be adhered to if catastrophic consequences are to be avoided, based on the latest science. Action is then determined by the imperative to stay within the limits, not by incremental, art-of-the-possible, change from business-as-usual.
  • Change Mindsets, to now regard the climate change challenge as a genuine global emergency, to be addressed with an emergency global response.
  • Genuine Global Leadership. Current responses reflect the dominance of managerialism – an emphasis on optimising the conventional political and corporate paradigms by incremental change, rather than adopting the fundamentally different normative leadership needed to contend with the potential for catastrophic failure.
  • Integrated Policy. Climate change, though difficult, is only one of a number of critical, inter-related, issues now confronting the global community, which threaten the sustainability of humanity as we know it. Rather than viewing these issues separately in individual “silos” as at present, integrated policy is essential if realistic solutions are to be implemented. Climate and energy policy needs to fit within a systemic Australian approach to emergency action.

There needs to be an honest articulation of the catastrophic risks and the integrated sustainability challenge we now face, with extensive community education to develop the platform for commitment to the major changes ahead. That has not happened thus far.

 Reframing Australia’s Climate Change and Energy Policies

I request that the Review of Climate Change Policies recognises and acts upon the following in developing their final recommendations:

  • Climate and Energy policy must be integrated and addressed holistically rather than in separate silos as they have been historically
  • Climate change already poses an existential risk to global economic, financial and societal stability. As such, addressing climate change must become the primary determinant of climate and energy policy
  • To limit temperature increase within globally agreed objectives, emergency action is now inevitable which must include economic instruments such as sensible carbon pricing, despite being repeatedly ruled out by successive governments.
  • Emission reduction objectives should be recast accordingly.
  • Existential risk management techniques are required which fundamentally differ from conventional practice.

All new fossil fuel investment should cease, particularly development of the Adani mine, the Queensland Galilee Basin coal province in general and CSG.

Emphasis must be placed on urgent programmes to transition to genuine low carbon energy sources.

Ian T Dunlop

Sydney

Australia

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References  

[1] UNFCCC Paris Agreement Article 2:

https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

[2] Existential Risk Prevention as a Global Priority”, Nick Bostrom, Oxford University, February 2013:

http://www.existential-risk.org/concept.pdf

[3] “Global Catastrophic Risks”, Bostrom & Cirkovic, OUP 2008:

http://www.global-catastrophic-risks.com/book.html

[4] http://grist.org/climate-change/2011-12-05-the-brutal-logic-of-climate-change/

[5] “Turn Down the Heat”, World Bank 2011:

http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/865571468149107611/pdf/NonAsciiFileName0.pdf

[6] “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change”, Military Advisory Board, CNA Corporation, May 2014:

https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/MAB-201406508.pdf

[7] https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2016/12/arctic-and-antarctic-at-record-low-levels/

[8] http://www.smh.com.au/environment/sealevel-expert-john-church-resurfaces-at-university-of-nsw-amid-new-warning-signs-from-greenland-20161207-gt5qje.html

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/22/sea-level-rise-james-hansen-climate-change-scientist

[10] Antarctic tipping points for a multi-metre sea level rise, David Spratt, February 2017:

http://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/papers

[11] http://mashable.com/2016/12/03/nasa-photo-crack-larsen-c-ice-shelf/#GlKFT3rWbmqE

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/09/great-barrier-reef-not-likely-to-survive-if-warming-trend-continues-says-report?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=203508&subid=13317484&CMP=ema_632

[13] 2016 Warmest Year on Record Globally, NASA/NOAA, January 2017:

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-data-show-2016-warmest-year-on-record-globally

[14] Global Heat Record Broken Again, Climate Council, January 2017:

https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/2016-hottest-year-report

[15] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/30/the-ground-beneath-our-feet-is-poised-to-make-global-warming-much-worse-scientists-find/?utm_term=.2b40ab750c08

[16] http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3241.full

[17] The Roasting of the Middle East – Infertile Crescent, The Economist, 6th August 2016

http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21703269-more-war-climate-change-making-region-hard-live-infertile

