Scientists’ Plea: Net Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions In Australia by 2050

Australia - bushfires, emissions and climate change

Image: Professor Eelco Rohling

Hundreds of scientists have called on the Morrison Government to develop science-informed policies to help combat climate change in an open letter published last night.

When other open letters from groups of scientists regarding emissions reduction and climate change have been published, there has been criticism that some of the signatories’ fields have nothing to do with the topics. In this instance, according to the organisers, all signatories are scientists with expertise in a relevant field; such as climate, fire or weather science.

The letter, which can be viewed in full here, had 274 signatories at the time of publishing. It summarises the scientific basis for the links between climate change and bushfires in Australia and what is required to limit further worsening of the risk.

“We call on our leaders to unite to develop non-partisan, long-term policies that will enable the managed transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 that the scientific evidence shows is required to avoid dangerous human-caused climate change,” states the letter. “The science is clear. It is time to show leadership and set a clear path to protect our country and way of life for future generations.”

While much has been made of Australia being a bit-player when it comes to emissions (and our Typhoid Mary of emissions status often overlooked), the nation can assume a leadership role in international climate negotiations to foster a spirit of global cooperation. And to do that, it needs to lead by example.

The majority of signatories are associated with Australian institutions at this point, but there is also representation from scientists based in the USA, Germany, China and other countries – so the call for action is really wider than just Australia.

Prime Minister Morrison Wants To Pass A Lot Of Gas

In related news, the Morrison Government announced on Friday an agreement with the NSW Berejiklian government that will “lower power prices for consumers, reduce emissions and strengthen grid reliability”.

While there will be financial support for the establishment of a pilot renewable energy zone in the Central West of the state, for Humelink in southern NSW and the Queensland-NSW interconnector that will provide opportunities for renewables, a major element of this deal is gas.

“There is no credible plan to lower emissions and keep electricity price down that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “This plan is about getting greater access to that gas, as a vital accompaniment to our record investment in renewables.”

The mention of “transition” is interesting – how long would this transition be? Until there’s no more gas to be extracted? While gas has as little as half the emissions of coal when used for electricity generation, it’s not low-emissions and its extraction is problematic – particularly in the case of coal seam gas (CSG).

The Climate Council has strongly criticised the deal.

“It is just crazy, given everything we have lost this summer to even suggest opening new fossil fuel reserves,” said Climate Council CEO, Amanda McKenzie.

Climate Councillor Greg Bourne says renewables are the cheapest form of new generation – and that’s where the focus should be.

“Investing in gas will ensure power prices keep rising, and Australia spews out even more greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to pushing climate change to new and terrifying extremes.”

Lock The Gate Alliance have branded the agreement “bribery and betrayal”. It notes the volume of gas mentioned in the deal is similar to the amount Santos expects to produce at its proposed Narrabri coal seam gasfield.

“Coal seam gas is a heavily polluting industry that leaks vast amounts of methane and won’t do anything to bring down carbon emissions,” states Lock The Gate. “As much as Prime Minister Morrison wants it to be so, it is not a transition fuel.”

Back in 2018, Lock The Gate commissioned a study by University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) researchers looking at the benefits of developing wind and solar energy in Narrabri Shire compared to the Santos project.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Rob Langdon says

    Free electricity. I have a solar system and I receive a FIT of 0.07cent a KW. However if i use grid power I pay 0.28cents a KW a difference of 0.21 cents. Hence my grid supplier is receiving power for NOTHING! Then they they sell power at 0.28cents.Power supply companies love Solar installations as they have no build cost and obtain power for 0.07 cents a KW then resell it at 0.28 cents a clear profit of 0.21cents per KW!!
    Isn’t this a swindle?
    Shouldn’t the FIT and the supply charge be one and the same?

    • I love solar, think that we should all have more of it, and believe that slightly generous FiT are a good way to help encourage investment in solar that is needed etc etc. But having FiT and supply charges being the same is not realistic. If we want to gain traction in arguing the benefits for higher solar FiT we need to be realistic about what is reasonable, and have a realistic understanding of the real value of solar FiT to the grid.

      The reality is the retail price you pay for electricity is made up of many components, the biggest parts can be simplified into the wholesale price for generation, the poles and wires, and the “retail” costs, with different players, all taking different cuts of this. Within all of this there are all sorts of other costs for managing the grid and providing all sorts of ancillary services etc etc etc to keep the grid stable. For you to be in a position to sell your excess solar to the grid via your FiT, effectively, the only thing that you are offsetting and not needing is the “wholesale” price of electricity generation. For you to be able to sell your excess power to the grid, you still need the polls and wires, and the retail components, and all the services to reliably manage the grid etc etc etc. So there is a pretty reasonable argument that the fair value of your solar power is roughly equivalent to the wholesale price, which is probably less than even what your meager 7c FiT is.

