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      AUSTRALIA  

     
Australia is a small greenhouse gas polluter in global terms, but one of the worst per capita because it relies heavily for its electricity on its abundant reserves of coal, which also make it the world's largest exporter of the polluting fuel. As the driest continent after Antarctica, it is also considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. link 

(2012 report) Renewable energy accounts for around 5% of Australia’s energy consumption. Renewable energy sources comprise a small, although growing share of Australia’s electricity generation. Energy sources used in electricity generation include wind, hydro, solar energy and bioenergy, and make up around 8% of  the electricity generation mix. Wind-powered electricity and solar electricity have exhibited strong growth since 2004–05, albeit from a low base, increasing at an average annual rate of 23% and 21% respectively.   

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Recent news:

March 4 2014: Climate forecast: hot days, higher fire risk, more severe droughts
The 2014 Sate of the Climate Report says that Australia’s temperature is predicted to rise by 0.6C to 1.5C by 2030; in comparison, between 1910 and 1990 the temperature rose by 0.6C. This will lead to decreases in rainfall in southern Australia. link

January 2014:  Australia experienced its hottest year on record in 2013. Temperatures were 1.2C above the long term average, the warmest since records began in 1910. link

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           Below:

  • Politics rules climate action
  • Carbon Tax
  • Drought plagues Australia
  • Renewables 
  • Solar Power
  • Wind Power
  • What coal means to Australia / Carbon Capture
  • Other news

Politics rules climate action

[Liberal party leader, Tony Abbott, replaced Rudd as PM in the Septermber 2013 election and seeks to cancel carbon tax.Climate change is not a priority for the incoming government. Why Abbott wants to abolish carbon tax- read:] Repealing the carbon price will be difficult - link

Until Kevin Rudd became the new prime minister of Australia in November 2007, Australia was the only significant nation not to have signed the Kyoto Protocol along with the USA. Ratification came into effect in March 2008 and Australia has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% of 2000 (not 1990) levels by 2050. However half of those reductions would come from imported permits and it is not expected that emissions will begin falling until around 2030. The so-called 2020 target of 5% reduction (in itself not very ambitious) would be achieved by importing carbon permits from developing countries. Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are among the highest in the world at about 28 tonnes per capita. Although Australia has no nuclear power stations, it has almost 40% of the world's known uranium reserves, of which it supplies only 19% of the world market.

August 2013: Heat-related deaths set to quadruple by 2050. 
Australia’s major cities could see four times the number of heat-related deaths by 2050, according to a new report commissioned by the Australian federal government. The report predicts the number of heat-related fatalities in Australia’s cities will rise to 2,000 by mid-century, compared to the approximately 500 recorded in 2011. The report found the cities of Brisbane and Perth will see the most heat-related deaths, with predictions of nearly 800 in each city by 2050, compared with fewer than 200 in 2011. Sydney could experience close to 350 heat-related deaths by 2050, compared to about 70 in 2011. link

October 2013: Australia failing to meet emission reductions. A study on behalf of WWF Australia, states that Australia should look to reduce carbon emissions by a “bare minimum” of 25% by 2020, based on 2000 levels. Australia has already eaten through at least two-thirds of its share of a “carbon budget” that would keep global warming below 2C, requiring it to drastically escalate its emissions reduction target, according to the new report. Australia would need to reduce emissions by 25% below 2000 levels by 2020 and 90% below 2000 levels by 2050, to contribute properly to the internationally-agreed goal of keeping the world below 2C of warming from pre-industrial temperature levels according to a 2008 review. link

 Carbon Tax

New PM Tony Abbott is determined to keep his campaign promise to end carbon pricing but is unlikely to prevail until the new Senate is seated in 2014. Even then, newly elected senators may try to win concessions before supporting repeal.

