Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why wait for the world?

WHEN Sir Nicholas Stern's 700-page report to the Blair government on the economics of climate change was published in 2006, it set a global benchmark for thinking about the economics of climate change.

In April the following year, Australia's eight Labor states and territories established the Garnaut Climate Change Review. Professor Ross Garnaut would be our guiding Stern.

Released yesterday, the review's final report, while 100 pages shorter than Stern's, is a critical input into national climate policy and the high water mark for discussion of the impact of global warming on Australia.

It highlights the risks to Australia of even low levels of climate change. With average global warming of as little as 1.5 degrees celsius, iconic ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef will be profoundly degraded.

Above two degrees, Australia's food bowl — the Murray Darling Basin — is in deeper crisis, the Great Barrier Reef largely lost, Kakadu, the Daintree and the Alps tragically transformed, and many Australian species extinct. Australia's tourism industry would face exceptional difficulties, our cities greater water shortages. Without strong mitigation, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and significant sea level rise would "sooner or later become close to a sure thing".

The report recognises that even stabilisation at 450 parts per million (ppm) would deliver only a 50/50 chance of keeping temperature rises at two degrees and would threaten some of our most important and iconic landscapes.

These risks can be reduced by "strong, early and effective action by all major economies", Garnaut writes.

Australia will need to play its full proportionate part in global action. As a developed country, its full part will be relatively large, and involve major early changes to established economic structures. The review shows that the costs, while considerable, are manageable.

There is a path to Australia being a low-emissions economy by the middle of the 21st century, consistent with continuing strong growth in material living standards. By the end of the 21st century and beyond — and more so with each passing decade — material living standards would be higher with than without mitigation of climate change.

Given this net positive assessment, Garnaut's tactics are doubly odd. He shows in great detail that the stakes for Australia are very high, yet he sets his sights very low, yielding to pessimism and ignoring the momentum that can be created by proactive leadership, investment, education and powerful advocacy.

Garnaut's proposal for Australia's medium-term (2020) and long-term (2050) targets is one of the report's central puzzles. These targets are critical. They will determine where emissions caps are set and the position Australia will take in international climate negotiations.

Because of the confusion generated by Garnaut earlier in September, it is worth quoting the relevant passage in full: "The review confirms its recommendation in the supplementary draft report — that Australia should offer to play its full, proportionate part in a global agreement designed to achieve 450 ppm with overshooting. It should offer to reduce its emissions entitlements in 2020 by 25% within an effective global agreement that, on realistic assessment, adds up to the 450 ppm … scenario."

But this position is "conditional", dependent on how international negotiations proceed at Copenhagen in 2009. Garnaut supports cuts of 25% below 2000 levels by 2020 within a global agreement aimed at returning emissions to 450 ppm. However, Australia should adopt a 10% reduction from 2000 levels by 2020 only within a global agreement aimed at stabilising emissions at 550 ppm. An Australian commitment between the 450 and 550 position should correspond to a global agreement in between. In all this, it remains unclear whether his "global agreement" must include India and China — which is highly improbable.

The professor's pessimism over the future of international negotiations is puzzling. He is aware that in Bali late last year, industrialised countries (except the US) effectively agreed to consider seriously emission reduction targets in the range of 25% to 40% by 2020, based on the IPCC's view that this is the least required to help stabilise atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases at 450 ppm and limit warming to two to 2.4 degrees. He also knows that low targets tend to become self-fulfilling prophesies.

His departure from the science is even more problematic. The review reports on the vulnerability of Australian environments, where average warming of one to 1.5 degrees is already "dangerous" climate change. Yet he is prepared to contemplate opting for a target that would lead to 550 ppm or higher, despite his report showing in exceptional detail (while also recognising that it cannot account for a range of "immeasurable" costs) that going down this path will deliver us longer-term economic, social and ecological impacts that are almost unendurable.

Meanwhile, recent Australian studies — for instance, by McKinsey — have indicated that Australia, with its poor levels of energy efficiency compared with other OECD countries, could achieve emissions reductions of some 30% below 2000 levels by 2020 with relative ease, make Garnaut's target choice stranger still. The report also emphasises that the cost of early and effective action is miniscule. In terms of GDP forgone, the difference between Australia immediately adopting a 450 ppm target and emissions reduction trajectory (-25% by 2020) over a 550 ppm one (-10% by 2020) is 0.1% of GDP forgone each year. (In this light, the review's failure to model or consider a 400 ppm, or even a 350 ppm, target is serious. This must be done before commitments are made to medium-term targets.)

The Garnaut report shows in many ways that "the case for strong mitigation is a conservative one". It also rightly indicates that "on a balance of probabilities, the failure of our generation on climate change mitigation would lead to consequences that would haunt humanity until the end of time".

It is prudent for the Labor Government now to be brave and conservative at once. Under these circumstances, it is in Australia's "national interest" to adopt strong, early emissions reduction targets domestically — at minimum 25% and probably greater than 40% by 2020 — and to champion them abroad. This is what Australian leadership on climate change would mean now.

Dr Peter Christoff teaches climate policy at the University of Melbourne and is vice-president of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Look to clean cars, public transport

Clay Lucas 
The Age, October 1, 2008

BUILDING an affordable zero-emission car will be the most important source of reducing pollution from transport, Professor Ross Garnaut has found.

