Choice to Educate on Emissions & Energy

Choice to Educate on Emissions & Energy

What’s needed is a Choice type organisation to educate and protect consumers about products, services and solutions to tackle climate change, help consumers switch to renewable energy and manage energy efficiency, says ABC Carbon’s Ken Hickson, as he submits his proposed strategy for Australia to meet a 25% emissions reduction target.

Media release: A real green Choice needed to curb emissions, and inform consumers

15 December 2009:

Australians need a one stop shop to inform and protect them as the nation moves towards the new low carbon economy, author Ken Hickson said today.


“What’s needed is something like the Choice organisation, which can specially aim to educate and protect consumers – independent from Government – for products, services and solutions to tackle climate change, help consumers switch to renewable energy and manage energy efficiency,” Hickson, the author of The ABC of Carbon said.


“Right now we have a tangled web of information and advice on what individuals and businesses can do, coming from Governments – at the Federal, State and Local levels – as well as from many new companies in the market place, many of which are no doubt well meaning and genuine. Then there’s a polarising public debate thrown in. No wonder the average Australian is confused.


“Consumers and businesses need and deserve a body like Choice, which can act as a clearing house to inform, advocate and protect them as well as help in the decision making process”, Hickson said.


His call comes as he urges political and business leaders to consider an innovative multi-pronged approach to reduce emissions through a five strand strategy – 5% reduction from each of five key sectors of the economy  – to achieve 25% emissions reduction overall on 2000 levels by 2020.


Hickson has been sending through his strategy to Government Ministers, officers and leaders of the main political parties in the hope that it may prompt some to rethink their positions by providing a simple yet effective way to achieve substantial cuts to Australia’s emissions.


His book The ABC of Carbon is an illustrated, alphabetical digest with an encyclopaedic approach to climate change – the lonely planet for a carbon reduced future. It’s full of case studies and examples of what countries and companies around the world are doing to face up to climate change.

Hickson has long been an enthusiast for the environment, currently serving as a Governor of WWF Australia. He is now setting up a new non government organisation (NGO) called Green Earth Communicators (GECO) to provide a network and resource centre for individuals and organisations communicating conservation, sustainability, energy and environment issues and opportunities.

He also currently edits and produces a weekly climate change e-newsletter abc carbon express - the 88th issue was distributed last weekend – and he runs his own consulting business, ABC Carbon. He is regularly called on to speak on climate change solutions at conferences and events around Australia.



ABC Carbon’s 5 X 5 = 25 Climate Change Strategy submitted to Government, parties, business and media 15 December 2009:

Ken Hickson calls on all parties and all sectors to contribute equally and effectively to climate change action


Could this be the way to get a water-tight commitment to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020?

It is a simple and easy to understand formula – 5 times 5 equals 25 – to deal with emissions from five key sectors of the economy which account for a more or less proportionate amount – around 20% – of the nation’s emissions.

Some of the actions included to this strategy are already occurring, but for some reason it has not been viewed or presented this way.

Through this approach, each sector is able to bring to the table a 5% emissions reduction towards the total to provide an overall 25% achievement.

It can be visualised as a big pie with five generous slices of emissions. They are:

  1. Industry emissions reductions  


This includes industrial production, all manufacturing and mining. This sector approximately accounts for 20% of our total emissions now. We have excluded energy production, as that’s counted in the energy sector.


These are the big emitters, or polluters, if you like. And they are the major industries that targeted by the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Many observers realise that with all the concessions and allowances already proposed, it is unlikely to achieve a significant reduction in emissions.


But with the stick and carrot approach, along with putting a price on carbon through an emissions trading scheme, it is very realistic to expect that this major economic sector could achieve the 5% reduction in emissions on its own.


The cement industry – one of the world’s biggest emitters which accounts for around 5% of emissions of greenhouse gases globally – has already said it could reduce its emissions by 3% by 2010 and longer term up to 18%.


BHP has stated in its latest sustainability report that its target is for a 6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production across the board.


