A good year for the global climate.

Ten years ago, when Bob Brown and the Greens called for a plan to end coal exports, their position was way outside the Oveandrton Window (the range of opinions taken seriously by the political class and commentariat). Ten years later, it’s entirely normal for financial institutions to announce that they will no longer fund coal projects, and for major national governments to join an alliance with the self-explanatory title Powering Past Coal.

The news isn’t all good. For a variety of mostly temporary reasons, China has increased its coal consumption in the last year, so that CO2 emissons are likely to have risen in 2017. But the general direction of public policy and energy investment is clearly right, and even reactionary governments like those of Turnbull and Trump have been powerless to do much about it. After all the posturing of the National Energy Guarantee, the coal lobby in the government had to swallow the announcement that the AGL Liddell power station would be closed and replaced by renewables.

More significantly, the threat that the massive (though low-grade) coal reserves of the Galilee Basin might be developed as a result of the Adani mine-rail-port proposal appears to have been staved off. Labor’s victory in the Queensland state election meant a veto of public loan funding through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (a veto which also encompasses a rival rail project put up by Aurizon) makes it highly unlikely that Adani will find any commercial lenders. This conclusion was confirmed by the announcement that Adani has parted ways with Downer EDI, with which it had a $2 billion agreement to operate the mine. Downer is just the latest in a string of Adani partners to walk, or be pushed away (Posco, Worley Parsons and the bankers who were lining up to lend a few years ago). In the US, Trump’s efforts to save coal have been similarly ineffectual.

Looking beyond coal, we’ve had major developments in battery technology, symbolised by Tesla’s 100 MWh SA battery, which has already proved its worth and discredited the Turnbull/Abbott rhetoric about the reliability of coal. That goes along with electric cars and the announced decision of numerous national governments and some carmakers to go all-electric.

None of this should cause complacency. Turnbull, Trump and various likeminded governments (mostly nascent or actual rightwing dictatorships) are still doing their best to sabotage the planet, and the urgency of the problem is clearer than ever. But overall, this has been a very good year for the global climate.

15 thoughts on “A good year for the global climate.

  1. Same from me. Let’s get our Christmas cheer in ahead if the inevitable doomsayers.

    – The pipeline of Indian coal plants under construction shrank to 43GW by mid-year (Coal Plant Tracker in July), and has surely shrivelled some more since, as the comparative economics get worse.
    – The large and lightly incentivised Mexican auction gave both wind and solar prices under $2 per MWh. The contest with fossil and nuclear generation us over and wind and solar have won. This is being recognised by rational investors everywhere.
    – The technology of wind, solar, and batteries has not hit roadblocks and it is near – certain that progress will continue for at least another five years. This is only essential for batteries, but the reductions in wins and solar will speed up the ruin of coal and the closure if existing coal and even big gas plants.

  2. Also worth reading:


    “400 ppm CO2? Add Other GHGs, and It’s Equivalent to 478 ppm” – Ron Prinn, Professor of Atmospheric Science in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

    An excerpt:

    “What’s not appreciated is that there are a whole lot of other greenhouse gases (GHGs) that have fundamentally changed the composition of our atmosphere since pre-industrial times: methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons. …

    The worrisome thing is that almost all of these gases keep rising and, per ton, they are very powerful drivers of warming. Many of these GHGs have lifetimes of hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of years, so they are essentially in our atmosphere forever. There is almost nothing practical we can do to vacuum these gases out again.” (End Quote)

    There’s a whole lot more we need to do than just bringing down coal use, which which are not doing fast enough in any case. Can industrial capitalism change this and everything else embedded in its system and change it fast enough? The answer is no. Industrial capitalism cannot do it. Its performance to date has already proven this. The system’s signals (price signals) do not constitute an adequate “look-ahead” search. Capitalism, in this context, is rather like a chess program which does not calculate its moves far enough ahead. Capitalism has a shallow search tree for good moves environmentally speaking. Short term moves for the next few years lead to checkmate later on.

    How do we know this? We have a discipline, called science, which does look further ahead. It’s telling us what our moves should be but we won’t make these moves in time. We wait until the market tells us to make these moves. That is always too late.