Governments must also stop funding new road construction ahead of new public transport infrastructure, he said.

Between 2004 and 2009, Canberra poured $12 billion into road building but spent nothing on urban public transport, the climate change report said.

Emissions from transport — the sector makes up 14% of all carbon dioxide emissions produced in Australia — could be reduced more quickly if governments shifted from funding roads and instead spent more on public transport, walking and cycling.

The report said that to reduce emissions from transport, Australians would need to:

■ Drive fuel-efficient vehicles and shift to low-emission fuels such as electricity.

■ Shift to lower-emission modes, such as public transport, and build cities that are more compact.

■ Reduce the distance and frequency of travel.

A single transport co-ordination body should also be set up in every state, to be responsible for transport policy, he recommended.

For many years state and federal governments had given public transport a low priority because of cheap petrol, Professor Garnaut said.

"Low fuel prices … are a key factor behind the extensive use of fuel-intensive modes of transport in Australia, including trucks and cars," he said. These modes accounted for more than 85% of Australia's transport emissions in 2006.

But the transport system in Australia would undergo "a profound transformation this century (because of) higher oil prices, new transport technologies, rising incomes and population growth," he said.

Population growth would increase the competitiveness of public transport and intercity rail, as their costs per passenger decreased with scale, he said.

But governments would have to do more to help people get on to public transport.

"The main reasons people do not currently use public transport relate to the lack of suitable quality infrastructure and services," he said, citing Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.

Melbourne University transport researcher Nicholas Low said Professor Garnaut's review had exposed state and federal governments' "unprincipled fetish for road building".

He said the collapse of the global economy meant public-private partnerships were now "dead in the water". Governments would need to move towards "community partnerships" instead, he said.

Parched city records barely a drop

Peter Ker 
The Age, October 1, 2008

HISTORY is made every September in Melbourne, but never before like this.

The ninth month of 2008 has smashed rainfall records, with the city centre registering its driest September since records began in 1855.

The Bureau of Meteorology revealed yesterday that its Melbourne observation station — near the corner of Exhibition and La Trobe streets — captured just 12 millimetres of rain for the month.

The result was almost a fifth of the September average and comfortably below the previous record low of 13.4 millimetres in September 1907.

The virtual failure of early spring rains — in the heart of what is usually the dam-filling period — comes as Melbourne's storages hover at 34.5% of capacity, more than 91 billion litres less than at the same time last year.

Melbourne Water sought to clarify the bureau's dire result yesterday, saying that 64.7 millimetres, or roughly half the average September rainfall, fell over the catchments, which are mostly east of the city.

But the bureau's head of climate analysis, Dr David Jones, said the low falls in central Melbourne were a "significant record", particularly given temperatures would lead to one of the top-three warmest Septembers on record.

"This pattern of warm days and dry months is just becoming all too monotonous in Melbourne." he said. "The drought is 12 years old in Melbourne — if anything it is getting worse, it's not getting better, and the temperatures just keep going up."

Dr Jones said he expected below-average rainfall in Melbourne for the remainder of 2008.

"It raises the very obvious question over whether this is simply a drought or is this really part of climate change … it is becoming very difficult to make a case that this is just simply a run of bad luck," he said.

Melbourne Water managing director Rob Skinner said the catchments were not wet enough to convert modest rains into dam inflows, with inflows 43% below the monthly average.

"September is normally one of the wettest months for our catchments and a time when we'd hope to see them rebound ahead of summer," he said.

The Brumby Government will launch a major advertising and education campaign in coming weeks designed to remind Melburnians about the need to conserve water.

Despite the dire spring rains, water consumption levels in Melbourne have risen since the end of winter. Many experts believe that the planned construction of a desalination plant has led to an increase in public apathy towards water conservation.

No short-term disaster for coal-fired plants: report

Adam Morton 
October 1, 2008

CLIMATE adviser Ross Garnaut has made a mockery of claims that coal-fired power plants will have to close under emissions trading, showing that most will remain profitable until at least 2020 whatever target is chosen.

Professor Garnaut's final report puts pressure on the Federal Government to abandon its plans to compensate coal-fired power generators, projecting that 93% of today's brown-coal power generation will continue if, as he expects is the most likely case under a global deal, Australia cuts emissions by 10% below 2000 levels.

A 25% emissions target — the minimum advocated by climate scientists — would result in nearly two-thirds of brown-coal power generation still operating at the end of next decade.

The modelling suggests the industry has time to adapt to a cleaner future. It is in stark contrast to claims this week by International Power Australia, owner of Victoria's 40-year-old Hazelwood power station, that even a soft start to emissions trading would force closure.

Under Professor Garnaut's vision, Australia's energy supply will change from being one of the world's dirtiest to being nearly greenhouse-emissions-free by mid-century.

The change would come through emissions trading and massive spending on development and infrastructure for low-emissions technology: $2.7 billion a year as part of a global commitment of $124 billion a year.

But slashing energy emissions will take time, and depend on the success of "clean coal" technology, predominantly carbon capture and storage, or burying carbon dioxide emissions kilometres beneath the surface, but also developing the use of vegetation as a greenhouse store.

"Priority should be given to the resolution of whether a near-zero coal future is even feasible, either partially or in total," the report says. "If it is not, then Australia needs to know as soon as possible so that all who depend on the coal industry can begin the process of adjustment."

