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The good news on climate

October 3rd, 2016

Climate policy under the Abbott-Turnbull government has been so uniformly grim that it’s sometimes hard to remember how well things are going elsewhere in the world. A few of the most notable developments

* India has ratified the Paris Agreement, a big step for a country which not so long ago was disclaiming any responsibility to act. The EU will follow suit next week, and the agreement will enter into force 30 days after that.

* (H/T James Wimberley) Renewable electricity investment in 2015 was “more than sufficient” to cover the growth in global demand, according a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Unfortunately, fossil fuel capacity is still growing, adding to overcapacity, particularly for coal. But once this idiocy ends, the combination of growing energy efficiency and new renewables will be sufficient to see electricity-related emissions peak and then decline.

* Despite a 60 per cent reduction in the crude oil price, oil demand has barely moved. Admittedly, supply has also been slow to respond, but capital expenditure has been slashed, suggesting that we will see reduced oil production in future.

There’s still the chance of disaster. Should Donald Trump manage to get elected as President of the US, the whole process will be set back (though withdrawing will be difficult to do in a 4-year term of office) as will just about everything else. Currently, that chance is estimated at 30 per cent and falling, which is much better than it was a week or so ago, but still way too high.

But if that can be averted, there’s every chance that the world can reach peak CO2 emissions by 2020 and reduce emissions drastically after that. If that requires sanctions to bring a handful of recalcitrant governments into line, those governments will have well and truly earned it.

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  1. ZM
    October 3rd, 2016 at 19:56 | #1

    Other good news is the Democratic Party in the USA decided at their Convention recently to adopt a policy of wartime mobilisation for climate change. The plan so far is to have a forum within 100 days if Hilary Clinton wins the Presidential elections, so I think they have decided on a direction but the policies haven’t been formed yet. I hope they undertake some education and consultations around America as well, and don’t leave the community out like during the slum removals or something. Probably they will make community consultation part of the plans for anything affecting the local level, since that is what is considered best practice in urban planning now I hope.

    “Within 100 days of assuming office, Clinton promises to bring together engineers, scientists, policy experts and activists “to chart a course to solve the global climate crisis”.” http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/07/28/us-democrats-endorse-ww2-scale-mobilisation-on-climate-challenge/

    And Jane from the Facebook group Climate Mobilisation Australia wrote that Race Matthews who is a retired State and Federal MP from the ALP and a business and economics research fellow at Monash University had posted on his Facebook page the recent Bill McKibben of 350.org article We Literally Need To Declare War On Climate Change, and when Jane asked him if the ALP in Australia would support a wartime mobilisation approach then Race Matthews said it “its not a matter of whether, but how or when”

    That’s really good news I think!

    https://newrepublic.com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii

  2. Mpower
    October 3rd, 2016 at 21:12 | #2

    I was hoping to read Murdoch had retired.

    Meanwhile back in Oz, I have been trying to work out if the 1 in. 50 event in SA was based on last century data. It seemed it might just have been 50 years since the last one which would be abot on a par with the level of debate. The key point is the uncertainty.

  3. Ivor
    October 3rd, 2016 at 21:14 | #3

    There is no point advertising India’s ratification.

    India’s commitment is just:

    20-25% reduction in emissions per unit of GDP (excluding agriculture sector) from 2005 level by 2020

  4. James Wimberley
    October 3rd, 2016 at 22:59 | #4

    Thanks for the h/t, though I don’t feel I deserve one for just passing on information. Coruscatingly brilliant new arguments, yes (… waits a long time).

    Why should the new coal generating capacity coming on line lead to greater coal burning? As long as the grid operates a halfway honest merit order, the growing stock of renewables will be called on first and the coal burn will keep falling.

    There are two exceptions to this. One is that the merit order is rigged, as was it seems the case in some Chinese provinces till recently, and with Hinkley C (nuclear not coal). Is this at all common?

