Posts tagged ‘environment’
The COAG Reform Council has released its first assessment report under the Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development National Partnership Agreement with disagreement between the Commonwealth and NSW the major hurdle. The National Partnership Agreement report looks at whether participating governments have completed their actions under the agreement which reviews CSG and large coal mining developments and their potential impact on water resources.
Of the four States participating in the agreement-New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia – only NSW has not completed its milestone to publicly release a protocol for referring projects to the new Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC). The issue is that the NSW and Commonwealth Governments have not agreed on NSW’s draft protocol. The report said it remained unclear how NSW would decide which projects to refer to the IESC for advice outside of land it has identified as ‘Strategic Agricultural Land’.
This delay may defer the provision of NSW project applications to the IESC for advice until the protocol is published and will also affect the period to which the benchmark to refer all project applications to the IESC for advice before amending legislation, regulations and guidelines applies. Queensland, however remains on track having signed the National Partnership on February 14, 2012 (under the Bligh Government) thanks to a one-off $18 million payment from the Federal Government.
Despite complaints from the Newman Government about duplication of regulatory bodies, the new government endorsed the protocol for project referral on October 1 2012. The protocol requires Queensland government officers to refer a proposal if it is deemed a ‘project application’ (that is, it requires an Environmental Impact Statement) and it is ‘likely’ to have a ‘significant impact on water resources’. However as of October 2012 Queensland has not referred any projects to the IESC, though the Commonwealth has referred several Queensland projects.
The aim of the IESC is to give Australian governments solid scientific advice on the potential effects of CSG and large coal mining developments on water resources. On November 27 last year, federal environment and water minister Tony Burke announced its creation as a statutory body under amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The six-person committee’s role is advisory only and it has no responsibility for issuing approvals for projects or recommending whether a project should or should not be approved.
At the time, Tony Burke said the Committee was created to provide advice on coal seam gas proposals and large coal mining developments. ”The work of this committee will give communities reason to be confident that future decisions about coal seam gas and large coal mining development are informed by the best possible science,” Burke said.
Releasing its first report this month, the COAG Reform Council chair former Victorian premier John Brumby said CSG mining was a contentious issue. ”Coal seam gas mining has an important role to play in Australia’s future energy security and economic development,” Brumby said. ”This agreement aims to improve the community’s confidence in decisions on coal seam gas and large coal mining development by informing those decisions with substantially improved science and independent expert advice.” Brumby said in the five years to 2010-11, CSG production increased from 2% to 11% of Australia’s total gas production. ”Coal seam gas is an important source of natural gas that has the potential to strengthen Australia’s long-term energy security and to further expand energy exports to meet growing global demand for energy,” he said.
The report found Australia’s CSG reserves that have been identified as profitably extractable have been increasing in recent years up to around 35 000 petajoules (PJ) .Estimates suggest a further 65,000 PJ could become economically viable in the future and there are even larger estimates of inferred (122 000 PJ) and potential (259 000 PJ) CSG resources. The report said the community was concerned about potential environmental impacts of new developments including the volume of water produced as a by-product of CSG extraction and possible contamination of fresh water aquifers.
It identified three priority areas to strengthen decision making:
1. more closely identifying potential and actual impacts on water resources, and avoid or minimise significant impacts through a transparent process that builds public confidence
2 substantially improving governments’ collective scientific understanding of the actual and potential effects of CSG and coal mining developments on water resources
3 ensuring the best scientific information and expertise underpins all relevant regulatory processes and decisions.
The Surat Basin is one of the priority areas identified for bioregional assessment. The report says the bioregional assessments would analyse the ecology, hydrology and geology of an area to assess the potential risks to water resources as a result of the impacts of coal seam gas or large coal mining developments.“These assessments will provide advice to governments about the water related resources and risks on a region-wide, rather than project specific basis,” the report said.
The National Partnership program will provide $50m over three financial years with 50% going to the states and 25% each to according to the relative distribution of coal production and CSG projects.