      But in truth, even the above is way too simplistic. Many would rightly argue that in a lot of cases, rooftop solar power is often generated very close to where is is used, and certainly for people living in residential areas and often effectively selling power to their next door neighbor, and when this happens, not as many “polls and wires” are needed (though they are still needed). So maybe it is not unreasonable for solar FiT to be a bit higher to reflect that saving. And surely there should be some payment to reflect for reduced health care spending from health issues with burning coal etc etc. But there are also some downsides that need to be reflected. Eg if rooftop solar sucks up the profitable peak usage hours the coal generators used to make their money from in combination of running 24×7 hours a day, there probably needs to be some understanding to remain in business they need to charge more at night to recoup the fixed costs of the infrastructure. While we want power at night, this is something that we need to pay for, and to some extent reduces the value of the solar FiT to reflect that (of course until the market can be restructured away from things like “base load” coal which is totally unsuitable anyway in a world of cheap renewable s and big difference between peak and off peak demand which is the real problem anyway.

      Now it is all WAY more complicated than I have outlined above, and above is more just a few examples of things than need to be considered in what is a fair FiT. In NSW we have IPART which is tasked with taking all this into consideration and coming up with a recommendation on a fair FiT (and assume other states likely to have similar mechanism??). This is not binding on retails to pay, but you can use it as a guide for what retail FiT might be above or below the odds. For 2019/20 that number is between 8.5 – 10.4c. This is actually up from the 6.9 to 8.4 c/kWh from 2018/19, though over time as we get more and more solar (especially rooftop solar), I would expect that to fall due to the simple rules of supply and demand. My observations in NSW are that the retails are often largely within that range, with some paying more and some paying less.

      I suspect for everyone it is important that we have a “fair” solar FiT. But too high I suspect it just as bad as too low. Too high and someone has to pay. High prices (eg 60c that we had under the Rudd labour government) also created solar boom and bust which is no good for anyone long term. Too low and we don’t get the investment needed. Your 7c seems a little on the low side for sure, but within the ballpark. Much above 12.5c in NSW, and you need to look carefully at the fine print, because there is probably a stinger somewhere (ie paying higher import rate) that might or might not effect you. I suspect somewhere in this range, is not unfair, with expectation that there is likely to be not unreasonable downward pressure on this as we get more cheap solar in the system.

  2. Des Scahill says

    The probability that an LNP government (even one that does not have Morrison as its PM) will ever take any real notice of either the scientist pleas or wider community concerns seems pretty much zero to me.

    In a roundabout way, that might actually end up being good for the solar PV industry. There’s no real indication that electricity prices are going to come down significantly or even at all, and the LNP obsession with nuclear, gas and hydrogen alternatives looks set to continue, all of which have relatively long lead times.

    And it will again be made perfectly clear to everyone (if it isn’t already) that the LNP has little or no real interest at all in ‘renewables’.

    So we might as well all get over complaining about the LNP’s general ineptitude at handling just about everything, take matters into our own hands where we can do so, and get on with our lives.

    Which all suggests that people and business firms will continue to make their own choice to press on with solar PV installations for the medium future.

    Every new solar installation also impacts on the validity of the ‘economics’ and ‘justifications’ put forward for any of the other generation alternatives.

    And of course, there’s various local government and state parliament elections due between now and the next Federal election due in 2023 too.

    So I wouldn’t be too quick to write-off the solar PV industry and other renewable sources of electricity myself, despite the best efforts of the LNP to quietly wreck it completely over time, although I’d have to add the proviso that how people chose to vote in the various elections coming up in the next few years is going to be a significant ‘wild-card’ in determining the detail of how things finally turn out.

    • Geoff Miell says

      Des Scahill,
      You state:
      “The probability that an LNP government (even one that does not have Morrison as its PM) will ever take any real notice of either the scientist pleas or wider community concerns seems pretty much zero to me.”

      Many members of the LNP government (the opposition and cross-bench) have families – children, grandchildren, perhaps great grandchildren; perhaps siblings and cousins who have children, etc, and they live in communities. The decisions the LNP government make (or don’t make) to mitigate the consequences of escalating dangerous climate change will inevitably have potentially significant detrimental impacts on their own family and community networks and their business prospects.

