Mar 4, 2019

Why Australia's climate change election matters to the world

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

SYDNEY, Australia — This country is at a crossroads with its energy future: one that aggressively moves toward cleaner resources in response to climate change versus one that holds onto fossil fuels far longer.

Why it matters: Australia is the poster child, but the entire world faces similar choices, albeit not quite as stark as Oz. Fossil-fuel exports are booming here while large swaths of its population are enduring the wrath of extreme weather — which scientists say is getting worse as global temperatures rise.

Driving the news: Australia is facing a federal election this spring that offers voters a stark contrast on climate change and energy, and the world a window into two very different futures.

“A lot of people think this will be the climate action election, that unless politicians are supportive of action on climate change, that they are less likely to be elected,” said Kerryn Phelps, an independent Parliament member, in an interview in the nation’s capital, Canberra.

  • In a nod to that sentiment, the current leadership, whose views generally align with that of President Trump and U.S. Republicans, has in just the past week proposed a series of policies that current Prime Minister Scott Morrison says will help address climate change.
  • The initiatives are far less ambitious than the ones being pushed by the opposing parties, which resemble that of U.S. Democrats.

Details:

  • Australia’s last five changes of prime minister, including one late last year, can be at least partially attributed to fights over climate and energy policies.
  • Australia’s Labor Party, akin to the left wing of America’s Democratic Party, is going into the election promising to roughly double both the country’s target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and its renewable-energy target. The former goal is currently 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2030, and the latter is 20% by 2020.
  • The two parties currently in power as a coalition, the Liberal and National parties, are more closely aligned with America’s GOP. They just proposed government funding to adapt to climate change, improve energy efficiency and increase hydropower.

Here’s a snapshot of how central energy and climate change are here:

  • Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal by value (Indonesia is largest by tons).
  • It's the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas exports.
  • It's home to the world’s biggest battery installation, at a wind farm in South Australia.
  • The country is grappling with a two-pronged electricity crisis with spiking prices and sporadic blackouts. While wind and solar, which only produce energy when the wind blows or the sun shines, face criticism for causing these problems, there are other, bigger factors.
  • Australia's hottest summer ever was just recorded.
  • A record “catastrophic” wildfire season plagued parts of the nation.

A recent Brookings Institution report found that Australia is poised to be worse off if the world acts on the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Australia’s current dependence on fossil-fuel exports would decline if other nations acted as aggressively as the Paris deal proposes.
  • That’s a big if, though, considering most countries are on a far slower path to cleaner fuels.
  • The disagreement here in Oz is over how fast this transition could occur.

To the executives managing coal exports at the Port of Newcastle, a sprawling industrial site a couple hours' drive north of Sydney, they’re banking on a long shift. The type of coal mined in the nearby Hunter Valley burns more efficiently than other kinds, and it’s close to growing economies in Southeast Asia.

  • “We’re well-positioned for this to be a longer rather shorter time frame because of where the market is positioned,” said Hennie du Plooy, CEO of Port Waratah Coal Services, in an interview at the port, the world’s largest coal-export terminal.
  • Independent analysts agree, despite a recent announcement by mining giant Glencore to cap coal production. The consulting firm Wood MacKenzie says demand for the Hunter Valley type coal will be stronger in a carbon-constrained world.
  • The biggest unknown for Australian producers is to what degree permits for new coal mines in Hunter Valley and elsewhere are rejected on the basis of climate change concerns, based on a potential precedent-setting court ruling last month. If there are fewer permits, there will be less coal for exports.

To sheep farmer Charlie Prell, who makes more than AU$150,000 ($106,000) a year for 11 wind turbines on his land in between Sydney and Canberra, the transition has been slowed by politicians beholden to fossil fuels.

  • During in an interview at his house, with one turbine so close you can hear the blades turn, Prell lays out a future far different than the coal executives.
  • “We can teach the world how to transition from this old-fashioned, fossil-fuel based economy to a clean economy, which is actually exporting renewable energy,” Prell said.
  • Prell was referring to early plans to export wind and solar to Indonesia via an undersea cable and initial developments for hydrogen-based energy.

What’s next: Australia’s elections, which determine party control that then decides the prime minister, are set for May.

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Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 34 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 704,095 — Total deaths: 33,509 — Total recoveries: 148,824.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 132,637 — Total deaths: 2,351 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "really panicked" people
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reported 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reported almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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