Mitigation in Australia

Need to Curb Emissions

If we continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions at the current rate average global temperature could rise 1.5°C above the pre-industrial within a decade and 2°C by 2040. A rise of 2°C is likely to produce an increasingly dangerous climate which could make some parts of the world uninhabitable, accelerate ice melt and sea level rise and threaten our ability to feed a growing global population. And now, some climate scientists are debating the possibility of a 3°C rise before 2100. That would prove catastrophic.

If we wish to avoid scenarios where populations are driven from their homes by flood or starve because of drought or deluge producing crop failures, it is imperative that we avoid a rise of 2°C this century. The chances of our achieving this by replacing combustion of fossil fuels with clean energy source – and achieving this in a timely manner – are rapidly diminishing, given that average global temperature is already 1.3°C above the pre-industrial.

The current level of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and the rate at which they continue to rise makes it imperative that they be reduced. To this end, technologies have been developed by the more advanced economies which can reduce demand for energy, significantly speeding up the rate at which we can reduce fossil fuel use. These ‘mitigating’ technologies are continually being improved and in the European Union and North America have been deployed to great effect. Yet in Australia, their use is at best disorganized, lacks uniformity at National or State level and at a local level is at best tokenistic or does not occur at all.

Fig. 1.   Comparison between atmospheric concentration of CH4 and CO2 over the last 400,000 years and their effects on average global temperature to 2013. Source: R.Morrison, Wikipedia.

Mitigation calls for action which reduces anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, particularly Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4) which, as shown in Fig. 1, are now at their highest levels in over 400,000 years. If these emissions are not curbed and reduced to zero by about 2050, the prospects of keeping average global temperature below 2C above the preindustrial this century become negligible.

Reducing these emissions can be achieved, primarily by reducing demand for fossil fuelled energy generation and by replacing use of fossil fuels with clean renewable energy sources.

If left to the private sector alone, it is unlikely that reduction in demand for energy produced by burning fossil fuels, or its more efficient use, would be achieved with the speed required to effectively slow average global temperature rise. One of the reasons for this is that existing businesses have invested, often heavily, in technology which no longer produces or uses energy efficiently. They are slow to abandon old technology before their outlay in it has been recovered or its continued use is no longer commercially viable.

Mitigation Measures

It therefore falls on the public sector to lead the way through legislation, by setting a good example demonstrating greater profitability to be had from using the latest technology and, in other ways, promoting the transition away from fossil fuels. Twelve basic ways of achieving this are:

Mitigating Action


1. Revise Building Codes to provide that new dwellings must have (a) energy saving insulation, (b) solar hot water, (c) photovoltaic panels, or (d) LED lighting and (e) an energy rating whenever sold.

The argument against revising building codes is that it would increase the price of housing, already too costly for aspiring first home owners.   However, it also reduces electricity needs saving owners money, increases property resale value and assists purchasers to identify best buys.

2. Provide LED lighting for all street lights, other external public lighting and interior lighting of all publicly owned premises, including the premises of businesses owned or partly owned by government.

Use of LED lighting is more durable, reduces electricity consumption and its cost by 50%-80%, reducing consumption of coal fired energy, carbon emissions and operating cost to commercial consumers and the public sector.

3. Actively encourage private sector use of LED lighting and increase sales tax on all other forms of less efficient lighting to discourage their on-going use.

As above

4. Encourage use of electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles by offering (a) concessions on registration, (b) assisting provision of charging facilities and (c) offering concessional parking fees.

These forms of encouragement are needed until the range of EV’s exceeds that of internal combustion engine cars, and their price is much more competitive – probably by 2020. EV’s with a range of >300 km, priced at $30,000 are already available and improvements on range and price will occur as battery prices continue to fall.

5. Equip public sector car fleets with electric and hybrid-plug in vehicles as fossil fuelled vehicles have to be replaced.

Most Government vehicles are used for journeys within the city in which they are located and can be made by existing plug in EV’s or in the case of longer journeys, by plug-in hybrids, reducing carbon emissions and operating costs.

Were government fleets to replace fossil fuelled vehicles with EV’s, this could increase public demand and use of EV’s, lower their price, promote their use in business fleets and by households.

6. Use PV panels to provide off-grid electricity to help meet public sector requirements and sale of surplus to the grid.

State and Local government use of PV to generate electricity is very low and its storage for meeting grid demand is presently non existent. Yet these measures could significantly reduce cost of energy and the Budget bottom line in the public sector and lower the need to generate it by burning fossil fuels. PV technology has been available for a decade yet public sector uptake, particularly at Local Government level remains very low.

7. Legislate on a National or State     basis to provide for uniform classification of all electrical appliances sold in Australia with stars to indicate efficiency in use of electricity.

A System already exists but is neither legislated for or regulated by government. It could be improved by taxing least efficient rated appliances, thereby encouraging production and sale of the most efficient appliances.