      On 17 November 2018, Professor H. J. Schellnhuber CBE, then Director Emeritus of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and Member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, presented his Aurelio Peccei Lecture in Rome, Italy, titled “Climate, Complexity, Conversion”. During this lecture, Professor Schellnhuber presents a slide, from about time interval 0:23:50, outlining two (2) Earth climate state possibilities that humanity could experience within this century, dependent upon the global human-induced GHG emission trajectory path that ensues within this decade (i.e. the 2020s):

      • A harsher climate state paradigm may be like the Mid-Pliocene, that occurred 3–4 million years ago, where atmospheric CO2 levels were in the range of 400–450 parts per million (ppm), mean global temperatures were +2.0–3.0°C (above pre-industrial age), and sea levels were +10–22m higher than today (stabilised over centuries), but requires humanity to rapidly reduce human-induced GHG emissions now (i.e. 50% reduction by 2030, and to zero by 2050).
      • The alternative highly undesirable climate state may be like the Mid-Miocene, that occurred 15–17 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels were 300–500 ppm, mean global temperatures were +4.0–5.0°C, and sea levels were +10– 60m higher, which is likely with our current global GHG emissions trajectory.

      Humanity and human civilization might adapt to Mid-Pliocene climate like conditions, but human civilization is highly likely to collapse in Mid-Miocene climate like conditions, with a global population likely declining below one billion people before 2100.
      See YouTube video: [Keynote Debate Can the Climate Emergency Action Plan lead to Collective Action_ (50 Years CoR)] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK2XLeGmHtE
      Also: http://www.climatecodered.org/2019/08/at-4c-of-warming-would-billion-people.html

      I’d suggest our politicians need to be reminded of the serious risks they are taking with their own personal interests – always trust self-interest and the interests of the close networks they belong to as a motivator for change.
      See: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/how-intuitive-morality-has-challenged-the-rationalists-20121002-26xak.html

      The longer we (the human species) take to begin a rapid reduction of human-induced global GHG emissions the more dangerous and hostile our world will become.

      Ultimately, communities will need to decide whether their political leaders are facilitating critical or existential harm to community members’ interests, and respond accordingly, but it must happen soon, or it’s likely to be too late to save most of us.

  3. Norbert Reni says

    What I’m wondering about is why aren’t these high IQ people writing open letters in Chinese and Indian newspapers? Why aren’t they demanding in their media that they stop burning coal and go fully renewable/nuclear? Or do they really believe that if we Aussies stop peeing in the public pool that the Chinese and Indians ae going to be impressed by our bladder control and do the same? Really?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      The good news is global coal consumption is down around 3%. China’s coal consumption peaked around 2013. India’s coal consumption in 2019 may have been less than 2018’s while their coal generation construction has slowed to a crawl. This is thanks to lower than expected demand and the falling cost of renewable energy:

      https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/india-is-now-producing-the-world-s-cheapest-solar-power/

      • Norbert Reni says

        Sure but given the volumes of CO2 that they still produce, India’s peaking and China’s piddling reduction is meaningless. Tthey’re still peeing huge volumes in the public pool and will continue to do so for decades irregardless of my decision not to pee in the public pool. Leading by example in this instance is a vanity exercise for us “haves” in developed economies. I wonder how many of us in Australia would be photo-voltaing our rooves if our fellow taxpaying Aussies (low income earners are also forking out) weren’t coughing up 50% of the installation cost? So much for the greenie line about renewables coming down in cost.

        • Sorry, arguments that Australia can get away with pretty much business as usual (our real emissions are not really falling significantly) until India and China fix the problem is absolute garbage. The reality is that per capita we are the worst in world for developed nations with emission of way more than double what China emits, and almost 10 times more than what India emits!!! And that is before you account for the historical contribution that Australia has made that would be well in excess of this, and before the masses of emission our exported coal causes in other places in the world. It would be hard to argue in any sort of “fair world” that someone in Australia is entitled to emit much more than someone in the developing world. But never underestimate the politics of “self interest” which unfortunately seems to rule the world and supposedly give people an excuse not to do anything.

          Bottom line is we all need to do something to address the problem and ultimately get everyone to zero emissions. If the world does not achieve this, we all suffer. The terrible thing is that Australia’s exposure is probably one of the biggest in the world, and as 1 of the biggest polluters, we have moral obligation to get our per capita emissions down. Before we do that, we are in NO position to lecture others on what they should do.

          There are pretty good arguments about how we should lead the rest of the world. We have massive exposure to the negative impacts of climate change, but we are also a potential renewable energy super power. We have a government that is at the behest of dirty coal, and looking backwards rather than looking forward and embracing the future which with the right leadership, looks full of opportunity.

