International News

Coalition's environmental one-stop shop is falling apart

The Conversation - August 27, 2014 - 9:57pm
Under federal law, coal seam gas projects must be approved by the environment minister if they could have a significant impact on water. Jeremy Buckingham/Flickr

The Palmer United Party (PUP) has added to the Coalition’s headaches in the Senate by announcing this week it would seek to remove the so-called “water trigger” from the government’s “one-stop shop” for environmental approvals.

“We will amend the bill so the water trigger stays in federal hands,” PUP’s Western Australian senator Dio Wang said.

Former MP Tony Windsor, the architect of the water trigger created under the Gillard Government, calls the proposed amendments a “retrograde step”.

The one-stop shop — a key part of the Coalition’s election promises to reduce business regulation — would see federal powers to approve projects that impact on matters protected under national laws shifted from the Federal environment minister to the States.

Recent developments approved by the minister include dredging at Abbot Point and Australia’s largest coal mine in Queensland.

What is the Coalition’s beef with the water trigger?

The “water trigger” is one of nine matters of national environmental significance protected under Australia’s national environmental laws, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).

That means if a project, such as a mine, is likely to have a significant impact on water, it must be assessed and approved by the Federal environment minister. Existing projects approved prior to the new trigger are not caught by it.

It was added to the Act in 2013 by the Gillard Government. Tony Windsor championed it being added in response to community concerns over poor regulation by the States of the impacts of coal seam gas and mining projects on water resources.

Thorn in the side of the one-stop shop

The Coalition does not propose to remove the water trigger.

Rather, it proposes to change the law to allow the final decision to be made by State and Territory governments on projects assessed under the water trigger.

Tony Windsor — playing a very good impression of a sly fox — managed to have the Gillard government insert a barrier to decisions under the water trigger being handed to State governments under approval bilateral agreements.

The water trigger is the only matter of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act which cannot be handed to State governments to make the final decision over.

The Coalition has a legitimate argument that the water trigger should not be treated differently to the other matters protected under the EPBC Act. On that basis, the changes make sense to support its proposal for a “one-stop shop” to hand federal environmental approvals to the States.

On the other hand Tony Windsor argues that water management is a special case requiring federal oversight that should not be handed to the States.

A wider argument is that the Commonwealth should keep the final say on environmental protection and not proceed with the one-stop shop at all.

Tip of the iceberg for problems

The Coalition’s problems with the water trigger are really just the tip of the iceberg for the problems it is having delivering its “one-stop shop”.

The draft approval bilaterals for NSW and Queensland reveal a much, much bigger problem — that the agreements cover only a small fraction of total State environmental approvals.

This means that the claim of creating a “one-stop shop” for environmental approvals is pure fantasy.

The draft NSW approval bilateral includes some State planning approvals in the one-stop shop system, but does not include approvals granted by local governments. The NSW Department of Planning and Environment states bluntly that the, “vast majority of development applications in New South Wales are for local and regional development and are assessed by local councils”.

The vast majority of NSW planning decisions, therefore, will not be covered by the one-stop shop system.

Similarly, in Queensland, only a small part of State government decisions and no local government decisions will be included in the one-stop shop system under the draft approval bilateral agreement. The draft agreement only includes major projects (of which there are in the order of 10 each year) and mines assessed under an environmental impact statement under State environmental laws. Decisions under the State’s planning laws are not included in the approval bilateral at all (at least at this stage).

This means that the thousands of planning decisions in Queensland each year are not part of the one-stop shop system.

A joke if this was not so serious

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has claimed that the “one-stop-shop will slash red tape and increase jobs and investment, whilst maintaining environmental standards.”

This was clearly hyperbole and political spin from the start.

For one thing, the EPBC Act is only a small part of the overall environmental approval system. There are around 250,000 planning applications each year in Australia. In contrast there are around 400 referrals each year under the EPBC Act.

It is true that the EPBC Act captures most large projects, such as big mines, and that through it the Commonwealth plays an important part of the overall system.

But it does not just capture big developments.

An example of a small development that was captured by the Act was a small residential development at Mission Beach in Queensland that was refused for unacceptable impacts on threatened species.

Yet, under the draft Queensland approval bilateral agreement such a proposal is not included and must still be assessed by the Commonwealth rather than the State. The prospect of ordinary developers being confused by talk of a “one-stop shop” is a stark one.

Contrary to the Minister’s claims, the “one-stop shop” system is creating a more complex system that existed before.

The further it proceeds, the more the “one-stop shop” policy is falling apart and failing to live up to the claims made about it. It would be better known as a “many-stop shop”.

Chris McGrath does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Categories: International News

Global 'roadmap' shows where to put roads without costing the earth

The Conversation - August 27, 2014 - 4:54pm
Most new roads will be built in developing nations. Here, a road-killed tapir in Peninsula Malaysia© WWF-Malaysia/Lau Ching Fong

“The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads.” These might sound like the words of an eco-terrorist, but it’s actually a direct quote from Professor Eneas Salati, a forest climatologist and one of Brazil’s most respected scientists.

Many scientists share Salati’s anxieties because we’re living in the most explosive era of road expansion in human history. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by 2050 we will have 60% more roads than we did in 2010. That’s about 25 million kilometres of new paved roads — enough to circle the Earth more than 600 times.

In new research published today in Nature, we’ve developed a global “roadmap” of where to put those roads to avoid damaging the environment. Our maps are also available to the public on a new website.

Roads today are proliferating virtually everywhere — for exploiting timber, minerals, oil and natural gas; for promoting regional trade and development; and for building burgeoning networks of energy infrastructure such as hydroelectric dams, power lines and gas lines.

Even national security and paranoia play a role. The first major roads built in the Brazilian Amazon were motivated by fears that Colombia or the US might try to annex the Amazon and steal its valuable natural resources. India’s current spate of road building along its northern frontier is all about defending its disputed territories from an increasingly strident China.

According to the IEA, around nine-tenths of new roads will be built in developing nations, which sustain the most biologically important ecosystems on Earth, such as tropical and subtropical rainforests and wildlife-rich savanna-woodlands.

Crucially, such environments also store billions of tonnes of carbon, harbour hundreds of indigenous cultures, and have a major stabilizing influence on the global climate.

Killer roads

Why are roads regarded as disasters for nature?

Far too often, when a new road cuts into a forest or wilderness, illegal poachers, miners, loggers or land speculators quickly invade — unleashing a Pandora’s box of environmental problems.

Deforestation along roads in Rondonia, Brazil Google Earth

For instance, my colleagues and I recently found that 95% of all forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon has occurred within 5 kilometres of roads (notably, we also found that many Amazonian roads are illegal; for every kilometre of legal road, there were three kilometres of illegal roads). Other research has shown that major forest fires spike sharply within a few dozen kilometres of Amazon roads.

The Congo Basin is reeling from a spree of forest-road building by industrial loggers, with over 50,000 kilometres of new roads bulldozed into the rainforest in recent years. This has opened up the forest to a tsunami of hunting. The toll on wildlife has been appalling; in the last decade, for instance, around two-thirds of all forest elephants have been slaughtered for their valuable ivory tusks.

In Peru, a new highway slicing across the western Amazon has led to a massive influx of illegal gold miners into formerly pristine rainforests, turning them into virtual moonscapes and polluting entire river systems with the toxic mercury they use to separate the gold from river sediments.