Commonwealth-referred Queensland projects under consideration by IESC are:
Stanmore ‘The Range’ Open Cut Coal Mine – being considered
Newland Coal Extension Project – being considered
Arrow Bowen Gas Project – advice provided
Santos Future Gas Supply Area Project – advice provided
Middlemount Coal Mine – advice provided
Anglo Coal (Foxleigh) Pty Ltd—Foxleigh Coal Mine Extension – being considered
Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd—Alpha Coal Project—Mine and Rail Development - advice provided
Aquila Resources Ltd—Blackwater Washpool Coal – being considered
Adani Resources Ltd—Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project – being considered
AMCI (Alpha) Pty Ltd—South Galilee Coal Project – being considered
Taroom Coal Project, Surat Basin – advice provided
Collingwood Coal Project, Surat Basin – advice provided
Codrilla Coal Mine, south east of Moranbah – advice provided
Sonoma Coal Mine Expansion, Collinsville – being considered
The latest in a long line of Aussie hoaxes was perpetrated to great effect this week though its creator might yet pay a penalty of ten years and half a million bucks. Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan is in the wars for putting out a press release in the name of ANZ Bank on Tuesday. The release said the bank was divesting its $1.2b loan to Whitehaven Coal for its Maules Creek Coal Project. It was an important announcement. In Whitehaven’s own words, Maules Creek is “one of only a few remaining tier 1 undeveloped coal assets in Australia. It is also one of the largest coal deposits in Australia with 362 Mt of recoverable reserves.”
Before it could be exposed as a hoax, it triggered a stock market collapse for the coal company. While almost all of the losses were subsequently recovered before the day was out, Moylan’s actions raises serious political as well as ethical and legal issues. Using dubious means, he focussed attention on the important question about whether we should be investing in major coal projects in a time when fossil fuel emission is the biggest issue we face as a species.Maules Creek is in the heart of the rich Gunnedah Basin in NSW. That state and Queensland produce 97 percent of Australia’s black coal. It is an industry in decline with Australia producing 405 million tonnes of raw black coal in 2010-11 down from 471 Mt. in 2009-10. Yet Australia remains the world’s fourth largest coal producer and the world’s leading exporter with markets in Japan, South Korea, China, India and Europe. Coal fired generators are leading contributors (20 percent) to a greenhouse effect as heavy-grade emitters of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
The Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions acknowledges fixing the coal issue will be difficult. Coal is cheap, is important for meeting energy needs in the developing countries, and has good lobby groups in countries like the US, which is the “Saudi Arabia of coal.” Coal-fired generators could still play a role if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology ever takes off, possibly 10-15 years away. There would also be a need for a carbon market, priced at around $30 a ton of CO2 and a way of retrofitting CCS into existing technology. An ANZ that truly considered its customers interests, would ensure such boxes were being ticked. But it has no plans to do so and there is no scrutiny of whether such interests are considered.
Instead, the argument focussed on Moylan with those dividing into two sides on whether his hoax ends justified the means. Those that supported him like Bob Brown identified Moylan’s action as a necessary civil disobedience that brought out in the open ANZ’s investment in coal. That brought out the coalition’s Eric Abetz saying the ends did not justify the means. He turned it into an attack on Lee Rhiannon and the Greens’ “extreme political tendencies.”
Whoever is right, there is one thing for certain – Moylan planned his attack well. He put together a fake ANZ press template, a website and dummy email inbox online. The press release was a remarkable use of managerial language to frame an argument that would be quite unusual and brave in an Australian business context. Moylan used the voice of ANZ Corporate Communications to announce the bank would not support the project. Toby Kent, “Group head of corporate sustainability” was quoted to say the company wouldn’t invest in coal projects that cause “significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict.” The decision was made after “a careful analysis of reputational risks and analysis of the returns on this mine in the current climate of high volatility in the coal export market.” The released concluded with the statement ANZ was undertaking “a review of coal and gas investments on productive agricultural lands and areas of high biodiversity.”
Moylan’s fake ANZ release was quickly picked up by AAP Newswire who failed to conduct any of the basic identity checks that would have exposed the hoax. At the bottom of the emails are phone numbers for Toby Kent and Joanne McCulloch “Media Relations Advisor” which if anyone had bothering phoning would have quickly exposed this email as a hoax. Either that or a quick check of ANZ’s database of media releases would have been enough to dispel, or at least doubt, the information.