Most of the cuts in emissions before 2020 would come from households using less electricity as prices soar, and buildings and appliances becoming more efficient. Most new energy production would be gas, which has lower emissions than coal but more than genuinely clean forms of energy.

The aluminium industry would carry a disproportionate share of the pain as it chose to abandon Australia for countries where electricity will be considerably cheaper.

Professor Garnaut says this would not be "carbon leakage" — industry moving offshore without cutting their emissions — as predicted by business groups, but a shift to running on clean hydro-electricity in Papua New Guinea and central Africa.

By the 2020s, a technology shift would kick in, with clean coal and renewable energy forms, particularly geothermal, or "hot rocks", and perhaps large-scale solar thermal expected to become economically viable.

Nuclear could also come into play, but unless clean coal proves a failure or is dramatically more expensive than predicted, Professor Garnaut does not believe it is a path that Australia will go down given its large range of energy options.

Failure to last until end of time

 Chris Hammer 
The Age, October 1, 2008

CLIMATE change adviser Ross Garnaut has used his final report to outline a radical vision of a low-carbon Australia, with big changes in agriculture, transport and energy by mid-century.

He stressed that the Government should agree to cut greenhouse emissions by 25% by 2020 as part of a strong global deal - winning plaudits from some environment groups - but warned that a less ambitious target was more realistic.

He warned that failure to achieve a binding global agreement would haunt humanity until the end of time.

The professor's 672-page final report predicted that rural Australia would be transformed by emissions trading.

Farmers on marginal land would be paid more to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and grow biofuels than they could get from growing sheep and wheat. "On an Australia-wide scale this could be very large," Professor Garnaut told The Age. "It could transform the mitigation costs for Australia."

He nominated marginal wheat country in the Victorian Mallee as one area in which farmers might be better off growing mulga scrub under emissions trading.

"If the owners of that land deliberately ran it to restore vegetation at a carbon price of around $20 a tonne, there would be a lot more revenue in conservation than in sheep or cattle."

On energy, Professor Garnaut has recommended that the Government spend $2.7 billion a year to develop clean energy.

But he concluded that most coal-fired power stations would still be viable in 2020.

"The modelling shows that there will be a substantial role for the coal-powered generators for a number of years," he said. "We're not looking at an imminent retirement." On transport, he predicted that electric cars would have started to dominate by mid-century, with greater use of rail and other public transport.

To move towards such a world, he has told the Government it should be prepared to cut greenhouse emissions by 25% by 2020 and by 90% by 2050.

The professor said such cuts would be both affordable and achievable, and the cost to the economy would be minor compared with that experienced in two world wars.

But he warned that the rest of the world was not yet ready to adopt the measures to reach such a target, which would hold carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million. "It's quite possible for heads of government at Copenhagen to all announce we've agreed on 450, and for nothing to happen," he said.

He said a 550ppm target may prove to be the best way to get to more ambitious reductions in the future. A 550ppm target would involve a 10% cut to Australian emissions by 2020, a target condemned by environmentalists as inadequate.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said economic responsibility would shape the Government's response. It would consider economic modelling due from the Treasury next month before committing to a target.

Mainstream environment groups embraced the finding that the 450ppm target was achievable.

"This is a clear message that the target range in the December White Paper should include the 25% by 2020 reduction target," the Climate Institute's John Connor said.

But business remained cautious. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Greg Evans said the introduction of emissions trading needed to be very measured.

Opposition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb said the uncertainty over whether Australia should be aiming at cuts of 5%, 10% or 25% by 2020 demonstrated why it was unwise for the Government to introduce emissions trading in 2010.

"The Rudd Government's indecent haste is already causing serious design flaws," Mr Robb said.

Greens leader Bob Brown said the report showed the cost to households of ambitious emissions cuts were negligible, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should adopt the 450ppm target.

Professor Garnaut said consumers would wear the majority of costs from emissions trading, and at least half the revenue generated by emission trading should go to compensate lower-income households.

Introducing emissions trading would be less inflationary than introducing the GST, adding about 1% to CPI.

Politics trumps science in Garnaut report: Clive Hamilton

 Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Clive Hamilton writes:

Ross Garnaut's interim report in February was a remarkable document; unlike all previous official reports on climate change, it recognised the true implications of what the scientists are trying to tell us. For the first time, the analysis of emission reduction targets and the international structures required to achieve them were linked closely to the climate science.

The unusual directness of this link meant that the interim report's analysis was less clouded by implicit political judgments about "what is feasible" and less attenuated by undue emphasis on scientific uncertainties.

The dismay felt by many people on the release in early September of the Garnaut draft supplementary report Targets and Trajectories stemmed from the decision to sever the close link between the science and the policy recommendations and allow political judgments to intercede. In the intervening months Ross Garnaut had redefined his job: his task was no longer to tell the Rudd Government what it needs to do to avert climate chaos but to strategise politically on its behalf.

Garnaut concedes it is no longer the science that governs his recommendations. Instead of aiming to stabilise global emissions at 450 ppm CO2-e or below, as the science demands, he has recommended to the Government, albeit reluctantly, that Australia take a target of stabilising global emissions at 550 ppm to the Copenhagen conference in late 2009.

