New focus on climate change adaptation but no sign of 2050 emissions commitment

Australia is joining international efforts to prepare for a changing climate ahead of the UN climate change conference in Glasgow later this year, but critics are still demanding it makes new commitments to reduce emissions.

Australia has joined Canada and the EU in signing up to an international call for climate adaptation and resilience.

It was originally put forward by the UK and signed by 118 countries in 2019.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Australia was “joining global partnerships and taking the lead in building resilient communities”.

“Climate adaptation is about taking practical actions to help our environment, our communities and our economy deal with the impacts of climate change that are already taking place,” she said.

The text of the document reads, “we stand together as global leaders to express our highest concern at the climate crisis that the world is now facing, and our resolve to act”, and identifies three areas of commitments:

  • Acting now to respond to immediate climate impacts and to support the most vulnerable members of society;
  • Building resilient futures by putting climate risk at the centre of decision making; and
  • Urgently increasing the availability of adaptation and resilience finance.

The Minister also revealed Australia would commit to the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, which encourages investment decisions to factor in climate risks.

Australia has pledged to lower carbon emissions by 26 per cent, based on 2005 levels, by 2030.

But it has still not made a formal commitment to achieve new zero emissions by 2050, nor has it offered targets between 2030 and 2050.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is focused on reducing emissions using new technologies.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said he wasn’t interested in making new commitments but would pursue emissions reducing technologies, like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen.

“That is how you actually get to net zero. You don’t get there by just having some commitment,” he told The Australian newspaper.

“That is where the discussion has to go, and I think the [new United States] Biden administration provides an opportunity to really pursue that with some enthusiasm.”

More than 100 countries including the UK have pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and China has committed to achieving it by 2060.

Joe Biden campaigned on a platform of net zero emissions by 2050 in the US presidential election and has vowed to keep climate at the centre of all government decisions.

Move welcomed but more asked

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s climate program manager Gavan McFadzean welcomed Ms Ley’s announcement but called for a 2050 emissions commitment.

“If the Morrison Government thinks it can convince the global community that by engaging in adaptation it has fulfilled its climate change responsibilities, it’s badly misread the room,” he said.

“By November’s COP in Glasgow, the world will expect Australia to commit to at least net zero emissions reduction before 2050, with clear and measurable policies and interim targets to show how we will get there.”

Houses inundated by flood waters.
More intense natural disasters loom as one impact of climate change.(ABC News: Marcus Alborn)

Labor’s climate change spokesman Mark Butler said the Government had a track record of failing to prepare for climate adaptation and called for a net zero emissions by 2050 pledge.

“The Government completely excluded climate adaptation from their 2017 Review of Climate Change Policies,” he said.

“They cut funding for significant adaptation work at CSIRO, completely de-funded the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and produced a new National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework that fails to take climate change seriously.”

Greens leader Adam Bandt said “the Coalition is driving us off the climate cliff, but want to let us know they’ve packed a box of band-aids for the trip”.

“If the Government can commit to ‘ambitious’ mitigation targets, it should commit to ambitious prevention targets, too, otherwise Scott Morrison is just making the climate crisis worse.”

Mr Morrison told the Business Council of Australia AGM in November: “Looking beyond 2030 we want to reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible and to achieve this through technology, not higher taxes either directly through government sanctioned electricity prices or as a result of a carbon tax.”

In a call with Mr Morrison in October, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasised the need for “bold action” to address climate change.

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Commonwealth tips another $173 million into Beetaloo Basin gas reserve, insists emissions targets on track

The Federal Government is accelerating plans to develop a major gas basin in the Northern Territory, investing a further $173 million dollars into the Beetaloo Basin shale gas reserve.

The investment will fund road infrastructure in the region, 500km south-east of Darwin, and comes just weeks after the Government committed up to $50 million to drive exploration.

The Beetaloo Basin is one of five Australian gas fields the Commonwealth plans to open up, primarily to support exports and domestic manufacturing plants, under its “gas-led recovery” from coronavirus.

Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt today claimed the basin was “expected to be one of the best basins in the world for gas” and said the Government’s continued financial support was critical to Australia’s economic recovery.