  3. “Ten years ago, when Bob Brown and the Greens called for a plan to end coal exports, their position was way outside the Oveandrton Window (the range of opinions taken seriously by the political class and commentariat). Ten years later, it’s entirely normal for financial institutions to announce that they will no longer fund coal projects, and for major national governments to join an alliance with the self-explanatory title Powering Past Coal.”

    And 40 years ago “dirty hippies” (as my aspiring hippy friend Eric calls them/himself) championed crazy things such as solar passive houses, community gardens, pushbikes and composting toilets. Now all are routinely accepted common in technologically advanced ecovillages and rich inner city communities. The market is a curious thing.

    It appears that the logic of common(sense) wo/men still has things to teach the technical/academic elites who are so often captured in the rigid frameworks of the ‘ideal’ they construct and as a result trap themselves and then try to rest of us. My only regrets in all this are that:

    a. its still not clear if progress is still little to late to prevent the worst (systems having a degree of intertia which is not trivial). The ongoing construction of inhumane high rise in our cities is a clear illustration we are not out of the old alienation woods.
    b. when a society feels embattled it still doesnt necessarily think straigtht but looks to false profits such as with Austria and the Brexiteers and of course we all know who
    c. too many progressives still promote traditional better social policy first without developing a central ecological ethos (e.g. Sand County Almanac) and so dont address the question of how a steady state world might operate to minimise waste and promote ‘live simply so others can simply live’ – a rather Xmasy sentiment. In light of the wealth in this country it probably needs to consider this problem of growthism and redistribution more than any other.

    Still the past progress seems to always be via the old two steps forward (PV + storage) one step back (the abomination of rainforest destroying biofuel production based on letting capitalism do its thing unfettered). So set backs dont necessarily mean failure long term as this demise of coal through market forces seems to be pointing.

    Thanks for the year’s contributions John. Please them coming.

    Merry Solstice (precession adjusted)

  4. The cheapest solar power in the United States has been bid in at around 3.2 Australian cents a kilowatt-hour for a solar farm in Texas that will come online in 2020. And in India, with its much higher cost of capital, solar has been bid in at under 5 cents a kilowatt-hour.

    While batteries can’t beat a peak gas generator when it comes to providing dispatchable power, batteries have a number of advantages over gas generators, so we may see more large batteries being built and we are likely to end up with a lot of energy storage in homes and business and in electric vehicles.

    Looking at the cost of producing battery packs in China indicates home battery storage here can pay for itself, but it may take more than a year for this to be reflected in the cost of home battery systems in Australia.

  5. So the situation could almost be caricatured thus: proponents of central planning of the (energy) economy (Turnbull & co.) are embarrassed if not thwarted by capitalists responding to the free expression of market forces (manufacturing and selling solar and storage technology at ever cheaper prices, even in the absence of government incentives). To take the caricature a step further, Turnbull becomes a crypto-Stalinist and the ‘dirty hippies’ (sic) become the best promoters of the ‘free market’?

  6. Interesting you should put it that way, Peter. Yesterday a third rate blogger wrote this about the Liddell closure:

    “Amazingly, the Federal Government appears to have accepted AGL’s decision. I was fully expecting Tony Abbot to tear off his shirt and cry, “Grease me up, woman!” like an ugly version of Willie the groundskeeper and start mining coal himself like one of Stalin’s Stakhanovites with the intention of running the entire power station alone if he had to.”

  7. Here in Germany, a blustery Christmas has seen more than 50% of power supplied by wind, and that has been the case for the last 3 days on average, not just a short peak of supply.


    I am rather depressed by the current state of world affairs, so this blog post is a welcome reminder to be more optimistic for 2018. Such a huge fight to stop Adani, and yet so many other spotfires burning. Keep standing up everyone. That reminds me of one of my favourite German words: Das Stehaufmännchen – the stand-up-again-man.

  8. Not much wind yesterday in South Australia, but rooftop solar did supply over 45% of total electricity consumption at around noon. This was a public holiday, but on normal weekdays with clear skies it is often around one-third or more.

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