Mitigation of global warming in Australia
||The factual accuracy of parts of this article (those related to carbon tax/ETS as the relevant legislation has been repealed) may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (July 2014)|
Mitigation of global warming involves taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to enhance sinks aimed at reducing the extent of global warming. This is in distinction to adaptation to global warming, which involves taking action to minimise the effects of global warming. Scientific consensus on global warming, together with the precautionary principle and the fear of non-linear climate transitions, is leading to increased effort to develop new technologies and sciences and carefully manage others in an attempt to mitigate global warming.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) for coal-fired power stations has been put forward as a solution to rising greenhouse gas emissions. However, CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous increases in temperatures, as widespread commercial use of CCS is not expected before 2030.
Following the introduction of government mandatory renewable energy targets, more opportunities have opened up for renewable energy technologies such as wind power, photovoltaics, and solar thermal technologies. The deployment of these technologies provides opportunities for mitigating greenhouse gases.
A carbon price was introduced on 1 July 2012 by the government of Julia Gillard with the purpose of reducing Australia's carbon emissions. It requires large businesses (defined as those with annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions over 25,000 tonnes annually) to pay a price for emissions permits. The tax was scrapped by the Abbott government in July 2014 in what was a widely criticised and highly publicised move.
Some components of the government's emissions reductions strategy have been:
- the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) (which was a proposal for an emissions trading scheme that would have established a market in greenhouse gas permits);
- the Renewable Energy Target;
- "investment in renewable energy technologies and in the demonstration of carbon capture and storage";
- "action on energy efficiency."
Carbon Trading and Emission Trading Scheme
In June 2007, former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, announced that Australia would adopt a Carbon Trading Scheme by 2012. The scheme was expected to be the same as the counterpart in United States and European Union using carbon credits, where businesses must purchase a license in order to generate pollution.
The scheme received broad criticism from both the ALP and Greens. The ALP believed that the scheme was too weak as well as a bad political move by the government. The lack of clear target by the government for this scheme before the 2007 federal election produced a high degree of skepticism on the willingness of the government on mitigation of global warming in Australia.
In March 2008, the newly elected Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (a cap-and-trade emissions trading system) would be introduced in 2010, however this scheme was initially delayed by a year to mid-2011, and subsequently delayed further until 2013.
In April 2010, Kevin Rudd announced the delay the CPRS until after the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012. Reasons given were the lack of bipartisan support for the CPRS and slow international progress on climate action for the delay.
Another method of mitigation of global warming considered by the Australian Government is a carbon tax. This method would involve imposing an additional tax on the use of fossil fuels to generate energy. Compared to the CPRS and CTS/ETS, a carbon tax would set the cost for all carbon emissions, while the cap itself would be left unattended, allowing free market movements.
A carbon tax was introduced by the government of Julia Gillard on 1 July 2012. It requires businesses emitting over 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually to purchase emissions permits, which initially cost A$23 for one tonne of CO2 equivalent. The tax was repealed by the Australian senate on 17 July 2014.
Reduction in the mining, use and export of coal is favoured by environmental groups such as Greenpeace. The Government prefers to support attempts to develop so-called "clean coal" pollution mitigation, and, in early 2009, had support from then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull for this.
According to Dr Mark Diesendorf, a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and a former principal research scientist with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the continent produced about 200 million tons (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2004. Almost all of the coal emissions were emitted by coal fired power stations. On top of this coal is responsible for 42.1% of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, not counting export coal, based on 2004 GHG inventory.
Two forms of coal are mined in Australia, depending on the region: high quality black coal and lower quality brown coal. Black coal is mainly found in Queensland and New South Wales, and is used for both domestic power generation and for export overseas. It is normally mined underground before being transported to power stations, or export shipping terminals. Brown coal is mainly found in Victoria and South Australia, and is of lower quality due a higher ash and water content. Today there are three open cut brown coal mines in Victoria used for baseload power generation.
Coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels, and the single greatest threat to the climate. Every stage of coal use brings substantial environmental damage. Phasing out dirty, unsustainable energy is one of the most important elements to climate change mitigation. Today coal supplies almost one quarter of the worlds energy. Brown coal is by far the most polluting, and is currently used in Victoria. In order to have significant effects on greenhouse gas emissions, there needs to be a replacement of coal energy with gas within Victoria.
Carbon capture and storage
The Rudd-Gillard Government stated support for research into carbon capture and storage CCS as a possible solution to rising greenhouse gas emissions. CCS is an integrated process, made up of three distinct parts: carbon capture, transport, and storage (including measurement, monitoring and verification). Capture technology aims to produce a concentrated stream of CO2 that can be compressed, transported, and stored. Transport of captured CO2 to storage locations is most likely to be via pipeline. Storage of the captured carbon is the final part of the process. The vast majority of CO2 storage is expected to occur in geological sites on land, or below the seabed. Disposing of waste CO2 in the ocean has also been proposed, but this method has been largely discounted due to the significant impacts CO2 would have on the ocean ecosystem and legal constraints that effectively prohibit it.