[18] Extreme Heatwaves could push gulf climate beyond human endurance, The Guardian 26th October 2015:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/26/extreme-heatwaves-could-push-gulf-climate-beyond-human-endurance-study-shows

[19] How climate change will sink China’s manufacturing heartland, David Spratt & Shane White, 10th August 2016:

http://www.climatecodered.org/2016/08/how-climate-change-will-sink-chinas.html

[20] UNFCCC Paris Agreement Article 2:

https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

[21]  The Lancet Commission:

http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(16)32124-9.pdf

[22] Australian Academy of Science, Climate Change Challenges to Health:

https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/science-sector-analysis/reports-and-publications/climate-change-challenges-health

[23] “Climate Reality Check”, David Spratt & Ian Dunlop, Breakthrough Institute, Melbourne, June 2016:

http://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/papers

[24] The Sky’s Limit, Oil Change International, September 2016:

http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2016/09/OCI_the_skys_limit_2016_FINAL_2.pdf

[25]ibid “Climate Reality Check”, David Spratt & Ian Dunlop, Breakthrough Institute, Melbourne, June 2016:

[26] “The World’s Biggest Gamble”, Johan Rockstrom, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber et al, AGU October 2016:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016EF000392/abstract

[27] https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2017-02-01/address-national-press-club

[28] Getting Energy Prices Right, International Monetary Fund, July 2014:

https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.aspx?sk=41345.0

 

May 04 / 2017
Author itdunlop
Comments No Comments

Submission to the Finkel Review of the National Energy Market

 

Contents:

  • Preamble
  • The Key Issue – Existential Risk
  • The Rapidly Changing Context of Global Climate Change 
  • Practical Implications
  • The Australian Context
  • Existential Risk Management
  • Request to Expert Panel

 Preamble

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Preliminary Report into the Future Security of the National Energy Market.  I congratulate the Expert Panel on a comprehensive analysis of the challenges faced by our ageing electricity grid system, the need for extensive reform to address the realities of 21st Century energy supply and the technological and market options available.

However I suggest that there is an overarching issue which the Preliminary Report does not adequately address, and that is the urgency with which we must address climate change, which in turn defines the context  in which reform of the NEM should take place.

Time is of the essence. It seems unlikely, given the lack of action to date and the accelerating pace of climate change, that global average surface temperatures can now be held below the 1.5oC to 2oC range adopted in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement which Australia has ratified. If the world seriously intends to address climate change, then far more urgent action is required than we are seeing thus far, particularly from Australia who is a notable laggard in its emission reduction commitments.

In reality, it demands emergency action, akin to placing economies on a war-footing.  We have left it too late to achieve a smooth transition to a lower-carbon economy.  Reform of the NEM has a critical role to play in this process, but it must be set against realistic emission reduction objectives  far more stringent than the Government’s current emission reduction targets.

The rationale for this view is set out below:

The Key Issue – Existential Risk

The Preliminary Report does not recognise that climate risk is an existential risk beyond the conventional risk management experience of corporates, investors, financial markets and regulators.  It is an unprecedented challenge to humanity.

As such it requires fundamentally different risk, and opportunity, management from conventional practice. In turn this should be the over-riding consideration determining the extent and speed of reforming the NEM.

 

The Rapidly Changing Context of Global Climate Change

Any balanced assessment of the climate science and evidence accepts that climate change is driven primarily by human carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, agriculture and land clearing, superimposed on natural climate variability, and that it is happening faster and more extensively than previously anticipated.

In this context, scientists have long been concerned about the extreme “tipping point” risks of the climate system; non-linear positive feedbacks which trigger rapid, irreversible and catastrophic change.

