What's bigger than our differences?

Have you seen the news? 

ACF is standing together with some unlikely allies because we want change.

The challenge of pollution and global warming is bigger than politics. It's bigger than you and me. To get Australia’s climate policy on track, people from all walks of life must be involved. This is bigger than our differences.

That’s why we’ve come together with 10 major business, industry, environment, energy, investor, research, union and social groups to speak out for strong policy to cut pollution and support clean energy. 

We have never come together before, and while we will not solve every problem or agree on everything, we want to show our politicians there is more that unites us than divides us. We want to make it clear that so many people from different walks of life want our country to cut pollution and support clean energy – there is no excuse for inaction. 

It's all over the news: in the Guardian, the Australian, ABC news, Radio National, the Conversation, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, WA Today and more

It’s an unlikely alliance, and an important one. We are ACF, WWF, The Climate Institute, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Australian Industry Group (AiGroup), Business Council of Australia, Aluminium Association of Australia, Energy Supply Association of Australia and the Investor Group on Climate Change. 

We’ve found common ground on some fundamental goals and principles: Australian Climate Roundtable: Joint principles for climate policy. We all agree Australia must cut pollution and address global warming. 

But we know our country doesn’t yet have the broad political will to make this happen. So we want to reset the heavily politicised debate. 

We know this won’t be easy. But delayed, unpredictable and piecemeal action will cost us dearly, and make the job ahead even harder.

This doesn’t mean ACF will stop exposing the big polluting companies, calling for an end to handouts or passionately campaigning for what we stand for – now or in the future.

But we share common ground on the fundamental principle that we want our political leaders to cut pollution. 

We think opening up a space for conversation is a crucial, as it enables us to discuss our differences and find solutions. Will you join us? Start a conversation with an unlikely suspect – a friend or neighbour you wouldn't normally talk to about cutting pollution and growing clean energy. Common ground might seem impossible at first, but you might be surprised. 

Because this is more important than our differences. 

 

Feeling RETjected?

It’s almost unbelievable. In a giant leap backwards, the Senate finally gutted our Renewable Energy Target (RET) last night. 

The government has slashed it by 20 per cent.

It now counts burning native forests for electricity as ‘renewable’.

And in a deal with anti-wind crossbenchers, the government has established the wasteful and unnecessary post of a ‘wind farm commissioner.’ 

If the RET had been allowed to do its job, around a quarter of our electricity would have come from clean energy sources like wind and solar, within five years. 

The winners from this dodgy deal? The operators of old, inefficient coal-fired power stations and companies that want to generate electricity by burning native forests.

The new ‘wind commissioner’ is a bizarre waste of money. It adds a completely unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the development of clean and safe wind power, which is already the most over-studied and over-regulated energy source in Australia. 

A ‘coal commissioner’ would be a better choice, considering the known health impacts from mining, transporting and burning coal. 

But despite these shenanigans, did you see the good news?

Coal closure fever is spreading. Coal power stations and mines in South Australia’s Port Augusta and Leigh Creek and Victoria’s Anglesea power station are the latest dinosaurs to announce they will close. 

Did you catch the ABC’s Four Corners program ‘The End of Coal’ last week? You can still watch it on ABC iview and on the Four Corners website. With the price of coal plummeting and the rest of the world turning to renewable energy, our government is clearly backing a loser.

Pollution from burning coal is a 19th century problem with a clear 21st century solution – clean, cheap energy that doesn't run out or pollute the air we breathe or the water we drink.

Our politicians are out of tune with the Australian people and the rest of the world. Last week, the Pope issued a challenge for everyone to meet our moral responsibilities and act on global warming for all of humanity. His message adds to the roar from other leaders – in our communities, the United Nations, the World Bank, G7 countries and the world’s scientists and doctors.

The momentum is on our side, and we won’t let this one setback stop us.

The age of fossil fuels is over. 

P.S. Want the lowdown on the renewable energy deal? Read our coverage.