He said developing the gas reserve could contribute up to 6,000 jobs in the Northern Territory.

“We want to see more jobs, a stronger economy, more opportunities, and we are here to ensure that we can bring the gas resources of the Beetaloo online earlier, faster, safer … providing jobs sooner than was expected,” he said.

“We need that economy to be ticking over, particularly in a post-COVID environment.”

But a government strategy for the basin released today — which brings forward the timeline for connecting Beetaloo gas into the energy market to 2025 — appears to acknowledge ongoing concerns about long-term gas demand.

The strategy says, “starting production [in the Beetaloo] by 2025 [or earlier] to meet the expected window of maximum gas demand” is among a list of “serious challenges that could prevent [the basin] realising its full potential”.

The push to develop the Beetaloo continues despite doubts over the long-term global demand for gas and concerns that new gas infrastructure could soon become stranded assets.

Emissions targets will be met: Acting PM

Environmentalists have also repeatedly raised concerns about what tapping into the basin could mean for Australia’s carbon emissions targets.

A Federal Government department last year warned emissions from the Beetaloo Basin could jeopardise Australia’s ability to meet its Paris climate targets, in internal government documents obtained by the ABC.

Announcing the funding today, Mr Pitt and Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the nation was firmly on track to meet those targets.

But they did not outline a plan to offset potential emissions from the basin, which one projection says could reach up to 117 million tonnes of greenhouse gas annually.

“We’ve always got a plan; we’ve got a minister, in fact, dedicated to ensuring, along with his other responsibilities, to making sure that we not only meet but beat those international obligations that we’ve set,” Mr McCormack said.

When asked what was in the Government’s emissions offset plan, Mr McCormack said: “Of course there’s always offsets; we ensure that we are going to meet and beat our international requirements as far as reducing emissions.”

Mr Pitt added: “I have a strategic basin plan to deliver the gas basin at the Beetaloo; that means jobs for the Territory, that means more for the economy.”

Federal Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt, pictured with NT Environment Minister Eva Lawler.
Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Northern Territory minister Eva Lawler announced the funding package today.(ABC News: Michael Donnelly)

Accelerating development of the Beetaloo Basin was one priority in the Northern Territory Government’s plan for post-coronavirus economic recovery unveiled last month.

Northern Territory Renewables and Energy Minister Eva Lawler said it was up to gas companies to formalise with the Northern Territory Government how they would manage their emissions.

“Whoever is exploring or working in the Beetaloo Basin has to have an environment management plan as part of our new Environment Protection Act,” she said.

“It is up to those companies, whether it’s Origin, whether it’s Santos, whether it’s Pangaea — whoever is undertaking exploration or gets to the stage of production in the Beetaloo Basin — they have to be able to address emissions through their environment management plans.”

Ms Lawler said that the Northern Territory needed the “economic stimulus that comes with unlocking the Beetaloo Basin.”

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EPA to investigate as Nyrstar admits Port Pirie smelter will exceed annual lead emissions limit

Port Pirie’s smelter is on track to cut annual lead emissions by almost 20 per cent but is still forecast to breach limits set in a new licence, resources company Nyrstar says.

South Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said the predicted breach was based on current tracking of the smelter’s lead-in-air (LIA) emissions.

In a statement on Tuesday, the EPA said the smelter would breach conditions of its new licence issued in July, which directed the company to lower its annual emissions by 20 per cent.

EPA chief executive Tony Circelli said current readings point to Nyrstar exceeding its new annual average LIA limit of 0.4 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) at the Pirie West compliance monitoring location on December 31, 2020.

The company is also likely to exceed annual average limits at the Ellen Street and Boat Ramp locations.

“While the EPA investigates this matter formally, it will not be appropriate to comment or speculate on likely compliance outcomes.

“Suffice to say, this is an extremely disappointing outcome and indicates unacceptable discharges of lead to Port Pirie in 2020.”

When the predicted LIA figure is confirmed, a formal EPA investigation will be launched.

Nyrstar labels new limit ‘a challenge’

In a statement on Monday evening, Nyrstar said the average LIA result for the 12 months to December 31 was approximately 0.42 µg/m3.