These feedbacks are now kicking in.  For example, Arctic weather conditions are becoming increasingly unstable as jetstream fluctuations warm the region 200C or more above normal levels; sea ice is at an all-time low with increasing evidence of methane emissions from melting permafrost [1].  Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at worst-case rates [2], with the potential for several metre sea level rise this century [3]. The Antarctic Larsen ice sheet and Pine Island glacier are showing signs of major breakup as a result of warming Southern Ocean waters, a process which is probably now irreversible [4] [5]. Coral reefs around the world, not least the Australian Great Barrier Reef, are dying off as a result of record high sea temperatures [6]. Global temperature increases are accelerating, with 2016 being the hottest year on record [7] [8].  Major terrestrial carbon sinks are showing signs of becoming carbon emitters [9]. And much more.

The social disruption and economic consequences are already devastating, leading to extensive forced migration and economic collapse in some countries.  The refugee crisis engulfing Europe, emanating from Syria and North Africa, is fundamentally climate change driven [10] and a precursor of greater conflict ahead. The viability of the Middle East in toto is questionable in the circumstances now developing [11] [12].  Major centres of economic activity, such as the Pearl River Delta, responsible for 40% of China’s exports, the Mekong River Delta and other parts of SE Asia are now under threat from climate-induced sea level rise prior to 2050 [13]. This has major implications for Australia’s future.

Practical Implications

The Paris Agreement, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, came into force on 4th November 2016. It requires the 195 countries participating to hold global average temperature to “well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.50C” [14]. Regional temperature variations would be far greater than these global averages, rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable even at 20C, beyond the capacity of human physiology to function effectively.

Without rapid carbon emission reductions far greater than Paris commitments, the planet will become ungovernable. Dangerous climate change, which the Paris Agreement and its forerunners seek to avoid, is happening at the 1.20C increase already experienced as extreme weather events, and their economic costs, escalate. The negative impact on human health is already substantial [15] [16].

It is probably impossible to stay below the 1.50C Paris aspiration.  To have a realistic chance, say 90%, of staying below even 20C, means that no new fossil fuel projects can be built globally, that existing operations, particularly coal, have to be rapidly replaced with low carbon alternatives, and that carbon sequestration technologies which do not currently exist have to be rapidly deployed at scale [17] [18].

Most dangerously, the climate impact of investments made today do not manifest themselves for decades to come. If we wait for catastrophe to happen, as we are doing, it will be too late to act. However governments, business and investors are complacently allowing the continuation of such investment on the basis that the 20C limit is some way off, with a substantial carbon budget still remaining. Neither proposition is correct and the existential risk implications are being ignored.  Indeed, in circumstances of high uncertainty, which is the case currently with tipping points, even greater precautions should be taken than might be the case with better scientific knowledge.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is unprecedented. We have the technology, the expertise and wealth to make it happen. What we lack is the maturity to set aside political ideologies and corporate vested interests to cooperate in the public interest.

And most importantly, time. Any realistic chance of avoiding catastrophic outcomes, requires emergency action to force the pace of change, starting with a serious price on carbon to remove the massive subsidy propping up fossil fuels. The irony is that this transition is the greatest investment opportunity the world has ever seen.

These views are not irrational alarmism. They may be regarded as extreme relative to mainstream debate within the corporate, financial and investment communities.  However they are well-grounded in the science and evidence, as set out in more depth in the “Climate Reality Check” paper referenced [19] and in the increasingly outspoken views of leading scientists [20].

The Australian Context

The Prime Minister’s National Press Club speech on 1st February 2017 [21] emphasised the need for “affordable, reliable and secure energy”, denounced the States for their “unrealistic” renewable targets, encouraged energy storage, but then placed the emphasis back on coal. Priority would be given to “clean coal and carbon capture and storage (CCS) and onshore gas (CSG)”, implying that renewables were neither affordable or reliable. Further “The next incarnation of our energy policy should be technology agnostic – it’s security and cost that matter, not how you deliver it.  Policy should be ‘all of the above technologies’ working together to meet the trifecta of secure and affordable power while meeting our substantial emission reduction commitments”.

This approach ignores numerous inconvenient realities.