Mining has turned Amazon forest into moonscapes

Avoid the first cut

Many road researchers believe the only safe way to protect a wilderness is by “avoiding the first cut” — keeping it road free. This is because an initial road opens up a forest to deforestation, which then spreads contagiously, like a series of tumors.

Avoiding the first cut is critical — a forest road in Sabah, Malaysia Rhett Butler

And that cancer quickly grows. An initial road slicing into a wilderness typically spawns a network of secondary and tertiary roads, allowing deforestation to easily metastasise.

For instance, the first major highway in the Amazon — completed in the early 1970s to link the cities of Belem and Brasilia — was initially just a razor-thin cut through the forest. Today, that narrow incision has grown into a 400-kilometre-wide slash of forest destruction across the entire eastern Amazon.

But we need roads

And yet, for all the environmental perils of roads, they are also an indispensable part of modern societies. Most economists love roads — seeing them as a cost-effective way to promote economic growth, encourage regional trade and provide access to natural resources and land suitable for agriculture.

How do we balance these two competing realities — between road lovers aspiring for wealth and social development, and road fearers hoping to avoid ecological Armageddon?

This vexing question has been the focus of a talented group of researchers I‘ve been leading over the past two years, from Harvard, Cambridge, Melbourne, Minnesota, Sheffield and James Cook Universities and the Conservation Strategy Fund.

A global roadmap

Our scheme has two components. The first is a map that attempts to illustrate the natural values of all ecosystems worldwide. We built this map by combining data on biodiversity, endangered species, rare habitats, critical wilderness areas, and vital ecosystem services across the Earth.

We added in parks and other protected areas, as these are also high priorities for nature conservation.

The second component is a road-benefits map. It shows where roads could have the greatest benefits for humankind, especially for increasing food production.

Focusing on food is vital because, with continuing rapid population growth and changing human diets, global food demand is expected to double by 2050.

Roads affect food because large expanses of the planet — especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and expanses of Asia and Latin America — are populated by small-scale farmers who produce much less food than they could if they had new or better roads. Such roads could give them ready access to fertilizers, modern farming methods and urban markets to sell their crops.

In these regions most of the native vegetation has already been cleared, so intensifying farming shouldn’t have major environmental costs. In these contexts, new or better roads (along with other investments in modern farming methods) are a key way to help struggling farmers to boost their productivity.

In remote areas, road improvements can help small-scale farmers boost their productivity William Laurance

A potential bonus of this strategy is that, as farming becomes more productive and rural livelihoods more prosperous, regions with better roads tend to act as “magnets” — attracting people from elsewhere, such as the margins of vulnerable forests.

In this way, investing in better roads in appropriate areas can help to focus and intensify farming, accelerating food production while hopefully helping to spare other lands for nature conservation.

Conflict zones, but reasons to hope

By intersecting our environmental-values and road-benefits maps, we have estimated the relative risks and rewards of road building for Earth’s entire land surface — some 13.3 billion hectares in total.

In our map, green-toned areas are priorities for conservation where roads should be avoided if possible, and red-toned areas are priorities for agriculture.

Dark-toned areas are “conflict zones” — where environmental and agricultural priorities are likely to clash (light-coloured areas are lower priorities for both environment and farming).

A global roadmap, with parts of South America and Africa magnified William Laurance

The good news is that there are substantial areas of the planet where agriculture can be improved with modest environmental costs.

But there are also massive conflict zones—in Sub-Saharan Africa, expanses of Central and South America, and much of the Asia-Pacific region, among others. These hotbeds of conflict often occur where human population growth is rapid and there are many locally endemic species — those with small geographic ranges that are especially vulnerable to intensive development.

Our global roadmap is, admittedly, an exceedingly ambitious effort. Yet our hope is that our strategy can be incorporated with finer-scale local information to help inform and improve planning decisions at national and regional scales.

Our effort is a first step toward a vital goal: a global plan for road expansion. We’re not so naïve as to believe everyone will immediately adopt it, but such efforts are unquestionably a crucial priority.

There is precious little time to lose if we don’t want to see the world’s last wild places overwhelmed by an onslaught of roads, destructive development and the roar of fast-moving vehicles.

Bill Laurance receives funding from the Australian Research Council and other scientific and philanthropic organisations. In addition to his appointment as Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate at James Cook University, he also holds the Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation at Utrecht University, Netherlands. This chair is co-sponsored by Utrecht University and WWF-Netherlands.

Categories: International News

Climate Scientists Spell Out Stark Danger And Immorality Of Inaction In New Leaked Report

Climate Progress - August 27, 2014 - 4:24pm

Humanity’s choice (via IPCC): Aggressive climate action ASAP (left figure) minimizes future warming and costs a mere 0.06% of annual growth. Continued inaction (right figure) results in catastrophic and irreversible levels of warming, 9°F over much of U.S.

One word in the latest draft report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sums up why climate inaction is so uniquely immoral: “Irreversible.”

The message from climate scientists about our ongoing failure to cut carbon pollution: The catastrophic changes in climate that we are voluntarily choosing to impose on our children and grandchildren — and countless generations after them — cannot plausibly be undone for hundreds of years or more.

Yes, we can still stop the worst — with virtually no impact on growth, as an earlier IPCC report from April made clear — but future generations will not be able reverse whatever we are too greedy and shortsighted to prevent through immediate action.

The world’s top scientists have finalized their “synthesis” report (of their fifth full scientific Assessment since 1990). It integrates the analysis from their three previous Fifth Assessment reports — ones on climate science, climate impacts, and climate solutions. They have sent a draft of this report to the world’s leading governments, who must sign off on it line by line and will no doubt water it down.

This report was leaked to the AP and others. That means we can see the unvarnished language.

The scientists want to know that “currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous” — at least if you think more extreme heat waves and more extreme droughts and more extreme deluges and more extreme storm surges are dangerous.

But it’s the future we should be worrying about the most:

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

Translation: Continued inaction would be catastrophic and immoral.

The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.

Translation: The more we delay, the worse it can get.

Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.

Translation: Future generations can’t simply adapt to the ruined climate we are in the process of handing over to them. Either we start cutting carbon pollution ASAP or we should just stop pretending we are a rational, moral species.

How bad can it get? The IPCC already explained that in the science report (see “Alarming IPCC Prognosis: 9°F Warming For U.S., Faster Sea Rise, More Extreme Weather, Permafrost Collapse”). And they expanded on that in the impacts report (see “Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces ‘Breakdown Of Food Systems’ And More Violent Conflict”).

As an aside, while the AP has done a great job summarizing this draft, there really is no excuse for quoting climate confusionist John Christy that we will be okay: “Humans are clever. We shall adapt to whatever happens.” The point is the IPCC has explained that conclusion is just B.S. by any useful definition of the phrase “adapt to” — unless you think it means “suffer through.”

As I’ve explained recently, quoting John Christy on climate change is like quoting Dick Cheney on Iraq. Even the AP acknowledges that Christy “is in the tiny minority of scientists who are skeptical of mainstream science’s claim that global warming is a major problem.” Since when does the media have to give any space to a tiny minority?