Nyrstar said the result, “while well below the previous limit”, narrowly exceeded its new limit by approximately 0.02 µg/m3.

“Nyrstar acknowledged in June that the new limit would be a significant challenge for the site, and has been proactive undertaking numerous initiatives throughout the year to improve air quality in the community and to work to meet the challenging new limits,” the statement read.

“These have included completion of significant capital works during maintenance stops, upgrading of its air-monitoring network, initiating new road- and materials-handling improvements and purchasing new street sweepers to deliver an improved and expanded site cleaning program.”

The company said the LIA result was “significantly influenced” by two hot and windy days in November.

“In the absence of high wind on these days Nyrstar expects average LIA would have been below 0.4 µg Pb/m3,” it said.

Port Pirie Mayor Leon Stephens said it would have been difficult for Nyrstar to meet the new annual limits within six months.(ABC News)

Port Pirie Regional Council Mayor Leon Stephens defended Nyrstar, saying he was comfortable that the smelter was “tracking very well” towards achieving its new emissions limits.

“We’ve been talking closely with Nyrstar — there’s a couple of predicaments they’ve actually faced with it,” he said.

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to do it.”

However, Mr Stephens conceded the result “isn’t good enough”.

“Nyrstar would be the first to say that as well,” he said.

“They understand what they have to do, it does take time to get in place.

“I’ve actually said to their VP, this time, I can understand in six months it takes a little while to change … as far as delivering efficiencies … [but we’re] probably not going to be as receptive next quarter, if that’s what happens.”

The EPA, however, said it considered the new limits to be reasonable and “practically achievable by Nyrstar” in 2020.

A children's playground with no one using the equipment, in the background across a the water is a lead smelter.
The World Health Organization says there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.(ABC North and West SA: Gary-Jon Lysaght)

Once the figures are confirmed, Nyrstar will be required to file a report to the EPA by January 8, 2021, detailing the cause of its targets being exceeded, along with proposed actions to avoid the same thing happening again.

The EPA will consider that report and its own investigation before it determines “what further enforcement actions are appropriate”.

The incident follows SA Health data revealing in November that lead levels among two-year-old children in Port Pirie were at the highest they had been since testing began in 2011.

Of 68 two-year-olds tested during the nine months to September 2020, blood lead levels averaged 6.6 micrograms per decilitre, up from 6.5 mcg/dL in 2019.

SA Health considers two-year-olds to be the most accurate age group to measure lead exposure in the general population, and World Health Organization guidelines state there is no safe level of lead exposure in people.

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Australian ‘super seaweed’ supplement to reduce cattle gas emissions wins $1m international prize

A company commercialising a CSIRO-developed, seaweed feed product, which slashes the amount of greenhouse gases cattle burp and fart into the atmosphere, has won a $1 million international prize for its work reshaping the food system.

CSIRO-affiliated company Future Feed said it would use its Food Planet Prize winnings to create an international commercial fund to help First Nations communities generate income from cultivating and selling the seaweed.

According to the science agency, methane emissions from livestock make up around 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and one cow produces on average as much gas emission as one car.

The CSIRO says on its website that methane stays in the atmosphere for about nine years, a far shorter period than carbon dioxide.

However, its global warming potential is “86 times higher than carbon dioxide when averaged over 20 years and 28 times higher over 100 years”.

Like taking ‘100 million cars off the road’

Future Feed director and CSIRO scientist Michael Battaglia said that when added to cattle feed, the product, which contains Australian ‘super seaweed’ Asparagopsis, virtually eliminated methane from the animals’ bodily emissions.

“We know that just a handful [of the product] per animal per day, or 0.2 per cent of their diet can virtually eliminate 99.9 per cent of methane,” Dr Battaglia said.

He said the potential for the product to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas footprint, if commercialised, was massive.

“That’s equivalent to taking 100 million cars off the road.

“But in the long run, if we can start to think about ways to deliver this into grass-fed sectors, the impact is 10 to 100 times more than that.”

The seaweed Asparagopsis almost eliminates methane gas from cattle if put in their feed.(Supplied: Future Feed)

Benefits not just environmental

Dr Battaglia said the product was well on the way to being sold on the Australian market.