First, the speech skirted around our biggest risk, namely accelerating climate change. Whilst Australia ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, our emission reduction commitments are not “substantial”. They are laughable both in comparison with our peers globally, and to have any chance of making a fair contribution to the Paris objectives of holding global temperatures “well below 2oC above pre-industrial conditions and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5oC”.

Second, to have a realistic chance, say 90%, of meeting the Paris objectives, the world should no longer emit any carbon to atmosphere.  We still emit record amounts today and need some fossil fuels to build the new low-carbon economy, so that is not going to happen.  But emissions must peak and decline rapidly.  There is no space for any new fossil fuel projects, coal, oil or gas.

Third, “clean coal” is neither new nor clean.  These technologies can reduce emissions by up to 40% relative to conventional practice, but that does not solve our problem when the global carbon budget has already been exhausted. Further, costs are increased by up to 30%, rendering coal even less competitive with renewables.

Fourth, years of research have failed to establish the basis for CCS expansion at scale.  CCS works where emissions are stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, which the oil industry has practised for decades.  Storage in other types of geological structures is far harder.  The few commercial operations in the world today are in the former category.  The substantial additional costs of CCS again reduce coal’s competitiveness, particularly if you refuse to price carbon, as the government are doing. CCS will be useful at the margin, but it will not save fossil fuels from their inevitable demise.

Fifth, energy prices rose largely because our flawed regulatory framework allowed power companies to invest  in unnecessary infrastructure on which they were guaranteed a return. Gas prices rose because the East Coast was opened up to the higher priced international gas market with the construction of export facilities at Gladstone.  The unseemly rush into CSG resulted in substantial processing overcapacity, with economic pressure increasing as CSG production was constrained by community objection to the damage caused to arable land and water.  Further, high methane leakage rates result in CSG having a greater warming effect than using coal, thereby negating its supposed benefit.

Sixth, there is nothing “agnostic” about choosing energy sources when the fossil fuel industry continues to enjoy a massive subsidy, far greater than renewables, by the lack of carbon pricing.  A subsidy the IMF estimate to be around 60% of coal’s market price [22]. And this is the nub of the problem. Our climate and energy policies are a disconnected and dysfunctional shambles, brought about by years of denial and inaction from Federal Governments of both persuasions who do not accept that climate change is happening.

But that game is up.  Climate change has moved from the twilight phase of much talk and relatively limited impact. It is now turning nasty.  Events are moving faster than expected as irreversible climate tipping points are crossed.  The economic and social costs of inaction can no longer be swept under the carpet, with regulators here and overseas demanding action to head off a climate-induced financial crisis.

The only way we can avoid catastrophic climate impact now is to initiate emergency action, akin to a war-footing.  That will be accepted before long as impacts bite and low carbon technology undermines the fossil fuel industry

Our antiquated electricity grids are undoubtedly in need of overhaul, but 100% renewable grids are being constructed around the world in only a few years, providing genuine energy security and making traditional concepts of base-load power irrelevant.

As for affordability, energy prices will rise given the extent and speed of change. It is irresponsible to suggest otherwise. However they will rise less with renewables than with coal, with greater prospects of cost reduction as technology improves.

We need a new narrative, built around our potential to prosper as a low-carbon society. We have the world’s best renewable resources, the science, the technology and engineering expertise to seize what is the biggest investment and job-creation opportunity this country has ever seen.

Existential Risk Management

Climate change is existential risk management on a global scale.  The risk implications outlined above require that existential risk should now be the primary consideration in managing climate change and NEM reform.  It should be built around existential risk management policy unlike anything being contemplated officially at present. The components would encompass:

  • Normative Goal Setting. “Politically realistic”, incremental change from “business-as-usual” is not tenable. This must be replaced with a normative view of limits which must be adhered to if catastrophic consequences are to be avoided, based on the latest science. Action is then determined by the imperative to stay within the limits, not by incremental, art-of-the-possible, change from business-as-usual.
  • Change Mindsets, to now regard the climate change challenge as a genuine global emergency, to be addressed with an emergency global response.
  • Genuine Global Leadership. Current responses reflect the dominance of managerialism – an emphasis on optimising the conventional political and corporate paradigms by incremental change, rather than adopting the fundamentally different normative leadership needed to contend with the potential for catastrophic failure.
  • Integrated Policy. Climate change, though difficult, is only one of a number of critical, inter-related, issues now confronting the global community, which threaten the sustainability of humanity as we know it. Rather than viewing these issues separately in individual “silos” as at present, integrated policy is essential if realistic solutions are to be implemented. NEM reform needs to fit within a systemic Australian approach to emergency action.
  • There needs to be an honest articulation of the catastrophic risks and the integrated sustainability challenge we now face, with extensive community education to develop the platform for commitment to the major changes ahead. That has not happened thus far. Investors, corporates and regulators have a crucial role to play in articulating reality and in adopting constructive solutions.

Request to the Expert Panel

I request the Expert Panel, in developing their final recommendations for NEM reform, to recognise that:

  • Climate change already poses an existential risk to global economic, financial and societal stability.
  • To limit temperature increase within globally agreed objectives, emergency action is now inevitable.
  • Emission reduction objectives for the Australian electricity system should be recast accordingly.
  • The Final Report needs to incorporate the need for emergency action in NEM reform, with market arrangements and technological choices structured accordingly, including carbon pricing.
  • Existential risk management techniques are required which fundamentally differ from conventional practice.

Ian T Dunlop

Sydney, Australia

————-

Author:

Ian Dunlop

Ian Dunlop has wide experience in energy resources, infrastructure, and international business, for many years on the international staff of Royal Dutch Shell.  He has worked at senior level in oil, gas and coal exploration and production, in scenario and long-term energy planning, competition reform and privatization. 

 He chaired the Australian Coal Associations in 1987-88. From 1998-2000 he chaired the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading which developed the first emissions trading system design for Australia.  From 1997 to 2001 he was CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.  Ian has a particular interest in the interaction of corporate governance, corporate responsibility and sustainability. 

 An engineer from the University of Cambridge (UK), MA Mechanical Sciences, he is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Energy Institute (UK), and a Member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers of AIME (USA).

 Ian is a member of the Board of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science based at UNSW.  

 He is a Director of Australia 21, Deputy Convenor of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil, a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development, a Member of The Club of Rome and a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Climate Change Task Force. He advises and writes extensively on governance, climate change, energy and sustainability.  He was a candidate in 2013 and 2014 to join the Board of BHP Billiton on a climate change and energy platform.

Reference 

[1] https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2016/12/arctic-and-antarctic-at-record-low-levels/

[2] http://www.smh.com.au/environment/sealevel-expert-john-church-resurfaces-at-university-of-nsw-amid-new-warning-signs-from-greenland-20161207-gt5qje.html

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/22/sea-level-rise-james-hansen-climate-change-scientist

[4] Antarctic tipping points for a multi-metre sea level rise, David Spratt, February 2017:

http://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/papers

[5] http://mashable.com/2016/12/03/nasa-photo-crack-larsen-c-ice-shelf/#GlKFT3rWbmqE

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/09/great-barrier-reef-not-likely-to-survive-if-warming-trend-continues-says-report?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=203508&subid=13317484&CMP=ema_632

[7] 2016 Warmest Year on Record Globally, NASA/NOAA, January 2017:

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-data-show-2016-warmest-year-on-record-globally

[8] Global Heat Record Broken Again, Climate Council, January 2017:

https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/2016-hottest-year-report

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/30/the-ground-beneath-our-feet-is-poised-to-make-global-warming-much-worse-scientists-find/?utm_term=.2b40ab750c08

[10] http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3241.full

[11] The Roasting of the Middle East – Infertile Crescent, The Economist, 6th August 2016

http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21703269-more-war-climate-change-making-region-hard-live-infertile

[12] Extreme Heatwaves could push gulf climate beyond human endurance, The Guardian 26th October 2015:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/26/extreme-heatwaves-could-push-gulf-climate-beyond-human-endurance-study-shows