The IPCC reports are just reviews of the scientific literature, so the focus on the irreversible nature of climate change is no surprise. Indeed, as far back as January 2009 we reported on research led by NOAA scientists titled “Irreversible climate change because of carbon dioxide emissions.” That study had some alarming conclusions.

…the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop … Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450-600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the ”dust bowl” era and inexorable sea level rise.

Recent studies strongly support that finding.

It is always important to remember — as RealClimate wrote of the 2009 study — “Irreversible Does Not Mean Unstoppable.” This latest draft synthesis report makes clear we can still stop the worst from happening, at a very low cost, but we have to start slashing emissions ASAP.

The post Climate Scientists Spell Out Stark Danger And Immorality Of Inaction In New Leaked Report appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Iowa Senate Nominee Says The Koch Network ‘Started My Trajectory’

Climate Progress - August 27, 2014 - 4:21pm

Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst (R).

CREDIT: AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall

The vast and well-funded political network maintained by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch “started my trajectory,” according to Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

Ernst was one of several rising GOP politicians who attended a June 16 gathering in Dana Point, California, along with a collection of wealthy donors that the Kochs have helped organize. Ernst joined the other Republicans on a panel held at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort. Audio of the panel was obtained by The Undercurrent and the shared exclusively with the Huffington Post. According to the report, each of the panel speakers took some time out to discuss the state of play in their respective races.

“We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election,” Ernst said in her talk. “And this is the thing that we are going to take back — that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network.”

The Kochs and their network have poured millions into an array of organizations — including Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Heritage Foundation — which deny science behind climate change, while fighting to roll back federal cuts to carbon emissions from power plants, to undo state-level renewable energy requirements, to stop environmental regulations, and to take down various other efforts like Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Ernst has promised “to abolish” the Environmental Protection Agency, she opposes the Clean Water Act, and in May she stated that “I have not seen proven proof that [climate change] is entirely man-made.”

Back in June, according to The Hill, Charles Koch, his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law all personally maxed out the legal limit of $2,600 they can make to Ernst’s war chest. Koch Industries also made its own $5,000 contribution to her campaign. On top of that, Ernst’s campaign took to its Facebook page in January to specifically thank the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity for running ads against her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).

Ernst has also gone on record that she “philosophically” opposes subsidies like the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) — a federal requirement that a certain amount of biofuel be mixed into the country’s fuel supply, and which thus threatens the market share of traditional fossil fuels in the transportation sector. But given the way the RFS has benefited Iowa’s agricultural industry, and the way other subsidies like the wind production tax credit have helped solidify the wind energy industry in the state, Ernst has had to walk a fine line, declaring she’ll “stand behind” the RFS until the government eliminates subsidies “across the board.”

Those stances have earned Ernst the ire of several environmental and climate groups, which are bringing their ad campaigns to bear on Iowa’s Senate race.

Nonetheless, Ernst was able to beat out Mark Jacobs, the putative front-runner for the GOP Iowa Senate nomination, in the state’s primary earlier this year. In terms of polling, she remains in a dead heat with Braley, the Democratic nominee.

“I was not known at that time,” Ernst continued later on the panel. “A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”

Ernst and Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), another panelist, also both pointed out this was the second Koch Brothers’ retreat they had attended — the first was a New Mexico event in 2013. And Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), another one of the panelists and current Colorado Senate candidate, told the attendees — in what Huffington Post characterized as an “obvious pitch” for more donations — that the supply of “third party” money is what would likely decide his race.

The Nation reported at the time of this year’s retreat that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were also in attendance. A source told the magazine that the explicit goal of the event was to raise $500 million to take back the Senate in 2014, and another $500 million to pour into the next presidential election in 2016.

An analysis by the Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the Koch network raised $407 million for the 2012 presidential election.

The post Iowa Senate Nominee Says The Koch Network ‘Started My Trajectory’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Hawaii’s Largest Utility Announces Plan To Triple Rooftop Solar By 2030

Climate Progress - August 27, 2014 - 2:19pm

Aiea High is part of a growing number of Hawaii schools harnessing solar energy through photovoltaic systems.

CREDIT: Hawaii State Department of Education

Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) on Tuesday announced their intention to triple the amount of rooftop solar in the state, just one part of a plan that the companies say will make Hawaii the highest renewable energy-using state in the country.

Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light — known together as HECO — proposed a package of initiatives that they said would help Hawaii generate 65 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and slash electric bills by 20 percent, all within the next 16 years. While admittedly vague on how the initiatives will be implemented and how they will impact prices, the package includes efforts to increase energy storage, develop smart grids, and support community solar projects.

“Our energy environment is changing rapidly and we must change with it to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” Shelee Kimura, HECO’s vice president of corporate planning and business development said in a statement. “These plans are about delivering services that our customers value. That means lower costs, better protection of our environment, and more options to lower their energy costs, including rooftop solar.”

While the plan’s intentions may seem noble on their face, the package was actually released in response to an order from Hawaii’s energy regulator in April. That order required HECO to devise a plan for accommodating more renewables, including rooftop solar power, while reducing electricity costs. Those orders stemmed from Hawaiians’ growing frustrations with HECO, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, which had allegedly been making it very difficult for citizens to install their own solar panels.

Those frustrations are even more pronounced because Hawaii’s electricity bills have been historically been the highest in the nation, and many residents have turned to solar to mitigate some of the costs. At the same time, as more people installed solar panels in Hawaii and bought less electricity from the utilities, HECO began passing off its increased costs to solar power users, according to a PV Magazine report.

A poll on the issue found that while 94 percent of Hawaii residents support more rooftop solar, 90 percent believe that HECO was slowing rooftop solar to protect its profits.

In response to those frustrations, Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission issued an order giving HECO 120 days to design plans to serve the public interest better. The deadline was yesterday, the same day HECO’s plans were announced.

Much of HECO’s plans include efforts to ensure the electric grid is stable in the face of more solar being installed. The utility said it would work closely with the solar industry to figure out just how much solar can be built and added to the grid every year without destabilizing it. It also said it would plan technological enhancements to the grid, as well.

If Hawaii can indeed begin getting more of its electricity from sources generated in-state, it is likely the state’s electricity costs will decrease. Part of the reason electricity costs are currently so high there is because it is dependent on imported petroleum for 70 percent of its electricity generation. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hawaii altogether imported 93 percent of its energy in 2012. At the same time, utility-scale solar generation in 2013 increased nearly six-fold.

The post Hawaii’s Largest Utility Announces Plan To Triple Rooftop Solar By 2030 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

How A New Group Is Helping Nonprofits In West Virginia Get Solar Panels For Just $1

Climate Progress - August 27, 2014 - 1:36pm

Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

CREDIT: Solar Holler

A church in West Virginia just got 60 panels installed on its roof for $1, thanks to a local group that’s making it easier and cheaper for nonprofits in the state to go solar.

At a ribbon-cutting event on Tuesday, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church became the site of the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia, at the same time kicking off a model to bring solar energy to West Virginia nonprofits that’s being pioneered by local group Solar Holler.

To fund the church’s solar panels, almost 100 Shepherdstown families agreed to install demand response controllers from Maryland-based Mosaic Power on their water heaters. Mosaic Power’s business model involves installing the controllers for free, and the network of water heaters becomes a sort of “virtual power plant.” Mosaic sells the electricity service created by the water heaters network to the grid, and pays the people who installed the controllers $100 out of the money it makes through selling the service. Instead of keeping the $100, all the people who installed the controllers in Shepherdstown agreed to put it towards the church’s solar panels, which will provide about half the energy the church needs each year.