“We’re doing the tests, figuring out the quality assurance processes,” he said.

He said the company was already working with a number of industry growers, including First Nations groups in South Australia, to grow the seaweed at scale.

“We have agreements between the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation involving the Narungga Nation Aboriginal peoples, and a seaweed-growing company CH4,” Dr Battaglia said.

“The intent [is] to develop commercial-scale Asparagopsis cultivation and processing to generate maximum benefit for the Narungga people.”

A cow chews a mouthful of lucerne
Once on the market, the feed could significantly reduce the carbon footprint of meat and dairy products.(Supplied: Michele Hamilton)

Dr Battaglia said with the prize’s extra funding, they would expand the initiative globally.

In awarding the prize from a pool of more than 600 entries, the Food Planet Prize judges noted the product’s positive social impacts.

“The technology could also have indirect benefits, including filtering detrimental nutrients in ocean water and creating alternative incomes in developing countries where fisheries are in decline,” Dr Battaglia said.

Discovery an accident

For Future Feed’s chief scientist Rob Kinley, the project has been a passion for more than a decade.

Dr Kinley first began looking into how seaweed affected cows’ digestive systems while in Nova Scotia, Canada, after a local farmer noticed their cows grew better near the coast.

A man, wearing a CSIRO shirt, stands in front of cattle yards and holding a handful of red seaweed
Rob Kinley says the benefits of the seaweed were discovered almost by accident.(Supplied: Future Feed)

Dr Kinley then began a quest to find out why, which led him to Australia and, eventually, the Asparagopsis species.

Dr Battaglia said a happy by-product of producing less methane was that the energy then stayed in the animal.

“Instead of going into producing methane, other microbes come along and then produce the good things, the fatty acids and things, that the animal goes on to produce milk or meat with,” he said.

Push to lower agricultural emissions

As nations across the world prepare for next year’s COP 26 Glasgow Climate Change Conference, pressure to lower agricultural emissions across the globe is mounting.

A recent Technical University of Munich study found “social and environmental costs” of emissions were “currently not considered in the cost structure of farmers or the subsequent food chain”.

Looking at German agriculture, it found “other market participants, future generations, and the natural environment” were bearing the cost of meat prices, which did not reflect their cost.

Last year Meat and Livestock Australia said it believed a zero carbon footprint was possible nationally by 2030, and the sector had already significantly slashed emissions.

It said from 2005 to 2016, the beef industry had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 60 per cent.

Editor’s Note: 21/12/2020: This article has been amended since its original publication date on 18/12/2020 to clarify the CSIRO’s information about the warming potential of methane in the atmosphere.

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Scientists detect radio emissions from alien exoplanet orbiting star

Researchers have detected signals from tens of light years away that suggest a planet outside our solar system could support life.

Scientists have detected what they think could be the first radio emissions from a planet beyond our solar system.

Analysing a planet’s magnetic field and the radio waves it gives off can provide clues about its possible atmosphere, including if it might support life or even be habitable by humans.

Researchers from Cornell University in New York used a special telescope in the Netherlands called a low frequency array (LOFAR) to make the detection from an exoplanet that orbits a star around 51 light years away.

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“If confirmed through follow-up observations this radio detection opens up a new window on exoplanets, giving us a novel way to examine alien worlds that are tens of light-years away,” Cornell University astronomy professor Ray Jayawardhana said.

The detected exoplanet is believed to be a so-called “hot Jupiter” — a gas giant planet that sits very close to the star it orbits, which in this case is the Tau Boötis in the Boötes constellation.

“The Tau Boötes system contains a binary star and an exoplanet,” Cornell University post doctoral researcher Jake Turner said.

“We make the case for an emission by the planet itself.

“From the strength and polarisation of the radio signal and the planet’s magnetic field, it is compatible with theoretical predictions.”

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The researchers expected to find the signature within the constellation, and eventually did after nearly 100 hours of sifting through radio observations.

“We learned from our own Jupiter what this kind of detection looks like,” Dr Turner said.

“We went searching for it and we found it.”

While the researchers are confident they found what they were looking for, “there remains some uncertainty that the detected radio signal is from the planet, Dr Turner said, adding further observations were “critical”.