[13] How climate change will sink China’s manufacturing heartland, David Spratt & Shane White, 10th August 2016:

http://www.climatecodered.org/2016/08/how-climate-change-will-sink-chinas.html

[14] UNFCCC Paris Agreement Article 2:

https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

[15]  The Lancet Commission:

http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(16)32124-9.pdf

[16] Australian Academy of Science, Climate Change Challenges to Health:
https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/science-sector-analysis/reports-and-publications/climate-change-challenges-health

[17] “Climate Reality Check”, David Spratt & Ian Dunlop, Breakthrough Institute, Melbourne, June 2016:

http://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/papers

[18] The Sky’s Limit, Oil Change International, September 2016:

http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2016/09/OCI_the_skys_limit_2016_FINAL_2.pdf

[19]ibid “Climate Reality Check”, David Spratt & Ian Dunlop, Breakthrough Institute, Melbourne, June 2016:

[20] “The World’s Biggest Gamble”, Johan Rockstrom, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber et al, AGU October 2016:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016EF000392/abstract

[21] https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2017-02-01/address-national-press-club

[22] Getting Energy Prices Right, International Monetary Fund, July 2014:

https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.aspx?sk=41345.0

 

March 03 / 2017
Author itdunlop
Comments No Comments

Energy Security from Clean Coal, CCS & CSG – What could possibly go wrong ?

Every few years the fossil fuel industry pressures politicians to force “clean coal”, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and more recently coal seam gas (CSG) on an increasingly sceptical community to justify their continued expansion.

This cycle started with promotion of Adani’s massive Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, for coal export to India.  The South Australian blackout followed last September when violent storms blew down transmission towers, prompting instant Federal Government accusations that excessive reliance on renewable energy was the cause, despite clear advice to the contrary.  When the long-overdue closure of the Hazelwood brown coal power station was announced in November, energy security became the political battleground. In passing, Adani were to be offered a $1 billion subsidy to construct the Carmichael rail line, then a further subsidy for a new domestic coal-fired power plant at the mine was mooted to assist the development of Northern Australia.

The Prime Minister’s recent National Press Club speech emphasised the need for “affordable, reliable and secure energy”, denounced the States for their “unrealistic” renewable targets, encouraged energy storage, but then took an evangelical swing back to coal, straight from the fossil fuel industry hymnbook. Priority would be given to “clean coal and carbon capture and storage (CCS) and onshore gas (CSG)”, implying that renewables were neither affordable or reliable. Further “The next incarnation of our energy policy should be technology agnostic – it’s security and cost that matter, not how you deliver it.  Policy should be ‘all of the above technologies’ working together to meet the trifecta of secure and affordable power while meeting our (substantial) emission reduction commitments”.

So what could possibly go wrong with such sweeping vision?.  Well, pretty much everything.

First, the speech skirted around the biggest risk facing Australia, namely accelerating climate change. Whilst Australia ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, our emission reduction commitments are not “substantial”. They are laughable both in comparison with our peers globally, and to have any chance of making a fair contribution to the Paris objectives of holding global temperatures “well below 2oC above pre-industrial conditions and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5oC”.

Second, to have a realistic chance, say 90%, of meeting the Paris objectives, the world should no longer emit any carbon to atmosphere.  We still emit record amounts today and need some fossil fuels to build the new low-carbon economy, so that is not going to happen.  But emissions must peak and decline rapidly.  There is no space for any new fossil fuel projects, coal, oil or gas.

Third, “clean coal” is neither new nor clean.  These technologies can reduce emissions by up to 40% relative to conventional practice, but that does not solve our problem when the global carbon budget has already been exhausted. Further, costs are increased by up to 30%, rendering coal even less competitive with renewables.

