The year that was and looking ahead – part two of three

Could The Great Barrier Reef in Australia be a thing of the past?

By Anders Lorenzen

Did our key predictions for 2013 come true, and what are we expecting from 2014?

Coal’s uncertain future
We predicted that coal use would continue to expand, a very likely development bearing in mind how heavily reliant on coal both the Northern and Southern hemisphere’s are. Coal is unquestionably here to stay for some while yet, and is still expanding in China, India, South Africa and other developing nations. However, its not an infinite growth; the US has significantly reduced it’s coal usage through the increased usage of renewables and a switch to natural gas. Usage has increased in the European Union due to two factors; one being a falling carbon price that fails to make coal an uneconomic choice, and the other being that usage has increased in countries like Germany due to phasing out of nuclear power stations prompted by the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Australia’s volatile winds of change
Australia’s remarkable year has been one dominated by extreme weather, coal, carbon tax, conservation issues, climate denial and even renewable energy. When Tony Abbott became Australia’s new Prime Minister in September, he wasted no time in declaring that environmental protection and action on climate change were not issues he considered a priority. In fact he said his main priority was to repeal Julia Gillard’s carbon tax as it was ‘hurting the Australian economy’’, in other words the country’s coal industry. So as other countries looked to scale down coal mining and use, Australia planned to triple it’s coal export and construct the world biggest coal port – a coal port which would seriously threaten The Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most extraordinary ecosystems and the number one financial contributor to the Australian economy. Additionally, its extraordinary that the country’s government continues to deny the existence of climate change, when Australia has hugely suffered the brunt of climate change this year with a series of extreme weather events. Still, some remain defiant and there are reports that, despite statutory efforts to stunt the growth of renewable energy, it’s finding it’s own market, in some Australian states wind power has even reached grid parity which is promising.

The fracking question
Fracking has already become prevalent in the US and Australia; in the US it has even kick started a grassroots protest movement, concerned with pollution to groundwater, local ecosystems and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of the UK chancellor George Osborne announcing the world’s most generous tax breaks for shale gas companies in the UK, 2013 was the year the anti fracking movement truly arrived on the scene there in the form of a steadfast protest camp in the picturesque village of Balcombe, half an hours train journey from London. Protests were led by the group ‘Frack Off’, who were incensed by the shale gas company Cuadrilla’s announcement that it would drill test wells near the village. Our liveblog covered the first full day of anti fracking protests there.

We expect 2014 to be a busy year for fracking campaigns, not only in the UK where shale gas explorations are being planned in 40% of the country, but in other parts of Europe too, such as Poland which the only other European country currently allowing it to happen. Germany, France and Bulgaria, have so far outright banned it. In the US, the anti-fracking lobby has grown so strong that several states and cities have already banned it. Both the Republicans and Democrats are largely in support of the technology, so opponents are unlikely to be met with political goodwill. In Australia, the anti-fracking movement, led largely by landowners, is also growing, but they too are unlikely to find political backing for a ban bearing in mind the current political climate. Overall, despite the opposition, fracking is likely to increase, in particular in regions such as China and Africa, fuelled by the ever growing thirst to exploit our natural resources.

In part three and the final part we will look at the busy year in The Arctic, the rise of extreme weather, and climate change landmark events.
Sub edited by Kirstie Wielandt

This is part two of a three part series, part one can be found here.

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