Monday, March 11, 2019

Cimate change: Locked in

If we are to avoid the earth becoming unihabitable, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to virtually nothing by 2050. Which means eliminating coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels from our economy. But as Stuff highlights, a lot of our dirties emissions are locked in for decades to come, with long-duration resource consents giving a right to burn coal for a further twenty or thirty years:

It will be another 30 years before some of Canterbury's biggest consented burners of coal, including milk-powder processing companies, food and beverage manufacturers, a hospital and a university are forced to stop.

An Environment Canterbury (ECan) list of consented coal consumers shows Fonterra's Clandeboye plant in South Canterbury is allowed to burn up to 64 tonnes of coal an hour – the rough equivalent quantity-wise of bringing in every 60 minutes about 128 trailers of firewood.

Clandeboye is the region's biggest consented burner of coal. Its resource consent to use seven boilers to generate a maximum of 203.4 megawatts (MW) of electricity remains valid until June 30, 2039, during which time it is not allowed to discharge more than 463 kilograms of sulphur dioxide each hour.

Doing the maths using default emissions factors shows that this one dairy factory is up to a million tons of CO2 a year. Shutting it down would make a noticeable difference to our national emissions. But Clandeboye is just one source in Canterbury, and Canterbury is just one province. There are filthy, coal-burning factories all over the South Island contributing to this problem.

Fonterra won't shut them down until they become unprofitable. So, if we want to save the world, we need to make that happen. High carbon prices are one answer: if it costs too much to burn coal, then Fonterra will be forced to use cleaner sources of energy. But ultimately, we can't rely on those methods - we need to actually ban coal, and completely prohibit its importation, extraction, export and use. While we need a lead-time to give existing businesses time to switch fuels, the quicker we ban new coal infrastructure, the better off we'll be.