Instead AAP swallowed the news whole and provided it directly to the markets. When traders in the Australian Stock Exchange saw the newswires shortly after midday Tuesday, they went ballistic. Whitehaven bore the brunt as 85% owners of Maules Creek Coal. Maules Creek is 18km north-east of Boggabri on the Kamilaroi Highway between Narrabri and Gunndah. It is also just 16km from the railway line servicing the coal terminals at the Port of Newcastle, 360km to the south-east. Maules Creek’s current resources are expected to support a large open cut mining operation for 30 years at an average saleable coal production rate of 10.8 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). Subject to approvals, the first coal production will commence in mid 2013, with saleable production exceeding 10Mtpa from 2016 onwards.
But it was a dead duck without ANZ’s investment, and within minutes Whitehaven shares plunged almost 10 percent from $3.52 to $3.21. Whitehaven Coal lost more than $276 million in market value. It capped off a bad year for the company since it merged with Nathan Tinkler’s Aston last April giving him 19.4 percent ownership. The share price has lost over half its value since then with CEO Tony Haggarty and the board blaming it on uncertainty due to Tinkler’s financial woes - they want him to divest to institutions. Tinkler was quick to return fire on Haggarty and the board saying he wanted to increase his holding not decrease it.
That plan may be in tatters after Tuesday. The price did not recover until the real ANZ responded with a media release (pdf) entitled “Fraudulent media release regarding Whitehaven Coal”. This release (which looked remarkably like the fraudulent one) said ANZ remained “fully supportive of Whitehaven Coal.”
At the end of trading, Whitehaven was just 2c down on the day reflecting the fact there were other issues with the project. The damage done to Tinkler, was variously estimated to be anywhere between $50m and $180m (assuming it wasn’t him who picked up the shares when they were on the rebound).
Whatever the damage to Tinkler or Whitehaven, Moylan will suffer significant collateral damage. There is a strong prima facie case his actions were illegal according to Section 1041E of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). That act states it is an offence if a person makes a knowingly false statement that is likely to make people dispose of shares. The maximum jail term for individuals is 10 years, with fines of up to $495,000. Organisations face fines of up to $4.6 million.
The Australian Securities Investment Commission said it would be investigating whether there had been a breach of Corporations Act rules on false or misleading statements. According to dean of law at the University of Western Sydney Michael Adams the legislation that deals with corporate fraud imposes a high penalty on false or misleading statements about traded securities on the ASX. Adams believes a successful prosecution will hang on the difference between a public nuisance and civil disobedience. “A protest normally provides publicity for a cause and brings the matter to the general public’s attention, but causes little harm to the community,” Adams said. “A fraud – and in particular one that impacts on the share market – has huge consequences”.
Research fellow on ethics Edward Spence picked up on Abetz’s argument about the ends and the means. Spence said Moylan’s ethical failings were harmful to the “integrity of the digital informational environment”. This is the environment whose trustworthiness, Spence said “we all rely on to conduct our legitimate informational transactions.” We are not only biological beings, he said but also and increasingly informational beings. “When the informational environment is harmed we are also harmed.”
Spence may be exaggerating the harm here as it ignores the fact that checks and balances such as AAP did not do its job properly. Nor did any of the rest of the media use the hoax to expose ANZ’s dealings with the coal industry. Why didn’t anyone ask the bank if they would do “a review of coal and gas investments on productive agricultural lands and areas of high biodiversity”.Why is it acceptable for the bank to continue to invest in projects that cause “significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict?”
Unlike Australia where the issue has been politically divisive, the Korean bill was passed unanimously in a 148-0 vote with 3 abstentions. Companies that emit 125,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide a year will be subject to Korea’s cap-and-trade system, along with factories, buildings and livestock farms that produce at least 25,000 tons of the gas annually, according to the bill.
Not surprisingly the Korean decision has been welcomed by the Australian Government. Climate change minister Greg Combet was quick off the mark with a media release on Thursday. Combet congratulated the South Korean Government for “taking this important step to drive sustainable growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions”. Combet said Australia was now one of 34 countries around the world to use emissions trading as the primary vehicle to drive carbon pollution reduction. “We are far from leading the world, as some have claimed,” Combet said referring to Coalition carping that Australia was taking too much of a risk with its tax.
