This is my 13th visit to Australia to stay with my growing family there, but it is the first time there that I have been counting my own carbon footprint, especially as it coincides with COP28. My first letter from Australia will therefore concentrate on this issue. While desperate to see my family there again I have a responsibility to offset my personal footprint in other ways. There are three issues to accept the challenge of global warming – technology, political will and personal behavioural habits. How is Australia coping with the demands of global warming?
Science and Technology
Despite the inevitable minority that either denies the existence of global warming or says there is insufficient science to support drastic measures to curb and reverse it, I believe that, putting long-term cyclical and El Niño effects aside, there is a majority view that we would be wrong to risk our children’s future. The use of fossil fuels as a prime energy source must be phased out if the human race is to survive on this planet. Most of the technology to replace fossil fuel is there, but not all. Nuclear fusion, as opposed to fission, is still an aspiration despite seven decades of research. New technology small, modular nuclear fission reactors may be an option, if only to back up renewable energy sources not yet available or during periods of peak demand.
The Australian government’s view is that the recent domination of global energy security by China and the Middle East must be broken by phasing out the use of fossil fuels as early as possible. Climate Change Minister, Chris Bowen, is being urged to support and represent the Alliance of Small Island States that have a high risk of major damage to, or even extinction of, their habitats from the effects of global warming. But he is conscious that the timescale depends upon phasing out fossil fuels and achieving a target of at least 82% of clean, renewable energy.
Technologies that produce green energy may not also be fully sustainable when they need to be replaced. For example, a process to recycle wind turbine blades is at an early stage of development and not yet widely available.
I have a future grandson-in-law who is working full-time to install charging points for electric vehicles (EVs) on British motorways and roads. Some fuel pumps are being removed to make way for EV charging points. This assumes predictions have been made for the transition to EVs. Will the younger generation be able to afford them? If the demand is high will battery technology enhancements give an acceptable charging time?
The Australian opposition argues that, as Australia has the world’s largest deposits of uranium, they have a moral obligation to supply it to those countries that are unable to meet net zero emission targets without nuclear energy. This would need a moratorium on nuclear mining in four of the 6 Australian States and 2 Territories. to be lifted. Australian Uranium Mining
COPs, cop-outs or compromising our promises?
The 28th of a series of Conference of the Parties (COP28) has just completed. It covered topics ranging from a stocktake of what has been achieved and what more needs to be done, phasing out fossil fuels and building resilience to climate change and establishing of a fund to support climate-vulnerable countries. It was chaired by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber of the UAE who wants to show a commitment to global warming while temporarily increasing oil production. Britain continues to use North Sea oil and recently issued 27 new licences for oil and gas production. Australia is still mining and exporting coal to satisfy India’s demands despite its main coal exporting port of Newcastle being blockaded by a flotilla of small protest boats. A bloc of Middle Eastern countries (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE, Iran and Kuwait representing 2.3% of the world population) produce more of the world’s oil production (19.3%) than the USA (18.9%) and Russia (11.9%).
Will nations keep to their promises to devote sufficient resources to comprising carbon emission targets before it is too late? Or will their promises be compromised to delay phasing out fossil fuels for their own economic interest or to defer drastic measures to avoid loss of support with upcoming elections? Achieving a unanimous agreement amongst the big nations, oil-producing blocs and poorer nations comprising 80,000 attendees was a major challenge in the COP28 final week with results disappointing many.
I landed at the small Whitsundays Region airport in bright sunshine, and we drove through the Cannonvale Valley with the backdrop of the lush green tropical rainforest. The roadside was dotted by Australian flame trees in full bloom. A sure sign of an Australian Christmas coming. The following morning I was woken by the chatter of Kookaburras welcoming the sunrise. But, within two days we were monitoring the progress of tropical cyclone Jasper. Tropical Cyclone Tracker Will it hit the coast here or in Cairns, an eight-hour drive north, where we are all headed for the Christmas period? Two days of gale-force winds and torrential rain followed. But Queenslanders are always prepared for the vagaries of the weather. Maybe we should listen more to the indigenous people. More about that and our plans for the festive season next week folks.