Guest Notes

Christmas notes

19 December 2020

9:00 AM

19 December 2020

9:00 AM

Put some coal in our stockings

Santa will be busy this year because 2020 marks the final year of the Kyoto climate change agreement signed way back in 1997. Santa has a long list of naughty countries, and only a few in the nice column.

There is good news for Australia. Santa has checked the list twice and confirmed that we should be getting more than a piece of coal this Christmas thanks to our Kyoto efforts.

The latest version of Australia’s emissions projections, released this month, shows that we have reduced our emissions by 403 million tonnes more than necessary to meet both our Kyoto and Paris targets.

Now some Christmas Grinches are suggesting that we should get no presents from Santa’s sack for these good deeds, not even a lump of coal. Indeed, some of the more zealous Scrooges think we should give up even more of the coal we have this Christmas despite our hitherto overachievement.

But that’s not what our non-Christian, secular, gender-neutral, modern Christmases are about! We all know that the modern interpretation of Christ’s message is that you only do a good deed to get something in return.

So what Christmas presents should we get for our 400-million-tonne carbon budget over the next 10 years – before our Paris targets come due in 2030? Here is my overflowing list for us all to choose from.

The closure of the Hazelwood power station – which once provided 25 per cent of Victoria’s electricity supply – doubled electricity prices. We now have the chance to correct this enormous mistake.


A modern, high-efficiency, low- emission (or HELE) coal-fired power station, of Hazelwood’s size, would generate around 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year. That is about 35 per cent less than the old Hazelwood power station.

And, with 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to spend over the next ten years, we could build four HELE coal-fired power stations. These power stations would not just make for an inspiring one-off Christmas present, they would be able to power the factories that make children’s presents for decades to come. Perhaps even in the future, when the wrapping paper is ripped off, we could find a ‘Made in Australia’ stamp underneath to replace the ubiquitous ‘Made in China’.

Speaking of China, why do we send almost all of our world’s best iron ore and coking coal to a communist dictatorship to bolster its steel industry? We could instead use our carbon budget to build steel mills in Australia again. That would easily end the shame that we are the world’s largest iron ore and coking coal exporter but a net importer of steel.

It takes about 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to produce a million tonnes of steel. So accounting for our carbon budget to 2030 would allow us to produce an extra 22 million tonnes of steel a year – around seven new steel mills. To become self-sufficient in steel production again we would only need to build a couple more steel mills roughly equivalent in size to the two steel mills left in Australia at Whyalla and Port Kembla.

So far I have considered all Australians equal when allocating credit for carbon good deeds. However, there is one group of Australians that have in fact been responsible for the bulk – in fact all – of Australia’s carbon ‘achievement’.

At the Kyoto negotiations, our diplomats successfully argued for the inclusion of terms that became known as the ‘Australia clause’. That let us use a baseline year of 1990 for the amount of land clearing that would normally occur in any one year in Australia. In 1990, 688,000 hectares of land in Australia were cleared, which was a record. Since then state governments have stripped farmers of their rights to develop their own land.

If it had not of been for the theft of property rights from farmers, Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions would have increased over the past 15 years. The only reason we can say we have achieved our Kyoto targets is because we stopped developing land in the bush. City people have emitted more over the past 30 years but that seems to have just recommitted them to the task of shutting down industries perceived as evil to atone for their sinful conduct. Australia once rode on the sheep’s back, now we are riding to international climate change conferences on our own farmers’ backs.

So why not give our farmers a break this Christmas and give them some of their property rights back? With 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to spend, we could let farmers develop an extra 300,000 hectares a year for the next 10 years. That would take us back to the 1990 heyday levels of clearing when we used to build dams to grow food. We would all then benefit from better Christmas lunches with lots of Aussie produce.

Before we get too carried away though, we should remember that more beef roasts at Christmas means more belching and farting cattle, and that means, you guessed it, more carbon dioxide emissions.

So the mooing cattle you see on your Christmas travels are not as innocent as they look. Each of these bovine sinners emits around 70 kilograms of methane a year. Factoring in methane’s potency as a greenhouse gas, means that we could double our cattle herd and remain on Santa’s nice list in 2030. Given the government’s stated goal of doubling Australian agriculture, what are we waiting for?

Unfortunately other nation’s are not rushing to reward our good behaviour. They instead laud the empty promises made by countries like China, which despite increasing its carbon emissions fivefold in the past 40 years promises to go to ‘net zero’ by 2060.

This shows how we are playing the Climate Christmas game all wrong. St Nicholas knows when you have been bad or good but St. Al Gore only cares what you say you are going to do. We need a new approach then. By all means let’s go one further than other nations and commit to gross zero emissions by 2050, and then like all other countries, do absolutely nothing about it. Then we will at least get coal (fired power) for Christmas.

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