Situated in pristine country, some 750km northwest of Brisbane is the Carnarvon National Park. The highlight is the astonishingly beautiful Carnarvon Gorge and I did the 240km drive north from Roma today to do some of its walks.
The full walk is over 10kms one way following the Carnarvon Creek with several detours along the way to interesting geology and human formations. I left Roma at 6am and got there at 8.30am. The rangers there recommended against the full walk with a very hot day (> 35 degrees C) expected. I still plumped for a tough 14km walk that took in four of the Gorge’s intriguing diversions.
The geology of the area is complex. The white cliffs are sandstone and volcanic eruptions formed basalt caps.
The trail crisscrosses the creek on numerous occasions and it is important to keep an eye on the stones below as you hop across for fear of ending up in the drink.
I decided to go to the furtherest detour first and work my way back. And after 7km of walking I got to the Art Gallery, home to the Aboriginal rock art. Here Indigenous painters used stencils, quartzile tools, hand designs and free painting all the aspects of their lives. The life-size boomerangs, pottery, kangaroos and emu eggs are matched with a collection of vulvas unknown elsewhere in Aboriginal art. The thousand-year old stencils mix with more recent European etchings as people still want to leave their mark.
Next stop back is Ward’s Canyon. The canyon is named for two brothers who camped here while trapping possums in the 1910s. The canyon is known for its tree ferns and king ferns. The king ferns are particularly impressive and this is only place away from the Australian coast you can find the threatened species. The two metre-long fronds rely totally on the water supply to keep them erect.
As the time crept towards midday, the sun was almost directly overhead making shade difficult to find and walking a hot and sweaty exercise. Plenty of water was required though the rangers don’t recommend you drink the creek water.
The third stop is the amphitheatre. The shape of the entrance (reached by 50 steps) is a clue perhaps as to why the Aboriginal graffiti was full of vulvas in this area.
The amphitheatre is a magical spot. Like the Gorge, the amphitheatre was formed out of the erosion soft sandstone by the relentless forces of water. It is not hard to be awed by the spot and its cool shade was greatly appreciated today.
The last stop was the Moss Garden. The sandstone soaks up rainwater like a giant sponge. When the water meets an impenetrable layer of shale, the water moves sideways and trickles out from the wall. The constant moisture sustains a green oasis of mosses, ferns and liverworts. After 4 hours and 15km of walking in the hot sun, it was a relief to get back to base. The Carnarvons are a walker’s paradise – but there is a reason it was quiet today. The tourist season is from April to October, when the temperatures are at least 15 degrees cooler.
The consequences to the planet of a “gaping 8 year hole” are potentially catastrophic, particularly as the likely outcome is a further increase in carbon emissions in the short term. But while they are right, the Greens are showing their usual tendency to forget realpolitik: this latest deal is as good as the governments of the world were willing to give at the time, giving their widely differing places at the table. This agreement to change is built on the small steps Bali, Copenhagen and Cancun agreements to give a roadmap towards worldwide reductions in 2020 and that is mostly a good thing.
There are things the Greens are right to be angry about. Sea level rises caused by warmer temperatures will continue long after the oven is turned down in 2020. There is also the prospect of mass extinction of species. Current best estimates have atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration expecting to exceed 500 parts per million and global temperatures to rise by at least 2°C by 2050 to 2100. These values significantly exceed anything in the least the past 420,000 years during which most of our marine organisms evolved.
Earth relies on the greenhouse effect to sustain life. But CO2, methane and nitrous oxide all absorb infrared energy and keep heat energy on Earth and all are on the increase. The effects are varied: the North West Passage is becoming seaworthy again, the 3250 sq km Larsen B ice shelf disappeared in a month in 2002, glaciers in Argentina and Chile are melting at double the rate of 1975 while sea temperature rises are threatening coral reefs across the world.
Even modest increases in sea levels could cause major flooding in many of the world’s low lying megalopolises. If there is a rise in sea levels of 0.5m, the Majuro Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands would mostly disappear. If the sea level rises by 1m, one fifth of Bangladesh goes under as would 13 of the world’s 15 largest cities. If the unstable West Antarctic Ice Shelf eplicated the behaviour of Larsen B sea levels could rise as much as 3m. If Greenland once again resembled its name it would add 7m to water levels.
