Although Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard had promised before to not enact a carbon tax, floods, bush fires, heat waves, and drought reawakened discussion about putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
This week, Australia’s House of Representatives narrowly passed a carbon tax, sending the bill to the country’s Senate, where observers say it is almost certain to pass. Supporters say Australia’s setup would have several advantages over Europe’s carbon-trading system, including a fixed price for the first three years while the fledgling system gets going, which could allow Australia to claim it is the world leader on climate legislation.
However, Australia is currently one of the biggest emitters per capita, with 80 percent of the country’s electricity coming from coal. Australia is also the world’s biggest coal exporter, and as such has the coal industry reacting fiercely to the proposed law.
Debt-wracked Greece is launching a plan—with Germany’s help—to attempt to boost its economy out of recession by building huge solar power installations. “Project Helios,” named after the Greek god of the sun, is designed to attract 20 billion euros in foreign investment—and a large portion of the electricity produced may leave the country, headed to Germany.
However, the plan for exporting the electricity has some snags, critics say—including the need for billions of euros of investment in Greece’s power grid. Nonetheless, the president of the Hellenic Association of Photovoltaic Companies said the plan is more realistic than Desertec, a proposal to supply Europe with electricity from huge solar power farms in North Africa.
Energy for All
In preparation for 2012—which the United Nations has named the Year of Sustainable Energy for All—the International Energy Agency released its first assessment of the cost of ending energy poverty. The price tag: $48 billion a year—about 3 percent of the yearly global energy investment, and about five times as much as is spent now trying to bring energy to the world’s poor.
Expanding electricity to about 1.5 billion people who lack it now would add less than 1 percent to the world’s emissions, the report estimated, and the spread could be driven by the private sector, with the proper incentives from governments, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry diluted tar sands from Canada to Texas, faced raucous opposition at a public hearing in Washington, D.C. Protests against the project outside the White House dwindled in September, but the project remains a political headache for the Obama Administration.
More Nuclear Zones
Notwithstanding the retreat from nuclear power in Germany, Switzerland, and perhaps Japan, the world is still headed for a nuclear renaissance, said a report by Britain’s Royal Society. However, the report argued there should be more emphasis on controlling proliferation of nuclear materials and better storage of spent fuel to avoid accidents like that at Fukushima.
A new bill in Berkeley, California, is questioning the city’s long-time stance as a “nuclear free zone,” which uses no nuclear power and lets no nuclear weapons pass through it. But one of its city council members says the 1986 law causes more problems than it is worth and should be repealed.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday for National Geographic’s News Watch by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.