Turning the corner

Obviously, climate policy in Australia is not going well. In the US, the Trump Administration is keen to reverse the progress made under Obama. Yet for the planet as a whole, the news hasn’t been better for a long time. And there is every reason to hope that Trump and Turnbull will fail on this, and on much else.

Two big pieces of good news this week

* For the third year in a row, global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have remained nearly stable, despite continued economic growth.
* Large-scale cancellations in China and elsewhere have greatly reduced the number of proposed coal-fired power plants

A lot more needs to happen, but with the cost of renewables steadily falling and awareness of the health and climate costs spreading, there’s every reason to hope that the decarbonization of electricity supply will happen more rapidly than anyone expected. After that, the big challenge is to electrify transport. The technology is there, so this is mostly a matter of renewed political will.

As regards the politics, Trump’s failure on Obamacare suggests he will have a much tougher time reversing Obama’s climate policies than he expected; the same has been true for Abbott and Turnbull in Australia. Despite the policy shifts, coal-fired power plants keep closing and there is no likelihood of new ones. The only contribution made by Abbott and Turnbull has been to create enough uncertainty to choke investment in renewables, thereby reducing the security and coherence of the electricity supply system, already in a mess thanks to two decades of misconceived market reforms. Turnbull’s Snowy Hydro proposal, even if it’s only a thought bubble, totally undercuts the free-market and anti-renewables line he and his government have been pushing ever since his capitulation to the denialists as part of his deal to get the top job,

59 thoughts on “Turning the corner

  1. I read this week (can’t remember where) that Japan is building 45 coal fired power stations. Is this true?

  2. “After that, the big challenge is to electrify transport.”

    JQ, my bike works perfectly well if I just pedal it, as does yours.

  3. @Smith

    The “pipeline” includes 45 proposed coal plants in Japan. But the analysis says not many have actually started, and it seems likely that many never will be.

    To sum up “might build”, not “is building”

  4. Smith, there are only about 18 coal power stations in Japan at the moment, so building 45 new ones doesn’t seem likely.

  5. Not sure I agree about climate change initiatives being hard for Trump to reverse in the US. Don’t forget that Trumpcare failed because a significant Tea Party bloc felt it was too weak. They wanted full repeal, not the scheme they labelled ‘Obamacare Lite’. Other Republicans sided with the Democrats on the direct impact on their constituents. The bills before the house wind back spending and abolish departments, and I suspect are a much easier sell to all Republicans.

  6. Paul Norton :
    “After that, the big challenge is to electrify transport.”
    JQ, my bike works perfectly well if I just pedal it, as does yours.

    Every time I’ve tried to ride a bike, I’ve fallen over.

  7. 2 tanners,

    There are too many possibilities afoot for anyone to be certain. The fact is that Trump is a grenade that has exploded in the midst of everyone’s reality, how people recover from the shock could deliver unexpected outcomes.


    As for the local reality, Louise on JQ’s resignation thread has proposed following the Dutch example of suing the government for action on climate change, and I for 4 am all for the proposal.

  8. This Abbott/Turnbull government will be remembered for squandered opportunities and mismanagement. Climate policy, Energy, transport, health, education, industry, science, tax and community services are all being badly managed.

    But to be honest the causes can mostly be traced back to a impoverished ideology of private greed at the expense of the public good that became entrenched in the 80’s and has now follow played out to the point of farcical contradictions. This current generation of leaders were in their young adulthood during the 80’s and are stuck in it – but it will pass.

  9. Smith, Paul Norton wrote:

    “JQ, my bike works perfectly well if I just pedal it, as does yours.”

    Unless you happen to know that Paul Norton considers himself and John Quiggin to be the only people in the world, then he did not suggest anyone can ride a bike for their transport needs.

    If you wanted to mention that not everyone can ride a bike, I’d suggest writing something along the lines of:

    “Unfortunately, not everyone can ride a bike, so we’ll still need some form of transportation besides bicycles.”

    Or if you have evidence that Paul-Norton is bigoted against people who aren’t able bodied you could present it.