October 2013: Will carbon tax go? Tony Abbott insists the carbon tax will end on 1 July 2014 even if the parliament has not yet repealed it, but leading lawyers say companies would still be liable and should continue to pass the tax on to their customers. Tony Abbott says he is sure public pressure will force the Labor party to “repent” of its support for the carbon tax and allow its repeal before next July, but both Labor and the Greens insist they will not allow the repeal legislation through the Senate – meaning the government would have to wait until the newly elected Senate sits in July. link

Before 2013 election:

October 2011: Carbon tax bill passes. Australia's lower house of parliament has narrowly passed (74 votes for and 72 against) a bill for a controversial carbon tax. It is expected to pass the Senate with the help of the Greens next month. The legislation would force about 500 of the biggest polluters to pay for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit. The tax is central to the government's strategy to combat climate change, but the opposition says it will cause job losses and raise the cost of living.  link  
CO2 emissions would be taxed at A$23 beginning July 2012 covering the country's biggest 500 companies. In 2015, a market-based trading scheme will be introduced. The aim is to cut 159m tonnes of carbon pollution by 2020, reducing emissions by 5% below 2000 levels. Apart from the European Union, only New Zealand currently imposes a national carbon tax.  link  (60% of Australians say they oppose the tax; after the next election in 2013, a defeat for the government would possibly lead to a repeal of the tax.)  May 2012: Carbon tax to raise $25 billion - link


Drought plagues Australia

Since the 1860s there have been nine major Australian droughts. The major drought periods of 1895-1903 and 1958-68 and the major drought of 1982-83 were the most severe in terms of rainfall deficiency and their effects on primary production. In south-eastern Australia the droughts of 1967-68 and 1982-83 were notably extreme.


Prominent feature of the Australian scene. link

January 2013: Forecast temperatures now extreme in Australia. Global warming is turning the volume of extreme weather up, with one forecast so unprecedented - over 52C - that it has had to add a new colour to the top of its scale. (Australia's highest recorded temperature was 50.7C, set in January 1960.)   link

October 2010: It's official. The Big Dry is over. The worst drought in the state's history is officially over after nine years. At its fiercest, in April 2003, drought was declared over 99.5 per cent of NSW. It shrank already small towns, propelled farm women into paid jobs to keep families afloat and shattered men's spirits. It cost the state $535 million in drought assistance and the federal government $1.5 billion in interest rate subsidies for primary producers and small businesses. link

Climate change and the end of Australia. Want to know what global warming has in store for us? Just go to Australia, where rivers are drying up, reefs are dying, and fires and floods are ravaging the continent. This October 2011 Rolling Stone article presents a picture of Australia suffering the first devastating consequences of climate change as a precursor of what the rest of the planet faces in the near future. With abundant access to potential solar power, yet being the world’s greatest source of coal and depending on coal for 80% of its energy, Australia is the lesson we should be paying attention to.                 Article here

The Big Dry.  Australia is the most arid continent on Earth and perpetually struggles with water scarcity problems that will only worsen as the planetary temperature rises. About two-thirds of Australia receives less than 20 inches of rain a year, and only 10% of the continent receives more than 40 inches. Presently in what is known locally as the "Big Dry", Australia is in the grip of its worst drought in a century which has been causing devastation in the country. More than 10,000 Australian farming families have had to leave their land as a result of the country's ongoing drought. link  South Australia, Australia's driest state, has decided to buy in water supplies amid fears it will run out in 2009. In December 2008, the government of South Australia said it had spent tens of millions of dollars to ensure Adelaide (Australia's fifth-largest city) and the state had enough water. South Australia, which already receives the least rainfall of any Australian state, is experiencing the worst drought in a thousand years according to scientific experts. The state's water security minister said she had purchased 61 billion gallons of extra water for 2009.   link

January 2011: Extreme weather part of Australia’s future. Global Change Professor Peter Grace from the Queensland University of Technology says Australia will see a higher incidence of extreme weather events like the flooding in Queensland, saying greenhouse gases and global warning are contributing factors. Since late December 2010, more than 70 towns and cities across Queensland have been flooded and more than 200,000 people have been affected. link

Desalination.

July  2010: Australia's five largest cities to spend $13.2bn on desalination plants. The plants are scheduled to be up and running in two years and will draw up to 30% of their water from the ocean. Critics argue that desalination will add to the very climate change that is aggravating the country's water shortage, and urge better water management and conservation.  link
Desalination plants necessary for Australia. Desalination plants could supply about one-third of the country's water in the next two years, according to estimates. Since the 1970s, southwest Australia has seen declines of up to 20% in its annual rainfall. In the past decade, a drought said to be the worst in  more than 100 years parched much of the country 
and forced state and local agencies to look to alternate sources of water. Through analysis of snowfall in Antarctica, scientists have pegged climate change as a cause of the extreme weather, and predict that water shortages will only intensify in the future.
 