However, according to the Greenpeace False Hope Report, CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid a dangerous increase in world temperatures. The earliest timeframe for deployment of CCS is not expected before 2030, and global emissions need to start falling well before that.
The Report also states that CCS wastes energy, and uses between 10-40% of the energy produced by a power station. It also asserts that CCS is expensive, potentially doubling plant costs, and is very risky, as permanent storage cannot be guaranteed.
In terms of resources, aside from its strong production of low-cost coal and natural gas, Australia has approximately 40% of the world's uranium deposits, and is considered to be the second largest producer of uranium behind Canada. Nuclear technology offers significant generation capability. Claiming that it is carbon-free, some claim that increased reliance on nuclear power could reduce greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming. Others dispute this claim, pointing out that large amounts of fossil fuels are burned to construct, operate, and maintain these facilities.
Other perceived problems include that enriched uranium can also be used as a nuclear weapon, prompting security issues such as nuclear proliferation. Also nuclear waste requires extensive waste management because it can remain radioactive for centuries.
The only nuclear reactor in Australia is currently located at Lucas Heights, and it has had leaks of water into heavy water since its completion, reducing public confidence in nuclear power plants in Australia.
Renewable energy technologies currently contribute about 6% of Australia's total energy supply and some 8% of Australia's electricity supply, with hydro-electricity by far the largest single contributor.
The Australian Government has announced a mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) to ensure that renewable energy obtains a 20% share of electricity supply in Australia by 2020. To ensure this, the government has committed that the MRET will increase from 9,500 gigawatt-hours to 45,000 gigawatt-hours by 2020. After 2020 the proposed ETS and improved efficiencies from innovation and in manufacture are expected to allow the MRET to be phased out by 2030.
Following the introduction of government Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, more opportunities have opened up for renewable energies such as wind power, photovoltaics, and solar thermal technologies. The deployment of these technologies provides opportunities for mitigating greenhouse gases.
At the end of 2006, Australia had 817 megawatts (MW) of installed wind power capacity, mainly in South Australia. A 154 MW, A$420 million, solar photovoltaic power station is planned for Victoria. Initiatives are also being taken with ethanol fuel and geothermal energy exploration.
Wind farms are highly compatible with agricultural and pastoral land use. While they span approximately 25 ha per MW of installed capacity, only about 1-3% of that land is actually taken up with their towers, access roads and other equipment. Wind turbines are also extremely efficient. Large wind turbines convert about 45% of the wind passing through the area swept out by the blades into electricity; by comparison, modern coal-fired power stations convert to electricity only 35% of the energy stored in coal. According to some experts, wind energy, at appropriate sites, is the most economical of all renewable energy sources other than large-scale hydro-electricity.
Bioenergy is energy produced from biomass. Biomass is material produced by photosynthesis, or is an organic by-product from a waste stream. Thus it can be seen as stored solar energy. In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, biomass offers four different types of contribution:
- solid, liquid and gaseous biofuels can substitute for fossil fuels in the generation of electricity and useful heat;
- liquid and gaseous biofuels can substitute for oil in transportation;
- biomass can be used in place of many greenhouse intensive materials;
- biomass can be converted to biochar, an organic char coal that greatly enhances the ability of soil to sequester carbon.
Solar heat and electricity
Solar heat and electricity together have the potential for supplying almost all of Australia’s stationary energy. With suitable government policies, particularly at the state and local levels, solar hot water could cost-effectively provide the vast majority of hot water systems in Australia, and make considerable reductions in residential electricity consumption. Although solar electricity is still expensive, its potential scale of application is huge and its prospects for further substantial cost reductions are excellent.
The most important energy saving options include improved thermal insulation and building design, super efficient electrical machines and drives, and a reduction in energy consumption by vehicles used for goods and passenger traffic. Industrialised countries such as Australia, which currently use energy in the least efficient way, can reduce their consumption drastically without the loss of either housing comfort or amenity. Increased energy efficiency of buildings had the support of the former leader of the federal opposition, Malcolm Turnbull.
Biochar has been promoted as a technique for mitigation of global warming. The former leader of the federal opposition, Malcolm Turnbull brought biochar into the political debate by announcing that burying agricultural waste was one of three under-invested areas that his mitigation strategy was committed to opening up.