          • Norbert Reni says

            The per capita argument is irrelevant. The whole western world could decamp to Mars tomorrow and it wouldn’t make a dent in the emissions volume count. China and India would still keep buying and burning coal (except it would be much dirtier than Australia’s). This planets temperature would still rise. The problem isn’t me it’s the high cost of renewables and nuclear for third worlders. Bring those down in cost and base load power from coal consumption becomes unnecessary.

          • Ronald Brakels says

            What you’ve written is not connected to reality. If “the west” is only counted as the EU, the UK, Canada, the US, NZ and Australia, that represents over one quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions. You are either lying, confused, ignorant, or a nutter and unable to agree on basic facts about the world.

          • Geoff Miell says

            Norbert Reni (Re your comment on Feb 10 at 11:40am),
            You state:
            “The whole western world could decamp to Mars tomorrow and it wouldn’t make a dent in the emissions volume count. China and India would still keep buying and burning coal (except it would be much dirtier than Australia’s).”

            Where’s your evidence to back up your ill-informed statements, Norbert? I don’t see any references/links.

            Per The Australia Institute’s (TAI’s) report “High Carbon from a Land Down Under”, published August 2019, it seems in 2017:

            • Australia was the world’s third largest exporter of fossil fuel CO2 potential at 1.1 gigatonnes (Gt), after Russia (#1, at 2.0 Gt), and Saudi Arabia (#2, at 1.4 Gt) – see Figure 11;
            • In the OECD, Australia was the largest fossil fuel exporter in CO2 potential, representing 20% of the OECD total;
            • In the G20, Australia represented 12% of fossil fuel exports, with the highest exports per capita and second highest production per capita;
            • Australia was the world’s fifth largest producer of fossil fuels by CO2 potential at 1.4 Gt, after China (#1, at 7.9 Gt), USA (#2, at 4.8 Gt), Russian Federation (#3, at 3.9 Gt), and Saudi Arabia (#4, at 1.9 Gt) – see Figure 6.
            See: https://www.tai.org.au/content/high-carbon-land-down-under-quantifying-co2-australia-s-fossil-fuel-mining-and-exports

            Which ever way you look at the data, Norbert, what Australia does (as an undeniably major producer of fossil fuels, and thus as a major contributor of GHG emissions) matters! GHG emissions are no respecters of geopolitical borders.

            Since 2017, Australia’s LNG exports have increased substantially further (see Figure 5 in the TAI report), so I’d expect Australia’s latest (i.e. 2019) CO2 potential would be significantly greater than the data given in the TAI report referred above.

            And will China and India “still keep buying and burning coal”, Norbert? Global investment is leaving thermal coal. Do you think China and India won’t notice that, Norbert?
            See: https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-capital-flight-from-thermal-coal-is-accelerating/

            You finish with:
            “The problem isn’t me it’s the high cost of renewables and nuclear for third worlders. Bring those down in cost and base load power from coal consumption becomes unnecessary.”

            Who says renewables are “high cost”, Norbert? You? Where’s your evidence?
            Firmed renewables are the lowest cost electricity generation technology, per Lazard (Nov 2019) , per CSIRO/AEMO (Dec 2018 & draft 2019-20), EWG (Apr 2019), etc.
            See: https://www.lazard.com/perspective/lcoe2019
            Also: https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2018/Annual-update-finds-renewables-are-cheapest-new-build-power
            Also: https://aemo.com.au/-/media/files/electricity/nem/planning_and_forecasting/inputs-assumptions-methodologies/2019/csiro-gencost2019-20_draftforreview.pdf?la=en
            Also: http://energywatchgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/EWG_LUT_100RE_All_Sectors_Global_Report_2019.pdf

            I would agree that nuclear is undeniably high cost and makes no sense if the objective is low cost electricity generation. IMO, establishing a nuclear fission-based electricity generation industry in Australia only makes sense if the primary objective is to source adequate quantities of key materials necessary for nuclear weapons production to perhaps mitigate a perceived strategic military threat.
            See my Submission (#215) at: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2542#tab-submissions

            Norbert, please stop regurgitating fossil fuel industry propaganda, ‘fake news’ and baseless opinions.

          • Further to what others have said I can’t help but add 1 other comment regarding Norbet’s statement “The per capita argument is irrelevant…..”