    The second is that the coal plants are inflexible and must run. The effect of this, as with plants in Germany, is that the wholesale price is driven so low (even into negative territory) that they are no.longer covering their fuel costs and make a loss. The situation is unsustainable, and German operators have filed with the government a long list of plants they want to close. It’s true here that the fall in coal burn is delayed, but not for long.

    The IEA seems to be sticking to its claim that global emissions are now flat. Coupled with the clear trends to more renewables, sluggish growth in electricity demand, and a marked decline in coal, it is not rash to predict that the two-year plateau in emissions is already turning into a measurable decline in 2016.

    Message to Eeyores: this is *good news*. We need lots more of it, starting with an immediate freeze on new coal plants, a real phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies, pedal-to-the-metal support for electric vehicles, action on methane leaks and HFCs, and the crushing defeat of Donald Trump. These are not sure things, but they are realistic political possibilities. Five years ago, who would have predicted the turnaround?

  5. ZM
    October 3rd, 2016 at 23:03 | #5

    I have a comment in moderation for links, but I just read on Facebook a group in America has just announced it’s starting a 1 year climate mobilisation program for people all over America to join, I wish someone would do something like this here.

    “We are looking for outstanding people ready to dedicate a year of their lives for “all years.” We aim to enlist people from all backgrounds, walks of life, and US regions. We truly need all hands on deck: People of color, with disabilities, of all faiths, of all ages, of all political persuasions, from all sectors (including even the fossil fuel industry), women, LGBTQIA, and veterans are strongly encouraged to apply.
    If you can’t afford to volunteer 30 hours a week, but are called to mobilize–please let us know what you would need in order to do climate year. We will do our best to meet financial need. (More information about finances here.)

    Admissions are rolling. Start as soon as you are ready.
    Apply Now
    Not able to commit 30+ hours a week but still want to mobilize?
    Join our traditional volunteers and organizers (who commit to 3-30 hours a week) by applying here or finding your local chapter!”

    http://climateyear.org/#share

  6. James Wimberley
    October 3rd, 2016 at 23:08 | #6

    @Ivor
    Ivor: the point, as with China, is that the softball NDC is already obsolete. Coal India has been told to trim production to match sluggish growth in demand, to avoid a further buildup of oil stocks. New solar is cheaper than new coal, according to Piyush Goyal, the Energy Minister. The solar boom continues gangbusters, and coal projects are being mothballed in the face of low expected capacity factors.

    It’s worth remembering that the grid in India is such a mess that the usual coalmen’s claim of 24/7 reliability rings totally hollow to Indian consumers. If they need it, they already buy their own backup.

  7. James Wimberley
    October 3rd, 2016 at 23:16 | #7

    @ZM
    What is the volunteering for? Renewables are capital- intensive. The markets supplying the gear are pretty efficient, and the skill level required for instslling solar, and a fortiori wind, rules out useful contributions from amateurs. I can see two useful tasks: political lobbying and planting trees.

  8. Ikonoclast
    October 4th, 2016 at 06:48 | #8

    An interesting sentence from J.Q.

    “Unfortunately, fossil fuel capacity is still growing, adding to overcapacity, particularly for coal. But once this idiocy ends, the combination of growing energy efficiency and new renewables will be sufficient to see electricity-related emissions peak and then decline.”

    A good question is this. Why is coal fired capacity for electricity generation still growing when there is already overcapacity? Does anyone know the cause(s)? My guesses are maybe some or all of;

    (1) Subsidies for coal power.

    (2) Coal fired power overcapacity in set A of countries and electric power under-capacity in set B of countries, the latter being (unfortunately) still addressed by building coal fired power stations.

    (3) Big business “reflexes”. Big business of a certain kind being geared to build certain kinds of “big stuff” just keeps building that big stuff? A kind of system momentum or business hysteresis? The latter (hysteresis) would involve the lenders and the coal-fired capacity builders. Hmmm, is this a whacky theory? I guess subsidies are part of the system hysteresis as well. Otherwise, wouldn’t market signals stop this silly behavior?

