Australia has a mixed image when it comes to electricity generation. The U.S. government’s Energy Information notes of Down Under, “Australia, rich in hydrocarbons and uranium, was the world's second largest coal exporter in 2011 and the third largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter in 2012.” Australia’s reliance on uranium and coal exporters hardly wins approval from environmentalists.
It is not a picture that’s likely to change anytime soon. Australia is the world's fourth largest coal producer, holding the fourth largest reserves, estimated at 84 billion short tons. Australia is the world's fourth largest coal producer, after China, the United States, and India. For 25 years Australia was the largest coal exporter, but two years ago Indonesia surpassed Australia in terms of coal exports on a weight-basis. In terms of revenue, coal is Australia’s second largest export commodity, bringing Canberra over $62 billion in 2012.
Last year the government published an Energy White Paper delineating its energy policy including balancing its priority of maintaining energy security with increasing exports to help supply Asia's growing demand for fuel. Ironically, although Australia is rich in uranium, it has no nuclear-powered electricity generation capacity.
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And King Coal has a new advocate in the form of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Elected in September, Abbott has been on the warpath on climate change, abandoning Australia’s long-established emissions reduction target, begun moving towards repealing the carbon emissions trading scheme and engaged in slanging matches with, among others, Al Gore and U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres over climate change’s purported role in Australia’s unexpectedly intense seasonal bushfires earlier this year.
Mainland Australia is now almost exclusively controlled by federal and state local governments who are opposed to climate change policies and are seeking to slow the investment in renewables. The only two exceptions are the Labor government in the Australian Capital Territory, which has a 90 percent renewables target by 2020, and the Labor government in South Australia, which is heading to more than 50 percent renewables by the same time.
But one Australian state, governed by a Labor-Green Coalition, is swiftly moving away from this grim picture.
Late last month Tasmania’s Department of Premier and Cabinet issued “Climate Smart Tasmania: A 2020 Climate Change Strategy.” The Department of Premier and Cabinet’s website states, “Climate Smart Tasmania: A 2020 Climate Change Strategy outlines Tasmania's plan for action by state government on climate change. It sets out 9 priority areas and more than 80 actions both to reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate. The Strategy aims to help Tasmania to reach its emissions reduction target of 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 (as legislated under the Climate Change State Action Act 2008) and support Tasmania to adapt to a changing climate. The whole-of-government Strategy has been developed with extensive public consultation and input from all Tasmanian Government agencies.”
The Tasmanian government is no great fan of Prime Minister Abbott. Mincing no words in a style that even Abbott might grudgingly admire, Tasmania’s Climate Change Minister Cassy O’Connor tartly observed, “We now have in Australia a climate denialist government that is taking us backwards on climate change. Tasmania here has extraordinary advantages with our hydropower, with the carbon in our forests and we do need to show leadership; it’s also the economically sensible thing to do.”
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Speaking about “Climate Smart Tasmania” O’Connor added, “It’s the most comprehensive plan by any Australian Government to reduce carbon emissions and help communities adapt to a changing climate, built on more than a year of careful research and consultation.” Last but not least O’Connor noted, "Tasmania is a renewable energy powerhouse - our annual average electricity supply comes from 87 per cent renewable energy."
The fisticuffs have already started, with Opposition energy spokesman Matthew Groom accusing O'Connor of engaging in spin over substance, thundering, "What has been the emissions profile of Tasmania under a Greens climate change minister? That Ms. O'Connor wont' tell you the answer to and I suspect the reason she won't tell you is the fact that they have gone up."
Only time will tell which policy is correct.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com