This picture is a New York with a 5m rise, not beyond the bounds of possibility though the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report worst case scenario only allows for a maximum of 0.6m to 2100. The report also acknowledges global emissions will grow despite any mitigation measures. Even at the more likely levels of 0.3m by 2100, that rise is enough to obliterate many island nations. Without the power to influence conferences except by emotion, their biggest challenge will be to preserve their nationality without a territory. Believing that such a loss might be temporary has lawyers rushing to the Law of the Sea and the UN Convention to see how such states could survive “in exile”. Despite the depression that starts this kind of thinking, this is profoundly optimistic in the long term.
It speaks to the unending human belief we can fix any problem, including ones caused by our own actions. The annual Climate Change Conference is like a large ship with a slow turning circle. But it is slowly taking effect. The year 1990 is used as the benchmark year for all emissions as this was around the time science realised there was a major problem. It was also the year UN-steered climate change negotiations started. No-one cared at first. In the 5 years after 1990, carbon emissions worldwide increased from 1 billion tons to 7 billion tons.
20 years down the track, the scientists still have difficulty selling their message, if some sections of the right and the media are to be believed. On the other side, the Green movement thinks we are not moving fast enough. Yet recent International Energy Agency data shows global action is beginning to work. Countries who participated in the Kyoto Protocol were 15% below their 1990 levels two decades later. The problem is the Kyoto non binding countries led by China and the Middle East have greatly expanded their emissions in that time.
This is why a global agreement was so important. The developing countries have a point in that historically the West has caused more emissions. But they have learned quickly from Western technology and China is now the world’s biggest emitter. An agreement of “annex” and “non annex” countries no longer makes sense despite the best arguments of India and China.
This is why those countries ultimately signed the agreement. Let no one underestimate what was achieved in Durban this weekend. We have signed the first global deal that scales back our fossil fuel economy. 2020 is a long way away and there will be more eight more meetings and eight more frenetic all-night negotiations as nations and economic blocs jostle for position in the brave new world of a post-carbon economy. It does not mean no action until 2020. The decision offers a clear signal the ship is turning and passengers need to look the other way. The markets will now do their bit by promoting investment in industries that best fit the new paradigm.
If the Greens are impatient we are not turning fast enough, then rightwing groups such as the Australian Coalition are determined to steer straight ahead regardless. Abbott’s claim the carbon tax is an “international orphan” is wrong on at least three counts: Australia is not the only country to price carbon, it will be a necessary requirement to send the right market signals to move to renewables, and its overgenerous compensation will mean that it will have little genuine effect on the nation’s massive fossil fuel industry in the short term. By 2020, the world will still be warming to dangerous levels. But an agreement is now in place to deal with the problem. And Australia has an enforcing mechanism. Whether that is all too little too late is for our grandchildren to judge.
The report for phase one is part of a two phase strategic study into a high speed rail network (HSR) on the east coast of Australia. The study looks at potential routes from Brisbane southwards to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, as well as the economic viability of such a network. It talks about likely corridors, options for station locations, high level costs, and forecasts about patronage, and comparative analysis of potential social and regional development impacts. Albanese has asked for feedback on the report in the next two months.
According to the Executive Summary (pdf) the study is divided into two phases. The first phase looks at costs, corridors and demand while a future phase two will look at financial feasibility, best route alignment and patronage and cost estimates and potential financing options.
At this stage, the total cost of the project is estimated as anything from $61 billion to $108 billion depending upon the corridors selected. The costs include land acquisition, stations and city access, maintenance and stabling facilities, power infrastructure, civil and rail infrastructure and IT and ticketing systems. They exclude management costs (add another 15%) and operating costs. The four corridors considered are Brisbane to Newcastle via the coast, Newcastle to Sydney, Sydney to Canberra and Canberra to Melbourne. Urban access would be by tunnel and stations would need to be in the central business district of each city.
Regional stations would be at Gold Coast, Tweed, Coffs Harbour, Gosford, Wollongong, Mittagong, Wagga, Albury and Shepparton. The Newcastle to Brisbane link is by far the most expensive leg probably due to the need to get through the mountainous Scenic Rim area on the NSW-Queensland border.