link  

October 2009: Climate change threatens Australia's coastal lifestyle, report warns. With 80% of Australians living along the coast, a government environmental committee warns that thousands of miles of Australia's coastline are under threat from rising sea levels. A new report into the effects of climate change on Australia's vast coastline is forcing the country to consider the unthinkable: life away from the surf. The report does not say the government should force people to move inland, but proposes that an independent group look into whether the government could - and should - do just that. link
   

Renewables  

Currently, 8% of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources, including hydroelectric generators built late last century, according to the private Clean Energy Council. But climate change Minister Penny Wong told the Senate that even with one-fifth of Australia's electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020, the nation's carbon gas emissions are projected to be 20% higher than 2000 levels. link

December 2013: All new energy for Australia will be renewables. A new report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) forecasts 100% of new power in Australia will be generated from renewable energy sources through 2020. New electric generation will be based on wind power (84%), followed by solar (13%) and finally biomass (3%). link

March 2013: Australia commits to 20% renewables by 2020. The Australian Government's Climate Change Authority has committed to maintaining its renewable energy target (RET) of 20% of the nation's electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020. The Government also emphasizes that 20% is only a minimum target, and leaves "the way open for improvements in energy efficiency to deliver a higher share of renewable energy. Since the Labor party was elected into office in late 2007, over 2 GW of large-scale renewable energy projects have been completed in addition to nearly a million rooftop solar PV systems and over half a million solar and heat-pump water systems.  link

Tasmania aims for 100% renewables. While new Australian Prime Minister Abbott has been waging an anti-climate crusade,Tasmania, Australia’s island state off the southeastern edge of the continent, has taken it’s own initiative and released a climate change strategy aimed at achieving 100% renewable power usage by 2020. “We now have in Australia a climate denialist government that is taking us backwards on climate change,” Tasmania’s Climate Change Minister said. “Tasmania here has extraordinary advantages with our hydropower, with the carbon in our forests and we do need to show leadership; it’s also the economically sensible thing to do.” - ClimateProgress

May  2013: Australia is on course to surpass its renewable energy target by deriving 22.5% of its power from sources such as solar and wind by 2020, according to a new study. The analysis of government agency data forecast a long-term decline in fossil fuels, with the use of coal for electricity falling by a third over the next 20 years. Brown coal, the most carbon dioxide-heavy of all coal varieties, is set to be phased out as an energy source completely by 2050, as is oil. Meanwhile, renewables are set to grow from 13% of the energy mix to 51% by 2050, trumping the target of 20% by 2020 along the way.  The report states that electricity consumption fell by 5.5% from 2008 to 2012, with half of this reduction driven by solar and energy efficiency schemes. link

November 2012: Australia looks ahead to renewable future. Renewable energy sources could rapidly expand to provide 40% of Australia's energy needs by 2035 and 85% by 2050 and virtually eliminate coal-fired power stations, according to the latest energy white paper. The transformation from coal dependency to renewable energy would require more than A$200 billion of investment in new power plants. But Australia remains firmly attached to carbon capture and storage (CCS) and its booming gas sector. Under the 85% by 2050 scenario, modeling sees fossil-fuel-fired with CCS contributing 29% to the energy mix, large-scale solar 16%, wind energy and household solar PV 13% each, geothermal energy 9%, and hydroelectricity and bioenergy 5%. (Pictured: A solar-thermal power station in remote Hermannsburg, in Central Australia.)  link
  

December 2010: In 2010, renewables contributed 8.67% (21,751GW) of Australia's energy supply. Of this, hydropower accounted for 60%, wind for 23%, bioenergy for 12% and solar for 2%. Over 100,000 rooftop solar systems were installed, more than the previous 10 years combined. (Australia has a renewable target of 20% by 2020.

Australia's renewable energy future is online here  

Solar power

In  2009/2010, solar accounted for 0.2% of Australia’s energy mix. Solar thermal water heating has been the predominant form of solar energy use  to date, but electricity generation is increasing through the deployment of  PV and concentrating solar thermal technologies. Solar accounted for only  0.1% of total electricity generation in Australia in 2009–10, but has grown by 21% a year on average over the past five years. From 2001 to 2009, 86,000 solar panel systems were installed with a combined capacity of 123MW. In 2010 there were over 158,000 solar panel installations with a combined capacity of 305 megawatts. [pdf - pages 47-49] 

