What does a white paper, a green premier and a yellow government have in common?

September 27, 2010 at 9:29 pm 3 comments

Taking Action one report at a time
The Brumby government recently released its Climate Change White Paper, The Action Plan, to much fanfare and praise. Media outlets lauded the plan with headlines like “Brumby lays down gauntlet on carbon” and “Premier’s bold plan on climate takes lead”. Yet those with long memories may well remember another Victorian labor climate announcement that was also the toast of the town.

Back in June 2002 the Bracks government unveiled its Victorian Greenhouse Strategy (VGS). Media releases of the time promised that the strategy would “reduce Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions by five to eight million tonnes by 2010”. It would “position Victoria to prosper in a future carbon constrained economy” and “a number of drivers are now in place that will lead to an increased take-up… in the renewable energy sector over the next decade”.


In 2002 our total emissions were 120.5 million tonnes (Mt). The most recent data from the government shows in 2008 that the State’s emissions were 119 Mt and in 2006 were at an all time high of 126 Mt. That’s a long way from the promises laid down in the VGS.

To be fair to the government there has been a reduction of 1.4 Mt when comparing the years 2002 and 2008 (if you include the government’s dubious accounting of reforestation i.e. Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry, LULUCF). But when you compare our most recent emissions with the base year for Kyoto’s figures, 1990, our emissions have actually increased 12.4 Mt even when you account for LULUCF.

Furthermore, since Kyoto our emissions have been below the base year level of 106.7 Mt only six times. The twelve years where Victoria’s emissions have been above 106.7 Mt were the last twelve. It’s clear that our emissions are heading in the wrong direction.

Where are the emissions coming from?
While emissions from industry, waste and agriculture have pretty much remained steady over the past two decades – emissions from the energy sector have been rampant. Fuel combustion (mainly Public Electricity and Heat Production) rose from 77 Mt in 1990 to 100.8 Mt in 2008. An increase of 24 Mt in a sector that now makes up 82% of Victoria’s emissions.

It’s Deja Vu all over again
The white paper was the precursor to the Brumby government’s Climate Change Bill. Passing a climate bill, especially the first of its kind in Australia, is a significant moment and the importance of it should not be underplayed. It’s just a shame that there is so little in the Bill that will actually see emissions reduced. A large portion of it is dedicated to ‘Forestry Rights’ and ‘Carbon Sequestration Agreements’.

It appears that the government is planning to continue business as usual and continue to hide the State’s emissions in dodgy carbon accounting. There was little in the Bill that will pave the way for green jobs required for the transition to the zero carbon economy that is required. It said nothing about assisting inefficient power stations close and nothing about helping communities, like those in the Latrobe Valley, move to those green jobs that our governments so love to tell us about.

Being unsure what my eyes were not showing me I emailed Gavin Jennings, the State Environment Minister for clarification on his government’s non-plan to reduce emissions. Three weeks later I am still waiting for a reply.

The future is now
It’s now 2010 and Victoira’s emissions have not been reduced by five million tonnes annually. There has not been the government backed boom in renewables. This is despite the obvious demand in government environment programs like greenloans, insulation and solar rebates. They all took the Federal government by surprise. The public’s desire to take action out stripped the budget allocation in every case.

If you compare Victoria’s past policies with a country that has been at the forefront of the environmental movement it is easy to see where Labor has gone wrong. Germany has reduced it’s emissions by 23.3%, which is the lowest they have been since 1990. How did they do it, Prof Dr Andreas Troge, President of the Federal Environment Agency says “The main reason for lower CO2 emissions was decreasing demand for hard coal and lignite [Brown Coal]. At the same time, there was a rise in the use of lower-emission energy sources.”

As Germany reduced it’s carbon dioxide emissions by 9.4 million tonnes (mainly from coal) Victoria’s emissions from coal increase by 10%. If the Premier is truly turning over a new-green-leaf, then there’s no place in Victoria for a new Brown-coal power station. There’s no room for sacrificing the green-wedges and valuable farmland to housing developers (epically when we have the largest homes in the world). There’s no room for building the endless freeway and there’s no room for selling brown-coal to Vietnam.

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A new coal fired power station for Victoria? Photos from the Replace Hazelwood Rally

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Carlo Carli  |  October 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I must admit, I read your recent post with a sense of disappointment. The claims being made about the government’s alleged failure to meet its Victorian Greenhouse Strategy (VGS) goals are repeats of the dodgy claims the Liberal Party have been making for two years, and have been debunked several times.

