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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Penny Wong speech at Climate Adaptation Futures Conference

While many may say the Labor Government hasn't acted strongly enough on climate change with strong criticism and calls for abandonment of the CPRS, I think it is important we hear directly from Penny Wong. Have Criticisms? Add them as comments. Follow the Climate Adaption conference on twitter from user nccarf or #iadapt.

Keynote address transcript (provided by Minister Penny Wong's office) - 2010 Climate Adaptation Futures Conference By Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water delivered at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, 29 June 2010


It is a pleasure to be here at the opening of this Climate Change Adaptation Futures Conference. A conference that comes at a challenging point in the debate on climate change.

It is timely for us to remind ourselves why we all started talking about climate change and why we called for action. The reason was the science.

For too long, those who deny climate change is real have muddied the debate. For too long, they have hijacked this issue to pursue their own agenda. Today, I want to play my part in setting the record straight on the science.

But first, I want to recognise you and the scientists across the world who are continuing their research on climate change. It is because of you that we understand climate change is real. It is because of you that we understand that climate change is happening now. It is because of you that we understand that climate change is caused by CO2 emissions.

Nevertheless, there are some academics and commentators who undermine the science. They differ from those who question, or are unsure, or even those who are simply doubtful of the science. They are not swayed by evidence. Instead they start from a position of opposition.

Those that deny the reality of climate change - let's call them the climate change opposition - cannot agree on an alternative theory. And they are even less likely to concede that they might be wrong. Some say the earth is not warming. Some say it has stopped warming. Others say the earth is warming - but because of natural variability.

When it comes down to it, the climate change opposition have not put forward one alternative, coherent explanation as to how the climate is changing and why it is changing. And when weighing their theories it is reasonable to ask about the relevance of their qualifications and the extent of their willingness to be peer reviewed.

Publicity does not equate to scientific weight.


On the other hand, those putting forward the evidence of human-induced climate change are affiliated with some of the most credible research organisations in the world. In Australia, there's the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. In the US, there is the US National Academy of Sciences. In the UK there's the Hadley Centre. And finally, there's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Apart from this, we must acknowledge that the climate change consensus is underpinned by the peer review process. It is important that the public understands how this system works.

Peer review is the process of allowing science to be reviewed before it is accepted for publication by peers in a field who judge the competence, significance and originality of the research. These scientists then challenge or support these results with peer-reviewed articles of their own and over time a consensus builds around the observations that explain the science most successfully. It is robust. It is trustworthy.

I note there have been some issues raised recently about the IPCC. The most important of the three volumes of the IPCC for policy is the Working Group 1 report, which is the foundation for climate change science. The authors of that report were very careful to use only peer-reviewed literature and to consider it all carefully.

Furthermore, a recent study in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that about 98 per cent of the most active publishing climate researchers agree that human activity is warming the planet.

For us, these processes, the evidence and the consensus reaffirms the existence of climate change. It also reaffirms the case for action. It is clear to you and I why we can trust the science, but it may be less clear to the people who don't follow this closely.

Many people do not have the time to read the thousands of pages that has been written about climate science. Generally, the information they receive about climate change is from politicians, the media and other sources. They are told by people like you and me that climate change is real and is from the decades of industrial pollution and the greenhouse gases that continue to be pumped into the atmosphere. But then some public figures say this is not true.

Unfortunately, not everyone is aware that there is a difference when it comes to the credibility of these contributions. The climate change opposition pick and choose statistics that seem to back up their claims and present information in an irresponsible way.

Let me give you a recent example.

Newspapers in the UK and Australia published articles criticising the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The articles criticised the IPCC report for stating that:

"up to 40 per cent of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall".

The newspapers said it was an ``unsubstantiated claim'' and the headlines included:

"More flaws emerge in climate alarms'' and the ``UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim".

These reports were simply untrue. They were published nevertheless. Last week the newspapers issued a correction and I acknowledge them for doing the right thing. However there are many who have not. Just because something is published does not make it right.

It brings me to my next point. In this day and age we are bombarded with arguments and counter-arguments. We have all been taught that there are two sides to every story. The difference is that climate change is not a story. Climate change is fact. And it is irresponsible to try to tell people that climate change does not pose a risk.

For example, we should remind ourselves that:

  • 2009 was the second hottest year in Australia and ended our hottest decade.
  • Each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the past.
  • Globally, 2009 was ranked the fifth warmest year on record and capped off the hottest decade in recorded history.
  • Sea levels are rising.
  • Scientists have found that it is at least 90 per cent likely that the observed global warming has been caused by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change.

If we do not take action on climate change, the impact on the Murray Darling Basin will be catastrophic. If emissions continue to grow unabated, irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin is projected to decline by 90 per cent this century.