Fourth, years of research have failed to establish the basis for CCS expansion at scale.  CCS works where emissions are stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, which the oil industry has practised for decades.  Storage in other types of geological structures is far harder.  The few commercial operations in the world today are in the former category.  The substantial additional costs of CCS again reduce coal’s competitiveness, particularly if you refuse to price carbon, as the government are doing. CCS will be useful at the margin, but it will not save fossil fuels from their inevitable demise.

Fifth, energy prices rose largely because our flawed regulatory framework allowed power companies to invest  in unnecessary infrastructure on which they were guaranteed a return. Gas prices rose because the East Coast was opened up to the higher priced international gas market with the construction of export facilities at Gladstone.  The unseemly rush into CSG resulted in substantial processing overcapacity, with economic pressure increasing as CSG production was constrained by community objection to the damage caused to arable land and water.  Further, high methane leakage rates result in CSG having a greater warming effect than using coal, thereby negating its supposed benefit.

Sixth, there is nothing “agnostic” about choosing energy sources when the fossil fuel industry continues to enjoy a massive subsidy, far greater than renewables, by the lack of carbon pricing.  A subsidy the IMF estimate to be around 60% of coal’s market price. And this is the nub of the problem. Our climate and energy policies are a disconnected and dysfunctional shambles, brought about by years of denial and inaction from Federal Governments of both persuasions who do not accept that climate change is happening.

But that game is up.  Climate change has moved from the twilight phase of much talk and relatively limited impact. It is now turning nasty.  Events are moving faster than expected as irreversible climate tipping points are crossed.  The economic and social costs of inaction can no longer be swept under the carpet, with regulators here and overseas demanding action to head off a climate-induced financial crisis.

The only way we can avoid catastrophic climate impact now is to initiate emergency action, akin to a war-footing.  That will be accepted shortly as impacts bite and low carbon technology undermines the fossil fuel industry.  In the meantime the damage created by political ideologues must be minimised, so no Adani, no coal-fired power, no CSG.

Our antiquated electricity grids are undoubtedly in need of overhaul, but 100% renewable grids are being constructed around the world in only a few years, providing genuine energy security and making traditional concepts of base-load power irrelevant. This is innovation at its best.

As for affordability, energy prices will rise given the extent and speed of change. However they will rise less with renewables than with coal, with greater prospects of cost reduction as technology improves.

We need a new narrative, built around our potential to prosper as a low-carbon society. We have the world’s best renewable resources, the science, the technology and engineering expertise to seize what is the biggest investment and job-creation opportunity this country has ever seen.

In addition, we need a task force which will pull together the resources and expertise required to initiate emergency action, led by statesmen and women from businesses with a concern to create a genuinely sustainable Australia.  It is their future which is being thrown away by fossil fuel industry pressure forcing government to remain firmly entrenched in the 20th Century.

Edited versions of this article were published in The Guardian and RenewEconomy on 3rd March 2017

February 28 / 2017
Author itdunlop
Comments No Comments

Stop Spreading Disinformation on Coal Demand

In their book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations, published prior to the Paris climate change meeting last December, Chris Wright and Daniel Nyberg highlighted how the dominance of neoliberalism in recent decades has locked the global economy on to a path of “creative self-destruction”, built around the oxymoron of “green capitalism”. Events since Paris have confirmed their thesis.

Just before Paris, the New York state attorney general, via the US Securities and Exchange Commission, secured undertakings from the world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, for violating state laws prohibiting false and misleading conduct in regard to Peabody’s public statements on risks posed by climate change. In part by misrepresenting the projections of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

For the past two decades, major companies, industry bodies, media and governments have been guilty of similar disinformation in Australia, a practice which is again evident in this election campaign.

Long ago, the IEA recognised the risks posed by human-induced climate change. It accepted that climate and energy were inextricably linked and dangerous climate change could only be avoided with fundamental change to the global energy system. Specifically by rapidly weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and transitioning to low-carbon energy supply.

The IEA has become a leading authority exploring this transition, regularly quoted by governments and business alike. It is subjected to great pressure by them to lean in suitably accommodating directions.

