Archive for December, 2015

So much baggage

In a just-released paper the Grattan Institute has come up with an interesting (and I think quite compelling) set of tests for energy-related carbon policy (which I reckon can be expanded, so far as electricity is concerned, with very little alteration to policy and regulation generally).

The paper – authored by Tony Wood, David Blowers and Greg Moran (and on the institute’s website at http://grattan.edu.au/report/post-paris-australias-climate-policy-options/ ) – proposes these tests:

(1) Credibility: ability to meet the volume of emissions reductions required by current and future targets.

(2) Political viability: capacity to evolve from current policy settings and achieve bipartisan support.

(3) Flexibility: ability to adjust to changes in targets, political developments and technology.

(4) Adaptability: potential to move towards an economy-wide, market-based scheme over time.

(5) Public acceptability: ability to be understood and accepted by the community, and

(6) Low cost.

There follows a 42-page review that I am going to read over the Christmas/New Year break – the next This is Power post will appear somewhere in the first week of January and the monthly Coolibah newsletter later – and I recommend you do, too, perhaps in tandem with the very interesting independent Australian Power Generation Technology Report (see http://www.co2crc.com.au/dls/media/15/APGT_Final_release.pdf ) — which highlights the fact that there is no winner-takes-all power technology for our needs – and the equally interesting final report by the Australian Energy Market Commission on the integration of storage in to the power system (http://www.aemc.gov.au/Major-Pages/Technology-impacts/Documents/AEMC-Integration-of-energy-storage,-final-report).

Perhaps you should read all this against the CoAG Energy Council communique from its 4 December meeting in Canberra (https://scer.govspace.gov.au/files/2014/05/Energy-Council-Communique-4-Dec-2015-FINAL.pdf).

Among the more irritating statements of our modern times is the often-repeated view that “perception is reality,” which it manifestly isn’t in many cases. For me, the technology study and the AEMC paper, even on an initial quick read, drive this home.

To name but one example of the “perception is reality” breed, one can point to so much inane media coverage (90 per cent of it) of the UN climate change talks in Paris.

(A most honorable exception is the commentary by Martin Wolf published in London’s Financial Times and highly recommended for reading. It starts: ” Is the agreement a breakthrough in the struggle to limit the risks of climate change, as weary negotiators claim? Or is it just another way station on the road to calamity, as critics insist. At this stage it is neither. It is far more than the world could have reasonably expected a year or two ago. But it is also far less than the world needs. As it stands, it will at best slow the pace at which the world reaches a possible disaster. Whether it averts disaster depends partly on how the climate system works, on which much uncertainty remains. But it also depends on what happens in the near future. Is (this) the beginning of revolutions in policy, as well as the energy system? Or is it yet another piece of paper that promises far more than it delivers? The answer depends on what happens now.”

The sad reality is that, in Australia, we carry forward in to 2016 – the 30th year since Gareth Evans initiated the first national review of energy strategy (the Energy 2000 white paper) – a B-double truck load (or should that be B-triple) of the baggage created by the behavior of ill-thought-through political intervention and a public “debate” that is too often no more than the reflection of wishful thinking.

The year now ending marks the 21st anniversary of the second white paper overseen by Prime Minister John Howard (Securing Australia’s Energy Future) — a time during which the shenanigans of successive federal governments and of State governments have delivered anything but a secure ride to the horizon.

The epitaph for three decades of sincere muddle-headness of so many members of the body politic advised by what former Treasury Secretary John Stone used to call “the meretricious players” has been provided this month by Matthew Warren of the Energy Supply Association, who said in the wake of the Paris climate change agreement: ““The Australian economy has been built on access to abundant and cheap coal and gas. We also have abundant clean energy resources, and we already face the challenges of integrating these new technologies at levels not seen anywhere else in the world.

“The necessary transformation of the Australian economy, from trucks and cars to farms and power stations, remains a multi-billion dollar investment challenge.

“Getting banks and businesses to lend and borrow and invest to deliver this transformation is only possible if there is enduring confidence in the design of the policy to deliver it, and that subsequent governments will honour the commitment.

“We look forward to our political leaders coming together to agree a pathway to solve this challenge.“

As do all women and men of good will in this debate.

