Australia rolls out carbon tax – unambitious but better than nothing!


The Australian parliament passed the Clean Energy bill, 2011 during the week – the effect of which will be to introduce a carbon tax there commencing in July of 2012. The bill still has to be ratified by the senate but with Julia Gillard’s government and the Australian Green party holding a significant majority of seats in the upper house, this is expected to be a formality.

The tax will initially price carbon at A$23 (?17) per tonne in 2012-13, A$24.15 in 2013-14 and A$25.40 in 2014-15. Carbon trading will commence in 2015-16 with a price floor of A$15, rising by 4% per annum.

The interesting thing about this carbon tax implementation is that rather than it being a burden on the tax payer, Australia introduced a series of extra payments and compensations for family’s which will see most workers earning up to A$80,000 (?59,350) a year receiving an extra A$300. This will benefit the less well off the most because:

The tax-free threshold for wage and salary earners to rise from A$6,000 a year to A$18,200 from July 1, 2012, and to A$19,400 from July 1, 2015.

This way of implementing a carbon tax is one I have been advocating for some time but it is not always popular. In fact, when I brought it up at the Green Economy 2011 conference in Dublin earlier I was pooh, pooh’d by former UN Climate Change chief, and current global advisor on climate change for KPMG Yvo De Boer, who said in an uncharacteristically misanthropic comment “Experience tells us that is you give people more money, they will go down to B&Q’s and spend it on patio heaters”. While it may have been a facetious comment, it fails to take into account that, if there is a proper price being levied on carbon, then the problem of the purchase of porch heaters quickly solves itself.

Back to the Australian carbon tax – kudos must be given to Oz for getting this law through parliament despite what must have been one of the most dishonest and vitriolic anti-science campaigns yet mounted against climate change. As Graham Readfearn notes:

They paid millions of dollars for adverts on television, in newspapers and online. They flew in climate change deniers from across the globe. They held rallies, engaged prominent right-wing media personalities, threatened scientists and turned the cold non-partisan findings of peer-reviewed science into some kind of blood sport.

But despite what was surely the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign ever waged before the Australian public, from next July major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases (about 500 of them) will have to pay $23 for every tonne of their pollution under laws passed earlier today.

The fact is that the Australian example is extremely unambitious – a starting price of ?17 per tonne of CO2 and a goal of reducing Australia’s emissions 5% by 2020? The bill scraped through parliament by the slenderest of majorities (74-72) so it is likely that any proposals seen to be more demanding would have failed.

Having said that, Australia has passed a carbon tax. That’s more than we can say for most other countries.

Well done Australia.

Photo credit Francesco Cavallari Photography ?


Cloud Computing’s Green Potential – my talk at the Green Economy conference

The good people in Business and Leadership invited me to speak at their Green Economy 2011 conference on the topic of “Cloud Computing’s Green Credentials”

The event was in Dublin and was attended by around 200 people from all walks of business. Fellow speakers were Yvo de Boer from KPMG, Dick Budden from the Carbon Disclosure Project and Dr. Willfried Wienholt from Siemens who talked about Sustainable Cities.

In my own talk, I said that intuitively, you might expect Cloud Computing to be more energy efficient, and in fact some Cloud Computing providers are making claims that Cloud Computing is “potentially” Green and energy efficient. However, seeing as Cloud Computing providers are not publishing any data around Cloud Computing’s energy consumption, then it is impossible to say just how energy efficient Cloud Computing is.

An exercise I tried out was – I asked everyone in the room to put up their hands if their company had deployed apps to the cloud – a good few hands went up. Then I said, keep your hands up if you know what the energy utilisation of those apps was before they went up – you can see where I’m going with this. Unfortunately, no hands stayed up at this point. The final instruction I was going to put to them was to keep your hands up if you know the energy utilisation of your app now that it is deployed in the Cloud. If you don’t have that information (and no-one does because Cloud Providers are not supplying it) then you can’t say that Cloud Computing is energy efficient.

Sure, you can say that you deployed your CRM to the cloud for example, and you decommissioned the servers which were handling your CRM internally – so you are saving energy there. But those energy savings are simply outsourced to your Cloud CRM provider and you have no idea how much energy they are burning to provide you with your CRM solution.

As for whether or not Cloud Computing is Green, or not – this is a different question entirely. I gave the examples of FaceBook and Microsoft, for example. FaceBook have a massively energy efficient data center in Prineville Oregan. It’s PUE is 1.07 which is near the theoretical maximum (of 1.0) but it is powered by Pacific Corp 63% of whose electricity is generated by burning coal – very definitely not Green. Similarly for Microsoft’s Dublin data center – again a very respectably PUE of 1.2, but it is powered off the Irish electricity grid, 87.5% of which comes from fossil fuels – again, not Green.

On the other hand, Google have gone to extraordinary lengths, investing over $400m in renewable energy and signing 20 year power purchase agreements with renewable energy providers – so you have to suspect that their Cloud Computing platform is Green, as well as energy efficient (but again, until they start producing data to back such claims up, it remains a suspicion!).

I concluded on Flip Kromer‘s great quote:

EC2 means anyone with a $10 bill can rent a 10-machine cluster with 1TB of distributed storage for 8 hours

This is a superb example of Jevons Paradox whereby Cloud Computing leads to increased computer resource utilisation, not reduced – which is also, not very Green!

The organisers put some of my talk up on YouTube – this may help get some context around the slides above –