  9. James Wimberley
    October 4th, 2016 at 07:11 | #9

    @Ikonoclast
    The market is already working in that 158 GW of capacity have been cut from the pipeline if of planned coal plants in the first six months of this year: about 14%.

  10. Ivor
    October 4th, 2016 at 07:48 | #10

    @James Wimberley

    Trimming production to match demand is irrelevant.

    India still plans to double coal output by 2020 and rely on the resource for decades afterwards according to:

    Guardian

    And we still hear some pretending that there will be a peak in 4 years time.

    Flying pigs.

  11. Ivor
    October 4th, 2016 at 07:49 | #11

    @James Wimberley

    Trimming production to match demand is irrelevant.

    India still plans to double coal output by 2020 and rely on the resource for decades afterwards according to:

    Guardian

    And we still hear some pretending that there will be a peak in 4 years time.

    Flying pigs.

  12. Julie Thomas
    October 4th, 2016 at 07:50 | #12

    @James Wimberley

    People in communities who live sustainable lives could provide examples of how it is possible and healthier to live without being greedy and selfish and for ones’ own self aggrandisement. So many people really believe that sustainability means going back to the caves.

    This bottom up practical information of how to live on our planet is as important as the top down mechanisms. People need to own the solutions and we need to counter all the propaganda put out by neo-liberals that individual ownership is the secret to happiness by providing real life examples that show that people can and do live happier and more satisfied lives when we do not take more than we give back to the earth, the community and our family.

  13. John Quiggin
    October 4th, 2016 at 08:06 | #13

    @Ivor

    Perhaps the pigs could fly over the sites of these giant coal-fired power plants ((cancelled)

  14. Ben
    October 4th, 2016 at 09:52 | #14

    @James Wimberley
    There’s a lot of amateur work that can be done on the energy efficiency side (perhaps under direction from a smaller number of experts).

  15. Newtownian
    October 4th, 2016 at 11:19 | #15

    There’s still the chance of disaster. Should Donald Trump manage to get elected as President of the US, the whole process will be set back (though withdrawing will be difficult to do in a 4-year term of office) as will just about everything else. Currently, that chance is estimated at 30 per cent and falling, which is much better than it was a week or so ago, but still way too high.

    The other bad news you didnt mention which has been realized and may be even more significant is the fallout from Brexit. This has:
    – energized the far right which like our local bunch seems to have discovered climate change mitigation as the new evil threatening our way of life second only to Islam – and may be promoting anti-science as legitimate position in balanced debate (taking a line from our ABC?).
    – led to the Theresa May’s neo-Thatcher government with the exception that Thatcher actually seemed to believe in the need for climate change mitigation (we wont discuss the exploitation of North Sea oil). Her environment minister is a horror reportedly.
    – led to what appears to be the self-destruction of the main progressibve opposition – the English Labour Party (Scotland already being a rump). While Jeremy Corbyn appears notionally progressive across the board rumour has it that his climate concern credentials are not deep (needs confirmation one way or other as the information emerging from the fire of this conflict is necessarily problematic).

  16. John Quiggin
    October 4th, 2016 at 11:44 | #16

    Brexit is certainly part of the rise of tribalism, as I’ve argued a few times on the blog, most thoroughly here. But the implications for climate policy are fairly limited, I think. Britain is most of the way to eliminating coal and the decision to go ahead with Hinkley C (dubious though the economics may be) sets the seal on it.

  17. Ivor
    October 4th, 2016 at 11:58 | #17

    @John Quiggin

    They need to fly over a lot more than 50GW worth.

    If you read your source you will see:

    In April 2016 the Power Ministry announced it had scaled back its projected thermal power capacity growth forecast by 50GW, reducing the target from 289GW to 239GW by 2022.India currently has a thermal power capacity of 211GW.As a result, the Power Ministry said in June 2016 it would not need any new thermal capacity for the next three years beyond what was already under construction.