This post has been substantially rewritten on Boxing Day. When originally published on 17 December, it  contained material attributed in error to the Australian Energy Market Commission — a mental meltdown on my part in trying to do too much in a hurry just before the holiday break. Apologies especially to the AEMC and to readers generally.

Paris perspective 5

Amid the fanfares and the fuss over a “landmark” and “historic” climate change agreement in Paris – a “monumental triumph,” according to the United Nations PR machine – there is in the fine print of the communiqué this sobering paragraph:

The meeting “notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 degree Celsius scenarios ……. and also notes that much greater reduction efforts will be required…… by reducing levels to 40 gigatonnes (instead of the 55 Gt indicated by the pledges trajectory).”

There’s the nub of summit outcome.

Shorn of all good intentions, the governments have plans that don’t deliver what they have spent a fortnight telling themselves is necessary.

How very UN.

What the “Paris Agreement” – which is what the UN dubs it – actually does is set 2020 as the final deadline for national plans to be submitted and 2023 as the year for them to be assessed by the UN and thereafter “checked” every five years.

The five-year checking process, if ratified in 2020, will be legally binding on nations.

(This is a negotiating defeat for India, which had wanted a 10-year review cycle, but the Indian government’s initial reaction is to say that most of its concerns have been addressed.)

The agreement also contains a statement that developed nations “should” continue taking the lead by pursuing economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets – but, of course, the growth in energy use and reliance on fossil fuels to meet soaring demand is heavily oriented to Asia.

And, on the thorny question of funding activities in developing countries, the “rich” nations “intend to continue” their commitment of $US100 billion a year until 2025 (previously 2020).

This is an aspect of the debate that, I suspect, is a never-ending story and can be expected to be on the agenda at the next “CoP” – in Morocco a year from now.

Already some of the developing countries are talking about subsidy being “too weak.”

Swiftly after the meeting at Le Bourget was gaveled to closure, Oxfam declared: “This deal offers a frayed lifeline to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Only the vague promise of a new future climate funding target has been made while the deal does not force countries to cut emissions fast enough.”

Needless to say, some radicals have been equally quick to claim victory.

Friends of the Earth declare: “This summit clearly shows that fossil fuels have had their day.” And the ubiquitous Bill McKibben of 350.org announced: “Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuels era must end soon.”

Which is cute when set against the International Energy Agency analysis of the INDCs (the “pledges” taken to Paris by 158 out of 185 participating governments, representing 90 per cent of global economic activity). They show that (in the electricity arena alone) fossil-fuelled generation will be 54 per cent of the mix in 2040 versus 62 per cent in 2020.

FoE does go on to cavil: “The deal falls far short of the soaring rhetoric of leaders two weeks ago. The ambition (to pursue a warming goal of 1.5 degrees) is all very well, but we don’t have an adequate plan to make this reality.”

The Carbon Trust finds grounds for “excitement,” however. It says: “This is an exciting moment in history. The debate is over and the vision of the future is low carbon.”

And the “New York Times” claims that delegates in Paris “have achieved what has been unreachable for two decades: a consensus on the need to move away from carbon-based fuels and a roadmap to do so.”

The “Times” take is curious when read against the IEA analysis for all energy under the “pledges” — but, then, even reporters on the august “Grey Lady” don’t go for research when chasing deadlines.

The agency research indicates that, looking out to 2030, oil will still be the dominant global fuel (4,600 million tonnes of oil equivalent or mtoe) followed by coal (4,309) and then gas (3,824) out of a primary energy total of 16,530 mtoe – that is, a 77 per cent contribution from fossil fuels.

It is important to interpolate here that, in the “pledges” world, the gamut of abatement activity, according to the IEA, sees a marked slowing of the growth of CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2030 – just 1.9 Gt even as primary energy demand goes up 1,634 mtoe.

Meanwhile, for the green radicals collectively, the Paris agreement’s weak spot is that it allows nations to continue to determine their own emissions reduction plans, immune from challenges by other governments or the UN.

Their big disappointment lies in the final version of the agreement shifting away from a requirement to “reach greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century,” a proposal the oil-producing nations reportedly killed off.