8. Support tree planting to ensure that new plantings exceed loss of trees due to land clearing, harvesting and natural loss.

Land clearing and tree harvesting exceeds planting, reducing the carbon sink and increasing the amount of CO2 absorbed by vegetation when the need is to increase absorption.

9. Promote recovery of methane and its utilization to generate electricity for use in operation of facilities such as piggeries, sewage processing or sale to the grid.

Anthropogenic waste, particularly domestic waste consigned to landfill produces methane, largely flowing freely to the atmosphere,   This gas is available for generating electricity, reducing local government operating costs and emissions though there has been very little investment in methane recovery.

10.   Assist replacement of fossil fuelled electricity generation with public/private sector development of renewable generation using the latest technologies.

Solar power stations are now able to generate electricity at less than 3 cents/kwh, cheaper than generating electricity by any other means and half the price of coal generated electricity, even at current depressed prices for that commodity.   Yet State governments have been slow to promote replacement of coal fired power stations with solar and Local governments have ignored this possibility.

11. Progressively reduce subsidies and other assistance to the producers of fossil fuels, particularly coal.


Paying fossil fuel producers subsidies of not less than $1 billion per annum, ultimately to pollute the atmosphere counters public policy aimed at reducing emissions and assisting projects of greater public or national benefit

12. Promote commercial development of technology which more efficiently produces, stores and uses electricity.

The stated intention of Federal Government is to reduce funding for the ARENA Grants program which is primarily responsible for promoting development and commercialisation of carbon mitigating technologies.

This list is by no means complete – use of low fuel vehicles, the questionable use of charcoal use in agriculture and other measures might be included – but it does include measures which long ago could have been implemented in Australia and other countries in the region.

Coordination and Goals

All of these measures expand economic activity since they create new manufacturing and employment opportunities. They should therefore be attractive, particularly to Premiers and Chief Ministers faced with rising unemployment due to contraction in the mining and manufacturing sectors.


Fig. 2. The National Grid links Northern Queensland with Southern Tasmania, a distance of over 5,000 Km, the longest transmission line in the world. It supplies about 200 terawatt hours of electricity each year to over 9 million businesses and households. Source: National Grid Maps

Jurisdictions connected to the National Grid should be working towards ensuring that the future of fossil fuelled power stations is gradually reduced to providing back-up power for renewable electricity generators. Fossil fuelled generation can then be completely phased out when technology develops cost-efficient larger scale storage of electricity, sufficient to provide security of supply for days rather than hours at present.

Storage capacity of this kind is likely to be available within five years and may be commercially available within a decade permitting wide use. This will enable construction of solar power stations supplying individual towns and cities 24/7 through mini-grids and probably by mid-century, result in abandonment of the National Grid as we now know it and its replacement with self sufficient regional mini-grids.

Transition to clean energy would be accelerated by taking the mitigating activities described above. Several of these activities (particularly 1,2,3, and 6) have the effect of reducing demand for electricity, enabling fossil fueled power stations to reduce their output and enabling closure of those with the highest emissions, thereby reducing national greenhouse gas emissions.

It appears that mitigating action undertaken by jurisdictions served by the National Grid is somewhat limited and needs to be more coordinated. Mitigating actions taken by one jurisdiction potentially affect ability to meet demand for or supply electricity in any or all of the others.

For example: If Queensland decides on a program of rapid conversion of all public lighting to LED, this will significantly reduce consumption and demand for electricity with the result that coal fired power stations in that State will reduce generating capacity, eventuating in closure of the power station with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. This reduces Queensland’s emissions and reduces the cost of public sector lighting in that State by up to 80%. It may also reduce capacity in Queensland to generate a surplus in the event of a spike in demand in New South Wales or other States.

If Victoria implements its policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2025 it is likely to involve decommissioning of Hazelwood Power Station, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Australia. This may increase Victoria’s dependence on States to its north to provide back-up, not only for Victoria but also for Tasmania and South Australia. Does that capacity exist? Hazelwood may close in 2017.

In summary, inadequate coordination of action by the jurisdictions transitioning from fossil fuel to renewable generation, can leave some without adequate back-up to ensure continuity of supply and may result in less than optimal location or prioritisation of capital investment. A possible candidate for the role of coordinator is a body comprising the jurisdictions served by the National Grid but not dominated by a seemingly ideologically driven Commonwealth.

Equally clear is that State and Commonwealth public sectors have done very little to implement the mitigating measures listed above. For example, States are constrained in the action they can take by Commonwealth regulation of building standards.  Yet, until implemented, jurisdictions served by the National Grid have little chance of meeting their commendable emissions reduction targets or weaning themselves off fossil fuels while ensuring reliability of electricity supply.

Finally, it is noted that several jurisdictions, notably the Commonwealth, seek to balance their budgets and, at the same time, increase employment opportunities.  Both of these objectives would be significantly assisted by implementing the mitigating activities set out above.

Posted by Riduna on Tuesday, 22 November, 2016

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.