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Here you will find news and views of the Australian-German College of Climate & Energy Transitions.

New Energy Transition Hub

7 July 2017 For immediate release. 

The Australian-German College is delighted to be part of (and at the centre of) a new bilateral initiative. 

MELBOURNE-ANU TO LEAD NEW ENERGY TRANSITION HUB

The University of Melbourne and The Australian National University (ANU) will lead the Australian side of a new bilateral research collaboration with top German institutions to build economic and technological opportunities from the global transition to clean energy. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull noted the new Energy Transition Hub, expected to be worth more than $20 million at full funding stage, at the 2017 G20 meeting in Hamburg.

The Energy Transition Hub will generate collaborative and world-leading research to help the technical, economic and social transition to new energy systems and a low emissions economy. It will bring together researchers from The University of Melbourne, ANU and Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Munster University’s Centre of Applied Economic Research, and the Mercator Research Institute of Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC).

Researchers from Murdoch University, RMIT, Monash University, the German Aerospace Centre DLR, DIW and the Hertie School of Governance will also be involved, with the Hub open for further partners.

It will include more than 60 Australian researchers and industry partners. The initiative will kick off with joint research on strategic scenario analysis of energy transition issues.

The international board of the Energy Transition Hub will be chaired by prominent economist Professor Ross Garnaut AC. Associate Professor Malte Meinshausen from the Australian-German Climate & Energy College at The University of Melbourne, and ANU Professor Frank Jotzo from the Crawford School of Public Policy will be co-directors.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis AC said the Energy Transition Hub would help support a secure, cost-efficient and sustainable energy transition to support the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

“The University of Melbourne is delighted to be a part of this unique opportunity to build long-term capacity and bilateral cooperation in the energy space,” Professor Davis said. ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC said ANU expertise would help the world transition to low emissions technology.

Professor Schmidt was a member of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, which included science and research cooperation as a major theme of its recommendations to Prime Minister Turnbull and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in its 2015 report.

“The Energy Transition Hub is an example of collaboration between Australia’s leading universities, government and industry, fostering an important bilateral relationship. ANU is proud to be a leader in the kinds of research that will help build a sustainable future for our planet,” Professor Schmidt said.

The Australian side of the bilateral partnership is initially funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, The University of Melbourne and ANU. Hub chairman Professor Garnaut said Australian and German scholars of energy and climate have much to learn from each other on the energy transition.

“We now have a magnificent institution through which to do the learning. The Energy Transition Hub will play a stellar role in Australia fulfilling the potential granted by our unequalled renewable energy resources: to be the energy superpower of the emerging low carbon world economy,” he said.

Professor Jotzo said that better understanding of the energy transitions in both Australia and Germany can unlock investment opportunities.

“There are many complementarities between the two countries, and similar problems to be solved in market design, policy and regulation. Through the Energy Transition Hub, Australia can tap into German expertise on energy sector reform, picking up from where the Finkel Review left off.”

Associate Professor Meinshausen said vast economic opportunities could be seized by both Australia and Germany in a zero-emissions world.

“The opportunity is to build a new growth vision for Australia that combines the mineral wealth tradition of the past, with the renewable potential of the future,” he said. “If Australia plays its cards right, the economic advantage of low cost renewable electricity can build new growth that includes energy-intensive industries. An energy transition based on tradition.”

The Hub will also provide deep engagement with all stakeholders, including fellow researchers, industry, civil society and government. More information will be available at the Energy Transition Hub website at <www.energy-transition-hub.org> from next week onwards.

For media assistance or to arrange interviews:
James Grubel, ANU Media
T:+61 2 6125 7979
M: 0481 439 181
E: media@anu.edu.au

Nerissa Hannink, University of Melbourne Media
T: +61 3 8344 8151
M: 0430 588 055
E: nhannink@unimelb.edu.au

Paris Equity Check Website

A new interactive website shows how equitable are countries' climate pledges under the Paris Agreement mitigation goals. This website is based on a Nature Climate Change study that compares Nationally Determined Contributions with equitable national emissions trajectories in line with the five categories of equity outlined by the IPCC.

Closure of Hazelwood Power Station

What are the implications for Australia's power supply and carbon emissions of the closure of Hazelwood Power Station? Find out from Dylan McConnell, PhD student at the Climate and Energy College, and Roger Dargaville, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute and College supervisor, who were featured on ABC's 7.30 (3 November).

