Climate change

September 15, 2008

Reflections on the Garnaut Review emissions trajectories

Filed under: Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme — Barry Brook @ 11:16 pm

The Australian report on the economic impact of global warming, known as the Garnaut Climate Change Review, has just released its supplementary draft report on targets and trajectories. I’ve provided some commentary for the Australian Science Media Centre. These are only initial thoughts based on a preliminary read, and I will to develop these ideally more fully at the bravenewclimate blog over the coming months, but this is hot and ready for the press:

Garnaut’s Targets and Trajectories report describes a fateful choice – do we act now with every means at our disposal, or do we permit business-as-usual carbon emissions to so disrupt the global climate system that the very fabric of our civilisation is ripped to shreds within the lifetime of people alive today?

Yet there is stark irony underlying the modelling which supports the emissions targets by 2020 and 2050. It is this: the Garnaut review team readily admits that even the 450ppm CO2 target – almost implausibly difficult given the current explosive growth of emissions in the developing world – will lead to a crisis situation with untenable levels of global warming.

So, given the gross inadequacy of even the best case scenario, why bother with this approach at all?

My personal view is that arguing about whether we should be aiming for a 10%, 20% or even 90% emissions reduction target by 2020 is pointless and circular. The target is irrelevant without knowing how we hit it.

It’s a bit like setting up a shooting target on a firing range at 300m and being told by the marshal to hit the bullseye. You ask: ‘Okay, but what am I shooting with, a rifle or a bow and arrow?’ The marshal says: ‘That’s irrelevant, just focus on hitting the bullseye’. But of course the weapon is highly relevant – it is almost impossible to hit a target at 300m with a bow and arrow.

So the key to unlock this ‘diabolical problem’ is to focus on the energy technologies, as urgently as humanly possible. Design a capital works programme, lead by a forward-looking government, to start laying out solar thermal, wave, wind, geothermal and microalgal biodiesel liquid fuels on a massive scale. Define a REAL 2020 goal, such as to have 80% of Australia’s power met by renewables by 2020, instead of some abstract target that is reliant on an unenforceable multilateral global agreement which will never eventuate.

Prove up the technologies here in Australia, with extreme urgency and dedication, and pass on that know-how and innovation to the world. Show that it can be done, and not only that, show that it is not difficult to do and that costs fall rapidly as learning-by-doing proceeds. Even with current tech developments, all of Australia’s power needs could be met by a solar thermal array carpeting a 50 x 50 km square of outback desert. This is possible, not hypothetical.

Encourage the venture capital to invest in proven renewables, and they become quickly much cheaper. This also starts the wheels of innovation spinning madly.

A carbon price is clearly needed to trigger this transformation, but an emissions trading scheme is not the obvious route to do it. It is a blunt instrument for a simple problem. A carbon tax of around $50 a tonne of CO2 would be sufficient to make a whole raft of renewables cost competitive. A steadily increasing carbon price brings market certainty and makes investment in energy tech that is becoming cheaper, a business ‘no brainer’. Hit imports with a carbon tariff equal to what companies are paying domestically, and give our exporters a carbon tax deduction at the trade gate, to equalise with world markets. Australia needs to lose no competitive advantage from this – only gain by being a great 21st century innovator.

Let’s simplify this problem down to what really counts, and actually lead the world in fixing the climate crisis before it’s too late.

I’ll be speaking about this further on ABC 891 Adelaide at 5:10pm today (Friday 5 Sept 2008), just before Climate Change Q&A session #3.

[For other views, visit the AusSMC site]


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