Carbon Price

Sep 29, 2010

A hopeful tale for climate change policy

Ellen Sandell, from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, writes: I was going to write an article today about why Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott should stop playi

Ellen Sandell, from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, writes: I was going to write an article today about why Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott should stop playing politics with climate change, and come to the table. But instead of spending 800 words berating them for refusing to join the multi-party climate change committee, I’m going to talk about hope. This is an article about good news stories, and how Australia can be one of them.

Tim Flannery has just released a new book called Here On Earth, and far from being a lament about the state of the world, he describes it as prosecuting the case for hope.

This might come as a bit of a surprise, given that he has spent a large part of his career working to solve the global challenge of climate change. Given the enormity of the task, and the vested interests working against him, I suspect few people would blame Tim if he decided to throw his hands up in despair.

Instead, he’s decided to prosecute the case for love and hope. And he’s right. At this moment, we have more to be hopeful about than in the previous few years.

For example, three years ago the Scottish Government announced a target to source 50% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020 — and it was dismissed as unachievable and unworkable. Yet, just days ago they decided to up their ambition to 80%, because they met their original target ahead of schedule. And what’s more, their government has acknowledged that reaching this target will mean massive environmental, economic and social gains for their country.

Scotland is not the only one catching on to these opportunities. Take a look around the world and you’ll find that 32 countries now have emissions trading schemes — including the UK and the EU. Even China, often seen as the key to a global deal, has committed to putting a price on carbon next year. India also recently announced its plan to start an emissions trading scheme very soon.

We often don’t tell these good news stories. We ought to. The greatest fear coming out of the Copenhagen climate conference was that the world would see it as a failure, and give up on ever being able to solve such a large, global problem. Talking to taxi drivers, and family and friends around the dinner table, this seems to still be the pervading view. But it is fundamentally incorrect, and it’s time we started to tell people what’s really going on.

The truth is that the rest of the world is doing something, but Australia and the USA, the two largest polluters per capita, are trailing behind.

The world is moving, and even the staunchest climate skeptics, such as Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg and Michael Hanlon of Britain’s Daily Mail, have started coming out of the closet, admitting they’ve taken another look at the science and discovered we do indeed have a climate problem.

Tiny Pacific nations who have the most to lose from the impacts of climate change, are taking bold actions. This month, Kiribati, committed to close over 38 million hectares of its territory to fishing, even though this activity accounts for nearly half the government’s tax revenue.  Its reason? “That we need to make sacrifices to provide a future for our children and grandchildren” said President Anote Tong.

This is a country that has everything to lose from climate change. If they can put so much on the line to do their bit to solve a problem they did almost nothing to create, it’s hard to say that we can’t do more.

Hopefully though, recent movements at home have shown that Australia can be part of the good news stories.

Numerous big businesses, including BHP, have come out in support of a price on carbon. Regardless of their motive, it’s re-starting the discussion and putting climate change back into our living rooms. Climate change is again getting a hearing in our Parliament, despite the Coalition’s efforts to thwart plans to introduce a much-needed carbon price.

Let’s also not forget that government action is backed up by an enormous grassroots movement of citizens worldwide. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition is part of the International Youth Climate Movement. We have lost count of how many groups and coalitions are part of this movement, but this map gives you an idea of the groups we know about.


In his much-quoted graduation speech in 2009, environmentalist and author Paul Hawken famously said: “If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse”.

At this point in time, we have a lot to be optimistic about, but only if laggards like Australia and the US start coming to the party. That means putting political posturing aside and really working for the good of the country and the globe (I’m talking to you Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott). Australia is one of the sunniest and windiest countries on earth. If Scotland and Kiribati can do it, so can we.

Ellen Sandell in General Manager of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and 2009 Joint Young Environmentalist of the Year.

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19 thoughts on “A hopeful tale for climate change policy

  1. twobob

    Billions of tonnes of water can be obtained by building networks of gas pipes all connected to hydrogen generated from solar, salt water splitters.
    If this gas is then piped to altitude before being combusted to provide electricity the resulting waste water can be used to generate hydroelectricity as it falls (Yes- giving you back MORE energy than that used to generate the gas!) and eventually can be used to irrigate deserts for food production.
    This would have the added benefit of cooling the desert and simultaneously increasing humidity which would also decrease evaporation levels in the region increasing plant life and further cooling the area.
    It would be expensive but what is the good of money if your only planet is becoming too hot to comfortably live on?

