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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

looks like spin « Previous | |Next »
October 23, 2006

The media reports that the Howard Government is preparing a major change in climate policy and that it will involve spending some more money on current programs---such as low emission technology--- and talking up nuclear power as "clean" and "green." It's a shift because Howard's energy and environment policies since 1996 have been framed through the lens of protecting, at all costs, Australia's fossil fuels sector. The 2004 energy statement reflected this approach, as it pushed renewables into the background.

WilcoxA.jpg
Kathy Wilcox

Talking up nuclear energy so far avoids mentioning that nuclear power is only a feasible economic option if the greenhouse costs of coal-fired power are taken into consideration. So far the Howard Government has refused to countenance a carbon price signal of any sort. Without such a signal who is going to build the nuclear power stations? It's pie in the sky.

And spending more money on low emission technology to burying greenhouse gases presupposes that industry will take up the technology without being forced to reduce greenhouse emissions and meet targets.Since there is no talk from the Howard Government about introducing price signals in the form of a carbon tax or emissions trading schemes, why would industry turn away from using cheap coal fired power? It is not economically rational to do so.

So the foreshadowed climate change policy shift is about appearing to do something about global warming whilst avoiding doing anything of substance. An election is looming.
Update:24 October In an op-ed in The Age Tim Colebatch says that John Howard can begin to frame his own policy by starting to create:

a financial disincentive to emitting greenhouse gases. Without that, there will be no carbon capture and storage, no clean coal technology, and no nuclear power stations. Without a carbon tax, or European-style emissions trading scheme, dirty coal will remain by far the cheapest source of baseload power, and the only one any firm wanting to stay competitive could use.The arithmetic is simple. Dirty coal (A) plus the cost of cleaning it (B) must cost more than dirty coal (A). A+B must be more than A. The Government has to admit that and bite the bullet. Around the world, emission targets are in, and Kim Beazley and the states have embraced them as Labor's solution. But if Howard wants to differentiate himself, in the long term, he would do better to go for a carbon tax.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:26 AM | | Comments (2)
Comments

Comments

I'm not that familiar with the economics of UK power generation but suspect you are right that nuclear is clearly more cost-competitive if the negative environmental effects of fossil are penalized financially. A very good point.

If you'd like an entertaining and realistic portrait of nuclear power (on the other site of the pond) see http://RadDecision.blogspot.com . There's no cost to readers. The real world of nuclear is far different than most people imagine. (Not better or worse, just different.)

James,
the book looks good.

The solution to global warming does lie in the technology transition to a low-carbon economy.This requires both serious emission reductions and myriad initiatives across the energy spectrum, to encourage alternative energy supplies, increase efficiency and reduce demand.

The issue in Australia at the moment is this:
If we accept that carbon emissions are a serious problem, why do we maintain the enormous subsidy the fossil fuel industries have enjoyed for decades by not pricing carbon?

It's the power of vested interests of the fossil fuel industry to block reform that leaves Australia stuck in a mess.

As Tim Colebatch points out in The Age

The Australian Greenhouse Office estimates that by 2010, we will be pumping out 45 per cent more carbon emissions to produce energy, and 53 per cent more from industrial use. We get down to 8 per cent growth only because three-quarters of the growth in energy and industrial emissions will be offset by a one-off decline in land-clearing and new plantations.

By 2020, the Greenhouse Office predicts Australia's emissions will have swollen 22 per cent from their 1990 levels. Transport would be emitting 78 per cent more gases than in 1990, power generation 70 per cent more, industry 75 per cent more. The gap between us and Europe would be stark.