Garnaut summarised his strategy in his 5 September Press Club address:

The path to 450 parts per million lies through early progress on 550 parts per million. The path to 400 parts per million, lies through early progress on 450 parts per million.

The rationale he gives is that the world is not ready to accept the economic impacts of a 450 ppm target. It requires more economic sacrifice and political resistance than some governments are willing to absorb. Garnaut believes that if we aim initially for 550 ppm it will become apparent that the pain is less than anticipated, a realisation that will allow Australia to argue to the world that we should pursue a 450 ppm target and then a 400 ppm target.

Apart from several serious flaws set out below, the argument is wholly contradicted by the report's economic modelling. The results show that pursuing the 550 ppm target will shave a little more than 0.1 per cent from GNP growth through to 2050. This means that instead of growing annually at, say, 2.5 per cent if we do nothing, GNP per person would grow at "only" 2.4 per cent if we aim at 550 ppm. What does this mean?

At an annual real growth rate of 2.5 per cent per person, then with no emissions target, Australia's GNP will double in 2040. We will all be twice as well off. If the Rudd Government adopts policies aimed at the 550 ppm target our GNP will not double until 2042. In other words, we will have to wait an additional two years before we are twice as rich.

What about the extra cost of aiming for the 450 ppm target that Garnaut says is not feasible? According to the modelling, if we aim for 450 ppm we will have to wait an additional six months before our incomes double. Instead of two years we will have to wait for two and a half years.

History matters

A better understanding of the history of international climate change negotiations and how they have framed notions of fairness would have signalled to Professor Garnaut that his proposed strategy is dangerously misguided. Any one of the serious flaws in the approach renders it self-defeating. Together they risk turning Australia from a potential global leader into a laggard once again, reducing the momentum to reach a bold agreement. I explain each of these flaws.

1. Reduces expectations. A negotiating strategy based on the assumption that the Copenhagen conference will fail to reflect the science is self-fulfilling. Adopting a strategy with a soft interim ambition pre-empts the outcome and contributes to it. Garnaut puts forward no real evidence that aiming for 450 ppm at Copenhagen is infeasible, and his own economic modelling indicates that the difference in cost between a 550 and a 450 target is disappearingly small.

Garnaut may turn out to be right that a more stringent global target will prove too difficult; but that does not mean we should not try. The strongest agreement at Copenhagen will emerge if all parties push for the strongest outcome. This seems blindingly obvious, yet Garnaut is saying that the strongest outcome in the long-term is to accept a weaker outcome in the short term. Even if this is true, to flag that this is what Australia expects reduces the chances of getting something better than 550.

Professor Garnaut is reported today as saying that we should not be too ambitious because we do not want another Kyoto. This reflects a mistaken understanding: the Kyoto Protocol was not too ambitious. Its failures were due to the intransigence of governments in Washington and Canberra dominated by sceptics and captives of industry. Climate science and public opinion have hardened a great deal since then.

2. Naively flags intentions. Flagging one's negotiating strategy in advance of the Copenhagen conference is naive. Other nations and blocs may well go to Copenhagen with 550-type scenarios as fall-back positions, but it is unlikely that any other government would signal its reserve position before the negotiations have even begun. Garnaut is able to describe game theory well but his report suggests he needs practice playing the game.

In attempting to base an approach on subtle political assessment, Garnaut has already spiked his own strategy. Its success depends on the Rudd Government having the authority to persuade the world that it is a credible one, yet recommending Australia adopt cuts of 10 per cent by 2020 when the science calls for 25-40 per cent and Europe is willing to agree to 30 per cent, destroys our credibility. This is the contradiction embedded in Garnaut's position.

The Garnaut report is hobbled by delusions of grandeur, as if an Australian Government, advised by Garnaut, can cut through all of the complex difficulties and solve the problem with a strategy no one else had thought of.

3. Alienates key players. It is not clear whether Garnaut believes the obstacle that makes the 450 target infeasible is the Australian public or major players in the international community.

If it is the Australian public then he is saying to them: "Here are the facts on climate science and economic cost. The science is much worse than you think and the abatement costs are much lower than you think. However, I don't believe you are able to appreciate these facts so I am recommending a soft option I think you will accept. Then later, when you have accepted it, I am going to spring tougher action on you". In my view, he should treat the community as adults.

If his target is developing countries then he is saying to them: "Here are the facts on climate science and economic cost. Although it's strongly in your interests to aim for a 400 ppm target I don't think you are ready to accept that so I am recommending a soft target that I think you might be willing to accept. Then after you have become used to the idea you might be willing to face up to what we really need to do". This is arrogant and condescending and will not be well received by the cadre of experienced, sophisticated and well-informed negotiators around the world.

4. Misjudges time frames. The report's strategy assumes that agreeing initially to 550 ppm will buy enough time to persuade the world we should in fact be aiming for a much lower target. A 550 ppm agreement would allow emissions to increase through to 2021 (Figure 5.1). Any sort of agreement at Copenhagen will lock the world in until 2020 before an opportunity arises for a tougher set of targets. Yet the scientists tell us we do not have that much time, that global emissions must peak in 2020 at the latest, so the path mapped out by Garnaut leaves a very high probability of irreversible, catastrophic changes.

