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Queensland’s Galilee Basin, an area roughly the size of Britain, is set to produce its first coal in 2021, to be moved by rail 300 kilometers to the coast, where it will be loaded onto cargo ships that will sail through the Great Barrier Reef to ship it to Asia.

The controversial Carmichael mine has become a symbol of the environmental split that has emerged in 21st century Australia.

Australia has made no such pledge. It hasn’t yet updated its Paris Agreement targets — already considered weak — of cutting planet-heating emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by mid-century. And Australia’s emissions per capita are nearly three times higher than the G20 average. Recently, Morrison said Australia was aiming to reach zero emissions as soon as possible, but wouldn’t give a timeline.

But outside Canberra it’s a different picture.

Every Australian state and territory has pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

In the private sector, businesses are investing in innovative renewable mega-energy projects, taking advantage of Australia’s world-class wind and solar resources. One project is set to power a large chunk of Singapore’s electricity needs via an undersea cable, and another aims to build a huge renewable power station that could be a game changer for Australia in becoming a leading exporter of green hydrogen.

With states and industry forging ahead on climate solutions, the country’s most impactful climate action might not come from the man leading the nation.

Australian states forging ahead

In November, New South Wales announced a plan to support 12 gigawatts of wind and solar and 2 gigawatts of energy storage through the construction of renewable energy zone to replace its aging coal plants. The state government estimates the plan would drive $32 billion in investment to the region, lower electricity prices and create more than 6,000 more jobs in the next 10 years. These zones are like traditional power stations but transmit, store and generate electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind and pumped hydro.

Speaking to Sky News, NSW Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean said: “The reality is 70% of our two-way trade are now with countries committed to achieve net zero emissions,” adding that the new projects will “set us up to not only be an energy superpower but an economic superpower.”
Neighboring Queensland is investing $145 million to establish its own renewable energy zones and Victoria, which has had success in installing thousands of rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses across the state, is supporting a further 600 megawatts of renewable energy. The state government claims this would be enough to power every hospital and school in the state.

“There’s a push also to put batteries on both of those pieces of public infrastructure so that they would essentially be able to sell their electricity to the grid too, which would offset some of their costs — providing more opportunity for them to spend their resources on vital, services like education and health,” said Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council.

Victoria will also be home to the world’s largest battery to ensure grid security. The Tesla battery will generate 300 megawatts and will help the state meet its renewable energy targets of 50% by 2030.

“There’s a growing enthusiasm for the economic opportunities associated with renewable energy,” said McKenzie. “I think that states are starting to see the scale of economic opportunity that can come with the transition.”

Solar panels array, Ceres Environmental Park, Brunswick East, Melbourne, Australia

Exporting Australian sunshine

The private sector in Australia is also seeking to capitalize on the abundance of sunshine and wind in the country. Some of these projects are breathtaking in their scale.

In the red desert of the remote Northern Territory, two of Australia’s richest people are backing a $20 billion plan to build the world’s biggest solar farm and battery storage facility, which will span 12,000 hectares (29,600 acres) and, they claim, be visible from space.

When completed, it will export enough electricity through a 3,711 kilometer-long undersea cable to power a fifth of Singapore’s energy needs. The Sun Cable initiative has been given major project status — meaning the government has formally recognized the significance of the project to the Australian economy.

Sun Cable aims to provide renewable energy to the Northern Territory by the end of 2027, with solar exports worth around $2 billion every year. It eventually aims to link up to Indonesia, too.

“If it comes off, it would be really a ground-breaking system,” said Bill Hare, CEO of climate science and policy institute Climate Analytics.

In Western Australia’s Pilbara region, the sun shines hot and strong winds blow throughout the day and night: ideal conditions to build the world’s biggest power station.

The Asian Renewable Energy Hub will cover a 6,600 square kilometer area space — about six-and-a-half times the size of Hong Kong. Funded through a consortium of backers, the $36 billion project is expected to have a capacity of 26 gigawatts — the equivalent of 40% of Australia’s electricity consumption.

A vast swathe of solar panels will soak up the sun’s rays and, together with 1,743 wind turbines, generate round the clock renewable energy. That will mostly power electrolyzers that split water into green hydrogen. The hub said it plans to turn this hydrogen into ammonia so, as a liquid, it’s easier to transport.

Hydrogen is already used in a vast array of industries, from rocket fuel, to fertilizing crops, to making plastics and pharmaceuticals. But extracting hydrogen is traditionally done with fossil fuels, causing planet-warming emissions.

Green hydrogen is manufactured with renewable energy — such as solar or wind — so it would eliminate those polluting emissions. While the technology has been around for decades, rapidly falling prices of solar and wind means the electrolyzing process is now financially viable, though still expensive.

Alex Tancock, founder and managing director of Intercontinental Energy, a partner in the hub, said the project “has shown the world what is possible.”

“It has leapfrogged this whole discussion of scaling up pilot stage projects. And it has shown that oil and gas-scale projects are possible that are green,” he said.

Green hydrogen is gaining traction among governments and businesses pledging to slash their emissions completely by 2050, and has the potential to clean up energy-intensive industries such as transport and construction that are more difficult to electrify.