    So by 2022, Indian power industry will be emitting 13% more CO2 (unless the word thermal deliberately confuses nuclear with fossil fuel).

    But there is worse…

    By 2025 India plans to have 60% of India’s energy sourced through coal (a weak ineffective reduction).

  18. Jim Birch
    October 4th, 2016 at 16:53 | #18

    World peak coal doesn’t require peak coal in every country. Since India is undergoing rapid development it’s going to be on the plus side of the CO2 ledger.

    However, the prospects for CO2 abatement are completely different to what they were a decade ago. What’s is even better, in a curious way, is that the move away from coal is basically being driven by cost, ie, because we are apparently collectively too stupid to do it for environmental reasons or even self-protection.

  19. James Wimberley
    October 4th, 2016 at 17:04 | #19

    @Ivor
    Nameplate capacity does not mean output. The Asian wave of coal project cancellations is in good part a response to falling capacity factors and hence profitability. Your 13% increase in Indian coal burn by 2022 is an upper limit. It’s much more likely to stay flattish. At all events, the old doubling target is history.

  20. Ivor
    October 4th, 2016 at 20:26 | #20

    @James Wimberley

    James, I will stick with the evidence not add in speculative commentary..

  21. Ivor
    October 4th, 2016 at 20:29 | #21

    @Jim Birch

    The world does not require peak coal it needs, as a start, peak fossil fuel.

  22. John Quiggin
    October 4th, 2016 at 21:51 | #22

    @Ivor

    You really think you are sticking with evidence rather than selecting it to suit your prior beliefs? When has evidence changed your mind?

  23. James Wimberley
    October 4th, 2016 at 22:38 | #23

    @Ivor
    “.. it needs, as a start, peak fossil fuel”. Which, according to the IEA, is exactly what it is getting. You are of course right that it’s just a start.

  24. Ikonoclast
    October 5th, 2016 at 05:56 | #24

    I guess I am now mid-point between J.Q.’s optimism and Ivor’s pessimism. There are hopeful developments in train. There are lots of bad facts (still) on the ground. Yes, the system is changing but is it too little, too late? This seems to be a consistent feature of capitalism, namely that it reacts too late to major downturns and to major negative externality issues. We cannot stick to this cumbersome, sclerotic, slow-reacting system going forward. It does not adapt fast enough.

  25. Ivor
    October 5th, 2016 at 07:12 | #25

    @John Quiggin

    So if I was to select all the evidence that man reached the moon, would this be selecting to suit prior beliefs?

    Such claims are pointless. Undergraduate nonsense.

    How is indicating that India plans to increase capacity from 211GW to 239GW by 2022 not evidence and points to a true subsequent belief (fact)?

    Who referred to the India material? not I?

  26. Apocalypse
    October 5th, 2016 at 09:01 | #26

    Currently, that chance is estimated at 30 per cent and falling, which is much better than it was a week or so ago, but still way too high.

    Now between 18.1% and 28.8%, depending on the forecasting model. The bed-wetters can relax.

  27. John Goss
    October 5th, 2016 at 13:21 | #27

    It all depends on Florida – again. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trump-really-really-needs-to-win-florida/ Thankfully the Republican Floridorians are unlikely to cheat this time to push Trump over the line.

  28. Apocalypse
    October 5th, 2016 at 13:25 | #28

    @John Goss

    Not really. If Hillary wins North Carolina or Ohio, and she is ahead in both, she wins even if Trump takes Florida.

  29. John Goss
    October 5th, 2016 at 14:10 | #29

    Apocalypse. What you say is correct but not really germane to the point I was trying to make, and which was the point of the 538 piece. ie if the result comes down to the wire, (which admittedly all the forecasting models say is unlikely), then it is very likely that Florida will be the swing state again.