5. Ignores how fairness is conditioned by history. Because he came to the climate change issue late and does not have a good understanding of the history, Garnaut does not seem to appreciate the political meaning of his recommendations. He argues that a 10 per cent target for Australia is much tougher than it looks when set against the European position of 20 per cent without an agreement and 30 per cent with one, and against the 25-40 per cent Bali number that the scientists say rich countries need to pursue.

Some of his arguments about relative economic burdens are persuasive (and some, such as the population growth one are not – more on this below). But the headline rate has enormous political significance. We must remember that the huge ovation for Prime Minister Rudd at Bali reflected the profound relief after years of enormous hostility towards Australia for the role we played at Kyoto where we almost destroyed the treaty at the last moment and extracted a deal seen almost universally as outrageous. The chief EU negotiator said Australia had misled everyone and had "got away with it". Another senior negotiator said the Australian increase was "wrong and immoral". The subsequent repudiation of the Protocol and sustained attempts, with the United States, to sabotage it, dug a deep wellspring of bitterness.

Unlike trade negotiations where the public and the media have no real concept of the meaning of various proposals, in climate change negotiations the optics are everything. The optics are set out in the table below, which puts together the 2020 emission reductions for Annex 1 developed countries proposed by Garnaut (in draft report Table 5.2) and those agreed at Kyoto in 1997.

Kyoto emission targets from 1990 to 2008-12

Garnaut emission targets from 2001 to 2020 with 550 ppm concentration
















Looking at these headline numbers leads to an obvious question: After Australia extracted the most lenient target at Kyoto (even without allowing for the land-clearing loophole), why would Australia be allowed the most lenient target again?

The rest of the world is fully aware that Australia was required to do nothing to meet its Kyoto target, while some other countries – Japan, United Kingdom, Germany – have made substantial efforts to meet theirs. Why would Japan, which started from a more difficult position after picking the low-hanging fruit in response to the oil shocks of the 1970s, agree to a 27 per cent cut after all it has done when Australia, which has done nothing, is allocated a 10 per cent cut?

This must seem like some sort of joke. If Australia goes to Copenhagen saying the best we can do is 10 per cent this will be seen as Australia reverting to the role of laggard and spoiler once again, reducing global expectations about what can be achieved, eating away at the willingness of other nations to act boldly and forfeiting any leadership ambitions the Rudd Government may have.

6. Failure to think about reception of the plan. Blind Freddie could have predicted the immediate reaction to the lamentable optics of the draft report. Yet, innocent of history, neither Garnaut nor the Rudd Government seems to understand the critical role of the environmental NGOs in setting expectations about an acceptable benchmark. Both here and abroad, the media judge outcomes against what the NGOs say is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. In the past the NGOs have gone as far as the climate science allows, but over the last two to three years their demands have fallen well short of what the science indicates is needed.

Garnaut has developed a roundabout approach to getting to the science-based target of 400 ppm, yet he evinced surprise when environmental organisations and climate scientists criticised his recommendations for being soft.

So for all of the strategising, the Garnaut Review forgot to account for the immediate reception the report would receive and how that reception would undermine, perhaps fatally, perceptions of the plan.

As this suggests, no matter how cogent the counter arguments are, the Garnaut recommendations look like a special deal for Australia. There are an additional three ways in which the scheme proposed does in fact represent special pleading for the country putting it forward.

7. Australian special deal 1 − Unfair model of per capita. For many years, most environmentalists who have been involved in the international debate have agreed that in the long term the international sharing of the emission reduction burden should be based on per capita allocations. There is thus widespread support for the contraction and convergence model as the only principle that can include developing countries in a fair way. It is gratifying to see this principle adopted by Professor Garnaut.

However, he has interpreted and applied it in a way that makes Australia look self-serving, and therefore not truly interested in fairness. Garnaut has assumed that convergence should occur in a linear manner. The model of contraction and linear convergence to equal per capita emissions in 2050 gives rise to the proposed 2020 emission cuts reproduced in my table above. As I have said, anyone with even a vague sense of the history of this debate will immediately see that the burden-sharing scheme Garnaut proposes just happens to allocate the most lenient headline target to Australia among all Annex 1 countries. Just like the Howard Government.

In a serious blunder, the draft Garnaut report actually owned up to this.

"The fact that the emission reduction targets in absolute terms are much less stringent shows how the per capita approach protects Australia's position by allowing for population growth, a key factor in providing Australia with the least stringent 2020 reduction targets of any of the developed countries/regions modeled." [emphasis added]

We can be sure this has been carefully noted by officials around the world. It sounds a lot like the sort of self-serving sophistry that the Howard Government used to defend its position of protecting trade interests at all costs.

8. Australian special deal 2 – Treatment of population growth. The model of linear convergence taking account of changing populations is responsible for Australia being allocated what appears to be a very lenient target. Population growth in this country, unlike most others, is largely a policy choice. If we decide we want the economic and social benefits of high rates of immigration, why should we be permitted to impose the costs of our decision (in the form of higher national greenhouse gas emissions) on the rest of the world? For any stabilisation target, any extra tonne of emissions Australia puts out because it wants the benefits of immigration has to come off someone else's budget. Tell that to India.

