Sunday, May 17, 2009

Action on climate change demanded by thousands on Melbourne's St Kilda Beach


Thousands of Melbourne people rocked up to St Kilda Beach to be part of a Climate Change Human Sign near the St Kilda Sea Baths. The event was organised by Locals into Victoria's Environment and promoted by the Climate Emergency Network and is a call for politicians at all levels of Government to make the hard decisions by legislating to drastically reduce carbon emissions and negotiate meaningful international carbon reduction targets at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties in December 2009.

The Federal Government has been much criticised for its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in that too many free permits were handed out to business and targets were set far too low. In the budget handed down by the Rudd Labor Government the environment and climate change funding was relegated to second fiddle to economic recovery.

In Victoria the Brumby Labor Government is proceeding with a Desalination plant for Melbourne which will boost carbon emissions. Alternative water sources that are less costly and more environmentally friendly, such as stormwater harvesting, rainwater tanks and tertiary treatment and purification water recycling have been passed over in favour of a high tech, high cost and polluting solution.

Photo by Aerofoto

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Climate protest highlights environment funding in the Australian Budget

Eight people were arrested in a dramatic climate protest at Canberra during the 2009 Government budget session over the Government's inadequate response to climate change. So, how did the Environment fare in the budget?

"This is a historic level of Commonwealth investment in solar energy and public transport and we warmly welcome it. The money for solar gives a good kick start to this crucial industry of the future. In contrast, the $2 billion of new funds over nine years for carbon capture and storage research is public money not well spent. The companies that make huge profits from mining and burning coal should fund the research into technologies that may – or may not – help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions in ten, fifteen or twenty years." summed up Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) executive director Don Henry.

While the Australian coal industry continues to be annually subsidised to the tune of $7 billion, for the first time a significant amount of money - $1.5 billion - has been allocated to the development of solar power projects, which is a significant breakthrough in funding renewable energy.

Renewable Energy Projects

Wasim Saman, Professor of sustainable energy engineering and Director of the Sustainable Energy Centre at the University of South Australia was enthused by the "exciting initiatives to help the mainstreaming of solar energy use and other sustainable energy measures."

"The biggest item is the support being provided for building solar thermal and photovoltaic generation capacity equivalent to that of a conventional power station. This can build on a current solar thermal demonstration project being constructed in Whyalla. The establishment of 'Renewables Australia' to support research in renewable energy technology is also welcome as it may accelerate the development of new technologies for utilising wave/tidal, geothermal and other renewable resources." said Saman.

Energy efficiency has also received a boost. About $160 million has been allocated for programs to reduce energy demand, such as smart grids and energy efficient appliances. According to Saman "the funding announced for trialling smart metering and energy networks and for tightening minimum energy performance standards of both buildings and appliances and for establishing a mandatory disclosure program of energy use in housing and commercial buildings will support more efficient energy use in our homes and other buildings."

"The additional funding of over $1 billion for four demonstration solar power stations is of course welcome. So is the expansion of the nascent Solar Institute into Renewables Australia." said Dr Mark Diesendorf, Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales.

However, Diesendorf is critical that there is no provision in the budget for essential infrastructure for renewable energy, such as new and strengthened transmission links. "If the federal government upgraded the transmission lines linking South Australia to NSW and Victoria, Australia’s wind power capacity could be greatly augmented. Commitment to a new high-capacity transmission line linking the geothermal region in north-east S.A. to the main grid would also be valuable." he said.

Greenpeace welcomed the allocation of $1.5 billion to build four solar power stations up to a total of 1000 megawatts (equates to renewable energy to power 400,000 homes).

"The multi-billion dollar Clean Energy Initiative, with existing funds and commitments, adds up to a smart cost and risk effective investment strategy in solar, wind, geothermal and potentially significantly reducing pollution from coal," said John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute. "It’s vital we aim to hit 2020 with a mix of industrial scale clean energy options so we know which technology works best, or at all, as we shift to near zero emission, and better, supplies of energy."

Carbon Capture and Storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS - so called Clean Coal) has been allocated $2.4 billion under the Green Energy Initiative, and it will still be at the pilot stage of development. Professor Jerry Vanclay is Professor of Sustainable Forestry and Head of the School of Environmental Science and Management at Southern Cross University said that the "technology is yet to be proven at an operational scale. Technically it is possible, but it is not clear if CO2 can be separated from flue gasses in an economic way. Suitable sites for underground storage are limited, and may not occur in proximity to coal-fired power stations. Finally, a relatively short distance from the CCS trial in Victoria is a enterprise pumping CO2 gas up from underground for industrial use, further illustrating that we cannot economically capture CO2.

Vanclay was disappointed that less than half of the Green Energy Initiative is devoted to Solar energy, and only a tiny fraction for Renewables Australia.

