The Greens and our climate future

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In part one and two of this series, the climate change policies of the ALP and Liberals were dissected. In this final part, Doug Evans examines the Greens far more impressive climate change policies.

Read Parts One and Two:

Part One: The Labor Party’s climate change policy failure
Part Two: Tony Abbott’s “direct action” dud


IN Part One of this series, I examined the climate change related policies that Labor will take to the September 7 election as described in the National Platform. Three glaring anomalies were highlighted that render Labor's policies in respect of this ‒ the over-riding issue of our time ‒ completely useless.

Briefly, these are:

1. Up to two thirds of these emissions 'reductions' are intended to be purchased 'off shore' as 'offsets' so as to enable the continued growth in Australian domestic emissions, which are not expected to stabilize under these policies until 2035. To claim the purchase of offshore  offsets as an emissions reduction for Australian industry is little more than an accountancy trick, designed to deceive.

2. The ALP policy is based on a notion of 'clean' rather than 'renewable' energy. This assumes widespread continued gas and 'clean coal' combustion.

It is based on:

  • The almost certainly erroneous assumption that the use of gas as a power source for electricity generation is less greenhouse gas intensive than coal.

  • The definitely erroneous assumption that greenhouse gases generated by the combustion of fossil fuels in power plants can be economically captured and stored at sufficient scale, within a useful time frame.

  • 3. The claimed intentions of ALP climate policy are entirely swamped by support for the massive expansion of Australian fossil fuel exports, which if they came to pass would see Australia double Saudi Arabia's contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gas by 2020 or soon thereafter. Under Labor’s fossil fuel export policies, greenhouse gas emissions from Australia coal and gas exports will dwarf domestic emissions by a factor of three- or four-to-one.

    It may be unpalatable to some readers, but it is not unreasonable to describe ALP climate and energy policy as the most cost effective path to runaway global warming well before 2100.

    In Part Two, I examined the climate change policies the Coalition will take to the 2013 election. In a word, these were found to be fraudulent; a brief text designed to do no more than ease the consciences of the tiny minority of people wishing to vote Liberal but vaguely concerned about the risks associated with climate change.

    It is fair to describe the Direct Action Policy of the Liberal National Coalition as a deliberate, deeply cynical and ultimately crazy attempt to deceive Australian voters on the most important topic of our times.

    This brings me to the Climate Change and Energy policies that the Australian Greens will take to this election. I have already made it clear that the Greens policies, in respect of this issue at least, are superior to either of the other offerings.

    This is also the opinion of The Climate Institute. This has rated the seriously inadequate Labor Clean Energy package as two and a half stars out of a possible five. (There seems to be something wrong with a methodology that gives a bare pass mark to climate policies that almost guarantee runaway climate change, but nevertheless that is what it finds.) Using the same methodology, it rates the Liberal Party’s Direct Action Planone lonely star out of a possible five. The Institute rates the Greens' policies as five out of a possible five. You can download the Climate Institute's complete comparative analysis here if you want to look further into the details.  The rank ordering could not be clearer. The Greens followed by Labor followed by the dismal deceptive, disingenuous Coalition effort.

    Before going further, in the interests of transparency, I should declare that I am a Greens voter and indeed, for a little over a year, a Greens Party member — although I've decided I can no longer be active other than at the computer keyboard. Prior to joining the Greens, because I am convinced of the enormous threat climate change represents, I had five or so years devoted to climate change activism. I joined the Party because after five years 'on the job', I am completely convinced that their climate change and energy policies are the only ones on offer in Australia that realistically confront this problem and give at least some hope of dealing with it. But I am not promoting the Greens climate change and energy policy because I belong to the Party — I belong to the Party because these are the only policies that give us a chance of avoiding climate Armageddon.

    That said, I now have the problem of deciding how to present these policies.

    They can be found here and should be read by everyone. You may think reading political policies is as interesting as watching grass grow, but they are brief and you won't find more important reading this side of the grave. There are fifteen 'Principles' on which action is based and seventeen 'Aims'.  Rather than regurgitate them all for you, I will highlight a few selected examples from each category that emphasize the differences between the position of the Greens and the other parties.

    'Early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will ultimately be fairer and more cost effective than delaying action.'

    The climate change and energy policies of the ALP are intended to delay effective action to combat global warming. Those of the Liberal-National Party Coalition are intended to avoid effective action to combat global warming.

    But the message is clear. Action is unavoidable if we are to protect our environmental viability and early action is cheaper

    The Critical Decade Report of The Australian Government's own Climate Commission is unequivocal:
    The Australian Treasury conducted analyses in 2008 and again in 2011 which showed that the world will continue to prosper while cutting emissions (Treasury, 2011). Figure 1.2 shows that early global action would be cheaper than delayed action.


    The Treasury also found that, for economies (such as Australia) which produce large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, every year of delayed action on climate change will lead to higher long-term costs.

    The bar chart above shows that the cost of achieving a fixed emissions reduction target will increase by 19% over the next six years and a further 31% if delayed until 2019.

    Why would anyone concerned about climate change vote for a Party whose policies delay action on climate change guaranteeing that action when it is eventually taken will be far more expensive?