Online Article
2016

Australia is now pretty much the only major advanced economy where pollution levels are going up, not coming down. – Labor shadow minister for the environment, climate change and water, Mark Butler, speech to the National Press Club, May 18, 2016.

Read the analysis by College PhD candidates Yann Robiou De Pont and Anita Talberg in The Conversation article here

Online Article
Anita Talberg
2016

As special envoy on climate change to the UN Secretary-General, Mary Robinson negotiated with world leaders ahead of the successful Paris climate summit in December 2015.

Through her work on climate change Robinson is an active proponent of “climate justice”, which advocates sharing the burden of mitigating and adapting to climate change between all parts of society, and particularly between developed and developing nations.

In this article (The Conversation) Anita Talberg, PhD candidate at the Climate and Energy College summarises the key points of Mary Robinson's University of Melbourne MSSI Oration on the 15th March 2016.

Online Article

By Kate Dooley and Doreen Stabinsky. Originally published on 10 December 2015, 2.16 AEDT.

One of the final obstacles in the way of a binding agreement at the Paris climate talks comes down to a simple number: 1.5. Limiting warming to a 1.5℃ temperature rise above pre-industrial levels is one of three potential targets on the table as negotiations approach the crucial final days. The other options are a firm limit of 2℃ and a limit of 2℃ with an aspiration to reduce to 1.5℃ in the coming years.

Releasing the latest draft text on Wednesday afternoon local time, the summit’s president Laurent Fabius listed the target as one of three outstanding major issues, alongside finance and the question of how to differentiate the responsibilities of developed and developing countries.

Many industrialised countries have surprised the world at the talks with a new-found fondness for 1.5℃. The target has long been a key demand of most poor nations, particularly small island states and least-developed countries.

Scientists consider that as 1.5℃ is breached, we will risk passing critical tipping points. In particular, sea level rise associated with that level of temperature increase poses an existential threat to low-lying island states.

Despite more than 100 developing nations being firmly in favour of a 1.5℃ limit, countries came to a political agreement in 2010 to collectively set themselves a 2℃ threshold

Kicking the carbon habit

If a temperature limit of 1.5℃ is fixed in the new Paris agreement, that raises the question of what countries will need to do to stay below that level of warming.

The UN’s top climate science body has shown that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are cumulative, with residence times in the atmosphere of thousands to tens of thousands of years. Temperature rise has a linear relationship with carbon emissions, so we can estimate the remaining amount of CO2 that can be emitted before we risk passing any temperature limit with some probability. For a 50% probability of staying below 1.5℃, there was a remaining carbon budget of 550-600 gigatonnes CO2 in 2011. At current annual global emissions of around 36 gigatonnes CO2, this budget will be used up in less than two decades.

What does staying below 1.5℃ mean in practice? Nothing less than full decarbonisation of the global economy by 2050. We must stop burning all fossil fuels before the middle of the century, along with a massive effort to keep forests standing and protect biodiversity. That is no small feat.

While some say limiting warming to less than 1.5℃, or even 2℃, is out of reach, ultimately 1.5℃ is a political signal for greater ambition, and a more serious global engagement in addressing climate change. Late in the day as this signal might be, it is important that a new international agreement does not include a temperature limit that even the UN has recognised is not a safe guardrail.

But what does this mean in real terms – if a temperature goal is agreed that requires rapid decarbonization: who must do what, and by when?

Fair shares

At the heart of the standoff in the climate talks are fundamental differences over who has more responsibility to act, and what a fair approach to drive greater ambition looks like. A broad coalition of NGOs set out to define a methodology to answer that question, taking into consideration the remaining carbon budget, historical emissions (as impacts on temperature are cumulative, historical emissions matter), and differing capacities between countries.

Their numbers show that the ambition – UNFCCC jargon for emission reduction efforts – of all developed countries falls well below their fair share of what is needed to stay within the remaining budget. Top of the list of offenders are Russia and Japan who are making little to no contribution to what would be considered their fair share of effort, while the US and the EU have pledged around a fifth of their fair share.


In this context, we start to understand why many developing countries might not want to commit to a 1.5℃ limit without clear rules on how to divide up the effort. The current emissions trajectories of developed countries will take up far more than their fair share of the remaining budget, seriously impeding the poverty alleviation and sustainable development aspirations of developing countries.

But development trajectories that exceed the global carbon budget will not work for the planet – regardless of who has done what historically, all countries are now bound by the very limited carbon budget remaining. This means that even for countries who have pledged what is basically their fair share of global action, such as China or India, they will need to do a lot more to keep the world anywhere near a 1.5℃ pathway.