The report said people make over 100 million long distance trips on the east coast of Australia each year, and this is set to grow to 264m trips over the next 45 years. By 2036 54 million people may use an HSR network each year. The study showed inter-city non-stop running times could be around 3 hours between Brisbane and Sydney and Sydney and Melbourne, 40 minutes between Newcastle and Sydney and One hour between Sydney and Canberra. The network infrastructure would be a double-track standard-gauge electrified line with maximum operating speed of 200 km/h in the cities and 350 km/h outside. Services would be operated by eight car sets moving to 12 or 16 depending on demand.
The report identified five key issues for resolution in phase 2. These are 1. Overcoming the topographical and environmental constraints of the Sydney to Newcastle leg 2. Determining if the Sydney station is in the CBD (more costly) or in Homebush or Parramatta (reducing patronage) 3. Fitting in the Illawarra region despite its geographical challenges 4. Determining if Melbourne Airport will be on the route 5. Determining if Canberra is on the main line or on a branch.
The next phase is a Phase 2 report, due in 2012. If approved, services may be running between Sydney and Newcastle by 2020 and Melbourne and Sydney by 2025.
That this quote is taken out of context is no surprise in the light of similar shenanigans, nor it is that the one sentence that has immediate political implications be lifted above all others in a considered economic tract about the future. As British former Tory MP Iain Dale found out when he went to parliament today, this country does a poor line in genuine debate and the response is as Professor Garnaut must have feared. When the political game is expediency above everything and the media game is primarily about conflict, a reasoned document such as this will get short shrift. The future seems very far away when there is so much shit-stirring to do in the present.
The future is very much on Garnaut’s mind. He begins by bringing the science up to date from his last review in 2008. There is a statistically significant warming trend and it did not end in 1998 or in any other year. If anything science says matters have gotten worse since 2008 and its prognosis of drastic global warming is now established beyond reasonable doubt. The projection of Australia’s emissions trajectory if nothing is done to change behaviour has grown to 24 per cent above 2000 levels (a 4 per cent above the levels expected in 2007). As Garnaut says “this will not be easily understood by other countries and is likely to bring Australian mitigation policy under close scrutiny.”
All countries will closely examine each other’s efforts to confirm that each is contributing its fair share. China is on a fastpath towards climate action and has also achieved considerable success in the implementation targets with widescale regulatory changes in energy and innovation. The Cancun Agreement has pledged Australia to 2020 targets of –5% to –25% of 2000 emissions with a review in 2014. Garnaut said it was in the country’s national interest in in effective mitigation to make the emerging arrangements work.
He then went on to look at the two models to reduce carbon emissions: a market-based approach, built on a price on emissions; and a regulatory approach, or direct action. In the market-based approach, carbon can be priced either by fixed-price schemes (carbon taxes) where the market decides how much it will reduce the quantity of emissions or by floating price schemes (ETS) win which permits to emit are issued up to a set limit. The permits are tradeable so the market sets the price. In the alternative route, regulation or direct action, there are many ways that government can intervene to direct firms and households to go about their business and their lives.
Garnaut much prefers the carbon price option. For one, it raises considerable revenues that can buffer the transition. Much of this revenue could be used to reduce personal income tax rates on households at the lower end of the income distribution and would encourage labour force participation. Some revenue should also be used to purchase carbon credits from the land sector and also to support the business sector to innovate emissions-reducing technologies. It has less short-term negative effects on productivity growth and incomes than “direct action”. The other problem with direct action is that it relies on the ideas of a small number of politicians and their advisers and confidants who would be subject to lobby pressure. “While some of these ideas might be brilliant,” Garnaut said, “they would not be as creative or productive as millions of Australian minds responding to the incentives provided by carbon pricing and a competitive marketplace.”
Electricity prices will go up in that marketplace, but not as much as they went up after 2006 due to distortions in price regulation of distribution networks. There would also be compensation, which did not occur in 2006. Garnaut suggests a starting price of carbon in mid-2012 as $20-$30 rising at 4 percent a year. An ETS of some sort will be needed to be administered by an independent authority such as a Carbon Bank. By 2015 agriculture will need to be brought into the fold, perhaps in line with New Zealand’s plans to do exactly that.
