It comes as the Abbott government dodged questions on whether renewable energy should make up 80 per cent of Australia’s energy by the middle of the century, which the UN panel says is necessary globally to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The IPCC says and, on current emission trends, the world would warm by 4 degrees by 2100 and keep getting warmer.
Stephen Galilee, the chief executive of the New South Wales Mineral Council, told the ABC on Monday that coal would remain a key energy source, especially for “billions” of the world’s poor who still did not have access to cheap and reliable power.
Asked if demand for coal would fall as the environmental costs became too high, Mr Galilee said the industry was investing in technology to lower its environmental impact and warned withdrawing fossil fuels from the world’s energy mix would “cause significant social and economic dislocation”.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday that cleaning up existing power stations was the “the best thing” thing the government could do to reduce emissions, and pointed to the CSIRO’s direct injection carbon engine (DICE) technology as a way to reduce emissions from brown coal.
DICE, the subject of a major research project at the CSIRO, can cut emissions from a coal station by up to half but is still at least five years from being ready to roll out.
Damon Honnery, a specialist in energy systems from Monash University’s School of Engineering, says clean coal technology is hugely problematic – expensive, difficult to implement and incapable of providing carbon emissions reduction on the scale required to mitigate climate change.
The problem with DICE, said Associate Professor Honnery, was that it while it could reduce the carbon footprint from a coal-fired power station its CO₂ emissions would be well above 0.1kg per kilowatt hour, the value generally agreed to be required by about 2050 if we are to stabilise the climate.
Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said such technology would “only get brown coal’s status to black coal’s threshold”.
“Whilst we’re happy for some sort of innovation, that’s an innovation that’s barely getting into the park let alone being a serious player in the future of fossil fuels,” Mr Connor said.
“There’s still a big, yawning gulf to what the IPCC is talking about, which is full phase-out or carbon capture and storage.”
Greens leader Christine Milne said “renewable energy is the future, not coalmines” and attacked comments Prime Minister Tony Abbott made only weeks ago, when he claimed coal was good for humanity.
“Tony Abbott could not be more wrong. He is a huge risk to the country by promoting coal, he’s not only driving global warming, but is actually putting the Australian economy at risk,” Senator Milne said.
Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler said the government’s $2.55-billion direct action scheme, passed after a deal with Clive Palmer, “would not do the job” and Australia’s place among the most attractive countries for renewable energy investment had “plummeted” because of the uncertainty around the renewable energy target.
The government and Labor are negotiating, with expectations they will reach a deal to wind the 41,000 gigawatt hour target back.
- Sea levels have risen about 19 centimetres since 1901, and the ocean has become more acidic, which means that many marine species and corals face extinction.
- The atmosphere is getting warmer — global averages are expected to rise by between 3.7 and 4.8 degrees Celsius this century, well above safe limits.
- Most ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking, and snow cover receding in the Northern Hemisphere. The polar ice cap is shrinking, meaning less heat is reflected away from the Earth, and more stays in the atmosphere.
- Heat will affect rainfall, leading to drought in some places and more intense storms in others. It will also disrupt food production and possibly make drinking water more scarce in some places.
Impacts on Australia
- Australia can expect increases in the scale and intensity of bushfires, and longer, hotter droughts. Storms may become less frequent but will probably become more intense.
- Hotter temperatures are likely to harm human health. Sequences of very hot days lead to increased death rates among the sick and elderly. Sydney could experience 50 degree Celsius days later this century.
- Rising sea levels are expected to affect about 500,000 coastal properties, with storm surges pushing the sea inland and damaging homes and infrastructure.
- Many plant and animal species face extinction on current trends. The Great Barrier Reef is unlikely to survive in its current form by century’s end.
- The economic impacts on Australia are expected to be very high, with a hurried transition away from fossil fuels in coming decades, higher insurance premiums, and more natural disasters and health costs.
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