December 2011: As of August 2011, 1,031MW of solar power was installed in Australia, representing more than 500,000 household systems. More than 230,000 of these were installed between January and August. link  April 2013: More than one million homes now have solar power. More than two million Australians are now getting cheaper power and saving some half a billion dollars a year on their electricity bills, because of their switch to solar power. The number of Australian homes with solar power systems has passed the one million mark, according to figures from the Clean Energy Regulator that confirm the milestone was reached in March. "It is remarkable when you think that just five years ago in 2008 there were only about 20,000 systems installed across the entire country," said David Green, chief executive of Clean Energy.  link

July  2013: Largest solar farm in southern hemisphere moves ahead. The Nyngan 155MW solar farm is by far the largest in Australia and will begin construction in stages next year, and will be complete by the end of 2015. Its only competition was the recently completed 10MW Greenough River project. It is also being touted as the largest in the southern hemisphere, although it will likely be rapidly overtaken by projects elsewhere, particularly in Chile, where numerous large projects are in development, including the 162MW Luz del Norte project. (The Chile project is proceeding without government subsidies, courtesy of the high wholesale cost of energy – and energy shortages.) link 

Photovoltaic in Australia. In the mid 1990s Australia was the 4th largest world manufacturer of PV cells, but has since lost out to locations with cost advantage, such as China or strong local (and government) support, such as Germany. The situation in Australia has changed dramatically since 2007 with renewed government support for solar deployment programs. More than 22MW of PV was installed in 2008 representing an 80% increase on 2007 levels and increasing installed capacity in Australia to 104.5MW.While much of the newly installed capacity is grid-connected, the largest installed capacity of PV in Australia is for off-grid industrial and agricultural use. link

Of two major projects planned, the larger is the Chinchilla Plant, a $1.2 billion project in Queensland. The 250MW solar thermal gas hybrid plant is designed to provide energy for up to 100,000 homes. The government has committed a total of $464 million to the project in order to reach the 2020 goals.The second project is that of the Moree photovoltaic (PV) solar power farm in New South Wales. While not as large, Moree will, once completed, become the world’s largest photovoltaic plant of its kind. The project is worth and estimated $923 million with a government contribution of $306.5 million. Both projects are also expected to begin in 2012, with a completion date for both projects in 2015. link

July 2012: Solar alone could supply Victoria with energy. Victoria could capture enough energy from the sun to meet its electricity needs twice over and trails other parts of the world in harnessing wind power, says the national Climate Commission. It is estimated that Victoria receives at least 2500 petajoules of usable solar energy - more than double the amount consumed across the state in 2009-10, when demand for electricity peaked. On wind power, the commission says installed generation is only a fraction of what could be harnessed. It contrasts the state with Denmark, which is more densely populated and has similar onshore wind speeds but in 2010 had seven times more wind energy. link

Wind power

As of October 2010, there were 52 wind farms in Australia with a generating capacity of 1,880 MW, close to 2% of Australia's national electricity demand. Half of generation can be found in South Australia. Wind comprises approximately 23% of renewables.

February 2013: Wind energy now cheaper than coal. Wind is now cheaper than fossil fuels in producing electricity in Australia according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Relying on fossil fuels to produce electricity is getting more expensive because of the government's price on carbon emissions imposed last year, higher financing costs and rising natural gas prices, BNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance) said. The cost of wind generation has fallen by 10% since 2011 on lower equipment expenses, while the cost of solar power has dropped by 29%.  link

August 2011: New 600MW farm announced. South Australia already has 534 turbines installed producing 1,150MW of wind-generating capacity, which is more than 21% of the state's total electricity generation."  A 600MW farm will catapult the state towards a target of 33% of renewable-energy generation by 2020 according to South Australia Premier Mike Rann. The project should be complete by the end of 2015. (pictured, Wattle Point 91MW wind farm) link

August 2010: Southern hemisphere's largest wind farm. The largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere will be built in Australia at Macarthur near Hamilton, 260km west of Melbourne, Victoria. The 420 MW Macarthur Wind Farm will have the capacity to power more than 220,000 average Victorian homes and abate more than 1.7 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, the equivalent of taking more than 420,000 cars off the road each year. link

January 2012: Australians want wind, but politics and media get in the way. A new study found that 83% of Australians supported wind, with only 14% opposed. Interestingly, it found the opposite for coal, which is opposed by 65% of people. Gas was intermediate between the two. link