What the agreement does now say is that there should be a balance between emissions sources and abatement via sinks in the second half of the century – a clear opening, I suggest, for the advocates of greater effort on carbon capture and storage in their ongoing row with green advocates insisting that much of the remaining reserves of oil, coal and gas must not be burned.

The other side of the coin to the radicals’ perspective is represented by a quote in one newspaper from Brazil’s environment minister, Izabella Texeira, who opined on the way home that the better angels of the Paris deal lie in its structure – regular reviews to encourage global co-operation and “changing the conversation” from the perceived impacts of global warming to “testing solutions.”

Julie Bishop told Australian journalists at Le Bourget after the meeting closed that her government will “take comfort” from knowing what the major economies, our major trading partners and our key competitors are doing. This, she said, would inform the Coalition government in its promised 2017 review of abatement policy – which comes after the 2016 national energy technology assessment.

To conclude: a Brookings Institute commentator in the US sums up the Paris summit outcome as opening the way to “developing a low cost, low carbon energy system that can underpin jobs growth and economic prosperity.”

The emphasis after Paris, he suggests, should be on delivery.

Which is not a bad way to round off this series of posts on the Paris meeting.

Paris perspective 4

The godfather of the climate change debate, James Hansen, made a sharp comment at the Paris summit in the past week.

“We have to face the fact that the danger of fossil fuels is staring us in the face,” opined Hansen, who famously raised the climate change issue with the US Congress in 1988. “It’s absolutely 100 per cent certain that we have got a very dangerous situation – and for us to say ‘Oh, we’re not going to use all the tools we have to try to solve it’ is crazy.”

The thrust of his comment on the sidelines of the summit, which is lumbering towards its denouement over the coming weekend, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now spearheading Australia’s engagement, is that nuclear power, and especially next generation nuclear power, “has tremendous potential to be part of the solution.”

This, of course, is anathema to most of the green brigade — to whom wind and solar power are the be-all and end-all of the debate.

For them, only an approach where such technologies are the full substitute for fossil fuels is acceptable and the more obvious it becomes that this is not the way of the real world, the louder they rant.

While the radical campaigners’ focus (and that of the media) is on what Hansen said about nuclear energy, the underlying point he made is the bigger matter: we’re crazy if we don’t use all the tools at hand.

To the chagrin of the greenies, this needs to include carbon capture and storage, high-efficiency coal-fired generation, substitution where appropriate of gas for coal in making electricity, greater construction of hydro-electric power (with all the environmental and rural community impacts this brings in many parts of the world, not least South-East Asia), strengthening, not abandoning, the role of the power grid and my hobby horse: elevating pursuit of energy productivity to the top of the chain rather than as a bit player behind investment in wind and solar, dis-investment in fossil fuels and excommunication of nuclear adherents from the green church.

If anyone in the public debate locally actually paid attention rather than focusing on fashioning soundbites, participating in street demos, tweeting and empty rhetoric, the dichotomy between where we (globally, because that’s what matters with global warming) say we are going and where we could go lies clearly before us.

No-one has actually done a better job of delineating this than the International Energy Agency, of which Australia is a strongly engaged member (Martin Ferguson chaired the IEA’s ministerial council earlier this decade and Josh Frydenberg is just back from its most recent top-level discussions).

The IEA in essence paints two pictures for the Paris summiteers and it has been hard at work promoting them in the public arena and the (temporarily fabricated) corridors of power at Le Bourget since the gabfest kicked off.

One is what governments have gone to Paris saying they intend to do.

By 2040 this delivers global electricity supply that is 16,000 terawatt hours higher than now (but 4,000 TWh less than current trends indicate thanks to improving energy productivity).

This is a world where fossil fuels provide 54 per cent of supply rather than today’s 67 per cent, where nuclear and hydro power retain their market shares over the next 25 years (11 and 16 per cent respectively) and where solar, wind and what-not treble their share from six per cent to 18 per cent.

The chances of this being where we are actually headed are not low — and the issue created for attaining the global warming goal is obvious.

The second IEA picture, modeled against what the agency believes is practically aspirational in pursuit of the two degree target — and pursuing the Hansen concept of using all available tools, including high efficiency, low emissions coal-fired plant — delivers a 2040 world where power output is just 10,000 TWh above what it is now and 10,000 TWh lower than today’s “business as usual” outcome.

