Sunday, April 24, 2016

'Walking in the Other Direction':  Malcolm Turnbull's Broad Retreat on Climate

When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rose to address the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris late last year, he told the world Australia would meet the challenges of global warming "with confidence and optimism".

Australia's carbon emissions target - slicing 2000 levels by about 19 per cent by 2030 - would halve pollution on a per capita basis, "one of the biggest reductions" of any G20 nation, Turnbull said. 

The government would also double "clean energy innovation" investment over the next five years, and carve out $1 billion from the existing aid budget to help threatened Pacific neighbours build "climate resilience" and cut emissions.

One cause for optimism was that Australian universities were leading the charge in "energy and climate science innovation".
UNSW lead researcher Xiaojing Hao has developed new solar cells using non-toxic, relatively abundant materials, which may open up new fields for the industry. (Photo Credit: Dallas Kilponen) Click to Enlarge.
The University of NSW had held the world record for solar cell efficiency – now at 25.6 per cent – for 30 of the past 32 years.   And by 2018, more than 60 per cent of all new solar cells would use technology developed in Australia, Turnbull noted.

And on Friday, New York time, Environment Minister Greg Hunt [took] the next step to lock in the climate pledges when Australia join[ed] more than 150 nations at a UN ceremony to ink the Paris accord.

The pact, which the government plans to ratify later this year if re-elected, aims to limit global temperature increases to between 1.5 and 2 degrees of pre-industrial levels - even if current national offers fall far short of the greenhouse gas reductions needed.

Bad news on the climate front
But in the four months since Turnbull's speech, climate news from abroad and at home has been anything but positive.

Global temperature records were so decisively smashed in the first three months of 2016 that Gavin Schmidt, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, declared this year is already virtually certain to be the hottest on record – for a third year in a row:
But for policy areas directly under Turnbull's control, it's been a dismal few months for climate action, not least CSIRO's assault on climate science launched on February 4 that will see dozens of leading researchers sacked among as many as 450 jobs to go.

Despite pleas of budget penury, the government somehow managed to find $15.4 million a couple of weeks later for a new Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre to, among other things, "foster community support" for non-renewables, including coal and nuclear energy.
Taken for granted
And a fresh concern surfaced this week with 61 leading scientists writing to Turnbull decrying the government's decision last month to end grants from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
The proposed end of ARENA's grant funding removes "an essential component of technology innovation", the mostly solar researchers said in the letter obtained by Fairfax Media.

Forty years of such grants over had allowed Australia to contribute "very far above its weight" in renewable energy.  By contrast, reliance on equity returns "have rarely been effective" in advancing early-stage research, the scientists said.

Richard Corkish, chief operating officer of UNSW-based Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, said his facility faced "an existential threat" if the $4 million in annual ARENA funds ended.  The school continues to spawn world-leading technology, including new types of solar cells using abundant, non-toxic materials.
"This is incredible", says Blakers, who heads the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University.  "You don't turn off R&D spending when there's a revolution under way."

Read more at 'Walking in the Other Direction':  Malcolm Turnbull's Broad Retreat on Climate

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