Dan Conant, who founded Solar Holler, told ThinkProgress that it wasn’t hard to convince members of the community to install the controllers, or to have them donate the money they earned from it. Most of the people who installed the controllers were church members, he said, and they wanted to see their church get its solar system.

There’s a whole lot of folks who really care and want to help transition the state not just environmentally, but also economically.

“This is a really really cool community, and this actually wasn’t a hard sell at all,” he said. “From their perspective, they’re helping make this really cool, cutting edge project happen, and they didn’t have to write a check. We actually didn’t take any donations at all, for the entire system — it was just through Mosaic controllers that we raised all the funding we needed.”

Than Hitt, a member of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church who worked with Solar Holler to help get the project started, said the idea to put solar panels on the church started with a brainstorming session among church members a few years ago. He said members of the church have long wanted to install solar panels on the church, but didn’t know how they would be able to manage it until they found out about Solar Holler. The church members were interested in solar’s economic benefits, but they also wanted to reap the environmental benefits the panels would bring.

“There’s certainly a common understanding that we’ve got to be good stewards of the environment — it’s a Christian value, but it’s really a human value,” Hitt said. “It’s something that resonates with people, and it’s something that we know we need to do, especially in West Virginia.”

The church project is the first of what Conant hopes will be many crowd-funded solar installations at nonprofits in West Virginia. The next installation will be at the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Library in Harpers Ferry, W.V., about 12 miles southeast of Shepherdstown. Conant said the group has about six more projects lined up for after the library is completed, and ultimately he wants to have a community-supported solar project at a nonprofit in all 55 counties in West Virginia within the next five years.

“We wanted to pave the way and create a model and scale this up all around West Virginia, because we really need it in our state,” he said. “It’s been really cool to see how much interest and excitement there is in West Virginia — I’m sure outside the state you wouldn’t expect that, but there’s a whole lot of folks who really care and want to help transition the state not just environmentally, but also economically.”

Before he started Solar Holler last summer, Conant said most nonprofit solar projects in the state were paid for by grants. Churches and other nonprofits in West Virginia — and anyone else who’s on a commercial electricity rate — are paid less for their solar on average than homeowners are, a policy that discourages nonprofits from installing solar and something Conant said he wishes utilities would remedy.

“It’s a little crazy to me that we have four or five families in town that have installed solar on their homes and they’re getting paid more than a nonprofit or business would,” he said.

Students celebrate at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church’s solar ribbon-cutting Tuesday

CREDIT: Solar Holler

Outdated state policies have also held West Virginia as a whole — not just nonprofits — back from taking full advantage of its renewable energy resources. The state used to have a $2,000 tax credit for new solar projects, but the legislature recently got rid of it.

In addition, West Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) — regulation that in many other states sets standards for the portion of the state’s energy that must come from renewables — doesn’t include requirements for renewable energy, and classifies coal, natural gas and tire-derived fuels as alternative energy sources.

But until state legislature and utilities change their policies, Conant said his group will continue to help nonprofits install solar, using a model that can work independently of these policies. He’s excited for what the Shepherdstown solar project will bring to the community, and happy to see that the community shares his excitement. More than 100 people came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, he said, including the fourth and fifth grade classes from Shepherdstown Elementary School. The principle of the school announced during the ceremony that solar energy would start building in renewable energy to their science classes this year.

“I’m really excited about the model, and I’m really excited about the fact that we’re blazing a trail around the state, but it was also really cool from a community building experience,” he said. “It was really exciting to just see all the excitement — the town was alive and just buzzing yesterday.”

The post How A New Group Is Helping Nonprofits In West Virginia Get Solar Panels For Just $1 appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

VIDEO: EVERYONE. EVERYWHERE. PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MOBILISATION.

350.org - August 27, 2014 - 12:37pm

We, the people across the planet, are going to make history on climate change — again. We are about to write a new chapter and shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world. Will world leaders write this chapter with us? On September 20-21, let’s tell them it’s time for Actions, Not Words. 

Categories: International News

Texas Proposes Tougher Rules On Fracking Wastewater After Earthquakes Surge

Climate Progress - August 27, 2014 - 10:37am

A sign placed along the sidewalk reads ‘Common Sense Against Earthquakes’ as a small group with Frack Free Denton protest outside city hall, Tuesday, July 15, 2014, in Denton, Texas.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The agency that regulates oil and gas activity in Texas is considering new, tougher regulations governing the practice of injecting leftover water used to frack natural gas wells deep into the ground — a process which is believed to be responsible for an increase in human-caused earthquakes across the state.

The Texas Railroad Commission’s new proposed regulations on wastewater injection wells were heard by members of the Texas House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Seismic Activity on Monday, following complaints that earthquakes have become more frequent over the last several years. Dr. Craig Pearson, the Railroad Commission’s new seismologist, told the subcommittee that the regulations would help make sure injected wastewater doesn’t migrate onto inactive fault lines and cause man-made quakes.

“Because we’re now dealing with induced seismicity, the worry is not only about water moving up [to our groundwater] but out to dormant faults,” Pearson said, noting that current regulations are only designed to protect from groundwater contamination.

The controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking,” uses a great deal more water than conventional drilling. To stimulate natural gas wells, companies inject high-pressure water and chemicals miles-deep into subsurface rock which effectively cracks or “fractures” it, making the gas easier to extract.

The leftover wastewater used to frack the well is disposed of by injecting it deep underground, and scientists increasingly believe that this is causing man-made earthquakes — not only in Texas, but across the country. The large amount of water injected into the ground can change the state of stress on existing fault lines to the point of failure, scientists believe, causing earthquakes.

As it is now, Pearson said most of the earthquakes occurring in Texas are too small to be felt. But some scientists have warned that seismic activity stands to get stronger and more dangerous as fracking increases, and more wastewater propagates along fault lines underground.

If Texas’proposed rules on wastewater disposal wells are approved, companies seeking to operate them would have to include United States Geological Survey records of seismic events that have occurred around proposed well sites in their permit applications. The commission estimated that this would cost companies an additional $300, which the rules describe as “negligible.”

Additionally, the commission would be allowed to suspend or terminate any wastewater disposal operator’s permit if it finds that fluids have been leeching past where they’re supposed to be. It would also be allowed to terminate an operator’s permit if the operator is found to be responsible for earthquakes. The rules would not require that permits be suspended for fluid-leeching violations or earthquakes; instead, they would just give the commission the authority to do so if it wanted to.

The commission would also be allowed to require more frequent monitoring of fluids and pressure from certain companies, and to request additional information from the application to prove that fluids won’t spread across fault lines.

So far, environmentalists have applauded the rules as a good start, but have expressed concerns that they don’t go far enough.

“It’s kinda like when you’re in a 12-step program,” Cyrus Reed with the Sierra Club told Terrence Henry at StateImpact NPR. “You know, the first thing you need to do admit that you have a problem. And I think the Railroad Commission has done that by proposing these rules.”

Indeed, the Railroad Commission has come a long way from January, when commission Chairman Barry Smitherman refused to acknowledge that the quakes were linked to any part of the fracking process. “It’s not linked to fracking,” he told local reporters after a meeting of concerned citizens. “If we find a link then we need to take a hard look at all these injection wells in this area. Reexamine them … Perhaps there something that we’re not aware of underground.”