    The Opposition run this line because they are a party of climate sceptics. They have a lot of practice at ignoring evidence. But it’s truly unfortunate that having failed to gain any traction in the mainstream media for their bogus claims, the Opposition seemed to have managed to trick the environment movement into doing its dirty work.

    Labor has a good record in tackling climate change.

    Firstly let’s be clear on what the Greenhouse Strategy said. The reference to 5-8mt is contained in a small box on the side of page 30. In key part reads:

    But did we meet the goal of 5-8.3mt? Well we’re only half way through the assessment period (2008-2012) but the on the figures the answer is yes.

    Labor has lots of climate change programs. Let’s focus on a few of the big ones:
    • The Renewable Energy Target – initially 10% and now rolled into the 20% national target. The 434 MW of already installed wind, hydro and solar power save 1 million tonnes of emissions, which will increase dramatically to meet the mandatory target.
    • Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) for appliances sold in Victoria like air conditions and fridges will save almost 3mt this year
    • A mandatory energy efficiency target through electricity retailers, locks in 2.7mt this year (that’s the value of the certificates created, but of course the savings occur over time so only part of that figure is counted in given yearly tally).
    • Energy and water efficiency program for government departments, coupled with the purchase of 25% GreenPower achieves another half million tonnes per year.
    • A mandatory energy, water & waste resource efficiency program for the biggest commercial users which has delivered another 1.3 million tonnes a year;

    Government initiatives will save 8mt in emissions in 2010 alone, meaning we are tracking at the higher end of the assumptions made in 2002. By the end of the target period (2008-2012) current projections have us achieving closer to 9mt per annum.

    But do we see any of this benefit in the emissions inventory? Its true that total emissions trended up the next year or so after the Greenhouse Strategy was released, which isn’t surprising because it takes time for projects to get up and running – it takes over a year to plan, get approved and begin construction on a wind farm – let alone how long it takes before its actually feeding energy into the grid. But it now has fallen and Victorian emissions in 2010 will be almost identical to total emissions in 2002 – around 120mt.

    Flattening out emissions growth is a major achievement given the population and economic growth. The emissions intensity of Victoria’s economy (measured in tonnes CO2-e / $million GSP) has dropped from 640 (in 1990) to 562 (in 2000) and 433 (in 2008).

    Reply
  • 2. Carlo Carli  |  October 8, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    In response to the comments made about the Climate Change Bill. It was suggested that the Bill would somehow create accounting loopholes for the government to hide its emissions. That’s completely untrue. The ‘Carbon Sequestration Agreements’ are a tool for encouraging reforestation of public land. The carbon ‘rights’ to that land would be sold on the private offset market under the rules of those markets, not rules set by the government.

    But that’s only half the story. The government sees the agreements primarily as a means to protect biodiversity. It’s odd that this would be a point of criticism but it is a complex legal provision and some confusion is perhaps not unexpected.

    It is also worth noting that, unlike the Greens’ policy, the Government has not included any emissions reductions as result of forest carbon sequestration in the expected benefits from the actions in the Climate Change White Paper. In contrast the Greens released a document claiming they could achieve cuts of 40% relying almost entirely on protecting carbon stores in Victoria’s forests, based on unclear, but very unlikely to be internationally recognized, accounting rules. The outrage that followed from environment groups might not have received media coverage, but was nevertheless entirely justified.

    It has been suggested that the Bill “said nothing about assisting inefficient power stations close”, which is also untrue. The Bill created the power for the EPA to set emissions standards for power plants. But that is a blunt tool that might lead to endless court battles rather than emissions cuts, which is why the government is in talks with International Power about assisting them to close at least part of Hazelwood in the next 4 years. Interestingly Labor is the only Party committed to even the partial closure of Hazelwood in the next term.

    The Coalition have refused to take a position, and the Greens have only said they would like to close all coal fired power stations – but have given no timeframe for the closure of any – and as Mark Wakeham from Environment Victoria said, the Greens ‘failed to outline a clear plan to replace Hazelwood in the next term of government’.

    So actually Labor is the only party in Victoria, and the only government in Australia, that has set a specific and short timeframe to begin the staged closure of inefficient coal power stations.

    Reply
  • 3. Pauly  |  October 17, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Carlo – Why is Labor supporting a new coal-fired power station?

    Why replace 25% of Hazelwood with new coal? What’s the point?

    And finally, how does your party’s climate policies fit in with what the science says is necessary?

    Labor at the moment is all spin on climate – tokenistic but not science-based – very disappointing.

    Reply

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