  1. 2.     Buildings and energy efficiency


Existing buildings account for around 20% of the nation’s emissions, primarily through use of energy, waste and inefficiencies. New buildings, which can achieve a high 6 star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia, are designed to use less energy and thereby reduce emissions.


The big challenge is to deal with existing buildings – offices, homes, shops and factories – and this involves taking steps to reduce the energy used in every area. In some cases, this will involve major retrofitting, but for many, particularly in the home, this can be achieved by better management of the electricity we use, smart metering, cutting wastage, as well as taking advantage of the Government insulation package. It might also mean lower settings for air conditioning and heating units.


Power management systems are readily available for businesses. A power management study for one Australian University, for example, found that by having an automatic cut off after hours for its 30,000 computers it could reduce electricity use by 52% and save $1.74 million a year.


Dealing with standby power used on household appliances could save 10% on an average household’s energy use.


There’s a new product coming onto the Australian market (from South Korea) which guarantees to reduce electricity use by 5% by cutting power wastage. It has been known to provide energy savings of up to 20%.


So gaining a 5% reduction overall through energy efficiency measures alone would not be difficult to achieve, particularly if Government promoted the right sort of incentives and interest free Green loans.


  1. 3.     Switching production to renewable energy


Australia already has in place a renewable energy target to get 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. There is already considerable investment going into solar, wind, wave, geothermal, as well as to enhance what we’re already getting from hydro sources.


Even though the Government has not set out a detailed renewable energy strategy to give a breakdown of the ideal mix of renewables, or provided as much as many other countries have by way of incentives, it is happening all the same.


There are large scale projects in the wind (and from the sun) as well as a groundswell of desire by the population at large to fit solar panels to the roofs of their homes. Think of how much more could be done to utilise all the wasted roof space on our airport terminals, factories and shopping centres.


In California, energy supply companies are paying to rent all available roof spaces so they can fit thousands of solar photo voltaic panels to generate power for the grid.


For homeowners and businesses, it would really help them make the switch to solar energy if all state governments would provide a gross feed in tariff to give a realistic return for producing additional energy for the grid. In Germany this applies to all and works very well. In New South Wales and ACT, this is now applicable to householders only.


We shouldn’t belittle the genuine efforts of people to clean up their energy act, particularly through paying extra for Green Power or buying into voluntary offsets to reduce their carbon footprints. Government recognition for this is proposed in the CPRS legislation, but it would be wise for authorities (as well as energy providers) to act sooner to acknowledge and reward the worthy citizens.


There are many other ways to reduce our dependence on coal fired power, including a switch to natural gas (which we also have plenty of and it emits far less CO2) and by incorporating effective ceramic fuel cells in our homes and businesses.


So achieving a 5% reduction in emissions from energy by switching to renewable sources should be very easy to achieve. If the country does better than that by 2020 that’s a bonus.


  1. 4.     Land use, farming and forestry


Even without incorporating agriculture in an emissions trading scheme, by encouraging (and rewarding) farmers to be more productive in their use of land and utilise “carbon farming” can achieve a significant reduction in emissions from this sector. Agriculture, when combined with all land use and forestry is a major emitter, accounting for at least 20% nationally and even more globally, so this needs to be approached in a positive, constructive way.


Environment Business Australia has brought together a coalition of carbon farming organisations. Soil carbon and biochar are not pies in the sky but practical means of retaining (or restoring) carbon dioxide in the soil and thereby improving its productivity.


By combining effective land use – less land clearing – with carbon farming and undertaking more tree-planting, this sector could achieve a significant 5% reduction in emissions.


Forestry could be expected to make an even bigger contribution to emissions reductions on its own, particularly when you see the size of investments by the likes of Origin Energy and BP in tree planting through the Western Australian business of Carbon Conscious.


Retaining as much as possible of the country’s old growth forests and rainforests will continue to provide a major carbon sink. Just as we’re conscious of plans to invest in “avoided deforestation” in places like the Amazon and Indonesia, we need to ensure we protect and retain our own trees as a means to keep our emissions in check.


Remember too, that it was through a major cut back  in land clearing in Queensland a few years back which gave Australia a distinct advantage, enabling it to meet it Kyoto commitments (even before it ratified the international agreement).