Garnaut does indeed say householders will bear the full cost of a carbon price as international markets will determine returns to capital. But this is why “it makes sense from equity and efficiency perspectives for households to ultimately receive the vast majority of the carbon pricing revenue.” Tax cuts will assist household to spend money on goods and services that embody low emissions and at the same time the carbon price will set off a supply side adjustment to enable low cost emissions reductions.
Its not in the review papers but Garnaut has this to say about those who say Australia is a small contributor to the world’s emissions and should not take the lead. “We matter even on climate change, even though our emissions are only 1.5 per cent of the world’s, just like the UK matters with its 1.7 per cent.” The Tory-led British Government has pledged to cut carbon emissions in half by 2025. That is “direct action” Tony Abbott and the anti-carbon tax cheer squad would have nightmares over.
CSG is a very different technology to the unproven UCG. However, the BTEX find puts a cloud over an industry that is about to take off in the mineral-rich Surat Basin energy province. On Friday Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke gave conditional approval to the GLNG (jointly owned by Santos and Petronas) and BG plan to export $30 billion of CSG to Chinese markets via Liquefied Natural Gas plants in Gladstone in the coming 20 years. Neither company were directly affected by BTEX find which occurred at eight Australia Pacific LNG (jointly owned by Origin and ConocoPhillips) coal seam gas sites in an area between Miles and Roma.
The industry has been on the defensive over the outbreak. APLNG is likely to be the next major CSG player to have its environmental impact assessment tested by government. Their Environmental Impact Assessment has been with the Queensland Coordinator General Colin Jensen since January this year. Jensen has been holding off his decision awaiting the Federal Government on GLNG and BG. Landholders in particular in coal seam gas areas have not been happy about the impacts to their land and water. Given that Burke imposed more than 300 strict conditions on GLNG and BG, it is likely the Origin/ConocoPhillips project will have to address these also.
The BTEX contamination is an added headache. The problem came to light last Tuesday when Origin released a statement to the ASX saying they had found traces of BTEX in fluid samples taken from eight exploration wells. They said they advised relevant landowners, Western Downs Regional council (but not apparently the Roma-based Maranoa Council which was also affected) and the Queensland government of the find. The company told Queensland Minister for Sustainability and Climate Change, Kate Jones there was no evidence of environmental harm or risk to landholder bores. However Jones has requested confirmatory testing by an independent service provider.
The finds come just days after the Queensland Government banned BTEX from all coal seam gas operations. Minister for Natural Resource Mines and Energy, Stephen Robertson told parliament BTEX petroleum compounds were not used in Queensland CSG operations but have been used in overseas oil and gas operations in the fraccing process. Fraccing is the controversial process that involves pumping fluid at high pressure into a coal seam to fracture the seam to allow gas to flow readily into gas wells. The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association say chemicals make up less than 1 percent of fraccing fluid and the risk to public health at those levels was negligible.
Which is just as well, as BTEX is extremely toxic. As well as being a cancer-causing compound, there is a documented history of harmful effects on the central nervous system. Because of the solubility of the majority of the BTEX components they are also prone to leaching into the underground waterways polluting areas larger than the original contamination site.
BTEX gets its name from its make-up: petroleum compounds containing benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes. They are aromatic hydrocarbons which occur naturally in crude oil at low levels but in the 1970s the oil industry invested so heavily BTEX comprised 35 percent of all US gasoline (petrol) by 1990. When the EPA found excessive benzene concentrations in city air, the culprit was identified as the aromatics. While it was subsequently decreased, it still makes up a significant component of petroleum.
Origin say they have no idea how it was found at their wells last week but admit it may have been contained in lubricants used at the site. While its use in fraccing is illegal, they may be used on a drill bit which remains legal. APLNG’s executive general manager of oil and gas, Paul Zealand told the Courier-Mail the traces were barely detectable, did not enter the water table and may be naturally occurring. “It is isolated from water courses and livestock,” he said. “The company will undertake further testing in consultation with landholders in the coming days.”