  2. Ian Rudd

    I no longer regard talk on doing something about climate change as positive action. I want to see real and measurable action and actual reductions from one year to the next in total emissions before I can be anything but pessimistic about our future… And I don’t mean reductions caused incidentally by financial crises or wars destroying energy infrastructures etc.

  3. Mark Duffett

    @kdkd 16, I don’t have a problem with any of that. As John Bennetts indicates, there is much to admire in Scotland’s current energy mix. It’s in going to the range of 50-80% (nominal!) renewables supply that I foresee problems, since the vast majority of that growth will be in wind. They might well remain net electricity exporters, but I bet they’ll be importing a damn sight more as well. The question is where that will be coming from.

  4. kdkd


    According to Wikipedia, Scotland is already an net exporter of electricity. Here’s a breakdown of existing scottish productin by type extracted from the same page (to an accuracy of rounding error):

    Nuclear : 15%
    Coal : 21%
    Oil/Gas : 9.5%
    Pumped hydro : 4%
    Conventional hydro: 37%
    Onshore wind : 10%
    Offshore wind : 1%
    Other renewables: : 1%

    Percent renewable: 53.8%
    Percent fossil fuel based: 30.6%
    Percent fossil fuel based: 15.6%

    Doesn’t look too hard for them from that perspective, especially given they’re a net exporter. Their usage of fossil fuel energy for purposes other than electricity is a bigger problem, and is the majority of Scottish energy usage.

    p.s. I used to go surfing nearby one of Scotland’s operational nuclear power stations FWIW.

  5. Mark Duffett

    Note this critical component of the Scottish plan: “Strengthened grid connections between regions and nations will…secure supplies to Scotland when output is low”

    In other words, they will be increasingly reliant on backup fossil and nuclear generation from England and France.

    And another thing. How does Kiribati closing a fishery do anything for climate change?

  6. drillvoice

    @Frank Campbell

    I don’t understand how you thought you could just suggest blindly that the statement you quoted was untrue. You might want to check out this graph:
    but then again, you might prefer not to know things.

  7. Frank Campbell

    “Australia is one of the sunniest and windiest countries on earth.”

    You obviously know nothing about either wind or solar power generation.

    Yet more empty rhetoric from Crikey. While the GPO Greens proclaim Armageddon, the real environment is shagged to death.

  8. blue_green

    John Bennets 7

    I am not a sucker for the perfect over the good. Or as likely in this case, the slightly better than woefully inadequate over nothing.

    If the govt have to redistribute carbon revenue to tax payers to make it politcally feasible then I approve. A carbon price of that level would at least improve the cost effectiveness of gas over coal.

    And once an inflexible carbon price is introduced then the electiricity industry will be begging for an ETS

  9. blue_green

    Roger 8

    Is nuclear feasible without a carbon price and what are the steps required to build up the pauperate skills base in Australia?

  10. kuke

    FYI of interest:

    “Tim Flannery tells Genevieve Jacobs there’s great hope for our planet and climate change is by no means the great financial challenge of our times”

  11. Roger Clifton

    Readers who are concerned for the greenhouse and believe that renewable energy can replace all of our presently carbon-based energy would be wise put to hedge their bets.

    Just as we now have a Climate Committee to check out pricing options, we need a Nuclear Energy Committee to review the necessary steps to get it going.

    Creating that Committee is actually is a job for the Liberal party. Or at least, when they decide to use their new-found leverage in the hung parliament to actually get things done. There are quid pro quos available to the parliamentary parties as they negotiate to collaborate or concede issues.

    The Liberals (and Nats) alone of the parties would be able to articulate the need to check out the nuclear option. Much of the ten-year preliminary process referred to in Ziggy’s UMPNER (*) report (before nuclear electricity can flow into the grid) can be done without a parliamentary majority.

    If all the public debate and political requirements are resolved, legislation will eventually be necessary. If that has to wait until the Liberals or CLP gets a majority, that may be time enough.

    It would be a pretty turn to find the Liberals insisting on the exclusion of nuclear denialists from the committee, or the Liberals accusing the Green-Labor coalition of obstructing “their” rescue of the greenhouse.