The Texas commission is taking public comment on the proposed rules until next month.

The post Texas Proposes Tougher Rules On Fracking Wastewater After Earthquakes Surge appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

The World’s Existing Power Plants Will Emit 300 Billion Tons Of Carbon Dioxide In Their Lifetimes

Climate Progress - August 27, 2014 - 9:54am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Existing power plants across the globe will emit over 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere before they retire, according to a new study published Tuesday.

The new research, as reported by Science Daily, is also the first to quantify how fast these “baked in” emissions are growing as more power plants are constructed — roughly four percent a year. That’s a problem because it means construction of new fossil fuel-burning power plants is outdistancing the rate at which old ones are being taken offline.

Coal accounts for about two-thirds of those 300 billion tons of emissions, while natural gas takes up much of the remainder at 27 percent — a significant growth over the 15 percent of emissions stemming from natural gas plants in 1980.

“Bringing down carbon emissions means retiring more fossil fuel-burning facilities than we build,” Steven Davis, assistant professor of Earth system science at the University of California at Irvine and the study’s lead author, told Science Daily. “But worldwide, we’ve built more coal-burning power plants in the past decade than in any previous decade, and closures of old plants aren’t keeping pace with this expansion.”

As a result, humans are doing the exact opposite of what needs to be done to address climate change. “Far from solving the climate change problem, we’re investing heavily in technologies that make the problem worse,” Davis said.

Scientists estimate that humanity can dump about 1,000 gigatons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere while maintaining a good chance of staying under 2° Celsius of global temperature rise — the threshold after which most scientists agree climate change will become genuinely catastrophic. (One gigaton is equivalent to one billion tons and standard American tons and metric tons are roughly equivalent).

Human activity has already taken care of about 531 billion metric tons of that “carbon budget,” so this effective commitment to emit another 300 billion tons does away with much of the remaining wiggle room.

The vast majority of the new fossil fuel plants are the result of economic growth in the developing world, especially China, highlighting the global conundrum that’s presented by the need to tackle both climate change and poverty at once. Increased energy use per capita is essential to raising people’s standard of living, but with current technology that inherently also involves intensifying carbon emissions. All told, China represents 42 percent of committed future emissions, India represents eight percent, the United States represents 11 percent, and Europe represents nine percent, with other countries like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iran taking up much of the rest.

“We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments,” Robert Socolow, professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University and the study’s co-author, told Science Daily. “Current conventions for reporting data and presenting scenarios for future action need to give greater prominence to these investments.”

China, India, and the rest of the developing world are certainly not ignorant of the problem. China, India, and Africa are home to the vast majority of the impoverished populations who will be most at risk from the extreme weather and other changes that climate change will bring, and China has also been wracked by astounding levels of air pollution. The country is engaged in efforts to close down its older coal production, and it’s on track to install more solar in 2014 than the United States has in total, ever.

Africa, meanwhile, will add more renewable energy this year than it has in the last 14 years combined, and many poor communities on the continent are upping their standard of living by skipping traditional fossil-fuel-powered electrical grids entirely and going straight to local, distributed solar for their power generation.

Even in Europe, a new study form the investment bank UBS suggests the combined technological force of solar power, battery technology, and electrical vehicles might undo the need for any new fossil fuel power plants as early as 2025.

That all this momentum is not enough to get the world on a path to stay under 2° Celsius of warming is a sign of how badly further investment in renewable technology is needed by the advanced world — specifically the United States — and how badly our current policies fail to encourage any such moves.

The post The World’s Existing Power Plants Will Emit 300 Billion Tons Of Carbon Dioxide In Their Lifetimes appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

6 Ways The Washington Post Could Show It’s Serious About Climate Change

Climate Progress - August 27, 2014 - 9:10am

CREDIT: AP

Cheers to the Washington Post for (finally) taking human-caused climate change seriously enough to launch a series of editorials demanding a change in both dialogue and action. Jeers for suggesting the paper will now be “more inclined to take op-eds that challenge” their view that climate science is real and that the threat posed by it is “existential.”

The Post’s first editorial in the series this week was about “The country’s sinking debate over global warming.” It begins by stating “the national debate on climate change has devolved.” As the paper’s editorial board explains, it’s devolved from serious talk by both parties before Obama’s election into inaction because “a faction that rejects the science of global warming dragged the GOP into irresponsible head-in-the-sand-ism.”

But there are there other reasons that the debate has devolved into paralysis, including ones that are in the direct control of major national media outlets like the Post. In particular, if the Post is serious, it needs to start treating the story of the century as the story of the century and treating the established science as established science, not debatable politics.

Indeed, the paper’s second editorial notes, “among mainstream scientists, this paralysis is mind-boggling.” And the Post summarizes the editorial this way:

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt explained to Media Matters why the Post took the unusual step of committing to a week of editorials on climate change: “Over the long run it is an existential threat to the planet, I believe that, so you don’t get much bigger than that.” Precisely.

In the spirit of these statements by the paper, here are six ways the Washington Post could show that it truly gets that climate change is an “existential threat.”

1. Fact-check op-eds on climate
2. Stop printing comments and letters from climate science deniers
3. End false balance
4. Restore coverage on climate change
5. Put Juliet Eilperin (and/or another top climate reporter) back on the climate beat
6. Bring on a full-time science blogger

Let’s look a little closer at those.

Fact-check op-eds on climate

Ideally, the Washington Post should simply stop publishing climate science deniers, people who spread misinformation and disinformation on the existential threat that is climate change. Of course, that would include major columnists of theirs, including George Will.

Sadly, it appears the reverse is going to be true, Media Matters reports:

But Hiatt said the new focus on climate change does not mean those with differing views, even deniers of the problem, will be barred from the Post’s opinion pages.

“We encourage robust debate on our op-ed page and for anything in general, not just any one topic,” he said. “I’m more inclined to take op-eds that challenge our editorials than just kind of join the chorus.”

Yes, the Post asserts “the science is clear” and climate change is “an existential threat” and “the national debate on climate change has devolved,” but will publish even more pieces by deniers and confusionists like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bjorn Lomborg, and Sarah Palin.

Does the paper publish more op-eds from people claiming cigarette smoking isn’t harmful to your health simply because the editors accept that fact? Of course not. Yet the scientific community’s certainty about human-caused climate change is as great as that of the medical community’s a certainty that cigarette smoking is bad for your health.

Bizarrely, Hiatt told Media Matters that “we try in both letters and op-eds to make sure that nothing we print is factually inaccurate.” That is patently false — see, for instance “The Washington Post op-ed page remains the home of un-fact-checked disinformation about clean energy and global warming” and “Will the Washington Post ever fact check a George Will column?” and Will yet again.

Things got so bad that the Post’s own reporters took the unprecedented step of contradicting George Will in a news article.

But even years after that debacle, the Post still publishes pieces from Will in particular that clearly have not been checked for accuracy (see “Shameless Flameout: Washington Post Once Again Publishes George Will’s Anti-Scientific Nonsense”).

If the Post’s senior editors won’t even fact-check their own op-ed page, it is hard to take seriously their seeming epiphany on climate.