    But at the moment your statement, “It is very able-ist to suggest that anyone can ride a bike for their transport needs.” Is a lie as he did not do that.

  10. That’s some good news, I guess.

    I’ve been in a state of despair lately, wondering if my last 40 years of supporting WWF, ACF etc and various other environmental causes has been of any use. I really doubt anything has been achieved – maybe slow down the greed heads a bit, but not by much.

    When you see the nightly news of the oil fields burning in the Middle East – every minute more pollution than I’m likely to generate in a lifetime. I’m sure Donald Trump and his rich buddies would be more than happy to clear fell the Amazon if they could build golf courses and condominiums.

    Closer to home, we have our Premier and the regional Mayors touting “jobs” as the magic potion which makes any project OK, irrespective of the potential harm (to both the environment and jobs that depend on that).

    I’m seriously thinking of just redirecting all my support the the RSPCA, where at least I might see a tangible benefit. IMO, the greed heads have won.

  11. bjb,

    Go to the JQ resignation thread and pledge support to the Louise (Dutch) inspired move to sue the Australian Government and its ministers for their failure of duty of care to the Australian Public and to act on Global Scientific Recommendations to curb CO2 emissions and act on Climate Change Initiatives. If a class action got under way you would receive daily feedback on the performance of your dollars.

  12. I think we can rely on Trump to stuff up everything he attempts. So his attempt to wind back on climate change action will be about as successful his “great big beautiful” wall which will never happen and his “great big beautiful, better than Obamacare” package which will also never happen. Trump will be a one term President or even an impeached President. He will achieve a “great big beautiful” nothing.

  13. @Ikonoclast

    Trump attempted to become President and succeeded. You underestimate him at your peril. Ask his Republican primary opponents. Even better, ask Hilary Clinton.

  14. Japan is planning to install 45 new fossil fuel power plants over the next decade according to a number of sources (google it). But it is important to note that these will not be the low efficiency plants from the past. They will include such technology as Siemens record breaking 600 megawatt gas turbines with a top efficiency (so far) of 61.5%.


    It is up to Japan to balance their Carbon budget according to their commitments. I suspect that this is a move towards shutting down old inefficient coal plants, and replacing automotive petrol and diesel with electricity. Of all countries where this makes sense, Japan would be it.

    There is a lot to be said for replacing 25% to 35 % efficient transport with 60% efficient transport that is naturally compatible with solar energy as more becomes available to take that 60% higher towards 90% over time.

  15. John, in terms of bringing new renewable energy generation online, how do you rate reverse auctions, as has occurred in the ACT, as a mechanism?

  16. @Smith

    Trump is a hot air balloon. Big and puffy and full of vapour. He is a populist who isn’t even popular. His ratings have sunk to an historic low. Now that people see he is all hot air and cannot do anything substantial, he is finished. Trump has gone as far as bulldust can take him. Now he actually has to deliver something. He can’t. He’s finished. Pure hot air.

  17. It helps top so the “great” man in action. Sounds like one thing, the reality is something completely different. Watch Angela Merkel’s shudder as Trump attempts to ….?

  18. Waiting for one of the regular Eeyores to bring up the standard point that the Keeling curve – the chart of CO2 concentration on the top of Mauna Lia in Hawaii – shows no signs of decelerating. I’m on JQ’s side on this, but it is a serious issue not a talking point.

  19. I’m veering towards qualified gloom.on emissions, because of the makeup of the fossil mix. A noticeable drop in coal is being balanced by an increase in oil and natural gas. The oil is transport. We are may be 5 years away from EV’s making a real dent, as the legacy fleet of ICEVs is so huge and long-lived. But it is coning. Current EV growth rates are spectacular, and that is above price and performance parity. Three cars will go the market this year that are close to this, the Tesla 3, the Chevy Bolt and probably the upgraded Nissan Leaf. Electric buses are already there, and urban delivery vans are getting closer. ThBut there is no.immediate prospect of an actual fall in oil consumption.