    (*) UMPNER
    IAEA how-to

  12. John Bennetts


    A $25 carbon tax? Is this on CO2-e? If so, that equates to $66.5/t for coal with 28% ash content – typical of black coal as delivered to power stations in NSW/QLD.

    That would push the wholesale price of electricity up by about $33/MWh, or 3.6 cents per kWh, as measured by your domestic meter. This is about 20% rise in energy cost over a period of several years, ie it is manageable by some but not all consumers and industries.

    Have you allowed for the subsidies necessary to keep these people and corporations above water? Or do they just sink?

    This suggestion of yours, if enacted, does not guarantee that anybody will do anything more than just cough up the additional dough. The carbon will still keep being emitted until coal fired power stations are removed from service and replaced by some other base load clean power… like nuclear. A single tax will achieve nothing at all except to move money around in different ways.

  13. John Bennetts

    Robert Barwick,

    The average wet pan evaporation rates in central Australia are about 3 metres. Rainfall is perhaps 100mm. Evapotranspiration from a forest can easily add a further metre per annum.

    Your millions of square kilometres of vegetation will require billions of tonnes of water. When you find the water get back to us all – the Murray-Darling needs it.

    I think that Tim Flannery, in “The Future Eaters”, wrote that fire stick farming did hasten drying of the interior of Australia, but this was happening anyway because Australia is drifting northwards 5 centimetres or so each year, into hotter and drier weather. Putting this into reverse would be akin to dragging the continent quite a few hundred miles south again.

  14. John Bennetts

    Let’s get a handle on what 80% clean carbon electricity in Scotland actually means for the population and the planet.

    How much carbon abatement is this? Assuming that electricity accounts for about a third of all GHG emissions in Scotland, this figure represents a drop of percapita GHG emissions by less than 30% over 30 years, 1990 to 2020, relative to the Business-as-usual (BAU) emissions outcome.

    If BAU emissions were climbing by 2% per annum, then the BAU figure climbs by 80% to 1.8 times the 1990 output, from which we now deduct the savings due to achieving 80% clean electricity.

    So, in 2020, emissions in Scotland become 1.8 – (1.8 * 0.3) = 1.8 – 0.54 = 126% of the 1990 figure, which is a net increase. They are going backwards unless they are reducing other sources of GHG substantially.

    The cunning Scots have singled out electricity and then omitted to tell us the progressive increase in demand over three decades. By 2020 they will have to achieve much more GHG reduction than in electricity alone.

    Remember also, the percentage of nuclear and hydro power in 1990 has not been included in this. These low carbon power supplies were there in 1990 and are still there today, so the actual decrease is not from 100% to 20%, but from significantly below 100% carbon generation to the future 20%.

    This story illustrates the absolute need to base date and benchmark all carbon intensity calculations, because without this there can be no apples-with-apples comparisons. Scotland are doing very well with their nuclear, wind and waves combination, however Australia has further to travel and is starting later. We are in the situation which faces a runner in a 4 lap race who only starts after the field has done one lap.

    If we do not start very soon to match and then to exceed the Scottish nuclear component of our electricity generation, Australia has no chance of achieving a reduction at all, even if only in the electricity (30% of total GHG) sector. Industry, transport and agriculture will be far harder nuts to crack.

  15. lcaripis

    Nice article. Australia has so much to gain from transitioning to a low carbon economy. We really risk being left behind if we don’t act now.

  16. Robert Barwick

    Ellen, what do you think of the idea of cooling the planet by greening deserts? If we divert water into irrigating forestry plantations in arid regions, the vegetation will cool the atmosphere, and the growing forests will consume a heap of carbon.

  17. kuke

    “Despair. Accept. Act” – Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species.

  18. blue_green

    Its also worth looking at the Australia Institute study into what could be done with the revenue from a carbon tax.

    They found that a $25 carbon tax could fund a reduction in the GST to 7.5%.

    I call it the Great Big New Tax Cut!

  19. blue_green

    The Lib recalcitrance on climate change and the ALP obfuscation reinforced in Australians mind that fixing climate change is just too bloody hard.

    Its not that bloody hard. It can be done.

    So my catchphrase for this year is:

    [Fixing climate change: Its easier than you think]


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