A follow up campaign to use multiple radio telescopes is underway.

A research paper on their findings has been published in the journal of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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Carbon targets on agenda at world leaders’ summit, but what is business doing to bring emissions down?

As world leaders meet this weekend in the hope of agreeing to tighter global emission targets, carbon-intensive industries operating in Australia are watching closely.

The 2020 United Nations Emissions Gap report this week found that despite a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3 degrees Celsius this century.

That is far beyond the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2C and pursuing 1.5C.

Australia has promised to cut its 2005 emission levels by 26-28 per cent before 2030 as part of the Paris Agreement and is now on track to meet those targets without the need to count carry over credits, the Federal Government said this week.

Meanwhile, there are no agreed targets for businesses in Australia, nor a mechanism to ensure they commit to meaningful targets.

Richie Merzian from the Climate Institute says this poses a real problem.

“The Government system is pretty weak so it doesn’t actually cap those emissions,” he said.

“If you are a company that has very little public profile, you have no retail facing element to your company, then you could try and hide behind the barriers and try and get away with it.

An extreme bushfire on the NSW South Coast at Bawley Point in December 2019
As human induced global warming increases, extreme bushfires like this at Bawley Point in December 2019 will occur more often.(ABC Illawarra: Ainslie Drewitt-Smith)

Coal expansions continue to be approved

Wollongong Coal is an Illawarra-based coal miner exporting all its coking coal to India, so has little interaction with the local community.

This week it gained approval to reopen its mothballed Russell Vale mine and generate 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over five years.

As part of the approval process it was required to do little if anything to reduce emissions, and does not mention emissions at all in its environmental policy published on its website.

It was also not required to reduce carbon emissions in the final approval report from NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE).

“The project, in isolation, is unlikely to influence global emissions and climate change trajectories,” the DPIE report said.

Another coal mining company, South32, is seeking approval to extract 78 million tonnes of metallurgical coal from its Dendrobium mine expansion project near Wollongong up until 2048.

As well as coming out strongly to sell the benefits of ongoing employment, and coal supply to the Port Kembla steelworks, South32 is actively promoting its emission targets.

“South32 is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050,” a company spokesman said.

The spokesman said the company supports the Paris Agreement objectives to limit global temperature rise to below 2C this century, and is working on ways to decarbonise its operations by reducing Scope 1 emissions at its Worsley Alumina mine in Western Australia and its Illawarra mines.

“At Appin Mine, our gas drainage and capture network enables the reuse of waste coal mine gas to generate power,” the company said.

“In 2019, the gas captured was used to generate equivalent electricity for around 52,000 homes, or roughly 45 per cent of all homes in Wollongong.”

South32 has also completed a 7,200-panel solar farm in Cannington in Queensland to offset gas consumption with solar energy.

But does this go far enough to enable to company to achieve significant carbon emission targets?

Creative accounting in emissions

Mr Merzan from the Climate Institute said commitments to offset emissions by coal mines need to be looked at carefully.

“A coal mine is a hard one to offset because you have got the emissions that come with the actual production of the coal, but then most of the emissions from coal come when you actually burn it,” he said.

Scope 3 emissions refer to emissions not generated directly by the miner, but indirectly by the consumer — and often in another country.

“The best practise is to offset your entire carbon footprint, that includes the Scope 3 emissions.”

Greg Bourne from the Climate Council is a former president of BP Australasia and believes the road ahead will vary a lot, depending on what kind of company you are.

“If you are talking steel, to move from using coking coal to make steel to eventually move to using hydrogen, or hydrogen mixed with other gases, to create steel is actually a fundamental restructuring of that part of the industry,” he said.

“Given they compete against each other it’s going to be capital intensive, its going to be difficult.”

The Port Kembla steelworks is at the centre of green energy plans for NSW
The Port Kembla steelworks could increase production in response to demands for renewable energy infrastructure.(ABC News: Gavin Coote)

For Bluescope Steel, Australia’s largest steelmaker with extensive operations also in South-East Asia, South Asia, North America and New Zealand, the transition is underway but yet to fully ramp up.