The document’s science is based on four major lines of evidence: the known physical principles of greenhouse gases, the record of the distant past, measurements from the last century, and climate models that use the other three lines of evidence. These models are currently predicting a rise of between 2 and 7°C on pre-industrial levels depending on “depending on future greenhouse gas emissions and on the ways that models represent the sensitivity of climate to small disturbances.”
Even at the 2°C lower end, we can expect nasty repercussions in the form of heatwaves, higher global average rainfall, impacts to marine biodiversity and rising sea levels. But it is at the 7°C end where things get really nasty. All of the 2°C changes will be magnified to a point where the scientists coolly say “such a large and rapid change in climate would likely be beyond the adaptive capacity of many societies and species.”
The report is at pains to show we are not in some natural cycle of warming. Nothing in the last 2,000 years is like the last 100 and if we add another 2-7 degrees it will be like nothing in the last 10,000 years. Data over a million years show Earth’s surface has risen and fallen by about 5°C, through 10 major ice age cycles in that time. As well, feedbacks in the glacial cycle mean there are strong links between global temperature, atmospheric water vapour, polar ice caps and greenhouse gases. In the past million years, the disturbances to the cycle have come from fluctuations in Earth’s solar orbit. In modern times it is human emissions affecting greenhouse gases which reinforce change in the temperature, water vapour and ice caps. Even small influences can amplify into large changes.
The pace of change is also picking up. Average temperatures have increased over the 100 years to 2009 by more than 0.7°C. However the rates of observed near-surface warming has increased since the mid-1970s with the global land surface warming at double the rate of the ocean surface. There has been widespread melting of mountain glaciers and ice caps, particularly noticeable since the 1990s. The Greenland ice sheet and West Antarctica are also losing ice. Ocean levels are now more than 20 cm higher than in 1870.
Australia is not immune to these global trends. Here the average surface temperature has increased by 0.7°C in half a century. There is a continent-wide average increase in the frequency of extremely hot days and a decrease in the frequency of cold days. Rainfall changes are less consistent though it is noticeably declining in southwest Western Australia and the southeast coast. In the oceans, there has been a there has been a southward shift of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and sea level has risen at a rate of about 1.2 mm per year since 1920, resulting in more frequent coastal inundation events.
Humans are the cause of the problem. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide began to rise two to three hundred years ago at the start of industrialisation and accelerated rapidly in the 20th century. The problem is worsening in the 21st century. From 2000 to 2007 emissions grew by 3.5 percent per year, exceeding almost all assumed scenarios generated in the late 1990s. Deforestation, fossil fuel burning, other industrial sources such as cement production all contribute. Only 45 percent ends up as atmospheric CO2. 30 percent is swallowed by increased plant growth and another quarter is making seawater more acidic.
If “business as usual” levels of emissions continue, the AAS is tipping a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels by 2050, and possibly a tripling by 2100. This would produce a warming of around 4.5°C (plus or minus 2.5) to 2100. What this means to climate and sea levels is at best educated guesswork, but all the scenarios put forward are unremittingly gloomy. “The further climate is pushed beyond the envelope of relative stability that has characterised the last several millennia,” concluded the report, “the greater becomes the risk of passing tipping points that will result in profound changes in climate, vegetation, ocean circulation or ice sheet stability.”
Despite or perhaps because of its stark message, the report got short shrift in the media. In the few stories that were there, the message was diluted. The denialist-leaning News Limited muddied its coverage with an unrelated story about New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research which faces a legal challenge by sceptics group Climate Science Coalition. The Sydney Morning Herald did look at the report in more detail but preferred to highlight there were “still scientific uncertainties about some of the details of climate change”.
The conclusion of the report itself should be a surprise to no-one: greenhouse gases from human activities are the main cause of temperature increases for the last 100 years and if nothing is done, they will continue to increase significantly. Yet the way the AAS document is reported continues to fly in the face of such evidence. The SMH said the report “unambiguously” supported the conclusion that a continued reliance on fossil fuels would lead to a warmer world while a similar thing happened over at the ABC with their headline about climate change “misinformation”. Subeditors will say that putting words like unambiguously and misinformation in quotes is done to show who is using the words. But the effect is the opposite: the quotes undermine the words, causing the reader to doubt the source. The media is doing a great disservice to climate change science by the way it reports the issues and an even greater one by the way it doesn’t.