This is a world where the fossil fuel share of power production has shrunk to 29 per cent (in which coal is contributing more than 4,000 TWh annually instead of today’s 9,600 TWh and gas almost 5,500 TWh) while the nuclear share has risen to 18 per cent and hydro power is contributing 20 per cent. And, yes, wind and solar power (and other forms of “new” renewables such as geothermal and marine energy) are providing 32 per cent (or almost 11,000 TWh) of production — and relying to a significant extent on the mining and plastics and chemicals industries for plant ingredients

It is also a world where trillions of US dollars have to be allocated to produce the mooted generation mix – a world, I like to point out, where manufacturing has probably migrated from the EU (and Australia) to China, India and S-E Asia because the cost of energy and other input costs (labor for example) are more favorable, the largest markets for products are increasingly there and the regulatory environment is more encouraging.

As my Irish granny used to tell me 60 years ago, there are consequences for everything we do (or don’t do). That was in South Africa, a country that today bears out my granny’s dictum in spades, but her admonition is a missing part of the shouting match that passes for debate here in Australia about energy, resources and the economy.

Regardless of the outcome of the Paris summit – I’m betting the communiqué will, as always, be more flannel than genuine substance – the Hansen point is really valid here and across the world: have recourse to all the tools or (literally) pay the price.

Is our present federal government – which, like most of you, I am pretty convinced on present opinion polling will still be in office after the 2016 election – capable of both delivering this message to our community and crafting an approach that embraces “all the tools”?

Sorry, I doubt it but continuing to promote the case for this being done is well worthwhile so long as we remember that, in this part of issues management as with so much else in Australia, the actual job is down to nine governments across the jurisdictions, not just the one domiciled in Canberra.

Which is why the commitment of the Frydenberg-chaired CoAG Energy Council (which met last week) to pursue integration of energy market, carbon abatement and broader environmental policies (eg a sensible approach to regulating south-eastern gas development) is potentially important.

I say potentially because delivery of such integration requires leadership beyond the energy minister pay grade and it requires broad community understanding and acceptance – with respect to which I point out that there has been no prime ministerial welcoming of the Energy Council statement and it has been treated with ignore in the popular media.

The day after the Paris summit delivers its outcome would be a good one for the Prime Minister to speak clearly and firmly to Australians on why the Energy Council commitment is important economically, environmentally and socially and to lay the onus on all jurisdictions and all first ministers to ensure that it is pursued efficiently.

Don’t hold your breath………..

Paris perspective 3

This is the week that the Paris summit on climate change gets its act together or performs another pratfall like its predecessor at Copenhagen. The odds are that it will come up with sufficient “progress” to enable French president Hollande to claim some plaudits — but this will be drowned out by alarmist shrieking that it’s nowhere near enough.

A flavor of the real summit can be found in a comment early last week after the captains and the king-like persons departed, having treated us, via 3,000 journalists covering the event, to a long opening day’s bloviation.

Laurent Fabius, Julie Bishop’s French opposite number and actual president of the conference, lamented the “slow pace” of discussions in the multitude of Le Bourget rooms where contentious issues were being wrestled. “I urge the negotiators to speed up the resolution of differences,” he said.

Well, the assembled hordes of bureaucrats and ministers from 195 countries have hastened in their own way and this week sees Bishop and other senior ministers contemplating a draft agreement they have crafted.

The word is that the most positive thing in the document is a commitment to a rolling five-year review of the promises the nations brought to Paris but there is no dramatic breakthrough on speeding up abatement or on who shoulders most of the burden and, critically, where the money (trillions not billions of US dollars) is to be found.

It seems a lot of the arty-bargy in the back rooms over the past week has been over the nations at the big end of emitting (the US, China and so on) wanting to stick with the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial revolution levels and a posse of others demanding that the target be shifted to 1.5 degrees. Australia, it is claimed, for its own domestic political purposes, has decided to go along with the calls for a lower (i.e. higher) target.

In a week, we will know the outcome.

Perhaps the most hard-headed thing about the summit was said before it began.

At a media conference in the week before the kick-off, the European Union’s climate change and energy commissioner, Miguel Arates Canete, who has spent a year roaming the world as a cheerleader for the Paris talks, summed up the situation thus: “We will have a deal here — but we may end up having a minimalist agreement.” That’s probably a safe bet.