For poorer countries (India ranks 135 on the Human Development Index), committing to do more than their fair share needs to be in the context of international commitment to support.

Collective goals

In the end, the 1.5℃ conversation is not the real debate. The real challenge in Paris is to agree on language for emissions reductions that is even remotely compatible with achieving whatever temperature goal is set. This is referred to as the “collective global goal”.

Options for a global goal include peaking emissions, zero emissions, or decarbonisation or climate neutrality. But without a differentiated long-term goal – one that puts increased ambition in the context of more support for developing countries – whether the goal is for peaking or zero, 2050 or 2100, all becomes meaningless.

Ultimately, the call for 1.5℃ must not become a distraction from the real challenge: agreeing a collective goal that includes both ambition and equity. Without a clear sense of who needs to take the lead, who needs support to do more than their fair share, and how this will collectively keep global emissions within a carbon budget – everyone will lose.

Online Article

By Anita Talberg. Originally published in The Conversation on November 27, 2015, 3:04pm AEDT.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has proposed an emissions reduction target of 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, based on recommendations from the government’s climate change policy advisory body, the Climate Change Authority. Shorten has also pledged zero net emissions by 2050, and ongoing reviews of the target.

In its review, the Climate Change Authority recommended that Australia adopt a target of between 40% and 60% by 2030 on 2000 levels.

Converting this to the 2005 baseline gives a target of around -44% to -63% on 2005 levels. So Labor’s target would match the very weakest within the Climate Change Authority’s range.

We plugged this target into our mitigation-contributions.org interactive webtool. The website allows the effectiveness of climate pledges from G20 countries to be assessed using different assumptions of what is a “fair” distribution of emissions reduction efforts.

What we found was that, first, Labor’s proposed 2030 target meets the Climate Change Authority’s recommended 2025 target of -30% below 2000 levels, as you can see in the chart below.

Second, Labor’s target may or may not be sufficient to keep the world within 2C, depending on what you consider a fair distribution of emissions between nations. Let’s unpack that a little more.

Most people agree that globally we should be striving for equal emissions per person. However, there are two broad views on how to get there:

  • Either we acknowledge historic emissions and “punish” those countries that have used a disproportionate amount in the past
  • Or we ignore past emissions and all countries strive for equal-per-capita emissions from now until some point in the future.

Under the latter option, Labor’s proposed target is sufficient to give the world a 67% chance of staying within 2C (see image below). This assumes that Australia adopts Labor’s target and all other countries match the effort of the target by using the same formula for calculating equal per-capita emissions.

However, if historic emissions are included we assume that because Australia has one of the highest per-capita emissions in the world it has a responsibility to reduce its emissions more rapidly and severely. Using this approach, Labor’s target does not do enough (see image below).

Here, again, we are assuming that Australia adopts Labor’s target and all other countries follow suit in a way that takes into account historic emissions and aims for equal, cumulative per-capita emissions. There is of course no guarantee that this will happen.

Essentially, Labor’s proposal improves on Australia’s current target of 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 and this is one step in the right direction. However, to be considered a good global citizen by factoring in past emissions as well as future emissions, Australia would need to commit to the tighter end of the Climate Change Authority’s target and do even more.

In fact, a target of -64% on 2005 levels by 2030 is what would be needed.

For more information on how to understand and use the mitigation-contributions website see this Briefing Note.

Ocean acidification: the forgotten piece of the carbon puzzle

Originally published on The Conversation, November 10, 2015 6.20am AEDT

https://theconversation.com/ocean-acidification-the-forgotten-piece-of-the-carbon-puzzle-50247

Ocean acidification – the rise in ocean acidity due to the increased absorption of carbon dioxide (CO₂) – is often thought of as consequence of climate change. However, it is actually a separate, albeit very closely-related problem.

Australia Should Pursue Ambitious Climate Change Mitigation Policies

From an international perspective, Australia’s climate change policies have been all but consistent over the last decade. In 2004, when countries responsible for 55% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions accepted the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), thus bringing the Protocol into force, Australia refused to do so. It was only in 2007 that Australia signed the Protocol, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. This occurred shortly after both major Australian parties, Labor and Coalition, made election promises to implement a national Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). Yet, it was not until 2011 that ETS legislation was finally passed by Parliament as part of the Clean Energy Act. And today, that ETS, as well as a myriad of other long-running climate and energy policies, face an uncertain future. Sadly, the current domestic push to dismantle major pillars of Australia’s climate policies falls counter to evidence provided by the latest available science.