If you were looking to the Energy White Paper for the Abbott Government to finally integrate the inextricably-linked two issues of climate change and energy policy, you’ll be extremely disappointed today.

But then again, if you expected that you’re probably delusional. To explain you merely need to operate the two buttons ‘Ctrl-F’ which reveal the Energy White Paper mentions ‘climate change’ once.

Even the Energy Supply Association – which is largely driven by the needs of incumbent fossil fuel power generators – put out a release criticising the failure of the White Paper to adequately consider climate change. According to the association the lack of a substantive, meaningful set of measures to address climate change made the policy “incomplete” and would perpetuate ongoing investment uncertainty in the electricity sector.

However, while ‘climate change’ was mentioned only once, ‘carbon’ gets several mentions … although mostly in relation to how wonderful it was that the government repealed the carbon tax.

Yet perhaps the most interesting reference to carbon was under ‘carbonated drinks’.  Under the heading Low Emission Fossil Fuels, the paper explains, “electricity produced from fossil fuels, particularly coal, is expected to continue to play a vital role in providing low cost energy around the world”.

But not to fear because the White Paper also explains that the CO2 could be captured before it is released to the atmosphere to be utilised in other products. Which other products, you ask?

The paper tells us:

“Australia has worked closely with other countries which rely heavily on fossil fuels to investigate opportunities to utilise CO2 in products such as carbonated drinks”

Fantastic, we can solve climate change but just might have to accept a widespread pandemic of tooth decay as our consumption of Coca-Cola rises to absorb all that CO2 from coal combustion.

OK, I’m simplifying things a bit, there’s other applications for CO2, as shown in the chart below.

Figure: Current bulk market for CO2 by application

But the problem is they pale into insignificance relative to the amount of CO2 we’re spewing out from fossil fuel combustion. All up, the total annual global demand for CO2 is 80 million tonnes (carbonated beverages is 8 million, or less than half the annual CO2 spewed out by the single Hazelwood brown coal power station), and Parsons Brinckerhoff reckon we might be able to cajole another 60 million by 2020. So that’s 140 million tonnes globally – not even enough to soak up the emissions from Australia’s electricity sector, let alone China, the US or India.

What’s worse is we’re not really helping things if almost all the CO2 is used in enhanced oil recovery to pull out yet more fossil fuels to burn.

Yet if we move beyond carbonated beverages to something more serious, the real problem with the government’s entire approach to energy policy is their underpinning fundamental assumption that the world’s future is dictated by the International Energy Agency’s forecast of energy demand under its ‘New Policies Scenario’.

One of the most powerful narratives driving this government’s overarching approach to policy is a belief that Australia can be an ‘Energy Superpower’ whose wealth hinges on growing exports of coal and gas to fuel the economic development of Asia and India. The statement below from the White Paper is perhaps the most important insight into the government’s thinking:

Australia is among the world’s largest exporters of LNG, coal and uranium. With the right policy settings, our importance to global energy markets will continue to grow, particularly to meet the increasing demand for energy from Asia. Australia has the potential to reap substantial economic gains in meeting future global energy demand, which is expected to increase by over one-third by 2040 (IEA 2014a).

In 2012, fossil fuels accounted for 15.5 terawatt hours (TWh) or 68 per cent of global electricity generation. The IEA, under its New Policies Scenario, expects this to increase to 22.2 TWh or 55 per cent of global generation by 2040. Nuclear power is also expected to grow from 11 per cent to 12 per cent of global generation over the same period (IEA 2014a).

The government doesn’t seem to have got the memo from either the IEA or its Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, that the New Policies Scenario is completely inconsistent with world leaders’ agreement that they should aim to contain global warming below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. If we proceed on the basis of the New Policies Scenario we are instead set for around 3.5 to 4 degrees of warming.

That is something the World Bank has declared would be disastrous for many of the developing countries of Asia, particularly India, who are supposed to be buying all our coal and gas.

Extracted in full from Business Spectator.

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