    Any hope of an actual fall in carbon emissions requires a halt to the growth in gas. It will be harder for renewable electricity to cut into gas generation, which is partly complementary for peakers, and cheaper than coal for combined-cycle. Gas also has a large legacy market in home heating in cool countries, and reducing this will be difficult. The oil industry has abandoned coal, and has no plausible path to stopping EVs, but it is fighting hard for gas.

  20. @James Wimberley

    As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, this is like trying to measure changes in inflows to a lake by estimating its depth on windy days a year apart. Hopefully the Eeyores will give up on it soon.

  21. J-D, going faster didn’t help? This is a serious problem! Let me consult my 80s wisdom banks…

    Aha! I think I have the solution! If you manage to ride a bicycle at 88 miles an hour, you may still fall over, but you may travel back in time to before you fell over. Alternatively, you may travel into the future, propelled there by what medical science calls the concussion effect.

  22. I struggle recently with the conundrum of why, if I perceive policy to be going backwards in a lot of cases, do objective measures of welfare like infant mortality, gdp per capita, life expectancy etc keep moving in the right direction?

    The conclusion I reached is that while the politics may be heading in the wrong direction, human ingenuity and technology is heading in the right direction, and at the moment is more than compensating for the greed and ineptitude of our lords and masters.

    And climate change may be one area where technology and ingenuity saves us from the troglodytes running the show.

  23. @John Quiggin

    Since you took a gratuitous swipe I will respond in kind. The eyores’ points (mine for example) were more subtle than that but you persist in misrepresenting these views and then slipping to other positions when pressed. That’s how I see your modus operandi at times on such issues. It’s not an entirely intellectually honest debating method, IMHO.

  24. JQ, feel free to ban me if I have over-stepped the line. Your site used to generate more light than heat once upon a time. Sadly, this is reversed these days. That last part is not necessarily your fault either.

  25. Smith :
    I read this week (can’t remember where) that Japan is building 45 coal fired power stations. Is this true?

    Are these the plants that the recently running TV advertisement spruiking the goodness of Australian coal are referring to? From the ad you would think they are low emissions – but “low” emissions has morphed in the mouths of fossil fuel spruikers from low enough to not add significantly to global warming to just being anything lower than the extreme emissions of other, older coal power plants ie wholly inadequate for climate stability purposes. I’d be surprised if they are built, but I would not be willing to bet on that. I might, were I a betting man, bet on it becoming stranded well before it’s use by date.

  26. John Brookes says above ‘And climate change may be one area where technology and ingenuity saves us from the troglodytes running the show’.

    This reminds me of Freeman Dyson’s comment
    ‘Economic forecasting is useful for predicting the future up to about ten years ahead. Beyond ten years the quantitative changes which the forecast accesses are usually sidetracked or made irrelevant by qualitative changes in the rules of the game. Qualitative changes are produced by human cleverness … or by human stupidity … Neither cleverness nor stupidity are predictable.’

    For reasons I don’t understand, but for which I am grateful, cleverness seems to be winning.

  27. ….and yet our LNP government wants to make parts of Australia a nuclear waste dump for other nation’s waste material with a management responsibility of hundreds to thousands of years.

  28. @J-D

    I tried that. I fell over again.

    But you haven’t told us what type of bicycle you are trying to ride. For instance, is it a genuine BIcycle – that is, two and only two wheels ? Not a unicycle, for instance. No training wheels ?

    But is it a penny-farthing perhaps ?

    Kindly respecify your problem in more precise terms.

  29. @BilB

    with a management responsibility of hundreds to thousands of years.

    Wau, that’s the most optimistic estimate for the future lifetime of homo sapiens sapiens I’ve heard in a while – we’ll still be around “managing” nuclear waste after all that time.

  30. I have some information on that JQ, having recently been to the Netherlands and spent a little time in a bike shop there.

    We, in NSW and Victoria, are stuck with this dumb power limit of 250 watts. This arose out of the legislation from Europe, but there they have bikes above that 500 watts and more. To make that possible they created a licensing system for higher power bikes. This involves a small number plate, a license of around 80 euro per year, and third party personal insurance of another figure which I think was 120 euro. I don’t know if we have the second part of the system installed here in Australia, I doubt it. This needs to be taken up with our governments and insurers.