To put a local perspective on it, if emissions grow unabated, the CSIRO projects the number of days more than 40C in Queensland will increase rapidly. For example, within the next six decades - which for some Australians will be in our children's lifetime - the number of hot days over 40C in Longreach will increase from 21 to 59.

And then there are our natural icons such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Daintree. Scientists are already warning us that the Great Barrier Reef is being affected by climate change. If these icons are irreparably damaged, they will no longer be seen through the eyes of the next generation as they were by the last.

Ross Garnaut, the economist who was tasked to do the Government's climate change review, was right when he described climate change as a "diabolical policy problem". We are asking this generation to make significant changes, so the next generation can enjoy the same quality of life that we have enjoyed.

It means you, me and this Government will always have a duty to responsibly explain the facts of climate change. This is a challenge because it is hard to reduce complex scientific research into one-line statements. But we knew this would not be easy.

And it was made harder in the past 12 months because the national Parliament was not up to the job. The senior federal politicians who believe climate change is "absolute crap" stood in the way of action.

It is important we remember what happened last year because some senior federal politicians are trying to re-write history. Since coming to Government, we put forward a green paper, a white paper and released the Garnaut Review into climate change.

We put forward our mechanism, the CPRS, and after intense negotiations, the Government struck a deal with the Coalition. But at one fell swoop, Tony Abbott torpedoed the deal we had with the Opposition. He put his political interests first and the interests of the nation last.

Nevertheless, we re-introduced the Bill into the Senate and two Liberals crossed the floor to vote with us for a price on carbon. If the Australian Greens had not teamed up with the Coalition to sink the legislation, we would be moving towards a price on carbon.

It may be history, as they say, but that does not mean we should give up. We have to look forward. At her first press conference as Labor leader last week, Julia Gillard said:

"It is as disappointing to me as it is to millions of Australians that we do not have a price on carbon. And in the future we will need one. But first we will need to establish a community consensus for action."

The Prime Minister has made clear her commitment to building a lasting and deep community consensus on this issue. We will build this consensus, despite vocal opponents who will say anything they can to undermine the science. We ask that you give us your help and expertise.


One of the first steps this Government has taken is to bolster renewable energy and adaptation measures throughout the country. We must invest in adaptation, which will become much more expensive in the future if we do not put a price on carbon.

But I just want to go back a step.

Our environment has been heavily affected by the years of pollution from heavy industry. But we should not blame previous generations for the position we are in now. This great country, and many others across the world, were developed off the back of cheap and reliable energy.

However, generations ago, the science did not unequivocally warn of the dangers of rising CO2 emissions. But now it does. We know this now, and as a result we know we have tough choices to make. This Government is beginning the transition.

Our Renewable Energy Target passed both Houses of Parliament last week.
It mandates that the equivalent of at least 20 per cent of Australia's electricity supply comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar. This will help drive nearly $19 billion of investment in clean, renewable energy.


In the water portfolio, we have helped fund key infrastructure for local councils to prepare for climate change. We allocated $200m under our Strengthening Basin Communities program to help local communities across the Murray-Darling Basin invest in new water-saving initiatives. We have announced more than $86 million in funding for 13 stormwater, harvesting and reuse projects under our National Urban Water and Desalination Plan.

This is all part of our $1 billion commitment to helping secure water supplies for the current and future needs of our towns and cities - investments that are all about preparing us for climate change.

In Australia we have a history of water scarcity and we know water has been in even more short supply in recent years. We are investing a great deal in securing water supplies in urban and rural areas. But an important part of the equation is the relationship between population growth and water scarcity.

Understanding the capacity of our water supplies, and our ability to use water more efficiently, is an important component of sustainable population planning.


In February this year I released the Government's position paper on adaptation. The Commonwealth is developing a national adaptation response agenda in partnership with states and territories for COAG consideration later this year.

It is work that has to be done, especially in light of the Climate Change Risks to Australia's Coasts Report released last year. This report stated that between 157,000 and 247,000 existing residential buildings would be at risk from sea inundation of 1.1m by the end of the century.

In the face of research such as this - we cannot ignore the need to adapt to the climate change we cannot avoid.


In conclusion, I want to acknowledge the work of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, the CSIRO Adaptation Flagship and many of you for the progress you have made so far, and your commitment to what will need to be done in the future. You have remained focused on your work in the face of vocal opponents.

Your research continues to make a valuable contribution to our understanding of climate change, and what it means for this nation.

At this time, we should remember again that this debate and the call for action began with the science. And the science can get it back on track again. Because no fair-minded person could be presented with the weight and extent of the science and not conclude that we have to act.

The science is at the heart of building the consensus.

Thank you.

Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne who has been writing on Climate Change issues and protests including Rising Sea Level, Ocean acidification, Environmental and social Impacts since 2004.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Renewable energy target: 20 by 2020 or zero emissions by 2020?

