Preserving WA’s pristine natural environment, and doing what we can to prevent our State from over-heating as climate change kicks in, was the order of the day at the Conservation Council of WA’s Clean State campaign launch last week.
Respected climate change expert, Dr Bill Hare told an attentive crowd that failing to play our part in reducing emissions would result in catastrophic impact, both here and abroad.
“This our State, our home and being here, supporting Clean State, has nothing to do with whether you vote Liberal or Labor or for the purple swamp hen,” one enthusiastic attendant told The Starfish at the gathering.
“Clean State is about learning the facts and what we can do. It’s for all West Australians who want to know how climate change is harming our natural environment, and by association, ourselves, and what we can do to halt it.”
Dr Hare, an internationally acclaimed scientist and Director of Climate Analytics, spoke about the critical need for WA to phase out of the fossil fuel industry and into renewables.
“The world has warmed by 1°C since the Industrial Revolution,” said Dr Hare. “Even at this level of warming Australia is already experiencing severe climate impacts – from loss of coral reefs to devastating bushfires linked to increasingly long and intense heat waves and droughts.
The Paris Agreement’s long-term goals provided strong, quantifiable guidance for future energy systems. It was essential to keep global warming well below 2oC, limiting the increase to 1.5oC. And it was imperative to work toward zero green house gas (GHG) emissions in the second half of this century.
The 1.5oC limit in warming limit, adopted at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in South Korea and this was recently a “game changer.”
“Limiting warming to 1.5°C is particularly important to Australia as it represents a chance to avoid much worse climate impacts on natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo, Shark Bay and our biodiversity in general.”
“Australia – and by extension Western Australia – need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to be in line with the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5°C.”
Dr Hare says limiting global warming would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems.
“The IPCC report shows global CO2 emissions need to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels, by 2030 and be close to zero around 2050. Total GHG emissions needs to be zero a decade or two later.”
Transitioning from Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy
Thankfully, Dr Hare said there are encouraging signs regarding the on-going transition to renewable energy generation: clearly essential to halt climate change.
“Feasibility of solar energy, wind energy and electricity storage technologies have substantially improved over past few years,” he said. “Renewables need to be producing 70%–85% of electricity by 2050; coal must be reduced to close to 0% for electricity production by 2050; and natural gas to about half of present levels by 2050.”
While important to the WA economy, LNG is one the state’s largest climate change culprits.
“With its vast reserves, WA is a global player when it comes to natural gas,” said Dr Hare.
“By the end of 2018, its liquefied natural gas production will account for around 11% of global capacity, and Australia is set to become the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas by 2019.
Alarmingly: “Reductions in emissions from the power sector due to Australia’s Renewable Energy Target are projected to be almost completely offset by increased emissions from the LNG sector.
Here in WA: “In 2017 LNG related emissions nationally were equivalent to about eight million cars, and by 2020 they are projected to increase to about 11-12 million cars – or about 90% of cars on the road.”
WA has a very large LNG climate footprint, he said.
“At present, LNG emissions in WA are about 20% of state emissions and expected to grow to about 30% by 2020. Nationally, it was about 4.5% in 2017 and will be over 6% by 2020.
“Hence any decision Western Australia makes when it comes to new gas projects will have a global impact.”
“By the same token, how the global energy markets respond to the global shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy will have serious implications for the profitability of current and potential natural gas projects in Western Australia.”
Fracking Not Needed
Proposed WA fracking projects were also of great concern, said Dr Hare.
“To date, natural gas developments focus on conventional natural gas resources, but now the development of unconventional resources, including exploiting shale gas in the Canning Basin using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), is under discussion.
“In addition to environmental impacts associated with fracking, these resources contain much more energy and carbon than conventional resources and using them would entail large carbon emissions.”
The domestic emissions from full exploitation of WA’s conventional gas reserves for both domestic use and LNG exports present major challenges for the State to comply with a Paris Agreement-compatible carbon budget.
“Under the Paris Agreement, Australia will need to move from gas to renewable energy sources by 2050 for its domestic energy needs,” he said. “We will also need to make large emission reductions in all phases of LNG production and processing.”
“The domestic emissions expected from all conventional gas reserves are about 40-75% above what Western Australia’s energy sector could emit in order to comply with the Paris Agreement.
“The domestic carbon footprint from WA’s ‘unconventional’ gas resources (i.e.fracking) is about three times what Australia is allowed to emit in order to comply with the Paris Agreement – 5-6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.
“The carbon footprint of Canning Basin resources alone is equivalent to about double this budget.
“Plainly speaking, the domestic carbon footprint of unconventional gas resources – fracking – would fundamentally undermine Western Australia and Australia’s contribution to global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
“The carbon footprint of Western Australia’s total gas reserves is globally significant and is equivalent to 4.7%-6.4% of the global energy system carbon budget under the Paris Agreement.
Fracking in WA would pose a “threat to the world achieving the Paris Agreement goals, and make it impossible for Australia to meet its emission reduction targets,” he said.
“The science also shows that none of this ‘unconventional gas’ – neither in the Canning Basin or anywhere else – is needed,” said Dr Hare.
“The global clean energy transformation already underway provides unique opportunities for WA to take advantage of its renewable resources. Our proximity to Asian energy markets could mean developing a carbon-free energy system for both domestic use and export.
If we complied with the Paris Agreement, gas consumption would start declining in the 2020s and by 2050, “all gas use in the power sector would be replaced by renewable energy alternatives.”
“While gas will play a role in the transition phase towards a zero-CO2 emissions (e.g. 100% renewable) energy system, Australia and Western Australia’s gas demand in this transition can easily be met without any need for WA’s unconventional gas resources,” he said.
Investing in unconventional gas production and transport infrastructure risks a lock-in of carbon-intensive energy mix and stranded assets.
As the world implements the Paris Agreement, he said a slump in gas demand would be expected.
“And with extraction and transport costs likely be at the upper end of the global supply cost curve, the profitability of exploiting the Canning gas resources is in doubt,” said Dr Hare.
Green Hydrogen a Real Option for WA
“Western Australia has an unusually large and accessible combination of renewable resources,” he said. “These are notably solar, wind and geothermal, as well as mineral resources critical to the global low-carbon transformation.
“Additionally the proposed transition of the natural gas industry to renewable hydrogen for export and domestic use is a real opportunity for WA.”
He said WA has massive comparative advantages for transitioning to a clean energy state.
“WA has more renewable energy resources than most. A very big gas industry can become a very big Green Hydrogen gas industry; with excellent engineering and latent manufacturing capacity in relevant areas; a highly skilled and productive workforce; and excellent logistics and access to energy markets in Asia.”
Dr Hare concluded by saying the recent establishment of the WA Renewable Hydrogen Council led by Alannah MacTiernan was a good first step towards a clean gas alternative, but the gas industry needed to continue lowering its carbon emissions.
For more information or to volunteer to help the campaign go to www.cleanstate.org.au.