9. Australian special deal 3 – Ignores our hot air. It appears that both Professor Garnaut and the Rudd Government believe that the slate can be wiped clean and the sins of Australia under the Howard Government will be forgotten by the rest of the world. In the spirit of reconciliation and progress, that may be so, although it would be a sign of good faith for the new Government to declare that Australia is willing to do more than its fair share to compensate for our history of free riding. It should be remembered that the Australia clause, which allowed us to count post-1990 reductions in emissions from land clearing towards our Kyoto target, meant that our emissions from all sources other than land clearing will have risen by close to 30 per cent above 1990 levels in the 2008-12 commitment period.

Most of the decline in land clearing occurred before the Kyoto conference in 1997 and was therefore equivalent to the "hot air" embodied in the Russian target. Russian hot air was due to the collapse of Soviet industry after the fall of the Berlin Wall while Australia's hot air was due to the collapse in land clearing after reaching peak levels in 1990. Yet after asking the rest of the world to wipe Australia's slate clean and allow us to retain the benefits of the Kyoto deal, Garnaut proposes that Russia be denied the benefits of the hot air included in its Kyoto target. This will not be well received.

In sum

Despite its admirable attempts to warn us of the implications of the science and the effort given to developing a fair model of burden sharing, the Garnaut report's recommendations reflect an ignorance of the historical context of the debate and the perceptions of fairness that will shape its reception here and abroad. In short, Garnaut's subtle negotiating strategy has already foundered on its awful optics.

By so forthrightly and accurately acknowledging the true implications of the science in his earlier reports, Professor Garnaut took on a duty to alert the community and the Government to the dangers, and inform them that cutting emissions sharply is possible at very modest cost. After all, his own modelling indicates that if we pursued a 450 ppm target the cost to GNP would be trivial – instead of our real incomes doubling in 2040 we would have to wait until 2043.

This is the most important message of the report, but Garnaut has chosen not to emphasise it. Instead, he has decided that his job is to formulate a subtle, even tricky, global strategy for the Rudd Government to take to international forums. It should be no surprise that the gap he has now opened up between what the science demands and what he recommends has been met with dismay.

The Garnaut Review is being too clever by half: it is trying to preserve the Review's political relevance even though what is proposed involves terrible risks for us all. The bottom line is that the Garnaut report provides the Rudd Government with the excuse it's been looking for to go soft while pretending otherwise, bids down the likely ambitions of developed and developing countries at the negotiations leading to Copenhagen, and erodes the chances of Australia playing a leadership role.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Garnaut's climate change warning

Tackling climate change is possible and affordable but depends on international agreements that are largely outside Australia's control, concludes the final report of Australia's chief climate change advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut.

Professor Garnaut offered two main scenarios for cutting the greenhouse gas emissions which scientists believe are causing climate change.

Achieving a level of 450 parts carbon dioxide per million in the Earth's atmosphere would require Australia to reduce its emissions by a quarter by the year 2020 and 90 per cent by 2050.

Aiming for 550 parts per million, which Professor Garnaut says will be simpler to achieve although it does put the world at a greater risk of very dangerous climate change, would require Australian emissions cuts of 10 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by the middle of the century.

"There is a path to Australia being a low-emissions economy by the middle of the 21st century, consistent with continuing strong growth in material living standards," the report says.

The international climate change meeting in Denmark next year is a key element, and a realistic and binding target that includes developing nations like China is at the centre of Professor Garnaut's thinking.

"If things go well, very well, Copenhagen will be the end of one process, and the beginning of others that will lead, over time, to effective global mitigation at a level that reduces risks of dangerous kind to an extent that seems acceptable to most informed people," Professor Garnaut writes in the conclusion to his report.

But the failure of negotiations on a new global agreement to cut carbon emissions would be devastating, he warned.

"If things go badly, they could go very badly. When human society receives a large shock to its established patterns of life, the outcome is unpredictable in detail but generally problematic. Things fall apart."

The report accepts that there is a slim possibility scientific predictions about impending global warming are wrong, but says the safe option is to prepare for the most likely scenarios.

"That formulation allows the possibility that the views on climate change of the IPCC and the learned academies in all of the main countries of scientific achievement are wrong," the report states.

"There is a chance that they are wrong. Just a chance. But to heed instead the views of the minority of genuine sceptics in the relevant scientific communities would be to hide from reality. It would be imprudent beyond the normal limits of human irrationality. It is prudent to give the major weight to the mainstream science."

Global emissions agreement essential: Garnaut

By Online parliamentary correspondent Emma Rodgers

ABC News Online, Posted 18 minutes ago
Updated 9 minutes ago

The Federal Government's climate change adviser Professor Ross Garnaut says a global agreement must be reached to successfully reduce the world's carbon emissions and has urged action without delay.

Professor Garnaut today released his final report into climate change in which he outlined the steps Australia should take to reduce its emissions while maintaining economic growth.

But he has stuck by his recommendation - which has been criticised by scientists and environment groups for being too soft - that Australia reduce its emissions by 10 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.

However, he says Australia should be open to an agreement on a deeper cut of 25 per cent if there was a global consensus.

Professor Garnaut says the success of a global agreement relies on setting realistic targets that can be met while still allowing for economic growth in developed and undeveloped countries.

The 10 per cent target has been modelled on an international agreement on capping global concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere at 550 parts per million (ppm).

Professor Garnaut believes the chance of an effective agreement based on 550ppm is a step towards an agreement for a tougher cut of 25 per cent.

"It would also support the beginnings of international cooperation of emissions reduction and the development and transfer of low emissions technologies," he said.