Burning native forests for electricity is not renewable

Together with our friends at GetUp, The Wilderness Society and Solar Council, we put an ad in Canberra Times asking all Senators to vote against burning nature forests in the Renewable Energy Target:

Here are ten reasons why so-called 'biomass' has no place in Australia's Renewable Energy Target:

1.      Including native forest burning in the RET will restrict the uptake of real renewables

Renewable energy targets can be more than met by wind, solar and other genuinely renewable energy sources. If burning the lungs of our land is allowed to be classified as renewable, it would take credits and assistance from the real renewable energy industry, especially from new, large-scale solar thermal and solar PV plants.

2.      Logging and burning native forests releases a lot of CO2 pollution

The purpose of the Renewable Energy Target is to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs in clean energy. Burning native forest biomass for electricity generation is contrary to this purpose as it depletes forest carbon stocks. Most estimates consider it to have a similar carbon intensity to burning coal. Protecting Australia’s native forests would reduce emissions by tens of millions of tonnes of carbon per year.

3.      Native forests are more valuable left intact, sequestering huge stores of carbon

Australia’s native forests contain around 13,067 million tonnes of carbon, close to 24 times our annual national emissions profile (535.9 Mt). Leaving these forests standing contributes much more to the effort to tackle climate change than chopping them down and burning them. The carbon they hold, if burned, will simply add to greenhouse emissions and undermine other renewable energy sources. The Climate Commission’s 2011 report ‘The Critical Decade’ recognises the protection of native forests as a key climate change mitigation strategy.

4.      Including biomass in the RET would drive deforestation

Eastern Australia was recently highlighted as a global deforestation hotspot. Using native forest wood as fuel for biomass power is extremely inefficient. A lot of wood is needed to make a small amount of electricity. Biomass power plants need an ongoing source of wood for fuel. This would increase pressure on Australia’s remaining native forests and become a major new driver for deforestation.

5.      If biomass electricity is allowed in the RET, whole trees will be used to fuel the furnaces

The definition of ‘waste’ already used by the woodchip industry is any tree not suitable for saw-logging. This ranges from 30–75 per cent of the total volume, and in some instances up to 90 per cent, of the wood removed from a logged forest. 

6.      Burning forests for energy will mean increased subsidies for an industry that is already heavily subsidised by taxpayers

The logging industry in every state is unsustainably propped up by millions of taxpayer dollars every year. There is no indication a native forest biomass industry would be able to stand on its own without government subsidies.

7.      It would be dangerous to human health

Burning native forest wood releases toxins harmful to the health of nearby communities. Wood dust is a known carcinogen and exposure is associated with skin disease, increased asthma, chronic bronchitis and nasal problems. The available data, now established and documented, may leave federal and state governments open to legal challenges by individuals affected by sustained wood burning.

8.      The conservation values of Australia’s native forests are already under threat

Australian forests have been over-exploited for decades to meet unrealistic supply contracts. We face a wildlife extinction crisis in many regions of Australia. Loss of habitat from logging is a major cause. Throughout the country logging degrades vast tracts for native forest, reducing water quality and quantity in catchments and lessening rain-making capacity. The Australian Forest Products Association wants Australia to burn forest biomass, like Europe does, but most European forests are plantations, not natural forests.  There are different climates, water supplies and industry economics.

9.      It would have poor employment outcomes

The native forest biomass power industry would be a very small employer. Australia has the capacity to power the whole energy sector with renewables like solar and wind. The Renewable Energy Target has already generated more than 24,000 jobs in clean renewable energy industries and is forecast to generate tens of thousands more.

10.  Australians don’t want it

A May 2015 Reachtel poll in the federal seats of Eden Monaro and Corangamite found most voters would be less likely to buy electricity from a company that produced it from burning forests.

  • ACF acknowledges the assistance of the Australian Forests Climate Alliance in putting together this brief.
  • This article was originally published in Reneweconomy