    'Subsidies to the fossil fuel sector, including funding for research and development, should be transferred to the renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transport sectors.'

    Both the ALP and LNP coalition still support massive taxpayer funded subsidies of around $10 billion per annum for fossil fuel use.

    In addition, the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments have pledged up to $1.6 billion to various carbon capture and storage demonstration projects but,as reported by the Australian Financial Review:
    '…there is still relatively little to show for it, something that caused Kevin Rudd some embarrassment this week. As part of the savings to fund his cut to the carbon tax, Rudd proposed to defer about $200 million of planned spending on carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. In fact, the industry is not too upset because most of the projects are just not ready for the money. There are still no commercially viable projects in Australia or ­anywhere in the world.'

    If the argument is accepted that:

    • Human induced global warming is driven by fossil fuel combustion, as the world's scientists tell us.

    • Human induced global warming is a threat to our future.

    • Combating human induced global warming requires a shift away from fossil fuel combustion to renewable energy sources.

    • It follows, then, that taxpayer funded subsidy to the fossil fuel industries is counter to our national interest.

      Why would anyone concerned about climate change vote for a Party whose policies include massive subsidies promoting fossil fuel use?

      'Australia should have a target of net zero or net negative Australian greenhouse gas emissions within a generation.'

      If a generation is taken as 25 years, this means that the Australian Greens policy calls for zero emissions by 2038.

      This matches the 2040 end point of the red emissions reduction curve in the diagram below, which shows three possible global emissions reduction scenarios ‒ two of which we have already missed ‒ and is in line with the task set for us by the science.

      The 2050 target of 80% reductions relative to 2000 levels, that is supported by the major parties, corresponds to the end point of the green curve on the diagram. This is the trajectory of emissions reduction that would have been necessary had the entire world has stabilized emissions in 2011 and begun to reduce already by now.

      That opportunity has been missed. Global greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing at a rate consistent withfour degrees of warming this century. If we are to avoid climate chaos we ‒ each and every one of us ‒ must start reducing emissions by around 2020 — which is now just over six years away.


      Why would anyone concerned about climate change vote for a Party whose policies, irrespective of their workability, don't even have an emissions reduction target consistent with that which science says is necessary?

      '100% stationary electricity in Australia from renewable sources as soon as possible by increasing the renewable energy target (RET) and in addition measures such as feed-in tariffs and regulations to support a range of prospective new renewable energy technologies.'

      Australian electricity generation which is almost totally dependent on fossil fuel combustion produces about half of our greenhouse gas emissions. Other than its $3 billion Emissions Reduction Fund, with which it hopes to buy some emissions reduction from industry, the LNP Direct Action Policy ignores this sector.

      On the other hand, while it ignores fossil fuel powered electricity generation, it seems set to actively seek to undercut the transition to renewable energy. Elements within the LNP seek to water down the renewable Energy Target. Tony Abbott has appointed rabid wind farm opponents the IPA and Maurice Newman as industry advisors.

      The ALP energy policy as set out in its National Platform is based on a notion of 'clean energy', which regards gas combustion as an acceptable replacement for coal.This is justified by the fact that gas fired turbines are less emissions intensive than coal fired turbines.Unfortunately, research increasingly supports the view that when the entire life cycle of the process of extraction to combustion is considered gas is not significantly less greenhouse gas intensive than coal.ALP clean energy policy is knowingly or not most likely based on a fiction.

      Why would anyone concerned about climate change vote for a Party whose policies support the maintenance of Australia's fossil fuel based power generation capacity and/or seeks to slow the growth of the renewable energy sector?

      'No new coal-fired power stations or coal mines, and no expansions to any existing power stations or mines. They support the development of programs to assist coal dependent communities to make the transition to other more sustainable sources of economic prosperity.'

      Worldwide, market conditions are driving a reduction in coal fired power production.The same applies in Australia, which is is seen as unlikely to build new coal fired power plants.In addition, the World Bank, recognizing the danger of coal combustion, have ceased funding coal fired power plants in the developing world. In combination these factors are likely to slow the massive planned expansionof Australia's coal mining and export capacity but the simple fact is that the policies of both of Australia's 'market' obsessed major parties are supportive of this growth.

      Why would anyone concerned about climate change vote for a Party whose policies support the massive expansion of Australia's coal mining and export capacity?

      In the 2013 Update of the Climate Commission's Critical Decade Report authors, Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes wrote:
      'One quarter of the way through the Critical Decade, many consequences of climate change are already evident, and the risks of further climate change are better understood. It is clear that global society must virtually decarbonise in the next 30-35 years. This means that most of the fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.'

      So now it's up to you.

      On 7 September, you will cast your vote. There are a myriad of possible objections to the path mapped out by the Greens: too expensive, too impractical, too idealistic, and so on. All of these excuses are really just expressions of nervousness at the possibility of change.

      To those of you who default to one or more of these positions, I say simply that the evidence is so overwhelming we have no choice. Change is coming and its coming soon soon. We can either attempt to control the characteristics of this process or surrender to the forces we have set in motion and hope we can survive as a species.

      When you cast your vote remember the message in the flyer reproduced below:


      Creative Commons Licence
      This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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