  30. Tim Macknay
    October 5th, 2016 at 14:45 | #30

    @John Goss
    I guess that piece can be read in different ways. I read it as saying that Trump essentially can’t win unless he picks up Florida, whereas HRC has more options. But your reading of it is also valid.

  31. October 5th, 2016 at 18:02 | #31

    @Julie Thomas
    Julie in the climate change and health unit I teach in, we had several speakers today, and one of them was talking about the climate change computer modelling projections, the data they feed in, how it takes them months to run the projections and so forth. She was saying human beings are the factor that can’t be calculated, so they have to run different paths (emissions as usual, low emissions, and in between) to get the range of expected climate change.

    It was interesting hearing what does and doesn’t go in – apart from the obvious things like greenhouse gases, tree clearing does go in, loss of ice does go in, urbanisation doesn’t at present, etc etc

    But the thing it made me thing of, how interesting it would be to run models using human information to see how much emissions we could reduce under different scenarios – probably would have to start small scale with defined communities, eg you can imagine:
    If we all started commuting by bike, went vegetarian, ate locally grown food, installed solar and wind for local power, reduced reused recycled, etc – what level would that reduce the community’s emissions to – and so on

    So it could be modelled with different inputs depending how much people wanted to do. Of course there are actual sustainable communities doing stuff like that so there is real life data,but it would be interesting if this modelling could be done and publicised more widely, like the IPCC models. I think people would find it very interesting.

    It is of course perfectly possible for people to plan in this way, I just think people (even those who aren’t neoliberals) have become sort of brainwashed by deterministic free market econospeak, and have lost faith in the ability of people to plan and act collectively for the common good. Having computer models might be really helpful in showing people what could be achieved collectively.

    I suppose I partly, like a lot of people in public health, have a bit more faith in this kind of approach because we have seen what could be achieved by a concerted campaign against tobacco. The computer modelling could just be one tool in such a campaign, but I think it could be could be very helpful.

    I also think (and suspect quite a few women think but don’t say so, because we get ridiculed for it) that this apparent belief some have here that we can just go on living as we are but substitute renewable energy for fossil fuel energy is pie in the sky stuff. We need to take concerted, collective action, and change our lifestyles, but as you say, that change could definitely be for the better, not the worse.

  32. October 5th, 2016 at 18:07 | #32

    Re my comment above – I know there are calculators that do this stuff on an individual (and probably a household) scale, but I was thinking of something a bit more complex that could take a wide range of inputs for a community. Maybe such modelling is already being done somewhere?

  33. Julie Thomas
    October 5th, 2016 at 20:43 | #33

    @Val

    I don’t know much about computer modelling. I like to imagine that human behaviour can be modelled using dynamical systems theory but that is just a hobby.

    What I am sure about, and why I am optimistic about a reasonable future for us but not the lifestyle we have now, is that enough people will want to do what is best for their community and their planet given the right circumstances.

    Information from computer models can only be a good thing for people to start thinking about what we can do to change our ways. A message that things will be more difficult but that is going to be good for us would not go down well with neo-liberals but the people out here I think are neo-liberal only on the surface.

    Many people say they want to go back to living the old ways – it’s never really clear what they mean specifically lol there is a lot we don’t want to go back to – and so many people out here live very simple lives that they maybe wont’ have to change that much.

    One of the problems I see is the lack of computer and internet skills and the resistance to the internet being a good thing in older women particularly which is not surprising. There needs to be services in these areas so that it is easy for everyone to access centrelink, health and other services from a community centre or hall where people get together so that information about particular needs can be identified.

    Local council needs more community workers and good ones. The last one we had was useless but the new one is really really good and people go to her for all sort of information and this really makes a difference in how much community stuff that makes people happy and healthy gets done.

    I agree that attitudes can change very quickly given the right circumstances; we are a groupish species and we will work together against a common enemy – climate change – when we all understand that it is happening and we can do something about it.