The company supports the 2050 Paris Agreement target and has a near-term target of reducing “carbon emissions intensity” by at least 12 per cent by 2030.

Bluescope may also be working on plans to transition to so-called “green steel” and to adopt hydrogen into its energy mix.

The company in November this year announced a $20 million investment program in conjuction with the NSW Government to manufacture components used in wind and solar projects, but is yet to go into detail on plans for green steel.

“Watch this space as we will have a lot more to say in the new year,” the spokesman said.

Hydrogen seen as a way out of coal

Either way, the use of hydrogen could be the key to bringing emissions towards zero, including offsets.

A man stands in a laboratory with clear glasses over his eyes and looks at metal pipes.
CSIRO’s Daniel Roberts says Australia is seeing more large-scale green hydrogen projects in preparation to meet demand from overseas markets.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

CSIRO director of hydrogen energy Dr Daniel Roberts said hydrogen was still largely limited to industrial applications in Australia — fertilisers, explosives, oil refining processes and the like — but its use was becoming more widespread.

He said, in Australia, ‘brown’ hydrogen was usually made from natural gas, while in some locations ‘black’ hydrogen was made from coal.

But making both ‘blue’ and ‘green’ hydrogen opened up significant opportunities to decarbonise the smeltering process.

“The carbon credentials of using hydrogen in any process relies strongly on where you get that hydrogen from,” he said.

“Hydrogen from renewables via electrolysis is one way to go, and making it from gas and storing the CO2 is also carbon neutral and could be another way to go.”

Mr Bourne from the Climate Council said it was important to keep all energy pathways open without relying too heavily on potential fixes.

“The key thing is not to use ‘hydrogen as coming along’ as an excuse not to do the hard graft today,” he said.

“We have to do all of that, and as we do that over this decade we will build the possibilities of a new hydrogen industry. But its not an either-or.”

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Angus Taylor hails new emissions projections as UN names Australia as climate outlier in new report

Global pressure continues to build on the Morrison government to increase its climate ambitions as the responsible minister boasts about new carbon emission figures.

The projections cobble together various private and government agency modelling of key areas including electricity, agriculture and transport, to show Australia’s emissions are trending downward.

It shows emissions are projected to decline 22 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, short of the 26 to 28 per cent goal needed to achieve Australia’s Paris agreement target.

But another scenario – being stressed by the government – shows the goal will be met if low emissions technologies outlined in Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s technology road map are in use.

In this case, Australia’s 2030 emissions levels would be 29 per cent below 2005 levels.

Australia’s emissions are currently 16.6 per cent below 2005 levels.

The updated projections pave the way for the government to drop its plan to use so-called carry over credits to meet the Paris agreement, a calculation method no other country plans to use.

But Mr Taylor is using those calculations to boast about Australia’s progress.

“Action and outcomes are what matter, and our track record is one that all Australians can be proud of,” he said on Thursday.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese described the carry-over plan as a farce, rejecting assertions the government dropped the accounting method because it was no longer needed.

“They’ve dropped it because it was never going to be allowed,” he told ABC radio.

The projections assume air and car travel will rebound, but to lower levels than before the pandemic, due to an increase in video meetings and slowed population growth.

Gas production is projected to grow by three per cent while electric vehicles are expected to make up 26 per cent of new car sales by 2030.

The United Nations is increasing pressure on governments around the world to boost emission reduction goals and focus on green recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic.

A new report from the UN’s environment arm says temperatures are on track to rise by more than three degrees Celsius this century, even with a dip in emissions because of the health crisis.

The increase is out of line with the Paris agreement’s goals of keeping warming to well below two degrees.

Australia is mentioned as one of five G20 members whose climate ambitions are expected to fall short, along with Brazil, Canada, Korea and the United States.

The report comes ahead of an online global climate summit.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not yet got a speaking spot for the 12 December meeting, which will be led by British leader Boris Johnson and the UN.

The UN has previously told leaders their ticket to speak is conditional on a commitment to stronger climate action.

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Victoria Sets New Energy Targets To Reduce Bills And Emissions

VIC Premier

The Andrews Labor Government has set new targets for the Victorian Energy Upgrades (VEU) program and will expand the eligible technologies – saving households and businesses money and helping to fight climate change.

