John Quiggin over at his blog (self titled) is well worth frequenting for his incisive comments on politics, climate change related issues and economics.
I’d also note the quality of the posts made by the community at his site: many forum commentators are erudite, informed have interesting things to say.
“Really?” you ask “On the interwebz?”
No, really… don’t take my word for it, go have a look.
Anyhow, a recent post of his caught my eye as it talks about how an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and related policies aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions have been working in Europe:
Serious action to reduce CO2 emissions has been stymied in Australia and the US for the moment. So, to get an idea of what is likely to be feasible, and on what timescale, we have to look at Europe, which has both a working Emissions Trading Scheme and a bunch of special incentives to promote renewable energy. At least on the latter point, there is some cause for optimism.
A case for cautious optimism?
Perhaps. I don’t know enough about the European scheme, but I’ll be researching it over the coming weeks. I’m happy to admit I don’t know enough at this point. But what John has to say is encouraging.
John produces a graph of installed and decommissioned capacity. Note the growth in wind as a source of energy:
The other point is that for coal (and also, less surprisingly for nuclear) installed capacity showed a net decline. The combination of the ETS and strong political opposition has made the construction of new coal-fired power stations in Europe almost impossible, at least without a commitment to CCS or some other sweetener.
On this issue, where Europe has led, the rest of the world will follow sooner or later. The big question is whether it will be too late. The good outcomes we are seeing in Europe suggest that, even with a few years’ slippage, big reductions in emissions will be possible in time to stabilise global climate.
For Australians, this makes an interesting point of comparison. The Rudd government failed to pass the ETS legislation – roughly equivalent to cap-and-trade – through the senate late last year. The debate has ground to a halt, and the government has gone fairly quite on the issue.
The death of coal?
It also highlights why the denial industry would fight so hard: I’d surmise that coal suppliers and energy companies operating coal fired stations would look at these figures in horror. The long term trend for the industry must be worrying. In business speak, they are losing market share.
We should also bear in mind that Australia is one world’s largest exporters of coal. According to the Australian Coal Association, (ACA), Australia exported over $22 billion dollars worth of coal in 2006-07 (roughly 19% of all primary exports):
The ACA accepts climate change is caused by human activities, all though they are keen to stress its not just coal:
“Greenhouse gases from coal (mining and power generation) globally contribute around 25 per cent to the enhanced greenhouse effect. In Australia, around 90 per cent of coal’s greenhouse gas emissions arise from power generation.
Coal is just one of many sources of greenhouse gases generated by human activity. Others include oil and natural gas, agriculture, land clearing and waste disposal…”
They are also keen to stress that will remain just as relevant a source of energy in decades to come:
Meeting the needs of an increasingly energy hungry world, while at the same time reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, is one of the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century.
Rapidly increasing world energy demand will ensure that coal remains a vital energy source for electric power generation and the metallurgical industries for many decades.
Looking at the figures for Europe, one wonders if coal really is a vital source of energy. We should also bear in mind that China is investing enormous sums in renewable energy.
In the coming decades, as the impacts of climate change become more apparent, the political pressure to switch to renewable sources is set to increase. The industry should be less sanguine.
Time for the debate to mature
There has been far too little discussion in Australia about the European model, and a great deal of fear mongering on behalf of the denial movement.
It would seem Europe has an ETS and hasn’t gone back to the stone age. Last I heard, they were still a relatively industrialised civilisation with a number of healthy democracies.
Let’s hope our media and politicians start to take notice, and that the debates around the ETS and policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions become more mature and informed than they have been.