Switch on Renewables

At the same time on Friday as Trade Minister Simon Crean was signing the deal to export brown coal to Vietnam, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong issued a press release welcoming the passage of the enhanced Renewable Energy Target and Building Energy Efficiency legislation through the Federal Parliament. One could interpret Penny Wong's PR as a greenwashing response to the Beyond Zero Emissions launch on Wednesday for a Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan of zero emissions.

"The Renewable Energy Target will ensure 20 per cent of Australia's electricity supply in 2020 will come from renewable sources." Penny Wong said. The bill splits the Renewable Energy Target into two parts from 1 January 2011: small scale systems such as solar photovoltaic panels and solar hot water systems on residential housing; and large scale projects like wind farms, commercial solar and geothermal.

But will 20 percent of electricity supply from renewables by 2020 be enough to forestall the impacts of climate change?

In a blog post Tony Mohr, climate change manager from the Australian Conservation Foundation called the legislation an important step towards a cleaner future for Australia but said much more needed to be done. "The government has agreed to fund just two of the 52 projects that applied for funding under the Solar Flagships program. These are 52 proposals for real projects that would make the kind of shift we need, but none of them will get support from the current Renewable Energy Target." Tony Mohr said, "Australia could join other leading countries like Germany by increasing the share of electricity to 40 per cent by 2020."

But the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 initiative goes further. "The premise of a 10 year transition is based on 'The Budget Approach' from the German Advisory Council on Global Change. In order to have a 67% chance of keeping global warming below 2oC above pre-industrial temperatures, on a basis of equal allocation of emissions on a per-capita basis, it would be necessary for the USA to reduce emissions to zero in 10 years. Australia has the same per-capita emissions as the USA, and would need to pursue the same goal," the plan says.

The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 synopsis calls for 40% renewable energy from wind generation, 60% from large scale concentrating solar thermal power with molten salt storage for 24/7 baseload operation, and backup from Hydro-electric and biomass power generation. The plan specifies sites around Australia that are selected for their wind availability, solar incidence, economy of scale, transmission costs, technical efficency, and geographical diversity: 23 sites for wind, and 12 sites for Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST). The plan is based only on existing commercial technology.

The plan has received support by a variety of academics and scientists. Associate Professor Keith Lovegrove, Leader Solar Thermal Group at the Australian National University said "The ZCA report analyses one particular scenario of renewable energy technology choice based on available solutions, in considerable depth. It successfully shows in detail that 100% renewable energy is both technically possible and economically affordable. Clearly other renewable energy technology scenarios are also possible, that only serves to strengthen the overall conclusion about viability. The group is to be congratulated for their efforts."

The plan has been costed at $370 billion, or about 3 per cent of GDP per year for 10 years. It could become a 21st century equivalent of the Snowy Mountains Scheme creating up to 80,000 jobs from installation of renewable energy generation at the peak of construction, and over 45,000 jobs in operations and maintenance that will continue for the life of the plant. Such a scheme would also generate up to 30,000 jobs in manufacturing wind turbines and heliostats.

The Beyond Zero Emissions plan was launched in Canberra by Senators Christine Milne (Greens), Judith Troeth (Liberal), and Nick Xenophon (Independent), just as the backroom talks to replace Kevin Rudd were taking place. So the news on Thursday was all about Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Guillard.

Matthew Wright, Beyond Zero Emissions Executive Director said at the launch "It's time for the Australian parliament to a implement a climate and energy policy agenda to repower our economy with 100% renewable energy by 2020. Concentrated solar thermal technology is capable of generating renewable electricity 24 hours a day and credible climate and energy policy will encourage the rapid deployment of the technology in Australia. This should be a priority for Australian governments,"

Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said: "We can and must aim to power Australia with 100% renewable energy as soon as possible if we are to truly tackle the climate crisis. This Zero Carbon Australia plan is an extremely valuable contribution which all in the parliament should be looking at very seriously, particularly as we are currently debating renewable energy legislation in the Senate."

So Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and the Australian Parliament gave us on Friday the plan for 20 per cent renewable power by 2020, but what we really need is something much more. Zero Carbon Emissions have shown that reducing stationary carbon emissions to zero is feasible, it just depends on the political will and leadership.

Climate Adaption Conference

The zero emissions plan comes as Australia prepares to host the first international conference held in Australia to discuss the science and options for adapting to climate change, due to begin June 29 on the Gold Coast.

Conference chairs National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) Director Professor Jean Palutikof said "The science tells us that climate change is happening faster than we thought and that the 'window' for us to adapt and prepare is smaller than we thought. Australia is already experiencing the effects of climate change and is likely to be one of the most severely affected amongst developed countries."

"Regardless of what mitigation actions we take now as a nation or globally to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it is too late to 'mitigate our way out of the problem' - we will need a mixture of adaptation and mitigation measures." said Jean Palutikof.

CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship Director Dr Andrew Ash said more than 1000 scientists and decision makers from developed and developing countries were expected to attend. "The impacts from climate change will be felt first and most severely in developing countries, and international co-operation is required to ensure developing countries have the tools and resources they need to adapt."


Matthew Wright from Beyond Zero Emisions explains the plan to reduce Australia's carbon emissions to zero by 2020 in a series of 5 youtube videos. here is the first one:

Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne who has been writing on Climate Change issues and protests including Rising Sea Level, Ocean acidification, Environmental and social Impacts since 2004.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Xstrata puts Wandoan coal mine on hold

First the Bickham coal mine was stopped, now Xstrata is placing the Wandoan coal mine project in Queensland - potentially one of the largest coal mines in the world - on hold. Friends of the Earth reckons Xstrata is scapegoating the Rudd Governments super profit resource rent tax for the decision when in reality it is poor planning by Xstrata.

The Anglo-Swiss mining company Xstrata announced today the "loss" of potential jobs at Ernest Henry copper mine in Queensland and in the Wandoan coal project. These jobs are for planned work - they haven't been created and don't yet exist. The announcement was part of the mining industry's campaign against the imposition of a Resource rental tax (RSPT) on all mining.

The Wandoan coal mine was planned to be one of the largest coal mines in the world, estimated by Xstrata to be worth $6 billion dollars. Situated to the west of the Queensland town of Wandoan which is located just off the Leichhardt Highway 407 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, and 382 kilometres south-west of the Port of Gladstone, in the local government area of Dalby Regional Shire.

"The RSPT puts the future of this globally significant AUD6 billion project at risk, together with the development of the Surat Basin as an internationally competitive export coal region," Xstrata Coal Chief Executive Peter Freyberg said.

But Friends of the Earth have claimed the project has been poorly planned based upon high coal export prices.

"We've been watching this project for a number of years and could see that it was not viable without the inflated coal export prices we saw during the boom. Xstrata are using the Government's Resource Profits Tax as a scapegoat to cover up for their own poor planning" said spokes-person for Friends of the Earth Brisbane, Eleanor Smith.

"The Wandoan Coal Project is a climate killer", said Ms Smith "At 30 million tonnes of coal per year, it was to be one of the biggest coal projects in the world and add millions of tonnes to our carbon debt."

Coal mining is a highly destructive activity often destroying rural communities and alienating agricultural productive farming land. "Xstrata have gone into Wandoan and absolutely decimated that community. Landholders have left, leaving schools and local businesses under pressure. A creeping death has taken over the community which was once a vibrant rural hub," said Ms Smith who visited the community as part of a research tour of coal affected communities in 2008.

A report on the Queensland coal industry - Community Dialogues on Coal - released by Friends of the Earth on May 1, 2009 said "The coal industry in Queensland is entering a period of enormous uncertainty and risk, with continuing job losses, shrinking global demand, and massive sector-wide restructures due to climate change policy responses. In all this, it is the people of Queensland's coal communities who will have to deal with the very real impacts of this period of transition."

Friends of the Earth have supported the Rudd Government's proposed Resource Super Profits Tax. "It is high time governments taxed mining companies appropriately," said Eleanor Smith, "The resources belong to us, we bear the environmental and health costs of these industries and yet as it stands the Queensland Government gives all the royalties they earn and then some straight back to the coal industry in infrastructure and other services."

"We're really glad the Federal government is standing up to the mining industry and imposing a super profit tax, it's a shame the Queensland Government won't stand up and support it" said Ms Smith.

Friends of the earth have called for the phasing out of the coal industry due to it's contribution to climate change and destructive environmental and social costs of mining. "We need a tax on mining that funds a just transition of our economy away from fossil fuel energy and dirty jobs to sustainability. As the state with the largest mining industry in Australia we should be doing some major planning for a future without coal mining." said Ms Smith.

"The Xstrata case shows that we cannot trust these companies with our future. We simply must move towards sustainable industries that have been shown to provide more jobs, and decent jobs at that!" concluded Ms Smith.

Court documents and arguments on the Wandoan Coal Mine Case are available at Environmental Law Publishing.


And just for your entertainment is this video - a song about Xstrata closing a copper smelter plant in Canada earlier this year throwing 670 people out of work. Search on Youtube and you find a lot of nasty stories about Xstrata's attitude to fair employment in local communities.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New study estimates economic value of wetlands conservation

What value our wetlands? How do you value a wetlands environment? How do you value the indirect ecosystem and biodiversity benefits of having healthy wetland environments? An economic study of the Hattah wetlands within the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in northern Victoria attempts to answer these questions putting a direct economic value of $14.5 million dollars per year for maintaining the Hattah Lakes in a healthy state with adequate water levels.

Related: Protection of Murray River redgum wetlands 'sold down the river' by NSW government