Caring for our Country and Water for the Future

Two previously anounced important programs were unchanged - ‘Caring for our Country’ ($2 billion over 5 years; includes LandCare and Reef Rescue) was announced last year, and remains unaltered – and ‘Water for the Future’ ($13 billion over 10 years).

Green Car Fund

The Green car Innovation fund was allocated $1.3 billion over ten years and was previously announced. Vanclay said that this money "misses the target – most of our car needs can be satisfied with imported vehicles, and our special needs relate to our large distances without services – likely to be better served by fuel-efficient turbo-diesel cars rather than hybrid cars – especially if they are fuelled with biodiesel manufactured from biomass residues – and that’s not what the fund is aimed at."

Public Transport

On the positive side, 55 per cent of the money from the "Nation Building Infrastructure" funds for transport was allocated to public transport projects - $4.6 billion is for metropolitan rail projects, while $3.4 billion goes to roads and $389 million to ports.

"The first time that a federal government has made such a significant investment in urban public transport, tipping the investment balance away from roads for the first time. Like renewables, public transport is jobs rich and low carbon compared with the alternatives, so this investment is warmly welcomed." said Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth.

Land and Water Australia Centre axed

The Land and Water Australia Centre, a vital resource for drought and other climate-related information, has been axed for a saving of just $16 million. Professor Snow Barlow, Associate Dean (Strategic Relations) Melbourne School of Land and Environment, University of Melbourne said "While the closure of Land and Water Australia is regrettable the increased expenditure in climate and marine sciences to match initiatives in climate change adaptation last year is necessary and very welcome."

According to the Australian Conservation Foundtion research funding has also been cut for the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation ( – 12 million) and the Commonwealth Environmental Research Facilities Program ( – $10 million).

Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

The Governments Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme has been heavily criticied. Professor Vanclay said "Many environmentalists would have welcomed a greater commitment to greenhouse mitigation in the budget. The Government is committed to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), which is fraught with several difficulties and limitations (as well as very modest targets), and which is yet to be passed by the Senate. I’d welcome a carbon tax, either in place of, or in conjunction with the CPRS. A carbon tax could help add certainty for industry, funds for the government, and a sure carbon signal for all consumers to help reduce emissions. But predictably, there is no carbon tax in the budget."

"The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is unlikely to help renewable energy for the first decade of its existence, if it ever gets through parliament. Its design and tiny target will see to that. What we really need is implementation of the long-awaited Expanded Renewable Energy Target (promised in 2007), to assist wind power and bioelectricity, and a national feed-in tariff to drive the roll-out large solar power stations on a commercial basis. These policies will cost the government nothing, since they will be paid for by a slight increase in the price of electricity." said Diesndorf.

Nuclear Power and waste

According to the Australian Conservation Foundation money continues to pour into the problem area of nuclear power, nuclear waste and cleaning up old uranium mines:

  • Nuclear waste dump: $4.4 million to continue with the previous government's plans to site a radioactive waste dump somewhere in remote Australia. This money should be used to fund an independent public inquiry to work out what is the best way to deal with Australia’s nuclear waste problem.
  • Nuclear research: the Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation, operator of the under-performing Opal reactor in Sydney, will receive $68.4 million over four years for additional facilities and management of existing facilities.
  • Rum Jungle: $8.3 million over four years to clean up the site of an old uranium mine in the Northern Territory, which operated from 1954 to 1971.

Foreign Aid and Climate Adaption

This is a real increase of 5.6% in the Foreign Aid (ODA) budget. The total Aid Budget for 2009/10 is around $3.8 billion, up from $3.7 billion last year. While Friends of the Earth welcomed this increase, they were critical of the amount set aside for climate adaption.

"We are very disappointed to see that expenditure on environment and climate change programs in 2009/10 is estimated to be $170 million, which is only 5% of total Australian ODA. Estimates of a 'fair share' of adaptation costs to help the developing world cope with climate change impacts is between $1.5 and 1.75 billion a year for Australia. Clearly we have a very long way to go in terms of meeting our obligations as such a large per capita greenhouse gas emitter." said FOE national liason officer Cam Walker.

"We also need to consider the implications of climate change displacement – just today climate scientists warned that up to 100 million people may be displaced in our region by climate change. This reality needs to be acknowledged in future funding priorities and legislation to begin to support and resettle at least some of these people". said Cam Walker

Other Items

  • Green skills development: $26.9 million over four years as part of the ‘Skills for the Carbon Challenge’ program.
  • Indigenous rangers: $69 million over five years for 210 new environmental jobs for Indigenous rangers.
  • National parks: $33 million of new funding, including more funds for Kakadu.
  • Nuclear disarmament commission: $9.2 million over two years to advance nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts internationally.

Conclusion

While there are glimmers of environmental hope in the budget, Professor Vanclay summed up the feeling "I think that most environmentalists will be quite disappointed by tonight’s budget, and can justifiably feel that the environment (including climate change) has been overlooked in the drama of the recession."

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