Stop printing letters and comments from climate science deniers

It should be a no-brainer to stop printing false statements from readers who are no-brainers themselves. Heck, a year ago the LA Times announced its policy that “letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed.” Other papers have announced similar policies. Is the Post going to treat the issue less seriously than the Times?

Extending that to comments from science deniers should be straightforward. Last year, Reddit’s popular /r/science forum announced a “de facto ban on climate denial,” as moderator and Ph.D. chemist Nathan Allen told ThinkProgress. “As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral,” he said. “So if a half-dozen volunteers can keep a page with more than four million users from being a microphone for the antiscientific, is it too much to ask for newspapers to police their own editorial pages as proficiently?”

End false balance

The Washington Post has a long history of giving equal or disproportionate time to the misinformation of climate science deniers.

But now that they have acknowledged that “the science is real,” there is no longer any justification for their reporters to quote people who are simply spreading misinformation or disinformation. The paper moved beyond quoting the tobacco industry on the supposed harmlessness of their product years ago.

Two years ago NPR released an an ethics handbook for reporters that asserted “our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.” In particular, the handbook noted, “if the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports.”

Where is that clearer than in the climate discussion, where we know upwards of 97 percent of climate scientists share the understanding that human activity is driving recent global warming?

In July, BBC’s governing body released a report on its new policy to avoid false balance. It said, “science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.” As a result, BBC reporters are to sharply reduce the air time given to climate science deniers — and others with anti-science viewpoints — make make their coverage more fair and accurate.

Is the Washington Post really going to leave it to a fake news show, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” on HBO, to be the only U.S. “media” outlet to hold a “statistically representative climate change debate” (video here)?

Restore coverage on climate change

Climate Progress has long argued that climate change is an “existential threat” and thus the story that will have the biggest impact on the lives of readers and their children in the coming decades. For the Post senior editors’ new-found seriousness on climate change be taken seriously, they must undo their gutted coverage of the story of the century.

Last year, the paper’s already abysmally low coverage of climate change dropped by one third. It is time for the Post to reverse that and start dramatically increasing their coverage.

Here’s one way to do it:

Put Juliet Eilperin (and/or another top climate reporter) back on climate beat

In early 2013, the Post announced “Juliet Eilperin will return to the world of politics to cover the White House. Juliet has had a terrific run on the environment beat, becoming one of the country’s leading reporters on climate change.”

That was an obvious blunder at the time — and doubly so now.

A paper that is serious about climate change needs to have a top climate reporter or two. I didn’t agree with all of Eilperin’s coverage, but she had a strong command of the subject — and I suspect some of my issues with her were actually issues with editors watering down her pieces or requiring false balance quotes from deniers.

The Post should put her back on the full-time climate beat. They could also bring in one of the many world-class climate reporters let go by the major media in recent years.

Bring on a full-time science blogger

Earlier this year, the Washington Post dropped star blogger Ezra Klein — one of their only consistent sources of science-based coverage of climate change. Worse, at the same time they glommed onto a libertarian, confusionist website, The Volokh Conspiracy, and gave them “full editorial control.”

As Brad Johnson explained at the time, “the Volokh Conspiracy bloggers are aptly named, as many of them have promoted conspiracy theories about anthropogenic climate change and the scientists who study it.” As if there weren’t enough confusionists writing for the Post.

Anyway, there are a lot of great climate science bloggers who can clearly explain things with charts the way Klein does. Here’s one of the best.

BOTTOM LINE: The series of editorials by the Washington Post on climate change is a good start. But they have a lot to do — and a lot to undo — if they want to convince anyone that they are genuinely serious.

The post 6 Ways The Washington Post Could Show It’s Serious About Climate Change appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Obama Looks Beyond Congress for New Climate Agreement

Climate Crocks - August 27, 2014 - 8:41am
NYTimes: WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress. In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats […]
Categories: International News

Central Power Plants: An Endangered Species?

Climate Crocks - August 27, 2014 - 8:41am
ThinkProgress: Within a few decades, large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past in Europe. That’s the word from investment bank UBS, which just released a new report anticipating a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles that will render obsolete traditional power generation by […]
Categories: International News

UKs winter floods strengthen belief humans causing climate change poll

Guardian - August 27, 2014 - 8:40am
Britons say they are more convinced climate is changing and that humans are the main cause

More than a quarter of people say UKs winter floods strengthened their belief in human-induced climate change, a survey has found.

Half the people polled for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said widespread flooding in early 2014 made them more convinced the climate was changing, and 27% said the floods had also increased their belief humans were the main cause.

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Categories: International News

Climate sceptics see a conspiracy in Australia's record breaking heat | Graham Readfearn

Guardian - August 27, 2014 - 5:38am

Bureau of Meteorology says claims from one climate sceptic that it has corrupted temperature data are false

You could cut the triumphalism on the climate science denialist blogs right now with a hardback copy of George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Their unbridled joy comes not in the wake of some key research published in the scientific literature but in the fact that a climate sceptic has got a mainstream newspaper to give their conspiracy theory another airing.

Contrary to assertions in some parts of the media, the Bureau is not altering climate records to exaggerate estimates of global warming.

The original raw data is all still there it has not been corrupted. Anyone can go and get that original data.

Pre-1910 there was not much of a spread but also there was more uncertainty about how the temperatures were being measured. By 1910, most temperatures were being measured in a Stevenson Screen. A lot of measurements were taken at Post Offices but in many cases these were moved out to airports around the middle of the 20th century. That produces artificial cooling in the data.

That then creates a jump in the time series thats not related to a jump in the climate. The bureau is altering the temperature data to remove those non-climatic effects that are due to changes like new instrumentation or site movements.

Is the bureau fiddling the figures to fit with a global warming conspiracy? No! Are they amending the records to make them consistent through time? Yes.

Contrary to assertions in some parts of the media, the Bureau is not altering climate records to exaggerate estimates of global warming.

Our role is to make meteorological measurements, and to curate, analyse and communicate the data for use in decision making and to support public understanding.

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Categories: International News

New coal power stations threat to EUs emissions target

Guardian - August 27, 2014 - 3:00am
Burning Europes lignite reserves would wipe out carbon budget from 2020 until the end of the century, says Greenpeace

New coal power stations designed to burn Europes massive deposits of lignite pose a serious threat to the continents decarbonisation efforts, according to figures released on Wednesday.

Analysts from Greenpeaces Energydesk compiled data from the German government that shows burning Europes reserves of lignite would wipe out the EUs entire carbon budget from 2020 until the end of the century.

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Categories: International News

Merger of Burger King and Tim Hortons Offers Opportunities For Better Palm Oil Policies

Union of Concerned Scientists - August 27, 2014 - 1:00am
A statement released today by UCS in regards to the Burger King merger with Tim Hortons restaurant chain urges commentators to consider both companies record on palm oil.
Categories: International News

Australia's transport is falling behind on energy efficiency

The Conversation - August 27, 2014 - 12:12am
Australia's transport is among the least energy efficient, largely thanks to continuing investment in roads over rail. Phillip Capper/Flickr, CC BY

Australia has scored poorly in the energy efficiency of its land transport, and is well behind other major economies, a recent international scorecard has revealed. That means Australians are using more energy to travel each kilometre than people in developed nations such as the US, and major emerging economies such as China, Brazil, and India.