In particular, it is unlikely that we will see a resolution in the never-ending saga of the pursuit of funding by non-OECD countries, who at present have nothing on offer from the “rich” beyond $US100 billion pledged by 2020 (of which $US62 billion is actually now claimed to be available, although this figure is being disputed.). As the Indian team’s leader puts it, his country is willing to reduce its carbon emissions from coal faster “provided rich countries pay for faster adoption of cleaner technologies.”

This will require an awful lot more money on the table than is on offer today.

The analysis undertaken by the International Energy Agency of the 171 “pledges” sees $US15 trillion needing to be spent over the next 15 years on just energy efficiency and construction of all forms of renewable power generation, including $US1.27 trillion on solar PV and $US2 trillion on wind generation.

Meanwhile, the outlay on fossil-fuelled power generation is estimated to be $US2.6 trillion (ie a bit more than on PVs and wind).

There is another aspect of all this — and it received attention a long way from Paris last week.

I refer to the comments by BHP Billiton CEO Andrew Mackenzie about the rise of China and India as economic super-powers even while they are still (seen as) developing nations.

BHP is Australia’s largest exporter of raw materials to China, Japan, South Korea and Mackenzie highlighted the point that China and India don’t just want to catch up with the developed world — they want to lead it in areas like economic clout.

His theme is the role for Australia in riding this wave (a major issue that needs far better appreciation in our political debate).

In the context of the Paris talks, I’d argue that a broader point is that what happens in China, India and also South-East Asia in the next quarter century will dictate both the economic and carbon games to an extent not being conveyed in what Australian’s are reading and hearing.

(Mackenzie sees an Australian role in championing a co-ordinated approach to abatement, helping to accelerate development and deployment of low-emission technologies, including carbon capture and storage.)

So much of the noise about climate change coming from Paris and regurgitated in our media relates to the opinions emanating from the EU or from the rhetoric of Barack Obama (now moving in to the final year of his presidency under lots of “legacy” pressure) or from the environmental radicals.

Where the most massive energy development is happening is in Asia and, in this respect, the Asians are increasingly going to be the tail wagging the carbon dog. How far this becomes apparent at the Paris talks remains to be seen but a minimalist agreement there won’t change the reality.

Between Copenhagen and Paris much of the focus of the abatement saga has been on China and the US, but it is obvious from the data currently available that India and South-East Asia (the 10 ASEAN countries) are going to be very large players between now and 2040 (the current horizon of modelling choice).

These are countries where domestic energy production is not keeping pace with demand, which is roughly doubling every 12 to 15 years.

These are countries where, increasingly, the cities are their economic engines and are growing at a huge rate, so grid-connected power supply to these sprawling urban areas is vital —  and, between them, these 11 countries expect to build more than 1,000 terawatts of all forms of electricity generation in some 15 years, a large chunk of it fossil-fuelled.

Add this to what is happening in China and Asia presents a very large anvil to whatever hammer is being forged in Paris.

Which gives point to a comment yesterday by the Indian environment minister directed to home consumption: “India is determined not to make the Paris summit like past summits where we all returned home with false optimism and fictitious hopes.”  Plus this: “India is here to ensure that rich countries pay back their debt for the overdraft they have drawn on the carbon space.”

 

 

Grid in the middle

Not surprisingly, it was the big dollar point that made the headlines: media around Australia this week picking up the point of the electricity delivery system potentially needing “up to $1 trillion” of investment over 25 years.

Rather lost to view in this is the assumption by the modellers that about a quarter to almost half of the outlay — $224 billion to $469 billion — would be to the account of consumers pursuing solar PV and energy storage opportunities in scenarios positing spending of $950 billion to $1,140 billion.

The launching pad for all this is the publication of the first stage of the Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap, an initiative of the Energy Networks Association and CSIRO.

Few of the millions of mass market consumers affected by the “transformation” will read the 132-page interim report and not many will even see the shorthand versions published by CSIRO and ENA on their websites — which, in turn, go well beyond what has appeared in media reports.

Perhaps the most important message that the work conveys is that the noisy debate about the “death of the grid” needs a big reality check, including among more than a few in the body politic who have hopped on this bandwagon in the past year.

