Defence of Adani coal useless: world’s energy agency

By Giles Parkinson,

The International Energy Agency has made a mockery of Australia’s justification for vast new coal provinces, saying that coal-fired generation for electricity will have to be phased out by 2030 if used at current rates without abatement.

In its annual Energy Technology Perspectives report, released this week, the highly conservative IEA, often accused of playing down renewables, says wind and solar will account for the majority of electricity generation and the overwhelming share of emissions reductions if the Paris climate targets are to be met.

The technologies report is an annual assessment by the IEA of what the world needs to do to cap average global warming to 2°C. For the first time in 2017, it canvasses what needs to be done if all available technologies are deployed to their limit to meet a temperature cap of 1.75°C – the mid-point of the Paris target range.

The overriding conclusion is that coal has no future without carbon capture and storage, and only a limited one with it. Under the 2DS scenario, all unabated coal must be phased out by 2045.

Under the more ambitious B2DS scenario, the 1.75°C target, coal generation must be gone by 2040. In this scenario, it says there are only 14 years left of generation of unabated coal at current levels.

iea-This goes completely against arguments in defence of the Adani coal province in north Queensland by the likes of Resources minister Matt Canavan, and underlines that the federal government’s coal mining plans do not fit in with any credible scenario for meeting the Paris climate targets.

The Coalition government, and Canavan in particular, argues there will be huge demand for coal generation in the Asia region, and that this is not contravened by the country’s Paris climate goals.

But the IEA makes clear that if the climate targets are to be reached, then between 1,500GW and 1,750GW of coal-fired generation will have to be retired early, and any new asset built now risks being stranded.

‘With a reduced carbon budget, the cumulative generation from coal continuously declines to a level of 135 petawatt hours (PWh) in the B2DS, which corresponds to just 14 years of coal-fired generation if kept at 2014 levels,’ it says. ’This explains the need to retire unabated coal-fired power plants even earlier.’

iea-coal-withdrawalThe IEA report also points to the difficulties facing the board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility as they consider any $900 million loan to Adani’s proposed rail facility and the possibility that it may damage Australia’s international reputation, particularly in regard to climate targets and environmental issues.

‘The mine obviously is source of huge amounts of carbon and appears inconsistent with a 2DS climate outcome as the government signed up to in Paris,’ says Mark Fulton, senior research advisor to Carbon Tracker.

The IEA report also has deep implications for the government’s response to the Finkel Review – due to be delivered on Friday – and the potential adoption of a ‘low emissions’ target.

There has been leaks to the media in the past week that suggest that the target should be around 700kG/CO2e per megawatt-hour, enough possibly to accommodate ultra super critical coal-fired power stations, such as the one many in the Coalition are pushing for in north Queensland.

But the IEA says that if climate targets are to be taken seriously, the limit for new power generation needs to be set at just 100kg/Co2 by 2025, allowing only wind, solar, nuclear in the countries that have it, and gas combined with CCS.

‘The average carbon intensity of new power capacity declined 27 per cent since 2005, but needs be at around 100 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (gCO2/kWh) in 2025, requiring further steep reduction,’ the IEA says.

‘The global fleet average emissions intensity of power generation in 2DS needs to be reduced from the current level of 524 gCO2/kWh to close to zero grams of CO2/kWh in 2060.’

It will be interesting to see what Dr Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, recommends in his report. The early leaks of the LET idea, and the suggestions that it could be as high as 700g/CO2/kWh, suggest a political compromise has already been identified.

Finkel told a Senate estimates committee that his review would take into account the climate goals in his report, and he also said the review would ‘not necessarily’ indicate a preferred carbon intensity. The 700kG figure could have come from the Coalition.

The Greens have argued that the LET should be much lower than that, noting that even former prime minister John Howard was contemplating a 200kgCO2/MWh benchmark when he played with the idea.

The IEA puts its hopes of reaching the climate target in renewable energy technology, particularly wind and solar, which will make up more than half of all generation. It says renewables overall will account for 74 per cent of supply by 2060 under the 2DS scearnio.

‘The analysis suggests that limiting global average temperature increases to 1.75°C from pre-industrial levels by 2100, the midpoint of the Paris Agreement’s ambition range, is technically feasible.

‘However, the gap between this pathway and current efforts is immense and unlikely to be bridged without an unprecedented acceleration of action on a global level.’

These include a focus on energy efficiency, in energy, transport and buildings.


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