On overall energy efficiency across national efforts, buildings, industry and transport Australia ranked tenth out of 16 major OECD countries.

But the scorecard, published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, found that Australia ranked last for transport and that for overall energy efficiency, Australia is the “one country in which a clear backward trend exists”. The report notes that this has occurred recently.

Of 16 countries Australia ranked tenth for overall energy efficiency, but last for energy efficiency in transport. ACEEE

How has Australia got here? The trend is driven largely by Australia’s continuing and increasing investment in favour of roads rather than urban rail. Under the first budget for the Abbott government, nearly A$4.25 billion of funds were withdrawn from urban rail and diverted to road construction.

But, if we compare road and rail, we find roads not only encourage more energy use, but cost more too.

Australia’s transport scorecard

On the recent scorecard, using OECD, International Energy Agency and other independent data, Australia’s transport was ranked against 15 other countries.

Countries could earn a possible 25 points for transport energy efficiency (on land), on eight different criteria.

On three of eight criteria, Australia scored zero: fuel economy of passenger vehicles on both performance and the setting of future standards, and, for having no fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks.

For each of four metrics including the use of public transport, and, investment in rail transit versus roads, Australia scored just one point each.

Only in the metric “energy intensity of freight transport” did Australia get full marks. This score was assisted by the very high energy efficiency of the iron ore railways in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Such a low ranking for transport energy efficiency policy and performance should act as an incentive for Australia to do better.

Rail and road compared

During 2011-12, cars, buses and trucks used nearly 32 billion litres of petrol, diesel, and LPG. By way of contrast, rail used 1.67 billion litres of diesel (or its electricity equivalent) in a year for a smaller passenger task but a larger freight task than road. This reflects the fact that rail is much more energy efficient than road transport to move people and freight.

In the late 1990s, both the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, and Engineers Australia gave considered warnings that cheap oil would not last forever, and more energy efficient transport was needed.

These warnings, and one in 2002 by the then Australian Treasury Secretary Dr Ken Henry, demonstrate the very challenging problems posed to future generations on the projected increases in urban traffic and interstate road freight.

In 2004, oil prices were rising, yet there were government forecasts that oil could be expected to drop back to US$20 a barrel. However, by mid 2008, oil prices had peaked at about US$146 per barrel. With the global recession, oil prices have since receded and so far petrol prices have been restrained. They are expected to increase over the next decade.

A further reason for reform is the sheer amount of money spent on roads, road vehicle usage, and its high external costs. In the early 1990s, research commissioned by the Australian Automobile Association found that the total cost of road vehicle operations, including the fuel they use, buying and maintaining the vehicles, road works, road crashes and external costs was about 11% of GDP.

In 2013-14 terms, this is some A$173 billion each year. Due to fuel costs and road outlays increasing faster than inflation over the past 20 years, and growing road congestion, this estimate is likely to be conservative.

There are numerous hidden costs of road vehicle use, but not including road congestion, leading to leading to a “road deficit” of about 1% of GDP. Road congestion costs add a further 1% or so of GDP. These costs simply cannot be reduced by building more roads.

In addition, Australia’s four largest cities need major urban rail upgrades, and the states need federal funds to progress the new rail construction. This includes a second Sydney Harbour rail crossing, the new Melbourne Rail Link (Metro), a Brisbane Bus and Train Tunnel, and Perth light rail.

Wrong way-go back

A recent report from the Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics notes Australia’s three levels of government and the private sector are now spending over A$20 billion a year on road construction and maintenance.

Informed comment on our land transport policy (or lack thereof) has been provided in a recent report “Spend more, waste more. Australia’s roads in 2014: moving beyond gambling”. The report, prepared for Infrastructure Australia was briefly placed on their website, and then withdrawn. It now may be found at the website of the Yarra Campaign for Action on Transport, which would much prefer a better rail system for Melbourne rather than the proposed East West motorway that could cost up to A$1 billion for each kilometre or $1m per metre.

As noted by the recent report for Infrastructure Australia, “between 2008-09 and 2011-12, over A$4.5 billion more was spent on roads than was raised in almost all road taxes and charges.”

After noting the need for reform in road pricing, including mass distance location for the heavier trucks, this report considers that the big annual outlay of roads, which is set to grow even larger at the expense of federal funding of urban rail, is a “road spend [that] can only be described as hideously inefficient.”

Clearly, current federal policies of putting more money into roads and less into rail is a case of ignoring all the signs of “Wrong way-go back”.

Building more freeways will induce more traffic, and hence more road congestion with more liquid fuel use.

A more sustainable approach would be for Australia’s major cities to expand their urban railways, and for people to use more buses, cycling and/or walking. This would reduce liquid fuel use and hence emissions.

Philip Laird owns shares in some rail and road freight companies. He has previously received funding from the two Rail related CRCs and is affiliated, inter alia, with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, and Engineers Australia. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Categories: International News

Stopgap carbon policies: far from perfect, but better than nothing

The Conversation - August 26, 2014 - 4:47pm
Clive Palmer, with the unlikely backing of Al Gore, may have found a way to salvage something from Australia's looming climate policy vacuum.AAPImage/Alan Porritt

Climate policy is back on the agenda in Canberra this week, with the focus on the government’s centrepiece Direct Action plan. The Coalition will have to negotiate with the Palmer United Party, which will reportedly not support Direct Action unless legislation for the idea of a “dormant” emissions trading scheme, with an interim price of zero, is also passed.

Currently, Australia has no overarching policy to reduce carbon emissions, following the repeal of the carbon price in July.

Palmer announced the scheme at a joint media conference with former US vice president Al Gore in June. The emissions trading scheme would have no price until key trading partners — China, India, Japan, South Korea, the EU, and the US — also develop national emissions trading schemes.

Meanwhile, new modelling from RepuTex has found, once again, that without amendment Direct Action will fail to achieve Australia’s legislated emissions target of 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

So, what might Australia’s climate policy end up looking like, and could Palmer’s emissions trading scheme – even with a zero initial price on emissions – act as a stopgap?

Climate and energy go hand-in-hand

We need to deal with climate change because of impacts on food, water, ecosystems, health, extreme events and sea level rise. We will see direct implications for Australia, and indirect effects through migration, trade, technologies and capital across borders.

We also need a secure energy supply for Australia, capable of riding the changes and shocks generated by these same global flows. Given that current climate change is driven by greenhouse gas emissions, and the majority of greenhouse gas emissions are driven by energy generation, these two great drivers go hand-in-hand.

But after more than a decade of often factious debate, almost nothing is clear about Australia’s long-term strategy to deal with these issues.

The atmosphere of confusion is enhanced by recent politics: a bad outcome for the economy because industry is unable to make crucial investment decisions in an uncertain policy environment.

This makes it even more important than usual to sort the signal from the noise.

One step forward, two steps back

Three broad policy tools can be used to drive emissions reductions and energy resilience: a price on carbon, incentives, and regulatory mechanisms. Australia needs a mix of all three if we are to successfully drive down emissions while maintaining energy security.

The vast majority of economists and international organisations (including the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and others) regard a price on carbon as the most efficient mechanism for reducing carbon emissions.