Part of the ENA’s lobbying activity is to get across the message that, even in an environment where there is a lot of residential use of solar power and increasing investment in battery storage, the need for the power grid will remain.

As ENA’s chief executive, John Bradley, puts it: “The best value they’ll get out of solar is by selling excess energy back in to the market. You need to have a grid in the middle in that future energy system.”

As the International Energy Agency is forever pointing out in a broader context, scenarios are not predictions and the ENA/CSIRO exercise is not forecasting but exploring.

The exercise to date — a final report won’t appear until late 2016 — comes up with five key perspectives.

First, energy storage costs could fall by about two-thirds and PV panels by a third over the next 10 years.

Second, the runaway cost of networks to households (and other consumers) that fuelled the dash to solar is being curbed and the outlook is less worrying for the share of household income to be spent on electricity supply overall.

(We also have at the moment the Australian Energy Market Commission saying in its 2015 trends report, just published,  that it expects falling network charges will be offset by rises in electricity wholesale prices  and environmental policy costs as end-user bills “remain largely flat” over the next three years.)

Third, the problem of cross-subsidies among customers without cost-reflective network charges becomes a larger issue as this game plays out. CSIRO’s Paul Graham, in a commentary in The Conversation on Wednesday (3 December), notes that the lack of progress since 2013 on pricing reform “remains a significant risk for the (network) sector.”

Fourth, the role of electricity supply in greenhouse gas emissions abatement is a major factor in the “transformation”.

(The AEMC is also yet again in the ear of policymakers on the critical need to integrate energy market and carbon abatement measures, probably the most significant failure of governments collectively in this space over almost a decade.)

Fifth, the power grid, in all the scenarios being run by CSIRO, has “a key enabling role” although it may be used very differently between now and 2050, not least as a “platform” for new energy services.

A big value of this roadmap exercise can eventuate if it provides an antidote to soundbite policy syndrome both where it matters, the corridors of policymaking, and in public understanding, via the media, of the real world of energy supply and use.

The urge in the cynics among us to say “fat chance” should not blind us to some signs of better understanding in the ministerial wing.

The CoAG Energy Council met yesterday (4 December) in Canberra and ministers signalled in their communique commitment to a “national, co-operative effort to better integrate policy, promising “a clear focus on ensuring that consumers and industry have access to low-cost, reliable energy as Australia moves towards a lower-emissions economy.”

One of the council commitments from this meeting is to fast-track development of battery safety standards in 2016, noting the need to “enable consumers to benefit from emerging technologies and innovative services while mitigating risks.”

Ministers even spoke of the need to “ensure competitive and technological neutrality” and “consistent treatment of new technologies.”

The problem here, as it has been for years, is that, even where portfolio ministers have good intentions, their efforts are subsumed in the political games their leaders play.

One of the points flowing from the ENA/CSIRO exercise that catches my eye is a scenario modelling near-zero emissions from the electricity sector by 2050 — which relies heavily on the grid to connect dispersed, large-scale renewable supply points to the loads.

This model allows for 73 per cent of supply by large-scale renewable generation (that would be many wind farms supplemented by utility-scale solar and maybe geothermal and marine energy) and the remainder from rooftop solar.

Really costing this (including the true cost of security of supply on the east coast) would be a salutary exercise, I suggest.

The Gillard government, making nice with the Greens, ordered the Australian Energy Market Operator to model the 100 per cent renewables scenario and then hedged the work with so many bars to full disclosure that it became meaningless.

The federal Department of the Environment produced a 17-page commentary on the AEMO exercise that should be read by anyone playing in this space.

I particularly liked the paragraph (tucked away on page 15 of 17) that noted, “due to the nature of the study,” that no transition costs had been included, nor allowance for network costs, nor financing costs, nor the costs of stranded assets, nor the R&D outlays that might be needed to drive the renewables cost reductions that were assumed.

Even so, a bill of up to $332 billion was put on the transition.

The ENA/CSIRO trillion dollar price tag in this new modelling exercise makes me wonder what the overall butcher’s bill would be for “going green”?

A question that might be posed to William Shorten as he pursues his energy/carbon promises for the 2016 federal election………….

 

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 in 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.)