It handles this pressure by publishing, in its annual World Energy Outlooks (WEOs), its perspectives on the energy sector over the next 25 years. These explore the implications of taking alternative climate and energy pathways. Key scenarios are: current policies (CP) which assumes business-as-usual, new policies (NP) which extends CP with policy governments have committed to but not yet implemented, and the 450 scenario which is the pathway to keep global average temperature increase below 2C.

These scenarios are highly influential in justifying investment decisions. For Australia, global coal demand is one of the factors of greatest interest. In the WEO 2015 released last November, under CP assumptions demand would increase by 43% by 2040 compared to current levels, under NP by 12%, but under 450 scenario it declines by 36%.

The IEA takes NP as their central scenario as this is where we are headed if governments implement their commitments. However the IEA make it clear that NP is not a sustainable future. In its report, executive director Fatih Birol says: “We look to the negotiators in Paris to destroy our projections in our central scenario, which we show to be unsustainable, in order to create a new world in which energy needs are met without dangerously overheating the planet.” The Paris meeting agreed to keep global average temperature below 2C and pursue efforts to limit to 1.5C.

Warming would see global population and economic growth in steep decline or stalled. Poverty would massively increase as poorer countries are disproportionately hit by climate extremes. This is already happening.

As with Peabody, Australian organisations, through the Minerals Council, regularly misrepresent the IEA’s position. Typically they publicise the CP or NP outcomes and ignore the 450 scenario despite the fact that they publicly support the 2C limit. These inflated coal demand figures are then claimed to be IEA “forecasts”, justifying further coal investment and government support.

These organisations participate in IEA advisory committees and should be aware that scenarios are not forecasts. Scenarios demonstrate the outcome of certain choices and the IEA make it clear that CP and NP are choices we must not make. To suggest otherwise is blatant disinformation of the worst kind given the potentially catastrophic implications of distorting the IEA’s advice.

The Minerals Council of Australia has been one of the worst offenders, even in the current election campaign inconsistently using NP outcomes while claiming to support the 2C limit. The Minerals Council represents companies like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, who vehemently proclaim leadership on climate change and the urgent need to follow a 2C path, yet this disinformation is allowed to continue from the Minerals Council.

This propaganda is parroted by ill-informed politicians, such as energy minister Josh Frydenberg, claiming that,“The IEA tells us that 40% of today’s electricity demand is met by coal and by 2040 it will still be 30%”, and trade minister Steve Ciobo: “Global demand for coal is still going through the roof”. NP figures again, which imply an absolute increase in coal use of 23%. However the 450 scenario, to which the government supposedly committed to in Paris, shows coal’s share of electricity demand falling from 40% to 12% by 2040, an absolute reduction in coal use of 57%, which certainly requires no new coal mines.

Parts of media also to be blamed. The Australian is a serial offender but even the more balanced Fairfax press falls into the same trap. Not surprisingly, it still features prominently on coal company websites.

The government and opposition, who accept donations from fossil fuel interests which Wright and Nyberg refer to, both sing the praises of the Adani Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin, Shenhua’s Watermark Mine on the Liverpool Plains, Kepco’s Bylong Valley adventure and Hume Coal in the Southern Highlands. All based on ill-informed premises and substantially contributing to increasing global temperatures well above 2C.

The cost to Australia, if this irresponsible misallocation of resources proceeds, would be enormous. Among other things, stranded assets as these mines are forced to shut down as climate impact intensifies; the lost opportunity of not investing in low-carbon future; the loss of agricultural productivity as mining disrupts prime farming land and water supply; and the social disruption caused to regional communities from abandoned operations. Plus, the full impact of potentially catastrophic climate change in a country more at risk than any other.

In the national interest, Australian regulators, including federal and state attorney generals, ASIC, the ASX and the Press Council urgently need to stamp out this misinformation as their overseas counterparts are doing. Particularly if we are serious about promoting “innovation, jobs and growth”.

An edited version was published in the Guardian on 1st July 2016 

 

July 01 / 2016
Author itdunlop
Category Uncategorized
Comments No Comments