            This shows a complete misunderstand of what needs to be done to address the issue of climate change and this is the ridiculous argument of selfish people who want an excuses to justify their reason for doing nothing and has 2 fundamental problems :-

            1. If you Norbet and Scotty from Marketing, are so special you can argue that you don’t need to do anything, because it does not make a meaningful difference anyway, then someone living in China with less emissions than you can make exactly the same argument and emit whatever CO2 they want with a clean conscience. Now that is clearly not going to help anyone and we are all going to hell in a hand-basket.

            2. If you except the science which is for all intensive purposes settled on this issue despite the FUD and conspiracy theories and right wing media and industry bodies spreading half truths, then you will understand that we need to get to net zero emissions globally. This means we need to get to net zero emissions per capita and by any other measure. If you accept this, it is pretty hard to argue as one of the highest per capita emitters in the world, that someone else how emits a fraction of what we do needs to act 1st!!!

            3. If you don’t accept the science and instead of listening to the scientist and subject matter expects, and prefer to listen to your “gut” and whatever dodgy sources you prefer to place above the subject matter experts, then we are all wasting our time responding to you, as you will no doubt go on believe what you believe and propagating the same misinformation you hold so dear. But probably worth doing it anyone, on the basis there might be others more interested in critical thinking.

            I should also point out that the per capita emissions figures that place us as one of the highest in the world, and China and India much further down the scale does not take into account our fossil fuel exports, only the emissions we make domestically. If we added that it, we would be even worse. Now I am sure that plays some part in the federal governments wish to deny the issue, because one of our biggest exports is coal, and that does mean it is not a trivial issue to solve. But we also have masses of opportunity in a RE world as we have an abundance of cheap RE resources (yes, Wind and Solar are MUCH cheaper than new coal and MUCH MUCH cheaper than nuclear and anyone how has not got this memo has their head in the sand). I am sick of people propagating FUD and misinformation and about time we had real leadership and looking forward to a prosperous future, rather than looking back to a past that is gone.

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Reni, you wrote:

          “…do they really believe that if we Aussies stop peeing in the public pool that the Chinese and Indians ae going to be impressed by our bladder control and do the same? Really?”

          Australia’s and China’s decline in coal consumption from their peaks are roughly comparable. So your argument doesn’t make sense because China and Australia are pretty much doing the same. If you want to look at percentage of electricity generated from coal China is doing much better falling from around 80% of generation from coal to 60% while Australia has gone from around 86% to 70% (including rooftop solar).

          • Norbert Reni says

            Hi Ron,

            The Chinese and the Indians didn’t sign up to any international emission control agreements. And the UN said no worries that’s okay. Well if it’s okay for Asians to keep polluting then it’s okay for me. When I hear the leftie greens (I’m a right wing greenie) start to demand that China/India be compelled to sign up to the Paris Climate Accords I’ll buy the line that we have a “moral obligation” to lead by example (we don’t). If not then then going it alone is not going to give the Chinese or Indians a guilt trip and cease coal consumption.

          • Ronald Brakels says

            Are you able to state that what your wrote in your previous post is incorrect and promise to be more careful in the future, or are you a nutter who doesn’t regard the truth as important?

  4. Geoff Miell says

    As of 07 Feb 2020 at 23:30, there were 446 signatories to the open letter. But I wonder whether anyone in our governments are taking any notice?

    Meanwhile, the NSW Parliament Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment, is currently inquiring into the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Territorial Limits) Bill 2019. Public submissions closed on 15 December 2019.
    See submissions here: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2567#tab-submissions

    On Thursday (Feb 6), the Committee was scheduled to conduct a public hearing, relating to a Bill which stops planning authorities from approving new mining projects with a condition related to emissions of exported Australian coal.
    See hearing schedule here: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2567#tab-hearingsandtranscripts
    See also: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/nsw/beggars-belief-nsw-planning-changes-criticised-amid-fire-crisis-20200204-p53xqg.html

    The Committee is required to report to the NSW Parliament by 17 March 2020.

    IMO, if the Bill passes through the NSW Parliament, then it makes a mockery of NSW Government climate policy, contradicts the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement, and promotes civilization suicide.

    If NSW citizens are concerned by this, I’d suggest contacting the Committee members to let them know your views, but don’t take too long about it – clock’s ticking.
    See: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2567#tab-members

  5. Here’s the latest “Honest Government Ad: After the Fires” from the Juice Media, published 11 Feb 2020.
    Warning: ‘Colourful’ language used.
    https://www.thejuicemedia.com/honest-government-ad-the-fires/

  6. Norbert Reni says

    Will admit, even though I’m a conservative, the beginning minute or so of it amused me. But the rest was just bog standard lefty greenie/GetUp rubbish.

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