The Conference of the Parties in Glasgow was a must-attend event for anyone who has even a passing interest climate and environment politics and policies.
All things considered, the Paris Agreement’s 197 signatories made no concrete steps to stop global warming.
However, it has become apparent that there was a consensus among the participants that the event’s achievements were significant.
Firstly, it demonstrated that the Paris Accord is still viable. It also established the more ambitious goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as the central focus for efforts over 2 degrees, which many countries had sought to establish in Paris in 2015.
UN documents called for coal to be phased out (rather that being out) for the first time. Many nations made large commitments to reduce logging, and other fossil fuel consumption.
It is uncertain whether the 1.5 degree target will be met. The International Energy Agency’s analysis found that if all the commitments made at the conference are kept, it would be a significant step towards 1.8 degrees of warming.
The conference ended with Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of United Nations, announcing that the effort to reach 1.5 degree Celsius was still alive but on life support.
It didn’t help that Australia, New Zealand, the EU and New Zealand all indicated within days that the conference was over that they would not increase the targets they set before next year’s COP27 Climate Summit.
Australian politics reacts
Faced with a public pressure campaign from some of Australia’s most powerful friends including the UK, the US and other countries, Prime Minister Scott Morrison finally announced a net zero target for 2050 and agreed to attend COP.
He confirmed that Australia’s 2030 target would be 26 to 28 percent, with the support of a projection that Australia’s actual cut would be as high at 35%.
Both targets are well below what scientists believe would be a fair contribution in the global effort to keep warming to 1.5 degrees earlier this century. This has disappointed observers around the world.
Labor’s own policy was announced after the conference. It included a target to achieve 43 percent by 2030. However, this is still far short of what scientists believe is needed.
Only the Greens’ policy of reducing emissions by 75% by 2030 is compatible with the Climate Council’s recommended reductions.
Climate observers were generally pleased with the Labor policy, despite this.
According to Amanda McKenzie (Climate Council chief executive), Labor’s plan helps to bridge the gap between Morrison Governments do not-nothing approach, and state government and business leaders, who are pursuing jobs and increasing our nation’s prosperity through reducing emissions.
Richie Merzian (director of energy and climate policies at The Australia Institute) stated that many people in the field were simply exhausted from the climate wars that have ravaged climate policy for a generation in Australia and would welcome any real movement by major parties.
News Ltd newspapers backing the governments net zero plan, and the Business Council of Australia backing Labors goals, there was cause by years end for concern that these wars may be ending.
The energy revolution
Inspired by the landmark 2020 report of the International Energy Agency revealing that solar power was now the cheapest energy in history, an international movement gathered around the COP to make 2019 the year that fossil fuels are finally eliminated from the economy.
This was not an isolated movement. Boris Johnson, the COP host, was a cheerleader. And since the UK had successfully reduced its coal use from 25% to 1.6 percent of its power, his voice was credible. John Kerry, United States climate ambassador, supported the EU and also put his weight into the effort.
A group of developed countries raised money at the COP to help South Africa close down its dirty coal sector. The Asian Development Bank then presented a plan to raise capital for the purchase and closure of coal power stations in the region.
Even though 40 countries signed a pledge to stop coal use at the COP, a series of unanticipated events caused coal and gas prices in China and India to soar to new highs.
The expected amount of wind power in Europe had been reduced by an unusually windy autumn, while heating demand was boosted by a cold snap. With the so-called pipeline of new fossil projects already constricted due to the lingering shock of the COVID-19 downturn and the flow of global capital away from new fossil fuel projects, supplies were failing to keep pace with a sharper-than-expected return in demand, causing a crippling shortage of fossil fuels that would have seemed unthinkable just one year earlier.
It is not likely that the surge in demand will continue, but it is believed by many. The first energy shock in the green power era could actually drive nations to adopt renewable and firming technology to get out of volatile global energy markets.
Business takes off
The reshaping global energy markets began to look more like a real possibility than an activist dream, and the major energy companies around the world began to rebuild.
Australia is home of some of the most important resource companies in the world. As the urgency of halting climate change became more pressing this year, investors continued to withdraw from companies involved in drilling up planet-heating fossil energy. This pushed the capital cost higher and triggered a wave of mergers and acquisitions.
BHP, the largest mining company in the country, has intensified its efforts to align its portfolio with global decarbonisation trends. This includes a deal to transfer its entire petroleum division to Woodside, based in Perth, and continuing to sell out of its thermal coal.
Santos and Oil Search, Australia’s top oil and natural gas producers, have agreed to a $21billion merger to increase their ability to self-fund growth projects in the face of financial difficulties.
Meanwhile, large-scale, renewable energy and rooftop solar panel installations along Australia’s east-coast electricity grid have caused a major shakeup of the market. This has caused wholesale power prices to plummet to levels where fossil-fuel-based generators have been increasingly struggling for survival.
EnergyAustralia announced that it would close its Yallourn plant in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley by 2028. This was four-years earlier than expected. AGL however, revealed plans to embark on an historic demerger to separate its carbon-heavy coal and gas-fired electricity stations.
But it wasn’t only the big emitters that started to prepare for a new future. Over the past year, it became apparent that the financial industry was more enthusiastic about decarbonisation than the government.
John Connor, chief executive of the Carbon Market Institute, says that it was evident from conversations with Australian executives this past year that climate was not a fringe issue but a central topic in their boardrooms.
He points out that the price for carbon credits on the Australian markets has risen from about $16.50 at its beginning to almost $50 by the end of the year.
It became clear this year that the EU is determined introduce a carbon border tariff. This will penalise carbon-intensive products from crossing its borders. It is possible that the policy will be repeated if it succeeds, creating a positive cycle of greening-for profit in the global supply chains.
It was also the year hydrogen was a hot topic with investors looking to make a tidy buck and governments seeking new clean industries.
Andrew Forrest of Australia invested money in projects to construct electrolysers to produce hydrogen and renewable energy infrastructure.
Forrest was rewarded by Joe Biden at COP, where he invited him to join the First Movers Coalition. This was a vehicle that the US President was backing in order to accelerate the expansion of green industries.
Yet, the world warmed
With so much attention on climate policy and politics and south-eastern Australia enjoying a period that was influenced by the La Nina weather pattern it was easy at times to lose sight the pace of climate change, despite the flooding and tornadoes that hit the region.
It wasn’t so in northern Australia or elsewhere around the world.
Researchers Rohan Fischer and Neil Burrows from Charles Darwin University and University of Western Australia found that extreme weather conditions had contributed to 120,000 kilometres of Australia’s tropical rangelands and savannah being burned in October and November, respectively.
The world has fallen into what is known as “heat” due to the increasing temperatureThey call it a pyrocene, a global age or fire..
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