"It would therefore be a path towards a subsequent agreement with more ambitious mitigation objectives."

Scientists and green groups were urging a 25 per cent cut in emissions by 2020, which would set global emissions at 450ppm.

The next global agreement, due to begin in 2013, will be discussed in Copenhagen next year.

Professor Garnaut says the country can make the transition to a low emissions economy by looking at other energy options such as geothermal, wind and solar power.

Garnaut to fire his final shot

Adam Morton
The Age, September 30, 2008

GOVERNMENT climate adviser Ross Garnaut will use his final report to set out a framework to cut Australia's greenhouse emissions to near zero by the middle of the century through clean power generation.

The comprehensive report — to be handed to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this morning — will outline how the country can move away from dirty coal-fired power, with modelling explaining the potential role of gas, clean coal technology and green energy forms such as wind and geothermal.

It will also outline how to cut greenhouse pollution in transport, agriculture and forestry, which are responsible for 37% of Australia's emissions.

But the message will come with a caveat: deep cuts in Australia will depend on reaching a strong global deal, which Professor Garnaut considers unlikely.

The 600-plus page report comes after three bruising weeks for Professor Garnaut following his previous report, which did not include final recommendations. That report faced criticism for its recommendation that Australia should agree to make a proportionate emissions cut of 10% below 2000 levels by 2020 as part of a limited but achievable global climate deal.

Climate scientists and environmentalists have damned the proposal, which would aim to initially stabilise carbon dioxide emissions at 550 parts per million. According to an earlier Garnaut report, it would give only a one-in-four chance of limiting global temperature rises to 2 degrees — the point considered the threshold for catastrophic famine, flooding and species extinction.

Sixteen authors with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have called on Mr Rudd to ignore Professor Garnaut's advice and set a minimum 2020 target of a 25% cut as a fair contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change.

A similar call was made by World Vision Australia chief Tim Costello, who issued a late appeal to Professor Garnaut warning that a global deal would be less likely if Australia set a weaker target.

"The suggestion that 550 parts per million might be the best we can do could become a self-fulfilling prophecy," Mr Costello said.

Professor Garnaut is expected to today stress a part of his last report that has largely been overlooked: that he believes Australia should still push for a target of stabilising carbon dioxide levels at a lower level — 450 parts per million — in the lead-up to the key UN meetings in Copenhagen next year.

This would require the Rudd Government to commit to a 25% emissions cut by 2020.

But Professor Garnaut is pessimistic about the likelihood of this target winning support, estimating it would require rich countries to cut emissions by 34% between 2012 and 2020.

It is believed the final report will stress that Treasury modelling shows Australia will remain prosperous and living standards will continue to improve if it agrees to deep cuts.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Scientists push PM for 25pc emissions cut

ABC News Online, Posted 4 hours 59 minutes ago 

Updated 2 hours 5 minutes ago

A group of top level climate change experts has written a letter to the Prime Minister arguing that cutting greenhouse gas emissions by only 10 per cent would be dangerous.

The Federal Government's climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, will release his final report on climate change tomorrow.

Professor Garnaut recently flagged a target of 10 per cent reductions by 2020, drawing criticism from the scientific community for not being high enough.

But he also said a 25 per cent cut would be more effective.

Professor Matthew England from the University of New South Wales says he and 15 of his peers are urging Kevin Rudd to decide on a 25 per cent cut in emissions.

"This is unprecedented for a group of scientists to write a letter to the Prime Minister of a nation advocating a certain emissions trajectory," he said.

"It's just a message of 'take the deepest cuts possible' because the science tells us that anything less than than will commit us to dangerous climate change.

"A couple of weeks ago we had the release of an interim report from the Garnaut team and that stated, it came away from the 450 target and it went right up to 550 which is really a dangerous level of carbon dioxide to be speaking about."

Priorities changing

A new poll shows Australians are becoming less concerned about climate change.

Research conducted by the Lowy Institute looked at the public's foreign policy priorities now, compared with last year.

Those surveyed still consider both global warming and water shortages critical threats to the country.

But tackling climate change itself has fallen from first to fifth as a foreign policy goal, replaced by job security and strengthening the economy.

The poll also revealed that a majority of people are unwilling to pay more than $10 extra per month for greener electricity.


The Hon. Kevin Rudd, MP

Prime Minister of Australia
Australian Parliament
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2600                                          September 26, 2008


Dear Prime Minister,

The 2007 IPCC report, compiled by hundreds of climate scientists and representing a consensus view of the best available peer-reviewed science, has unequivocally concluded that our climate is warming rapidly, and that we are now at least 90% certain that this is primarily due to human activities.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere now far exceeds the natural range of the past 650,000 years, and it is rising at an alarming rate due to human activity - currently by over 2 parts per million per year. The concentration of several other important greenhouse gases is also increasing rapidly.

If this trend is not halted soon, many millions of people from around the world will be at risk from extreme events such as heat waves, drought, fire, floods and storms, our coasts and cities will be threatened by rising sea levels, vector-borne, water- and food-borne diseases will spread rapidly, food yields and water supplies will be impaired in many regions, and many ecosystems, plant and animal species will be in serious danger of extinction. Some of Australia's natural assets such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Daintree World Heritage areas, which bring great wealth and recognition to our nation, could be damaged for all time.

