A monumental failing  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Alan Kohler has a look at the dismal state of global warming politics at The Business Spectator - A monumental failing.

ditor's note: two follow-up commentaries have been published since this article appeared on Business Spectator. See: Monumental progress and New energy can't wait, both published July 15.

The 10-year old international project to stop global warming has descended into a complete shambles; we can now only hope that it’s not true, and that the skeptics are right.

But no matter who is right, we can be sure of one thing – there is little hope that an agreement to replace the failed 1997 Kyoto Protocols can be forged in Copenhagen in December. That’s despite the fact that the two Kyoto holdouts – America and Australia – are now on board, at least in principle.

Essentially the world’s politicians have given up on doing something during their lifetimes. They gave up on doing something while they are in power long ago.

All meaningful action has been put off for between 10 and 20 years, by which time the 2009 class of politicians will be safely tucked up in their pensions, living on high ground. Furthermore, the final goal has been pushed out to 2050, by which time they will all be dead.

Like everyone else at the G8 summit in L’Aquila last week, Kevin Rudd joined in the spin that progress had been made and that agreement in Copenhagen remains possible. Unfortunately he was overheard privately telling the truth – it’s actually very unlikely.

At least he got some nice airplay and polite applause by re-announcing an old carbon capture and storage research proposal.

But on the 7.30 Report last night, Al Gore stuck a pin that particular balloon, saying: “I have some scepticism about how big a role that particular technology is going to play…”

Carbon capture and storage is simply one of the phrases used to put off genuine action now, like the emissions trading scheme as currently proposed.

The problem is that the great majority of the world’s political, business and scientific leaders have accepted the Al Gore proposition that there is a climate change crisis, and that if we don’t do something we’ll all be rooned, yet they have reacted indecisively. Far better to disagree and then do nothing, than to agree and then fiddle around.

The result, as revealed on the ABC’s Inside Business on Sunday, is that coal-fired power generators have stopped spending money on maintenance.

I interviewed the managing director of TRUenergy, Richard McIndoe, whose company produces 10 per cent of Australia’s electricity in the LaTrobe Valley. He said: “Without the certainty of how long we're actually going to be able to operate down there, it's very difficult to justify spending $150 million this year on long-term maintenance plans.”

The problem for McIndoe and other coal-fired power generators is the transition over the next 15-20 years.

At the moment there is no certainty, which means not only are the power stations not being maintained properly, but there is no investment in general and the banks are unwilling to refinance debts. That’s a special problem for the debt-laden generators of the LaTrobe Valley like TRUenergy.

Clearly gas is part of the answer, especially during a transition to fully clean electricity, but if carbon capture and storage is Australia’s answer for long-term base-load power…we’re in trouble.

We are just beginning to research it and no one knows if it will work. Nuclear power has been ruled out (read more on this in the KGB TV interview with Ziggy Switkowski, to be published tomorrow) and there is no concerted effort in Australia to find something else.

Last night a group of European firms led by Siemens, Munich Re and Deutsche Bank, announced plans for $US555 billion solar power project in the Sahara desert to supply 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs. The business plan will take three years and the project itself decades to build.

Meanwhile China has announced plans for seven mega wind farms and a 2020 target for wind power of 100 gigawatts. The first is a 10GW generator in Gansu province, where construction began over the weekend. The Yallourn power station, by the way, produces 1.5GW.

But China is still building one or two coal-fired power plants every week as well.

And there is little hope that China, or any other developing nation, will sign up to new binding commitments at Copenhagen without a massive cash transfer from the developed world, which of course became developed by burning oil and coal.

The developed world, however, is now financially challenged, having borrowed too much from the future, while simultaneously polluting the present.

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