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Can Malcolm Turnbull do climate and energy policy now?

The Conversation - Wed, 2016-07-13 17:20
Turnbull might be hamstrung by his barely-there majority. AAP Image/Paul Miller

The re-elected Coalition government has the opportunity to revamp its policies on climate change. Transition of the energy sector is key if the 2030 emissions target is to be met. But with a razor-thin majority in Parliament, will Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have the appetite and internal authority to tackle the challenge?

In contrast to the past three federal elections, climate change policy was not one of the big issues in this campaign. Faced with a fairly comprehensive climate policy blueprint from the Labor Party, the Coalition opted not to say much on the subject. A carbon tax and emissions trading scheme have been ruled out, but the door for climate and energy policy reform has not been slammed shut.

In fact, there has been a clear sense that the government accepts that there needs to be a more comprehensive policy framework than just the subsidy-based Emissions Reductions Fund, with its inherent problems. In 2015, Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced that there will be a climate change policy review during 2017.

But the internal politics of the Liberal Party could yet stand in the way. Turnbull has traditionally supported measures to cut emissions, and this fits with his emphasis on innovation. But many on the right of the party oppose action on climate change.

The fact that the Coalition only just scraped into government might be seen as an argument in favour of more moderate policies. But it could also strengthen the hand of Turnbull’s detractors, including opponents of climate change action.

Is that a price on your carbon?

One tricky issue for the Coalition in the election was the plan for the Emissions Reductions Fund “with safeguards”. In the expert community it is generally thought that the Coalition’s plan has been to transform the current mechanism into a so-called “baseline and credit” scheme or a variant thereof.

Baseline and credit would put a price signal on carbon emissions in electricity and possibly industry. It has drawbacks compared with normal emissions trading, among them that there would be no revenue for the government from selling carbon permits; that it would not fully reflect carbon costs to electricity users; that some or many businesses may not be covered; and that it may perpetuate carbon-related investment uncertainty. Its main attraction is political – it would limit effects on electricity prices, and it has been depicted as something that is not a “carbon price”.

Energy transition

The energy challenge is of an altogether different magnitude. Climate policy needs to be integrated with energy policy, and it must get the transformation of Australia’s power sector under way. As the Deep Decarbonisation project showed, a near-zero-emissions electricity supply by 2050 is at the heart of a low-emissions strategy.

This is possible and affordable, but waiting for it to happen all by itself would take too long.

Unless there is a significant and durable price on carbon, other approaches are needed to get the most emissions-intensive power plants off the system – for example, through a market mechanism for brown coal exit and/or regulated closure of old plants.

Support for new zero-emissions energy is a big open question. Will the Renewable Energy Target be extended, perhaps as a low-emissions energy target? Will there be fixed-price auctions for large-scale renewable energy, such as those in the ACT? Should funding for clean energy research and development be ramped up, and how?

Then there are questions about energy market reform and structural adjustment. How to provide adequate revenue for a future power system that largely relies on renewables, when the existing electricity market was designed for fossil-fuel-powered generators? How to manage the social and economic adjustment in the coal regions?

The government will need to tackle energy transition, and it has the opportunity to make this one of its contributions to help modernise the economy. There might even be some common ground for it in parliament.

Ambition needed

Marginal policy change is not going to do the trick. Australia’s pledge under the Paris Agreement is a 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030, relative to 2005. This is at the lower end of the range, according to many indicators, and it is likely that the target will need to be strengthened for the next round of international pledges.

Labor’s proposed target is a 45% reduction. This is on the way to much deeper required reductions down the track.

Achieving even a 28% target through domestic reductions would be a big step for Australia. Net national emissions have been roughly flatlining for more than two decades, thanks to falling emissions from land-use change.

Brexit, Trump and the future

Amid the current global destabilisation, there are concerns that climate policy will take a back seat despite the momentum created by the Paris Agreement. In Europe, Brexit, terrorism and refugees are top of the agenda. But unless they herald a global shift towards inward-looking governments or wider economic malaise, Europe’s troubles should have little bearing on the transition to cleaner energy in Asia and Australia.

A Donald Trump presidency, on the other hand, could throw a spanner in the works by providing a rallying point for opponents of climate action. Hillary Clinton as president, however, would push for meaningful climate policy both globally and at home.

Those determined to push ahead will do so regardless of the to and fro in Europe and the United States. China, for example, seems unlikely to waver in its push to modernise its economy and thereby dampen carbon emissions.

Turnbull has a chance to help position Australia for a future in which the carbon-intensive way of doing things is on the way out. We will see whether he chooses to do so – and whether his party room will let him.

The Conversation

Frank Jotzo has received research funding from a range of organisations. He has been a member of various review panels and advisory bodies, most recently as a member of the ACT Climate Change Council and the SA government's low carbon economy expert panel.

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Solar Impulse: Zero-fuel plane lands in Cairo

BBC - Wed, 2016-07-13 16:41
The Sun-powered aircraft Solar Impulse finishes its penultimate flight, landing in Egypt's capital, Cairo, after a 24-hour flight from Seville.
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Action to cut food waste gains momentum across Europe

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-07-13 16:00

France’s ban on supermarkets throwing away unwanted food has led to greater calls for laws on food waste, campaigners say

Efforts to force supermarkets and other businesses to waste less food are gaining momentum following France’s ban on supermarkets throwing out unwanted food, according to campaigners.

