Environment: Australia labelled a ‘Planet Wrecker’

Oct 8, 2023
Climate change awareness globe.

Wind and solar roll-outs are increasing globally but Australia and other Climate Wreckers are ignoring the science and developing new oil and gas fields.

Wind and solar investments and roll-outs increasing

Some countries had by 2022 achieved high rates of penetration of wind and solar into their electricity supply (Denmark 61% and Lithuania 48%) and some had had periods of very rapid roll-out of wind and solar. The eight countries displayed in the graph below have achieved the world’s highest annual growth rates over a five-year period. Uruguay, Denmark and Lithuania all managed to achieve at least a 30-percentage point increase in the proportion of their electricity produced by wind and solar over a particular five years. The others were in the 18-25 percentage point range. Of course, they are all pretty small countries, Chile being the most populous at twenty million. They are also a salad macedoine, particularly regarding their stages of economic development.

Image: Supplied

Countries such as Germany, the UK and Spain have wind and solar penetration rates of around 30% but have not used growth spurts because they had the sense to get started earlier. That’s not to say that a spurt now wouldn’t come amiss though.

For reference, Australia’s wind and solar penetration was 25% in 2022, a 16-percentage point increase during the previous five years.

Globally, 12% of electricity was produced by wind (7.5%) and solar (4.5%) in 2022 – a 5-percentage point increase over the previous five years. Penetration needs to hit 41% by 2030 for the world to be on track for net zero emissions by 2050. This will require the annual percentage point increase to ramp up from 1.1% during 2017-2022 to 3.6% until 2030.

The increasing penetration is driven by increasing investment in the energy transition generally, not just wind and solar. For the first time, in 2022 investments in the energy transition (US$1.1 trillion) equalled fossil fuel investments.

Image: Supplied

Half of the transition investment was made by China (US$546 billion), with the USA second on US$141 billion. Germany, France and the UK were third, fourth and fifth respectively. For the world to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, investment into the energy transition needs to triple immediately.

China’s solar panel industry hits the roof

China produces about 80% of the world’s solar panels and is expected to almost double its manufacturing capacity in the coming year.

Image: Supplied

Monthly Chinese solar panel exports in gigawatts (GW)

In the first half of 2023, exports of solar panels from China grew by 34% to a total of 114 gigawatts (GW) – this is equivalent to all the solar panels installed in the USA. Europe received 66 GW (almost 60%) and Brazil was second with 9.5 GW. South Africa increased its imports six-fold to 3.4 GW in the first six months. The only country to see a large fall was India which decreased its imports from China by three-quarters to just over 2 GW as it builds up its own solar manufacturing capacity.

Australia has been importing about 5 GW of panels per year from China for the last 5 years. The USA has been importing around 0.5 GW per year from China for several years and the Inflation Reduction Act is now stimulating increases in domestic production.

The report’s authors conclude that: ‘global manufacturing capacity is currently not the limiting factor to achieving the required fivefold growth in solar power by 2030. We have enough solar panels, we just need to get busy installing them. Policies should focus on ensuring installation and grid integration can ramp up as fast as global module supply.’ 

Australia: Planet wrecker-in-chief’s trusty lieutenant

The science is clear that the development of new oil and gas fields is incompatible with keeping global warming under 1.5oC. Yet new oil and gas extraction sites around the world that could still be stopped before drilling begins are projected to release 195 Gigatonnes of CO2 (Gt CO2) between 2023 and 2050 – about 400 times Australia’s current annual emissions.

USA alone is responsible for 72.5 Gt (37%) of the emissions and just ten countries are responsible for over three-quarters. Twenty countries will emit almost 90% of the planned emissions. Australia is number 8 on the list with 4 Gt, mostly from new gas.

The map below identifies the twenty ‘Planet Wreckers’ (sorry Tasmanians, the cartographers don’t seem to recognise the Apple Isle as part of Australia).

Image: Supplied

Five countries (USA, Canada, Australia, Norway and UK), collectively responsible for over 50% of the new climate and planet wrecking emissions, are particularly noteworthy because they:

  • have been responsible for a very large portion of greenhouse gas emissions to date;
  • are very wealthy and economically diversified;
  • have a low level of dependence on oil and gas revenues;
  • have a high capacity to manage a rapid transition away from oil and gas;
  • like to portray themselves as climate leaders internationally;
  • are outrageous climate hypocrites.

These five countries, which should be moving first and fastest to phase out fossil fuels, are characterised by Oil Change International as:

USA: ‘Planet wrecker in chief’

Canada: ‘Uncapped pollution, endless greenwashing’

Australia: ‘Aggressive exporter of CO2 pollution’

Image: Supplied

Norway: ‘The face of climate hypocrisy’

UK: ‘Claims of ‘climate leadership’ sink in the North Sea’.

The report concludes that ‘the oil and gas industry demonstrates time and again that it cannot be trusted to transition away from its fossil-centric business model’. The authors point to the responsibility of governments of wealthy oil and gas producer nations to:

  • heed the call of the UN Secretary-General to stop approving new oil and gas extraction projects at home and stop financing projects overseas;
  • plan for a fast phase-out of domestic production;
  • hold oil and gas companies headquartered in their countries accountable for human rights violations and environmental damage wherever they operate;
  • pay their climate debt by, for instance, providing finance to help developing fossil fuel-dependent countries diversify economically;
  • cancel the sovereign debts of developing countries;
  • shift all fossil fuel subsidies to supporting transformative solutions.

Of course, climate change doesn’t just damage the environment, it also kills people. The Planet Wreckers are also Life Wreckers. Frederick Engels called such activities ‘social murder’.

Nature positive

Most of us know that climate change is a problem and are aware that the international community is focused on two goals: net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and global warming under 1.5oC at 2100. What we think about those goals and whether we are on track to meet them is moot. The point is that we do have global goals that many people could articulate.

Nature, the world’s living creatures, is also in crisis, often summarised as the loss of biodiversity. However, we don’t seem to have such clear international goals for nature, and if we do I doubt many people could tell you what they are. This is where ‘Nature Positive’ and ‘A Global Goal for Nature’ come in.

Nature Positive refers to halting and reversing biodiversity loss through measurable gains in the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, ecosystems and natural processes. It is claimed that it will help feed us, tackle the water crisis, support climate action, protect livelihoods and deliver a sustainable economy.

Image: Supplied

The Global Goal for Nature is to halt and reverse nature loss measured from a baseline of 2020 so that (1) by 2030 nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery, and (2) by 2050 nature has recovered so that thriving ecosystems and nature-based solutions continue to support future generations.

Image: Supplied

To foster awareness of the idea of Nature Positive and promote action to achieve the Global Goal for Nature, a coalition of 27 of the world’s largest conservation-oriented organisations has launched the Nature Positive Initiative.

Nature Positive is also an idea that appeals to Minister Plibersek: the government’s response to the Samuel Review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act is called the ‘Nature Positive Plan’. The subtitle, ‘better for the environment, better for business’, also tells us something about the Minister’s legislative priorities.

World Animal Day

Last Wednesday, October 4th, was World Animal Day. To celebrate it retrospectively, you can learn about some of Australia’s native animals, including the Holy Cross Frog, on the Bush Heritage website. Don’t miss the videos of the incredibly industrious hopping mouse (a placental mammal, not a marsupial, readers may recall) and the very houseproud male bower bird.

Image: Supplied
Image: Supplied

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