Take note owners of Loy Yang, Munmorah et al. Greenpeace activists admitted causing £30,000 damage to the chimney of coal fired plant in protest at plans to construct another one ((Yeah weird choice huh. In short, nuclear is still dealing with some legacy issues, gas supplies are hostage to the vagaries of Russian intimidation and the EU ETS carbon price is pointlessly low meaning that they don’t stimulate renewable deployment.)) but were acquitted by a jury on the grounds that “they were legally justified because they were trying to prevent climate change causing greater damage to property around the world“. The decision has reverberated around the world, particularly down here. Coal seams very close to the surface in Australia have made it extremely “cheap” to dig up and burn. Until very recently, power stations such as Loy Yang located right next mines would just haul the coal into furnaces without counting it. Carbon accounting changes all that though. As Martin Parkinson (head of the Dept. of Climate Change) has pointed out, international agreements like Kyoto counts all greenhouse gas emissions produced (burned) within a country’s borders. So, while Greens quite legitimately make political hay from Australia’s parallel universes of ‘infrastructure bottlenecks’ in coal export and pissweak energy efficiency schemes, the reality of coherently accounting for the fossil fuels we export is daunting at best. If we take Australia’s national emissions accounts at face value, this means the biggest cuts available are phasing out our fleet of coal fired power plants.
The reality of this is not lost on NSW voters, it would seem. The realisation of the state’s considerable carbon liabilities [pdf] wouldn’t be pretty if we lived in the kind of frictionless, rational world imagined by some. What’s becoming far clearer is that the legacy of climate denying @rseclowns controlling the state’s purse strings over more than a decade is likely to have incredibly dire consequences for the fortunes of NSW Labor, whose local colleagues were obliterated in local elections this weekend. Inner West municipalities of Marrickville and Leichhardt (home to Federal Labor’s Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek respectively) saw huge swings against Labor.
Any truly ‘A Team’ Treasurer would have the courage to
pity cut the losses and get rid of the assets in a sensible manner.
How might this be achieved?
Hugh Outhred has given me permission to republish some of his thoughts on how this is possible. He wrote the following in response to the ‘Kingsnorth Six’ decision:
… all that would actually be needed to radically reduce climate change emissions from the Australian electricity industry would be an obligatory retirement schedule for coal-fired power stations except those with functioning carbon capture & storage, which would be particularly easy to do for the state-owned power stations in NSW & Queensland. Such retirements could be the outcomes of either parliamentary or judicial processes.
By staging the retirement schedule in an orderly manner over (say) one or two decades and by signalling that schedule through the existing instruments of the Annual Statement of Opportunities and the Medium Term Projected Assessment of System Adequacy, competitive processes via the existing National Electricity Market could be left to bring forward (supply and demand side) replacements except where additional “orgware” was required (eg wind & solar energy forecasting).
Instead of that orderly and organised transition, we have dysfunctional policy processes such as the Garnaut and Owen reviews and all that goes with them. Therein lies the joke, and the test will be whether we can enjoy it a decade from now.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, Anthony Giddens has announced plans for a sort of Political Stern Review. He’s identified some of the perverse and contradictory incentives in place across all levels and between different parts of government. One of his major calls is ‘a return to planning’, which he defines as:
“…taking a longterm view of things, with a time horizon stretching over three decades and more into the future. If climate change represents, as the Stern report says, “the biggest example of market failure ever”, it is largely because markets have no such view or vision of the future. Market forces can certainly be used to affect long-term processes—as happens in a routine way with pensions or insurance for instance—but they always need a regulatory framework, usually provided by the state, to do so…
We eagerly await an Australian ‘Giddens Review’ Kev – that is, if you have any interest in countering the disaffection amongst the yoof vote.
In the meantime, it might be time to dust off the abseiling gear….
Previously: Mark reminds us of Climate Change and Federal Electoral Politics
Update: The full witness statements from the Kingsnorth Six are available here