Hare notes that currently 75% to 80% of Australia’s fossil fuels go to Japan, Korea and China. “We know each of those countries is looking at hydrogen for the future,” Hare said. “As an Australian, we just cannot afford to wait to develop these markets.”

McKenzie of the Climate Council adds that “a lot of Australian businesses now, are committing to 100% renewable energy,” and calling on the federal government to do more.

Coal country and a tense transition

Recently, the Australian government has made some good noises on green energy.

In September, the government announced a technology-focused roadmap and a $1.4 billion energy investment package, which including driving down the price of hydrogen to under $2 a kilogram, battery storage and carbon capture and storage. It planned to invest $18 billion in low emissions tech over the next ten years.
“Australia has a plan to put the technology in place to reduce emissions and ensure we achieve the Kyoto commitments, as we already have demonstrated, and, importantly, the Paris commitments before us. What matters is what you get done, and Australia is getting it done on emissions reduction,” Morrison told parliament on December 10.

But there are still parts of Australia’s energy policy that trouble climate experts.

For example, within the series of recent announcements was support for a gas-fired economic recovery from the pandemic fallout, which included unlocking five gas basins. “Gas is a critical enabler of Australia’s economy,” Morrison said.

But investing in natural gas — a fossil fuel — is not in line with the government’s own commitments to reduce emissions.

A recent report from the Grattan Institute, found that natural gas use is in decline, prices — especially on the east coast — will become expensive, and its benefits to manufacturing were “overstated.”

“If the government tries to swim against this tide by directly intervening in the market, taxpayers will pay the price via big subsidies,” the report said.

CNN has reached out to the Prime Minister’s office for comment.

A coal mine in Bulga, the Hunter Valley north of Sydney  on November 18, 2015.

Australia has another abundant natural resource: coal.

The country is the world’s second largest exporter of coal and in states such as Queensland and New South Wales mining is a big industry — and employer — in rural communities.

Climate scientists say it will be necessary to phase out coal power in developed countries by 2030, and in the rest of the world by 2040, if the world wants to avoid catastrophic climate change.

But according to the Climate Action Tracker, Australia’s coal production is set to increase by 4% from 2020 to 2030.

Despite that in Queensland’s Galilee basin, mining giant Adani’s new Carmichael thermal coal mine would produce 10 million metric tons of coal every year over its 60 year lifetime. Much of that will be supplied to India, which still depends on coal to meet most of its energy needs.

The project, which has been in the works for several years, was given the green light by the government last year, in part, to create jobs in a high unemployment area.

But it has enraged environmental campaigners, who say it will be a “death sentence” for the Great Barrier Reef because of the high levels of carbon pollution that coal produces. Large parts of the reef have already been destroyed by rising ocean temperatures linked to global warming.

Climate activists and scientists also say the mine and rail link could open the way for five other mines in the basin to go ahead, and coal produced from this mine could directly impact global emissions.
Adani, which renamed its Australian operations last month to Bravus Mining and Resources, said the mine and rail project has already created 2,000 jobs.

When asked for comment about the emissions it will produce, the company directed CNN to a statement disputing that emissions from its coal will have an impact on the reef.

“The process of mining 10 million tonnes of coal per annum at the Carmichael mine will produce 240,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions,” the company said in a statement.

“Adani’s Carmichael mine is a much smaller mine than many others in Queensland and when the coal is used overseas the amount of carbon dioxide that will be produced will represent less than 0.04% of Australia’s emissions and less than 0.0006% of global emissions, which is not enough to have an impact on the Great Barrier Reef.”

At the heart of Australia’s potential green energy transition is this tension between the nation’s history as a fossil fuel powerhouse and its obligation reduce emissions to stop catastrophic climate change.

Pressure to commit to stronger climate action is increasing from the states, from business, from communities, Pacific Island nations, and western countries. And there does appear to be some softening.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference on October 16, 2020, in Sydney, Australia.

Morrison, who was left out of a major virtual climate summit this month hosted by the UN, UK and France because of his lack of climate ambition, has said he won’t use controversial Kyoto carryover credits to achieve Australia’s emissions targets. Carryover credits are a carbon accounting measure and Australia had argued that because it did well in reducing emissions in the Kyoto period (2008 to 2012), it can offset that amount to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. No country has taken these seriously, however.

While states and business are making strong moves, if Australia is going to become a leader in the renewable revolution, experts say the federal government has to step up, too.

For the electrification of transport — especially heavy trucks or buses — or to make efficiency improvements in industry, experts say federal incentives are needed, as well as a carbon tax. Hare said that while some energy-intensive industries — such as mining — are moving to renewables for some of their operations, “it isn’t at scale yet, and it won’t happen at scale until governments all get on the game with the right type sort incentives.”

With a strong renewable energy and emissions target, the federal government could capitalize on the economic opportunities that Australia’s natural advantages offer — and protect the country from an onslaught of climate damage such as worsening bushfires and droughts, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather.

The government “needs to accelerate and coordinate all the efforts that are going on, to make sure that it can be ratcheted up very quickly, so that Australia’s very high emissions can plummet, if we’re going to protect our national interest,” said McKenzie.

“If we can demonstrate how to make transition happen quickly in a coal-dependent economy,” she said. “Australia could be the testing ground and a model in this new world.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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