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio announced the ambitious new targets today – far more ambitious than any other state – which is a part of the nation-leading $1.6 billion for clean energy in the Victorian Budget 2020/21.

The new 2022-2025 targets will increase each year, with energy efficiency upgrades made under the program reducing costs for all Victorian households and businesses over the next ten years, whether or not they participate directly in the program.

The targets will reduce Victorian energy consumption in 2025 by seven per cent and deliver savings on energy bills through system-wide benefits, lowering wholesale electricity and gas prices and negating the need for grid upgrades.

Victorians participating in the program and implementing energy upgrades will see annual average savings of at least $120 and $510 for households and businesses respectively.

Even those who do not participate will save on their bills – with households saving $150 and businesses saving $870 over the next ten years.

Victorian Energy Upgrades is also one of the lowest cost measures available to deliver significant emissions reductions – delivering 6.7 million tonnes of emissions abatement in 2022, building to 7.3 million tonnes in 2025. These savings are equivalent to taking 8.5 million cars off the road.

The expanded VEU program and new targets are part of the Labor Government’s ongoing investment in Victoria’s economic recovery, supporting more than 2,200 jobs a year and driving a further $1.3 billion of investment in energy efficiency between 2022 and 2025.

As stated by Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio

“These ambitious new targets mean that Victorian Energy Upgrades will continue to lead the country in changing the way we use energy in homes, businesses and industries across Victoria.”

“By investing in the Victorian Energy Upgrades program, we’re empowering households and businesses to save on bills and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while also creating more jobs – it’s a win for all.”

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US oil producers begin to follow Europe with emissions pledges

US oil and gas producers have begun to follow their European rivals in setting ambitious targets on cutting their emissions amid mounting investor pressure over climate change.

Pioneer Natural Resources, the biggest independent oil and gas producer in the Permian Basin, last week vowed to cut the intensity of its greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter by the end of the decade.

That followed recent announcements by rivals ConocoPhillips and Occidental Petroleum that they would reduce emissions from their operations to net-zero by mid-century, marking the first such pledges by big American oil companies.

US producers have lagged those in Europe in making climate commitments. But these latest moves suggest growing pressure from climate-conscious investors is pushing them to follow a similar track.

“I think it is increasingly important to our investor base — and I think it will be for all in the space — to be able to address all aspects of ESG in our business,” said Mark Berg, executive vice-president at Pioneer, referring to the environmental, social and governance concerns that investors now factor in.

“Emissions . . . is very high on the list on the ‘E’ side of ESG, so I think you will see an increased focus on that.”

The biggest European energy majors — Shell, BP, Eni, Equinor, Total and Repsol — have already outlined ambitions to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050.

Until recently, US shareholder pressure had largely come from religious groups, socially focused investors and a handful of pension funds.

“The real change recently has been the very largest investors in these companies — the State Streets, the Blackrocks, the Wellingtons — are now concerned as well,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas at Ceres, a non-profit organisation that coordinates investor action on climate. “And that to me has led to a real sea-change in the attention that companies are giving to these issues.”

In the US — where the shale patch has developed a poor image on pollution, especially in the flaring of natural gas — companies are also reflecting a changing political reality.

Where President Donald Trump focused on rolling back regulation on the industry, his successor, Joe Biden, has vowed to clamp down on polluters, which lawyers said may involve tighter regulation of emissions reporting.

While the bulk of emissions from the energy sector come from the burning of fossil fuels, upstream oil and gas production also pumps a significant volume of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In the US, the industry produced 133m tonnes of CO2 in 2018 — the most of any country worldwide according to consultancy Rystad Energy. Russia, in second place, produced 116m tonnes.

The manner in which US producers are looking to tackle emissions differs from their European counterparts, whose pledges have typically covered so-called scope 3 emissions — those caused by the burning of their products — as well as emissions from their own operations. As a result, many European companies have pledged to shift their business model to include a growing share of renewables and electricity businesses.

In contrast, Conoco — the first US producer to announce a net-zero target in late October — omitted scope 3 emissions from its targets, indicating it intends to remain focused on its core business.