  1. 5.     Transportation comes clean


Private and public transport could easily account for 20% of a nation’s emissions of green house gases. So a switch to cleaner and more energy efficient transport – natural gas powered buses, electric or hybrid cars, taking more freight by rail than road – could all go towards achieving a 5% reduction in this important sector’s contribution.


Getting more of the population to use public transport, walk or ride bicycles would all help, particularly if our cities become less congested and polluted by cars. Instead of giving disproportionate tax incentives (and subsidised parking) for people to buy and drive cars to work, Government (and employers) should be finding ways to incentivise those of us who take public transport or use our own energy to move about.


Electric vehicle infrastructure is one very obvious way to go and other countries – notably France, Denmark and Israel – have taken giants steps in this direction. Australia has made a move with its Green Car Fund, an Australian made Toyota Hybrid Camry,  and has already got Better Place (the innovative electric vehicle infrastructure company) looking at what’s required to help Canberra go electric on the road. 


At a recent Electric Vehicle conference in Brisbane, delegates were told that one standard wind turbine could produce sufficient electricity to charge and power 1200 electric cars.


Shipping and air transport is also coming in for a lot of energy efficient/renewable energy attention, as together these forms of transport globally account for up to 10% of emissions. Jet bio fuels are being developed – and there is even an opportunity for Australia to get in on the ground-floor for this development, using plants and algae.




Is it all really that simple? When you consider the contribution to our total emissions on a sectoral basis like this, yes, it is simply a matter of employing every available technology and existing means at our disposal to make changes.  What is lacking is a strategic approach by Government to effectively set out and communicate these and other similar solutions to show how it is possible to attain an overall 25% reduction in the nation’s emissions. 


If we bundle all the emissions producing sectors together as we have and come up with a plan it will show that it is feasible – even achieveable – to commit to a target of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases  by 25% (on 2000 levels) by 2020. 


Conceivably, it could also be adjusted up to relatively and painlessly achieve a 50% overall reduction in emissions by 2050, getting each sector to cut its contributing emissions in half. Not impossible. It does require a commitment to action by Government and business. And it does necessitate having a clearly set out strategy.


Admitted this proposed approach is not costed, but a lot of the economic information is readily available from existing sources, including the Garnaut Review as Federal and State studies. We need to be reminded of the now famous words of Nicholas Stern in his 2006 UK Review:

“Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action — reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change — can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year’.


So action in a concerted, coordinated fashion – to analyse and produce emissions reductions sector by sector – is proposed as the way Australia must move forward. This is an opportunity for true leadership from all Governments, political parties and business/industry groups. Otherwise Australia will be seen as a laggard and not a leader when it comes to climate change action.  




One Response to “Choice to Educate on Emissions & Energy”

  1. Good constructive ideas Ken. (Except that you mean that each of the 5 sectors has to contribute 5 percentage points of TOTAL NATIONAL emissions, not just of the emissions of its own sector. If each sector cuts its own emissions by 5%, that’s still just 5% of the national total.)

    Surely if we – countries in general – are going to make a serious effort to arrest the human-induced component of global warming, then countries aspiring to lead the process must put on the table imaginative ways to ensure the dissemination of technology and inspire the general population to modify their behaviour in ways that they can accept as doing smarter rather than just doing without.

    There’s a limit to how far you can push social engineering though. Stopping road construction in Brisbane (for example) with the exhortation “let them ride bikes” will merely result in defeat of the responsible politicians.

    As I said to you in Toowong Village a couple of days ago, I think there’s a whiff of insincerity in the exhortation by governments to consumers to pay extra to their utilities for green power. Those who don’t elect to pay more for green power are effectively “rolling-off” their part of the responsibility for global warming onto those who do. If governments really believed the message, and wanted us to use more green power, they’d *mandate* faster take-up of it so EVERYONE shouldered part of the burden. As a taxpayer, I can’t opt out of paying my share of (say) Defence expenditure, or of expenditure on transfer payments for unemployment, welfare or study, so why should a similar, long-term community-wide benefit like green power be any different?

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