Government Greenwash: Coal : Australia and Japan

 

In my previous blog I discussed the effect of government greenwash in relation to  their carbon position and budget. Comments to the IPCC to tone down parts of its 2021 report are understandably mainly reported in the countries themselves and it is often difficult to see the bigger picture, so in my next three blogs I’m going to focus on coal, meat and oil and what governments around the world have said to water down the report.

The primary comments on coal which have been leaked relate to Australia and Japan.

Australia

To quote ABC News Australia

“Documents suggest Australia also asked to be removed from a list of big coal-consuming countries. The draft report said “major coal-consuming countries are still far from phasing out coal”. “China, the US, Australia and South Africa continue to extract and use substantial amounts of coal,” it said. The official in Canberra noted Australia’s consumption was “an order of magnitude lower” than the other countries listed.

Analysis from analytics firm Ember ranks Australia as the world’s 10th biggest coal-fired power generator. Australia remains one of the world’s  biggest biggest coal producers and exporters.”

To state the obvious, Australia has a population of 25.7m people (2020), South Africa 59.3m, USA 333.5m and China 1,446.6m. Given the relative population size it would be surprising if Australia had the same level of consumption as larger countries. But as the chart above showing consumption per head 2019 shows Australia is top dog in terms of coal consumed per head.

I would suggest it is difficult to argue that Australia’s consumption is “an order of magnitude lower” than other countries. Instead, I think most people would say Australia is the largest per capita coal consumer and a major producer and needs to address these issues, not prevaricate and obfuscate.

Japan

To quote Unearthed

“Japan, which is hugely reliant on fossil fuels in its energy and transport systems, rejects a key finding in the report’s summary for policymakers detailing how coal and gas fired power stations will, on average, need to be shut down within 9 and 12 years respectively to keep warming below 1.5°C and 16 and 17 years to keep warming below 2°C. A director in Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs claims this paragraph is misleading and suggests deleting it “because the required retirements of fossil fuel power plants due to carbon budget depend on the emissions from other sectors as well as their capacity factor and the opportunities of CCS.””

“Japan also rejects analysis that “the overall potential for CCS and CCU to contribute to mitigation in the electricity sector is now considered lower than was previously thought due to the increased uptake of renewables in preference to fossil fuel”. The official argues that “it would be better to remove this sentence to be more policy neutral.””

I have written in “Zero Carbon our Choice” that fully scaled CCS (needed for power generation by fossil fuel to be net zero) has not been achieved to date. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it won’t be achieved. However, significant work on this has been in progress for 15 years and the usual time lag for scaled up, commercial new technology is 40 to 50 years according to an Imperial College London study (quoted in Zero Carbon Our Choice). To use the “opportunities of CCS” to keep coal power generation operational is bizarre – a Mr Micawber approach of “something may turn up”. At the very least how long does Japan propose we go on hoping for full scale CCS to allow fossil fuels to be used for power generation and still achieve net zero by 2050.

So consider, if I buy a green piece of Japanese technology – made in Japan with fossil fuel power – how green is that technology I’m buying in lifecycle terms?

Of course, this lobbying by countries is to protect economies which are carbon dependent from the effects of decarbonisation. To solve a global issue, carbon dependent economies are going to have to make serious adjustments and start reducing their use of carbon to power and fuel their economies and exports, and they will need to be honest with their populations what these changes entail.

This sort of economic protectionism, the denial of the contribution to global emissions by these countries while other countries decarbonise is exactly what will lead to the call for  border tax adjustments, otherwise carbon dependent economies will gain an economic and trade advantage in not decarbonising. Countries cannot expect to have a free ride in not reducing emissions without consequences (and GAAP permits tariffs for environmental protection).

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