Australia is especially vulnerable as pointed out by Professor Garnaut in February when he says we "would be a big loser--possibly the biggest loser amongst developed countries--from unmitigated climate change. The pace of global emissions growth under "business as usual" is pushing the world rapidly towards critical points, which would impose large costs on Australia directly and also indirectly through the effects on other countries of importance to Australia." (Garnaut, February 20, 2008, Interim Report).

The critical next round of focused negotiations for a new global climate treaty is now underway. The prime goal of this new regime must be to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature, a limit that has already been formally adopted by the European Union, South Africa and a number of other nations.

Based on current scientific understanding, this requires that global greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by at least 50% below their 1990 levels by the year 2050. In the long run, greenhouse gas concentrations need to be stabilised at a level well below 450 ppm (parts per million; in CO2-equivalent concentration). In order to stay below 2°C, global emissions must peak and decline before 2015, so there is no time to lose.

As highlighted by the Garnaut Review: "... analysis suggests that a global objective of 450 ppm, with discussion of transition to 400 ppm once the 450 ppm goal is being approached with confidence, would better suit Australian interests." This statement, taken from the "Targets and Trajectories Report", is consistent with the climate science cited above. Indeed, there is broad agreement in the reputable science community regarding these targets.

The Garnaut Review concluded that an emission reduction target for Australia of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 would be an equitable contribution to the international effort required to achieving this outcome. As a group of Australia's leading climate change scientists, we urge you to adopt this target as the minimum requirement for Australia's contribution to an effective global climate agreement.

Failure of the world to act now will leave Australians with a legacy of economic, environmental, social and health costs that will dwarf the scale of national investment required to address this fundamental problem. Other nations have taken action and have committed to further action. We urge you to act decisively to maintain global momentum and to protect Australia's future.


Sincerely yours,

Professor Nathan Bindoff, University of Tasmania

Dr John Church, Immediate past Chair of the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Programme

Professor Matthew England, ARC Federation Fellow and joint Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales

Professor Dave Griggs, Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University

Professor Ann Henderson-Sellers, Immediate Past Executive Director, World Climate Research Programme, Macquarie University

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director, Centre for Marine Studies, University of Qld

Professor Lesley Hughes, Director, Climate Risk Concentration in Research Excellence, Macquarie University

Dr Roger Jones, Co-ordinating Lead Author, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report

Professor David Karoly, ARC Federation Fellow, University of Melbourne

Professor Amanda Lynch, ARC Federation Fellow, Monash University

Professor Tony McMichael, NHMRC Australia Fellow, Australian National University

Professor Neville Nicholls, ARC Professorial Fellow, Monash University

Professor Graeme Pearman, Monash University

Professor Andy Pitman, Convenor, ARC Research Network and joint Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales

Dr Barrie Pittock, Lead Author, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report

Dr Michael Raupach, Co-Chair, Global Carbon Project


Cc: Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water;

The Hon Peter Garrett MP, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Scientists urge PM: get tougher on climate

The Age, Marian Wilkinson and Adam Morton 
September 29, 2008

AUSTRALIA's leading climate scientists have written an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urging him to make deep cuts to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and to back a tough global agreement to avoid dangerous climate change.

The 16 scientists — who worked with the UN's peak scientific body on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — warn Mr Rudd "there is no time to lose", and call on him to slash Australia's emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The intervention of the scientists comes on the eve of the final report by the Government's climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, and presents a challenge to one of his key findings.

Earlier this month, Professor Garnaut advised the Prime Minister to make a slower start to cutting emissions, recommending Australia reduce its greenhouse gases by 10% by 2020.

In their letter sent to Mr Rudd on Friday, the climate scientists argued against the slow start, saying an Australian target of cutting 25% by 2020 would be "an equitable contribution" to the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change.

"As a group of Australia's leading climate change scientists, we urge you to adopt this target as a minimum requirement for Australia's contribution to an effective global climate agreement," the letter states.

"Failure of the world to act now will leave Australians with a legacy of economic, environmental, social and health costs that will dwarf the scale of national investment required to address this fundamental problem".

The scientists who signed the letter are Australia's world-recognised experts on climate change, including Dr John Church, a leading authority on sea-level rise who recently stepped down as chairman of the joint scientific committee of the World Climate Research Program. Dr Church is also a senior CSIRO researcher, but he and other CSIRO scientists signed the letter as individuals.

Also among the signatories are Dr Roger Jones, from CSIRO, who is currently advising the federal Treasury and Professor Garnaut's climate change review; Professors Nathan Bindoff and David Karoly, who worked on the most recent IPCC reports; Professor Tony McMichael from the Australian National University, who advised the IPCC on the human health impacts of climate change; Professor Matthew England, joint director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales; and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, an expert on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef.

The letter poses a major dilemma for Mr Rudd and his Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, who is due to attend a critical round of UN climate talks in December.

Meanwhile, Reverend Tim Costello has made a late appeal to Professor Garnaut, urging him to rethink his greenhouse recommendations before handing his final report to Mr Rudd tomorrow.

In a letter seen by The Age,the World Vision chief says Professor Garnaut's proposal that Australia accept an initial global climate change deal that stabilises atmospheric carbon dioxide at 550 parts per million was a "strategic mistake" and  "at odds with Australia's best interests".