But there are also barriers to innovation — such as technological and institutional inertia — that we need to address. We can do this with the two broad policy tools that accompany a price on carbon: incentives, to encourage transformation, and regulation, for instance for energy efficiency in the domestic, industrial and transport sectors.

Over recent years, Australia has developed — and now largely discarded — several policy responses that draw from this broad toolkit. These include:

  • A legislated price on carbon emissions, so that they can be economically valued;
  • An Emissions Trading Scheme, to transmit the carbon price signal throughout the economy and maximise the efficiency of emissions reductions;
  • A Renewable Energy Target to incentivise the uptake of solar, wind and other near-zero-emission renewable technologies in electric power generation;
  • The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to provide seed funding for renewable energy projects, support research and development, and share knowledge, thus filling market gaps;
  • The Clean Energy Finance Corporation to mobilise private capital investment in renewable energy, low-emission technology and energy efficiency;
  • The Climate Change Authority to provide independent advice to Government about the scale of the emissions-reduction challenge for Australia.

Since the election of the Abbott government, all of these initiatives have been abandoned or are under threat.

The carbon tax and its associated emissions trading scheme have been axed, the Renewable Energy Target is under a review that has been signalled as likely to lead to a reduced target, and the government has indicated its intention to dismantle ARENA and the Climate Change Authority.

In this situation, some of the furniture may be saved by the unlikely intervention of Al Gore in influencing Clive Palmer’s approach to the issue. The Palmer United Party will support retaining the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority, along with an initially dormant, zero-price emissions trading scheme.

Starting at zero

At first sight, a zero-price emissions trading scheme looks like an empty gesture. Certainly, it is inferior to a genuine, consistently applied price on carbon, without exemptions, starting now.

But that option is politically unattainable at the moment, so we have to consider the next-best options.

Australia will inevitably need a trading scheme to respond to a rapidly changing world environment. Otherwise, carbon pricing could be used as a de facto trade barrier against Australian goods and services produced without a carbon price component, as other countries add their own carbon prices to Australian products.

In contrast to government claims, the world is not moving away from trading schemes (see here). Schemes already exist in the European Union, Switzerland, New Zealand, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Quebec and Alberta in Canada, some US states, and parts of Japan. Trading schemes are expanding rapidly in the United States, China, and elsewhere.

While far from ideal, an emissions trading scheme with a zero carbon price has four things to offer:

  • It equips Australia to respond quickly to widespread international uptake of an emissions trading scheme.
  • It provides some guidance for industry, which can plan for an eventual price on carbon while tracking current international pricing levels, knowing that an Australian trading scheme can (and likely will) be implemented fairly soon at short notice.
  • It would build on trading scheme design work over the last few years, in government, industry and non-government organisations.
  • These steps would drive behaviour change, even in advance of a price being implemented.

Although a zero-price emissions trading scheme looks empty at first, it is a stop-gap option that is much better than the no scheme at all.

Michael Raupach has no financial interests and receives no funding that would benefit from uptake of the opinions expressed in this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Kenneth Baldwin has previously received funding from the Research Council.

Michael Smith does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Categories: International News

Global warming is already here and could be irreversible, UN panel says

Guardian - August 26, 2014 - 4:12pm

A 127-page draft report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes what can be done about it

Global warming is here, human-caused and probably already dangerous and its increasingly likely that the heating trend could be irreversible, a draft of a new international science report says.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winning group. There is little in the report that wasnt in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

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Categories: International News

Gubernatorial Candidate From Keystone XL Battleground State Connects Pipeline To Climate Change

Climate Progress - August 26, 2014 - 3:30pm

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook speaks in Omaha, Neb., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, after being endorsed by three former Omaha mayors, including Mike Fahey, right, and Mike Boyle, left.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline goes beyond concern for his state: primarily, he’s worried about climate change.

“I believe, from all my experience, that building the infrastructure to help facilitate that development [of tar sands] will help speed that development, and ultimately I think that contributes to climate change,” he told ThinkProgress. “For me, it’s a climate change issue.”

Nebraska has become home one of the most heated battles over Keystone XL in the country. It’s the only state on the pipeline’s proposed route in which residents have continued to refuse to sign away their land to TransCanada, and anti-Keystone XL groups like Bold Nebraska have helped drum up fierce opposition in the state.

Hassebrook is also concerned about the potential for TransCanada to use eminent domain to secure the land of the holdout landowners.

“The whole idea of eminent domain is we take peoples’ property rights when there’s a compelling public interest,” he said. “From my perspective, I don’t see the compelling public interest for the people of Nebraska in helping a Canadian company sell Canadian oil to the Chinese.”

But Hassebrook is alone in the race with his opposition to the pipeline, whose exact route won’t be set until the state’s Supreme Court hears arguments over it in 2015 but, if approved by the White House, is set to bisect Nebraska. Hassebrook’s Republican opponent, Pete Ricketts, supports the pipeline’s construction, saying in April that he thinks transporting oil by pipeline “can be much safer and more environmentally responsible than transport by rail or truck,” and that the pipeline “will provide economic benefits for Nebraskans in terms of new jobs and increased local tax revenues.”

I don’t see the compelling public interest for the people of Nebraska in helping a Canadian company sell Canadian oil to the Chinese

“It will help create jobs, and I think the fundamental question we’re facing here in the state is how we grow Nebraska,” Ricketts told the Omaha World-Herald this week.

Hassebrook, though, has a different plan for jobs in Nebraska. He wants to tap the state’s vast potential for wind energy, which was ranked fourth in the nation and which he says so far hasn’t been developed as much as it should be.

“We’re way behind most of our neighbors, and it reflects a profound lack of leadership,” he said. “And it is costing us thousands of good jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in local tax revenue.”

Hassebrook said he wants to approach private companies that have expressed interest before in building wind transmission lines in Nebraska and try to find ways to export wind power out of the state. He also said he’s interested in looking into temporary production tax incentives for wind, which he said some surrounding states have already implemented and that Nebraska should consider if it wants to be competitive in the wind energy market. Right now, Nebraska ranks 20th in the country for total megawatts of installed wind capacity, and two-thirds of the state’s power comes from coal. Keystone XL would create few permanent jobs, while harnessing the power of wind energy could create thousands, he said.

Hassebrook and Ricketts are also split over their views on climate change. Ricketts is skeptical that climate change is occurring, telling the Omaha World-Herald that he thinks “it is far from clear — despite what the other side is saying — it is far from clear what is going on with our climate.” Hassebrook said his concern about climate change is grounded in his upbringing, which taught him that people shouldn’t live in the present at the expense of the future.

“This is an issue where I think we have an obligation to our kids and grand-kids to step up, and I take that responsibility very seriously,” he said. “I think to walk away from that responsibility to the next generation — because it’s easier to just walk away and ignore it — is anything but conservative, and it doesn’t reflect Nebraska’s values.”

Both candidates, however, have acknowledged that the fight over Keystone XL is largely out of their hands now. In February, a District Court judge struck down a Nebraska rule that gives the state’s governor the power to approve pipeline routes. The ruling means that there’s currently no approved route through Nebraska for Keystone XL, and the state’s Supreme Court will to take up the case in September. But the court’s decision isn’t expected until 2015, and ultimately, it’s President Obama who will make a final call on the pipeline.

The post Gubernatorial Candidate From Keystone XL Battleground State Connects Pipeline To Climate Change appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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