Earlier this month MEPs voted 600 to 48 to bring forward laws to end unfair trading practices by supermarkets, many of which lead to overproduction and food being wasted.

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Failure to teach cooking at school 'contributing to £12bn a year food waste'

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-07-13 16:00

Head of government advisory group warns that generations of young people in the UK lack basic cooking skills

A failure to teach children to cook at school is one of the reasons to blame for UK householders throwing away £12bn of food each year, according to a former leading government adviser on food waste.

Liz Goodwin, until last week chief executive of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), said that while avoidable food waste had been cut by a fifth in the past decade, reductions had stopped.

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How did Denmark become a leader in the food waste revolution?

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-07-13 16:00

From community food banks to food waste kitchens and even a supermarket, the Danes have embraced the concept

A six-year-old sniffs asparagus suspiciously as his father grapples with a grapefruit and several women admire a selection of cabbages, in search of a bargain.

“Everyone pays 20 kroner (about £2) for a reusable bag to fill with whatever they like,” says Bettina Bach, 31, of Bo Welfare, a social housing project in the Danish city of Horsens that runs the food waste pop-up shop.

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Half of all US food produce is thrown away, new research suggests

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-07-13 15:00

The demand for ‘perfect’ fruit and veg means much is discarded, damaging the climate and leaving people hungry

Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

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Coalition’s myth about renewables and high electricity prices

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 14:49
Coalition says it is "the only ones that can protect against the electricity price rises". But in week after its re-election, electricity prices were nearly double those during the carbon tax, and soaring gas prices and the investment drought in renewable energy are to blame.
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This almost-island on the Welsh coast is a nowhere becoming somewhere

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-07-13 14:30

Morfa Harlech, North Wales The eye follows the incoming tide across the beach, racing into dunes green with marram grass

I know these plants: pyramidal orchid, lady’s bedstraw, common centaury, restharrow and wild thyme. I saw them up the Windmill hill only yesterday evening and to me they spell summer in the surviving fragments of limestone grassland on Wenlock Edge. I did not expect to find them so gloriously contradictory at the seaside.

A tumble of dunes barricades the golf course below Harlech castle against Cardigan Bay, the dune shapes mimicking the architecture of Snowdonia’s mountains behind them. I always fall for that trick of the sublime, looking landward from the sea: the silver of the rippled flow, the lone lost crab and scribble of seaweed.

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Wind energy supplied 83% of South Australia’s electricity on Monday

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 14:30
Wind energy delivered more than two-thirds of South Australia’s electricity over the weekend, and more on Monday.
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Robot cars and the fear gap

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 14:29
Considering the major role of human error in car accidents, computer assistance and eventual control should lead to a big reduction of death and injury.
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“Internet of energy” start-up taps booming Australian solar + storage market

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 14:21
US energy management start-up Geli to establish regional hub in Australia, backed by $3m investment from Southern Cross Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund.
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Beaten by solar on price: Why natural gas is next fossil fuel to go

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 13:57
Solar PV contracts are now cheaper than natural gas plants in the US, where even some utilities see a future where there will be no more gas turbines.
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How Australia could reach 70% renewable energy by 2030

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 13:53
Getting high level of renewable energy in the electricity system will be easier and cheaper than most people think, particularly with battery storage costs falling so quickly.
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China set to ban all new coal plant development

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 13:23
China is expected to suspend all new coal power plant development in its upcoming five-year energy plan, as supply far outstrips demand.
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Experimental Music attracts international visitors

ABC Environment - Wed, 2016-07-13 13:06
Today marks the start of a five day music festival but don't expect crowd surfing and mosh pits. The is a celebration of experimental music from around the globe, and some of the international artists will perform pieces live along with local musicians.
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Germany confirms end to renewable energy feed-in tariffs

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 13:04
Germany approves plan to end renewable energy feed-in tariffs in favor of competitive auctions and clear volumes for wind energy development.
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Kayaker captures video of humpback whales feasting in San Francisco Bay

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-07-13 11:15

The feeding frenzy lasted roughly half an hour before the mammals swam back to the Pacific Ocean under the Golden Gate Bridge

A kayaker captured video of humpback whales feasting on fish in a bay with the San Francisco skyline as a backdrop.

Lyrinda Snyderman of Berkeley, California, says she was out with three other kayakers to circle nearby Angel Island on Sunday when the group spotted the whales.

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Juno probe returns first in-orbit Jupiter photo

BBC - Wed, 2016-07-13 11:03
The American space agency's new Juno mission to Jupiter returns its first imagery since going into orbit around the gas giant last week.
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Seeing double: LG launches its first bifacial solar panel in Australia

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 10:50
LG Electronics (LG) has announced its first bifacial panel will be introduced in Australia later this year.
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The Republican Party’s platform says coal is ‘clean’ energy

RenewEconomy - Wed, 2016-07-13 10:34
For the Republican Party, internet porn is a “public health crisis.” Coal, however, is perfectly “clean.”
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