As predicted in Climatico’s last national climate policy report, Australia has just taken the lead, along with Britain, in the development of Carbon Capture and Storage. A few days ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd inaugurated the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute in Canberra, with its 85 members, ranging from the governments of Japan and the US to giant coal and oil companies. The Institute will receive up to AU$ 100 million in government funding per year. CCS demonstration plants will soon be built.
Australia is indeed the world’s largest coal exporter, and coal is the nation’s most valuable export. As acknowledged by Rudd, “coal has been a major contributor to our nation’s prosperity.” (SMH 16/04/09). Yet coal production and use is also a very significant contributor to greenhouse gas concerns and remains a millstone around the country’s neck. By recognising that “the cold hard reality that coal will be a major source of power generation for many years to come” (SHM 16/04/09) Prime Minister Rudd is quite clear about his intentions, and therefore reassures the powerful industry lobby.
Pressure to be able to deliver Australia’s pledges of major carbon emissions reductions in 20 to 50 years is undoubtedly hangs in the balance. But what about medium term targets? Coal-fired power stations with CCS technology will not be operating for another ten years at least and they will not be commercially viable for 30-40 years. The technology’s efficiency is controversial. Moreover, CCS technology cannot be retro-fitted to existing coal fired power stations, so how long will it realistically take before Australia uses 100% clean coal?
The Government needs climate solutions now and should dedicate its funds to develop existing reliable renewable solutions such as wind and solar. Scientists from the government’s principal scientific board, the CSIRO, have taken a bold step last week by making clear that coal is the energy of the past. The scientists have chosen not to make a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (SMH 27/04/09) but have rather spoken out personally to the Senate committee. Their message was precise and simple: no coal-fired power plants should be built, and existing plants must shut within 20 years, if the world is to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide at a less dangerous level (SMH 24/04/09).