CEDA 2012 Climate Review: Science, Risk and Reality

On Friday 14th September CEDA (Committee for Economic Development in Australia), together with the support of Electranet and the University College London, welcomed members, guests and the public to a critical discussion on climate change at the Hilton in Adelaide, titled ‘2012 Climate Review: Science, Risk and Reality.’

A panel of internationally regarded thought leaders provided an update on the current key issues around climate change and answered critical questions.

Speakers included:

  • Professor Chris Rapley, International Climate Scientist
  • Professor Barry Brook, The Environment Institute
  • Professor Michael Barber, Flinders University

Environment Institute member Barry Brook gave a presentation titled ‘Climate risk and techno-fixes’ which addressed how we can obtain a sustainable yet energy-rich future.

A recap of the presentation (by Prof. Barry Brook):

We have significant risk to mitigate and real problems to address and it is accelerating. The main cause of this is fossil fuel. Energy use is the fundamental cause of recent climate change. Zero-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels like nuclear and renewables are growing, but historically cheap fossil fuels have dominated and continue to be the predominant new energy sources, especially in developing countries.

Standard projections for energy use in the future is a 350% increase in electricity use for stationary uses and to replace liquid fuels like oil. To meet this demand without ongoing use of fossil fuels, we will need technological solutions that are fast to deploy and can be done so at a sufficiently large scale and at low enough cost. Technological fixes have unforeseen and undesirable impacts, but so do rapid social changes, especially revolutions.

How can we intervene to mitigate climate change?

  • Population size reductions: more people clearly means more impact but this is not going to change anytime soon due to demographic momentum.
  • We can’t solve the population problem on a time scale that is meaningful for climate change mitigation, so is there an alternative that can still provide a sustainable energy rich future?
  • Basic requirement is to limit carbon energy growth. Nuclear and wind, current options (need energy cheaper than coal for this to be taken up)
  • Advanced nuclear reactors and other forms of low-cost and zero-carbon energy sources. This will include R&D into more efficient and cheaper energy storage technologies if solar and wind are to be viable at scale.

Geothermal, a ‘baseload’ renewable, is good for some places with natural volcanic activity near to the surface, but we need to develop new technology to obtain fractured deep dry hot rocks. It is difficult to be competitive with this source and it may never be commercially competitive. Hydro is running out of suitable locations and has environmental impacts.

Australia can’t risk failing climate change so we have to start implementation of nuclear and renewable and nuclear change now. Learn by doing, and may the best and most cost-effective technologies win!

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