According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is set to unveil a bold climate policy goal requiring half of Australia’s large-scale energy production to be generated using renewable sources within 15 years. Apparently, he is to announce this plan over the weekend at Labor’s conference. He is also to say (and has already said) that there will be no carbon tax introduced by a Government that he would lead. He prefers an emissions trading scheme.
Two things strike me about this ‘bold’ plan. The first is that it is simply unworkable. There is no way that within fifteen years renewable sources will make up fifty per cent of Australia’s grid power (I assume that is what he means by ‘large-scale energy production). I invite Mr Shorten to read what I have written about wind and solar on this website, here, (and go to the Rud Istvan link he will find there), and read what A Planning Engineer had to say on Judith Currie’s Climate etc. website here. It just isn’t possible. We can’t store renewable energy in large amounts, and the more that renewable energy sources ‘penetrate’ the grid, the more back-up from fossil fuels the grid will need.
Here is the current situation, according to Origin Energy in January this year.
If 50 per cent is to come from renewable energy, that means that the share of coal + natural gas will drop from 86 per cent to 50 per cent. Given that there are no hydro dams planned, and that none is likely (though there are several possible sites), that means that wind + solar + bioenergy will need to rise from 7 per cent to 43 per cent. Mr Shorten must have magicians in his team. Perhaps he will tell us in his speech at the weekend. Perhaps fossil fuels will only be used when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Perhaps someone in the ALP has invented the perfect battery. But I have to say that it looks completely fanciful to me.
The second puzzle concerns his rejection of a carbon tax but his welcoming of an emissions trading scheme. In practice, at least as it affects people like you and me, there is no difference. The intention, and the outcome, is to raise the price of energy. That means all consumers are poorer and the poorest consumers are relatively the worse off. How this is good for the ALP’s traditional working-class supporters is not clear to me. No doubt Mr Shorten will devise some transfer mechanism so that the poorest are compensated. But raising energy prices raises the price of everything, sooner or later, because energy is a principal element in all production and in the delivery of all services.
If he thinks that the Australian people will agree that emissions trading schemes are good and carbon taxes are bad, and that there is a real difference between them, then I suggest that he is badly mistaken. The Coalition Government would like nothing better than an election fought on what it will proclaim as the return of ‘those taxes’.
Why is Mr Shorten doing this? One answer is that many within the ALP see a continual bleeding- away of their electoral support to the Greens unless Labor makes a stand on ‘climate change’. I read somewhere that 300 branches have petitioned the party to do exactly that. And there are many Labor supporters who, like Mr Shorten, ‘believe’ in ‘climate change’. They’re not interested in facts or evidence. They have faith, and that is enough.
I have seen some pretty silly things in Australian politics over the last sixty years. This decision is up there with the best of them.
Legal footnote: I have written a couple of times about ‘climate change refugees’, of which the only known examples have been testing their claims in the courts of New Zealand. Mr Teitiota, a native of Kiribati, had overstayed his visa and was doing his best to stay in New Zealand with his wife and three children born in New Zealand. The court said, in part,
In relation to the Refugee Convention, while Kiribati undoubtedly faces challenges, Mr Teitiota does not, if returned, face serious harm and there is no evidence that the government of Kiribati is failing to take steps to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation to the extent that it can.
However, it said its decision should not be taken as ruling out the possibility of people being granted refugee status due to environmental degradation or climate change in the future.
And a Netherlands court has issued a bizarre decision in the ‘climate change domain.
Citing science as the basis of its verdict, a District Court in The Hague has said that the state must take measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020, relative to 1990 levels, in order to prevent possibly dangerous climate change. A Dutch citizens’ climate-change group filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of nearly 900 plaintiffs, including children. The group specifically sued the government for violating human rights by failing to take adequate action to prevent the harmful impacts of climate change.
The Dutch government can appeal the ruling — although it has not yet said whether it will do so. Nor is it clear what happens if the government fails to take action. But legal experts say that it is the first time that a judge has required a state to take precautions to mitigate the effects of climate change. Apparently a similar lawsuit has been filed in Belgium.
No doubt we shall see a similar try-on in Australia. I don’t know how the Dutch court determined that ‘the science’ was correct. But the episode does suggest that once a body of information acquires the status of ‘settled science’, nobody much wants to examine it closely. It is enough to say that ‘science shows’, and others nod in agreement.
My thanks to Professor Bob Carter for the links to these two stories.