By Peter Droege
The confusion around building a “carbon economy” around emissions trading has served to disguise for too long that countries, regions and cities need crash programs to replace their entire energy supply systems, and exchange coal and oil for renewable power.
The longer this is postponed, the more difficult the ultimate effort will be, yet it is necessary for our survival and to help other countries make this inevitable change. It will also address the inexorable arrival of oil, gas and uranium peaks.
Roughly three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions that are produced by human activities result from burning fossil fuels for power generation and transport, almost one-quarter from industrial agricultural practices, and (this includes) another significant portion from cement production.
At present, there is a 40 per cent excess of carbon pollution in the atmosphere already, warming the world to melt polar caps and permafrost, and acidifying oceans.
Yet instead of focusing on these practices and finding ways to replace and change them, the emissions trading scheme (ETS) and the Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) distribute the onus for fixing the problem across the entire economy – from large companies to, ultimately, every owner, operator and consumer.
The stated aim of CPRS and other ETS dreams is to drive efficiency and reduce demand, and to make alternative energy production more competitive. Yet primary polluters are granted relief and exemptions from this scheme.
Equally paradoxical is the reliance on a national and global system of fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies. None of this will help in stabilising the global climate, nor shield the global economy from the terminal oil shock that is upon us.
Instead, this myopic fixation on an incomprehensible carbon trading regime will mean the old combustion systems stay in place, and efficiency measures are slow to commence.
By focusing all the attention on pollution trading, the core emitters – coal and oil producers, refiners, electricity generators from coal, diesel and gas – shift the focus onto the consumers of dirty energy. The entire economy is hence held hostage: do something about climate change and everyone will suffer.
Instead of wasting time with an impossibly complex and ultimately hopeless carbon trade regime, let us swiftly implement a 100 per cent renewable energy system, replace coal and oil with the country’s abundant solar, bio-energy, wind and geothermal sources.
Australia has such abundant renewable energy sources that even the process energy required for aluminium smelters could be generated, for example by sequestering solar, wind and geothermal power into hydrogen.
Australia can bypass the ETS conundrum by using feed-in tariffs, production support, and industry adjustment programs to retrain and re-employ workers in the outmoded hydrocarbon energy industries, direct investment in intelligent grids, efficiency standards and regulation – and negative-carbon soil and land cover management methods.
Instead of squandering precious time over an impossibly complex and ineffective ‘carbon economy’ let us save the real economy of our existential base.
Professor Peter Droege, Steering Committee, Urban Climate Change Research
Network; Expert Commissioner Cities and Climate Change, World Future
Council; Chair, World Council for Renewable Energy / Asia Pacific