  31. Exactly, GrueBleen. (by the way that was hundreds TO thousands not hundreds of thousands).

    Even short lived nuclear waste has a danger life time of 500 years nearly as long as the time back to the Magna Carter (800 years and possibly the longest lived contract). How much change has there been in that time, and I cannot see other governments honouring nuclear waste management contracts for that length of time.

    It’ll be “the stuff is yours now, sorry our new budgetry restraints don’t include those old waste agreements” which will come in the form of a Trump tweet “Greedy Australia extorting waste payments…DEAL BAD…now cancelled.”

  32. @BilB

    …that was hundreds TO thousands not hundreds of thousands

    Even so, BilB, after “thosand OF years” what will the average surface temperature be (and I don’t mean on the top of Mauna Loa).

    “Magna Carter (800 years and possibly the longest lived contract)”

    And it only lasted that long because it really wasn’t observed at all for most of that time.

    Otherwise, yeah, a recurring payment running for over 500 years ? Pull the other one.

  33. @GrueBleen
    You can buy consols in London, perpetual bonds issued to finance the wars with Napoleon. The interest has been paid on the dot for over 200 years. The last default by the British government was under Charles II, but I don’t think you can buy bonds from that time, or the much larger volume issued to finance the huge Seven Years’ War of the 1750s.

  34. Oops, I’ve just checked, and I made a minor error. The last consols were redeemed in 2015. They were first issued in 1752, giving a maximum run of 263 years. There are several intervening technical reorganisations and changes of coupon, but these were just accounting not partial defaults. There is still a large outstanding volume of undated War Loan bonds from the wars of the 20th century. Of course, any perpetual bonds issued by the same borrower are perfect substitutes and the change of name has no practical importance.

  35. Just a little business advice here for people or governments thinkin’a goin’ into da storage business. If ya plannin’ ta store somethin’ toxic dat people do not want then it costs all da money. Dat is, all da money you want for storing it, you get up front. Without dat you do not accept delivery.

    De other guy? She can make with da financial instruments to scrape together da cash to pay up front. Dat’s her problem.

    If you wanna store toxic materials on any terms udder den dese, den I’m willing ta sell ya some spackle for da hole in your head at a very reasonable rate.

  36. GrueBleen, I wasn’t proposing storing nuclear waste, I was pointing out the folly of it.

    That’s interesting, James Wimberly. I suppose they came about because of the then gold backed currency, and because they did not have the flexibility of printing money (quantitative easing today’s euphemism).

    I find that whole area rather interesting. To my non economist thinking if a government buys good that it will export (take to war) with no expectation of “invoicing” for unless there is the prospect of reparations (Bush’s Iraq war with the expectation of an oil bonanza ie bullets for oil), then it should be able to pay for a portion of that cost by printing money. With that notion in mind then the question would be what is the proportional make up of that?

  37. @BilB

    I wasn’t proposing storing nuclear waste, I was pointing out the folly of it.

    And I thought I was acknowledging exactly that. Oh well, some serious deconstruction is in order, I guess.

  38. @James Wimberley

    The last consols were redeemed in 2015. They were first issued in 1752, giving a maximum run of 263

    Not quite 500, and certainly not 800, years. But kinda impressive, I guess. So on that basis, how many WWII consols are still on the go ? How about the Falklands War ?

  39. I like my e-bike – given the hills around here and my age and level of fitness I couldn’t even get up the driveway without the electric boost. I paid extra for one with a ‘crank’ drive, ie power runs through the regular drive chain and gears rather than a gearless hub motor, so very steep grades are not a problem. 250W and 25 kph (electric boost stops at over 25 kph) seems more than adequate; I almost never use max electric power despite some extreme hills. With household hybrid solar (grid plus batteries) the recharging comes from solar.

  40. Ken Fabian,

    Who was your solar supplier and what is the spec of your system?

    I’m very interested in up and running battery systems.

  41. J-D :

    Ronald Brakels :
    J-D, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock solved this problem back in 1994. Go faster.

    I tried that. I fell over again.

    training wheels?

    if it has a motor, definitely leathers.

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