Archive for December, 2015

Paris perspective 2

It is very easy to be seduced to the cynical side when viewing the current goings-on in Paris; according to a senior foreign journalist at the Le Bourget venue, observing world leaders following each other to the podium for a three-minute statement (which a number of of them over-ran, including Barack Obama, who took 12 minutes), it was a “parade of cliches.”

Former BBC journalist Richard Black, now running a think tank, would like us to be rather more positive.

He recalls “standing in the diplomatic wreckage” of the failed Copenhagen talks as a reporter and sees progress in the fact that global economic growth is decoupling from carbon emissions growth, that the costs of cleaner energy are falling and that “all major governments see a global deal as being in their national interest.”

Politicians the world over, however, devalue our common understanding of the issues because they have a terrible habit of speaking in soundbites that don’t bear much examination.

In witness whereof, behold the summit host, France’s president Francois Hollande, talking on day one of coal, oil and gas as being “the energy of yesterday.”

Fact check that against the projection of the International Energy Agency (of which France is a prominent member) a fortnight ago that $US25 trillion will be spent on oil and gas development alone between now and 2040 on the basis of the pledges the summit nations have made.

Or contrast it with the IEA’s special report proposing a much more ambitious “bridge scenario” — aimed at pushing more strongly towards achieving the two degree warming goal — which sees power generation capacity in 2030 being almost 1,800 gigawatts coal-fired and 2,100 GW gas-fuelled (versus about 2,300 GW non-hydro renewables).

Or the agency’s projection that, under the “bridge scenario,” fossil fuels will provide 29 per cent (or nearly 10,000 terawatt hours) of power production 2040 versus 32 per cent (or 11,000 TWh) for non-hydro renewable energy.

The president talks through his chapeau but no journalist challenges him.

Perhaps the most important comment among the 151 leaders’ statements on the opening day of the negotiations — they will run to either 11 or 12 December — came from Indian PM Narendra Modi, who declared: “Democratic India must grow rapidly to meet the aspirations of 1.25 billion people, 300 million of them without energy.”

And, in a point that should resonate here, too, Modi also said: “We still need conventional energy; we need to make it clean, not impose an end to its use.”

This was a follow-up to a PR coup in which he grabbed an op-ed opportunity in the London Financial Times on opening day (and had it re-run in full in the Times of India) to deliver a sermon to “rich countries” on their moral responsibility for the emissions situation.

He also used the commentary to announce that India and France are going to spearhead an alliance of 121 countries (proposed, not signed up, including us) in the tropics to bring solar power to villages that are off the electricity grid.

(The highly-regarded “FT” rather smugly reports that there has been “lots of talk in the corridors” about Modi’s op-ed.)

On his feet at the conference, Modi pushed his plan to grow non-hydro renewable energy capacity at home from 37,000 megawatts now to 175,000 MW by 2022, including 100,000 MW of solar power.

Today India has 290,000 MW of capacity, 60 per cent of which is coal-fired — down from 80 per cent in 2007 — and eight per cent gas-fired. It has 4,000 MW of installed solar power today and claims this will total 12,000 MW by the end of next year.

What Modi didn’t emphasize in Paris is that the plan his country has submitted to the UN sees nearly half of the world’s net increase in coal-fired generation between 2020 and 2040 being constructed in his country, an additional 265,000 MW.

Perhaps the most important international development from the opening day is an announcement that the world’s five most populous countries (China, India, the US, Indonesia and Brazil) plus 15 others (including us), between them representing 80 per cent of global clean energy research, got together in the high security area to launch “Mission Innovation,”  pledging to double their clean energy R&D expenditure over the rest of this decade, outlaying $US10 billion annually.

Australian energy R&D spending will rise as a result to about $200 million annually, it is being reported.

(However, 44 out of 100 Australians, according to a recent opinion poll, don’t put their hands up for the notion that technological change will make our lives better. Que?)

The UN summits are occasions, of course, for all sorts of players on stage and on the fringes to strut their stuff, much of their efforts targeting a home audience.

For example, the lead German business lobby group, BDI, with 100,000 member companies, has put out a statement warning that “Ambitious climate policy must not be a disadvantage for business, pointing out that trading rivals in the US are benefitting from the American “shale gale” while Angela Merkel’s shift from nuclear power to renewables is a disadvantage for them.

Merkel, by the way, used part of her three minutes to spruik global decarbonization “by the end of the century.” I would love to have had the opportunity to ask her how she thought the world could do this without nuclear power?

The International Energy Agency, in the scenario it presents as a “bridge” between what countries are doing or proposing to do (their “pledges”) and where things need to be to pursue the UN warming goal, suggests nuclear power production needs to rise 62 per cent between 2013 and 2030 — and be producing as much as wind and solar power combined at the end of the ‘Thirties.

(Meanwhile, the Minerals Council of Australia in a Financial Review op-ed has underlined the point that this country’s economic structure is “remarkably different” to that of other developed world nations with resource exports accounting for 60 of our overseas trade versus an average 11.5 per cent for the OECD as a whole.)

As a reminder that all politics is local, Malcolm Turnbull and Environment Minister Greg Hunt have been seen off by the rural and mining lobby (and their own backbenchers with country seats) over signing up for a Paris statement dissing fossil fuel subsidies.

The push on the communique has been led by New Zealand PM John Key and it has picked up 30 country willing to sign it.

However, any thought in Turnbull’s mind that he, too, could join the pack has been kiboshed by opposition from country Liberals and the National Party wing of the Coalition government.

They are reportedly less than pleased signing up for the statement was not discussed in the joint party room in Canberra or by federal Cabinet.

The core argument against Australia doing so is that it could impact on the diesel fuel rebate, which greens are forever attacking and which farmers and miners insist is not a subsidy because the tax is directed to public road maintenance and should not be imposed on fuel used by vehicles in mines or on farms.

Turnbull dodged the bullet from behind by opting, apparently at the last minute, not to sign the document.

“A win for commonsense,” Nationals’ deputy leader Barnaby Joyce drily told the ABC.

PS: Do you know who are the world’s 10 largest emitters of greenhouse gases at this point?  According to Climate Action Tracker, they are: China (24 per cent), the US (15.5), the European Union (10.8), India (6.4), Russia (4.9), Japan (2.9), Brazil (2), Iran and Indonesia (each 1.6) and Canada (1.5). The top three (China, the US and the EU) account for half of all emissions. (Australia is 13th on this list.)