What coal means to Australia

Australia, already the world biggest coal exporter (see here), plans to double its coal exports by 2030. According to Greenleft, a radical independent news source, PM Kevin Rudd has presented the illusion of an effective response to climate change, which steers the middle ground between big business and green groups. However in practice, he is just as pro-coal as his predecessor, John Howard. link 

April 2013: Australia’s abundant coal could be worthless. If the world's governments fulfil their agreement to act on climate change, Australia’s huge coal industry is a speculative bubble ripe for financial implosion. The warning that much of the nation's coal reserves will become worthless as the world hits carbon emission limits comes after banking giant Citi also warned Australian investors that fossil fuel companies could do little to avoid the future loss of value. A recent report by Carbon Tracker found that at least two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change.  link

Carbon Capture.

October 2012.  According to the CSIRO, (Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization) CCS technology has moved a step closer. However a draft report and associated documents reveal a far more complex and troubling picture. Back in March the CSIRO announced that carbon capture technology had moved a step closer. Apparently, a study of "post combustion capture", whereby CO2 is removed from the exhaust gas of a power station, had been technically proven at pilot scale. The report that this conclusion was based on was presented to the Government, but not made public. Given that billions of dollars of Australian taxpayer's money has been allocated to carbon capture and storage, which, it's worth pointing out, still does not exist at a commercial scale, it is only fair that the public should see the fruits of this research into the technology. Last week the CSIRO finally put the reported that the phrase "moving a step closer" really stretch the imagination. Here's what they revealed. The first jaw dropper was the price tag. Installing this technology on just half of Australia's coal-fired power stations would cost $52 billion up front and another $5 billion per year in operating costs. This is excluding the additional cost of transporting, storing, and monitoring the CO2. link  

CCS projects in Australia: Decreasing CO2 emissions from major stationary sources is firmly on the Australian agenda and carbon capture and storage is seen as a vital part of the national mitigation portfolio. There are now a number of CCS demonstration projects underway or planned and several major commercial CCS projects proposed for Australia. link 

December 2012 - The coal industry says it has made a giant step forward with the opening of Australia's first 'clean coal' carbon capture plant in Biloela, central Queensland, a 30MW plant. While capturing 85% of CO2 gases, the operators still seek somewhere to store the gas. link

Black coal is Australia’s largest single export commodity, and the world’s 4th largest producer behind China, the USA and India. Black coal reserves are estimated to be sustained for 100 years. Brown coal, a lesser quality coal, has 400 years of reserves. Production of black coal totalled over 325 million tons in 2008. Over 70% of exports go to Asia. Both  black and brown coal account for over 83% of electricity generation in Australia.  (link removed)

Almost 98% of coal exported by Australia is extracted from mines present in the Bowen Basin in Queensland and the Hunter Valley basins in New South Wales. Western Australia also has some mines producing coal situated south of Perth. Some lower grade lignite coal is also found in Victoria. link   However Australia's coal industry has become a victim of its own success. In its rush to meet growing Chinese demand, producers churned out more and more coal, and miners are now stuck with more than they can sell. (May 2013)  link

Other news

December 2013: Nuclear still not in Australia’s plans. While nuclear power isn’t as carbon intensive as coal, there has been longstanding bipartisan opposition to developing the energy source in Australia. Despite Australia having some of the largest uranium deposits in the world, the Howard government, which ruled from 1996 to 2007, banned domestic nuclear energy. Today, the government has insisted it has no intention of introducing nuclear power to Australia after releasing a paper that states the technology continues to be an option for “future reliable energy”. link

July 2012: Climate change could transform the Australian outback, wiping dozens of small towns off the map, according to a new report commissioned by the federal government. With many rural towns struggling to survive, climate change, expected to make much of inland Australia hotter and drier, could be the final straw, warns the report by the government's National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. Not only will the changes affect quality of life, with summer temperatures becoming insufferable, but they could make agriculture a marginal activity, thanks to more frequent and prolonged droughts. link  

A growing population is another source of future problems for Australia. Currently 21 million people live in Australia, The Optimum Population Trust, an environmental organization in England whose concern is with the impact of population growth on the environment, determined that at the current standard of living (as determined by the WWF's Living Planet Report 2002), the optimum population for Australia is 10 million and at a lower standard of living it is 21 million – where it stands today.  Government estimates that the population will increase by 53% by 2050 (to 33 million). 

Australia’s population – what is sustainable?
 link
February 2009: Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in.  link  
Country profile from Renewable Energy World

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