  34. October 6th, 2016 at 06:54 | #34

    @Julie Thomas
    Well I don’t know much about dynamical systems theory, or about computer modelling in practice – I’m just talking broad ideas here – but the general idea that you can develop a reasonably complex model and feed the data in to get the projections isn’t too complicated.

    It would be hard to cope with anything too dynamic, so that’s why it would have to be done on a planned, purposive basis, and on the basis that not too many unexpected outcomes would happen (of course they would in practice, but a model is only a model).

    Something like this would be a great tool for community health and wellbeing planners in councils, because they could also say – if we walked or cycled X hours per week, and ate X amount of fresh fruit and veg, etc etc, the expected projections would be that we’d have x% less diabetes plus reduce emissions by x% and so on.

    (Ideally they’d use measures of wellbeing, not only reductions in illness).

    People like it when you can put numbers on things, even if they are only projections.

    But of course as I think you’ll agree, the real benefits would be probably be difficult to quantify (and arguably trying to quantify them is a misguided idea), such as the benefits of a good community worker such as you are talking about.

    I’m obviously not against measuring things but observation and qualitative research are needed to understand what really matters. Your observations of your community are very interesting, I hope you keep a journal of some kind? (Or you could collect what you’ve written here)

  35. October 6th, 2016 at 07:17 | #35

    According to the PBL netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, for the first 10 years of the century anthropogenic CO2 emissions increased by an average of 770 million tonnes a year. Emissions in recent years in billions of tonnes of CO2 were

    2010 33.6
    2011 34.7
    2012 35
    2013 35.5
    2014 35.7

    I don’t have their figure for 2015, but I am hoping emissions have already peaked.

    The world has passed, or at least appears likely to have passed, peak coal, iron, aluminium, and copper extraction and that helps.

  36. Julie Thomas
    October 6th, 2016 at 07:46 | #36

    @Val

    I’m not a fan of my own observations being applicable to the rest of the world. You do know I am supposed to be neuro-atypical?

    I find that listening to the personal stories on Life Matters and other RN radio programs provide as much or more qualitative information about the diversity of human responses to other people and their environment, as do my own observations.

    On Background Briefing last weekend there was a program on farmers who are changing attitudes toward climate change and realising that from now on farming will be more difficult and the conditions they will have to deal with more problematic. I imagine that monoculture like the broadacre farmers do out here might become more problematic and more skills and agility and innovation required to produce food in different ways.

    The point of the program was more agricultural research will be needed. I’d think that a network of farmers who can share their individual problems and ideas for solution could also be useful for directing the research. People out here have good ideas and want to participate in the new agile and innovative economy but they really do not know how to start a new business or enterprise. It has become too complicated and expensive.

    I like the idea of using wellness indicators – people could nominate what being healthy would mean to them and develop ways of working toward that with more diverse ‘treatments’ offered to unhappy unhealthy people rather than what we do now which is to trying and repair the damage done to our bodies and minds by the products that capitalism has provided for our benefit.

    People really are difficult to herd and to force to do anything; I think they have to be attracted toward behaviour that is good for them but that isn’t difficult if they are not fired up to be against things and for a war on things they have been encouraged to hate – like the lefties and other bad people.

    Community and social workers are needed who can translate abstract information into specific behaviours for people who do not have the skills to do this or even the idea that they can take responsibility for their own wellbeing rather than listen to and obey the messages they receive from the lying advertising by capitalists and the marketers who convert human irrationality into profits.

    I don’t keep a journal, I’m not a good writer but I do make fantastic hats. This is a good time of the year for selling spring hats so I should be doing that and there is my excuse for not being able to fully appreciate your idea.

    I really do enjoy living out here; there are some wonderfully interesting people who have done some extraordinary things in their earlier lives that one comes across, who like me are out here to hide from the neo-liberals and their profit driven idea of how to live a life, among those who have only ever had their country town lives that have not been getting better at all.

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