Publications and interest groups which track the fledgling Australian industry are divided over the suitability of biochar to the economy. Brian Toohey of The Australian Financial Review has said it is yet to be proven commercially viable. Friends of the Earth Australia, one of the larger environmental lobby groups, is fundamentally opposed to biochar, calling it "part of a series of false solutions to climate change" which will be "based on large-scale industrial plantations and will lead to the acquisition of large tracts of land, furthering the erosion of indigenous peoples' and community rights while not adequately addressing the climate crisis".
Reforestation and revegetation were promoted by Malcolm Turnbull as a favoured option for reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions.
Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET)
See also: Australian renewable energy programs
An Expanded Renewable Energy Target was passed by the Australian Parliament on 20 August 2009, to ensure that renewable energy obtains a 20% share of electricity supply in Australia by 2020. To ensure this the Federal Government has committed that the MRET will increase from 9,500 gigawatt-hours to 45,000 gigawatt-hours by 2020. The scheme lasts until 2030.
Pathways for climate change mitigation
Greenpeace energy revolution
Greenpeace calls for a complete energy revolution. There are some fundamental aspects to this revolution, aimed as changing the way that energy is produced, distributed and consumed. The five principles of this revolution are:
- implement renewable solutions, especially through decentralised energy systems;
- respect the natural limits of the environment;
- phase out dirty, unsustainable energy sources;
- create greater equity in the use of resources;
- decouple economic growth from the consumption of fossil fuels.
Other goals of the energy revolution are:
- renewable energy: 40% of electricity provided by renewable sources by 2020;
- coal-fired power will be phased out entirely by 2030;
- using electricity for the transport system and cutting consumption of fossil fuels through efficiency.
The energy revolution report also looks at policy suggestions for the Australian Government in regards to climate change. Policy suggestions of the report include:
- legislate a greenhouse gas reduction target of greater than 40% below 1990 levels by 2020;
- establish an emissions trading scheme that delivers a decrease of our emissions in line with legislated interim targets;
- legislate a national target for 40% of electricity to be generated by renewable energy sources by 2020;
- massively invest in the deployment of renewable energy and strongly regulate for energy efficiency measures;
- establish an immediate moratorium on new coal-fired power stations and extensions to existing coal-fired power stations, and phase out existing coal-fired power stations in Australia by 2030;
- set a target of 2% per year to reduce Australia’s primary energy demand;
- ensure transitional arrangements for coal dependent communities that might be affected by the transition to a clean energy economy;
- redirect all public subsidies that encourage the use and production of fossil fuels towards implementing energy efficiency programs, deploying renewable energy and supporting the upgrading of public transport infrastructure;
- develop a highly trained “green” workforce through investment in training programs and apprenticeships.
Climate Code Red: The case for a sustainability emergency
Climate Code Red states that the key strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero are resource efficiency backed up by the substitution of renewable energy for fossil fuel sources. The report sites ultra-efficient technologies and synergies, and wind power as ways in which to tackle the climate change problem within Australia.
Climate Code Red also has an outline for a rapid transition to a safe-climate economy. This plan includes:
- having the building capacity to plan, coordinate and allocate resources for high priority infrastructure projects and to invest sufficiently in the means to make safe-climate producer and consumer goods;
- fostering research and innovation to produce, develop and scale up the necessary technologies, products and processes;
- national building and industry energy efficiency programmes, including mandatory and enforceable minimum standards for domestic and commercial buildings, and the allocation of public resources to help householders, especially those with limited financial capacity, to reduce energy use;
- the rapid construction of capacity across a range of renewable technologies at both a national and micro level to produce sufficient electricity to allow the closure of the fossil fuel-fired generating industry;
- the conversion and expansion of Australia’s car industry to manufacture zero-emission vehicles for public and private transport;
- the renewal and electrification of national and regional train networks to provide the capacity to shift all long-distance freight from road and air to rail;
- providing safe-climate expertise, technologies, goods and services to less developed nations to support their transition to the post-carbon world;
- adjustment and reskilling programmes for workers, communities and industries affected by the impacts of global warming and by the transition to the new economy.
Garnaut climate change review
Green paper 2008
There a number of ways to achieve the goals outlined above. This includes implementing clean, renewable solutions and decentralizing energy systems. Existing technologies are available to utilise energy effectively and ecologically, including the use of solar, wind, and other renewable technologies, which have experienced double digit market growth globally in the last decade.
A large section of the scientific community believe that one of the real solutions to avoiding dangerous climate change lies in renewable energy and energy efficiency that can start protecting the climate today. Technically accessible renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, and solar, are capable of providing six times more energy than the world currently consumes. As coal is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases, closing coal power stations is one of the most powerful tools for carbon emission reduction.
The economic impact of a 60% reduction of emissions by 2050 was modelled in 2006 in a study commissioned by the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change.
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