Occidental has said it will work to neutralise scope 3 emissions by shifting its model towards carbon capture and sequestration services as opposed to renewables. Chief executive Vicki Hollub told IHS Markit last week that Occidental would ultimately become “a carbon management company” with its oil and gas providing “a support business unit”.

Analysts said that a focus on emissions could help US producers win back investors after years of poor returns.

“In a way the industry is making a virtue out of necessity,” said Mr Logan. “They don’t have investors who are enthusiastic about their current approach, so I think there’s a lot of reason to think that what is now a slow pivot will snowball over time.”

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Can Queensland achieve net zero emissions by 2050? A look at the state’s carbon neutral scheme

The United Nations wants it. Our key trading partners and industries are doing it. Even New South Wales has a plan for it.

So where is the Queensland Government on achieving net zero emissions by 2050?

The Premier said her Government’s “major priority” after the election was delivering the budget, which was handed down last week.

Coming just a short time after an election campaign, it allows us to judge the Palaszczuk Government not on what it says but on what it does.

It’s the moment the Premier and Treasurer put their money where their mouth is.

In 954 pages of budget papers, there is just one mention of “net zero” or “zero net” emissions — deep on page 152, where it talks about the Department of Transport and Main Roads delivering a roadmap to lead the transition in the transport sector.

A coal-fired power plant
The Palaszczuk Government approved the state’s third-largest coal mine in September.(Reuters: Jason Lee)

While the Department of Environment made a promise to start working on a Climate Action Plan, it failed to commit to a deadline for it to be completed.

It’s a potential legacy item for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who would fancy her Labor Government’s environmental credentials superior to those of the New South Wales Coalition Government’s, only to be beaten to the punch.

The southern state’s plan involves $2 billion and an interim target of cutting emissions by 35 per cent by 2030.

By the end of the term, the Queensland Premier would no doubt like to have more in her list of major achievements, which so far after five years include headline items like abortion law reform, a ban on single-use plastics, building the Townsville stadium and, almost certainly, laws to legalise voluntary assisted dying.

The emissions pledge was actually made three years ago by Ms Palaszczuk’s then-deputy Jackie Trad and then-environment minister Steven Miles.

Ms Trad also committed to the goal of reducing emissions by 30 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

Many will point out, as Ms Palaszczuk did last week, that the Federal Government has not yet committed Australia to a net zero target by 2050.

Australia’s key trading partners have all made efforts to move ahead on achieving net zero emission targets in coming decades, including the UK, Japan and the incoming Biden administration in the US.

Our largest trading partner, China, has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2060.

Queensland late to the party with much at stake

At a state level, the Liberal-National Party said it is currently reviewing all its policies.

When pushed on budget day about when we might see more details on achieving net zero emissions in Queensland, the Premier said she was focussed on reaching her 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 and pointed again to the plan being developed by her newly-appointed Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon.

Coral under water on a reef.
The condition of the Great Barrier Reef has deteriorated to “critical” — the worst possible rating.(ABC Wide Bay: Nicole Hegarty)

It’s often been cast as a left versus right issue but outside politics, Queensland’s key industries are already on a unity ticket.

The Mineral Council of Australia has caught up to Queensland in adopting the target and individual companies have gone further in terms of implementation plans.

Earlier this year, mining giant Rio Tinto joined BHP in committing to net zero emissions by 2050 and announced it would spend $1.5 billion over the next five years.

The beef industry — another big export earner for Queensland — has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Queensland has much at stake.

The Great Barrier Reef was this week downgraded to the worst possible rating of “critical” by an advisory body to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, with climate change now considered the reef’s number one threat.

In some good news, researchers at Climate Action Tracker said if the 127 countries who have signed up to net zero targets achieve them, global warming could be limited to 2.1 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, meaning the 1.5 degree limit set by the Paris Agreement is within striking distance.

But as custodians of the reef, the governments of Queensland and Australia have a special duty to ensure this great natural wonder is preserved.

The Queensland Government is late to the party in its claims to be at the vanguard of climate action and, as time passes, its ability to claim it as part of its political legacy is becoming less and less credible.

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