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IPCC puts heat on Abbott’s anti science climate policies

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It is probably not what he is doing right now, but Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott should be wondering exactly how long it is that he can continue with his climate change policy charade.

On Sunday, the UN body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), delivered the third of its landmark updates on the climate science, impacts and mitigation options.

IPCC coverThe chief message of Working Group III, the mitigation of climate change, was one of hope – the world still had time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and although this would require a dramatic and urgent decarbonisation of the world’s energy and transport systems, it needn’t actually cost that much.

Indeed, as the graph at the end of this story shows, the combined impact of all the measures that would be needed to encourage renewable energy in particular, and a suite of other technologies, might subtract just 0.06 per cent from annual global growth.

And that is without calculating the obvious benefits or reduced air pollution and enhanced energy security, and without the obvious devastating impacts on the economy if climate change is allowed to continue unchecked.

In Australia, the IPCC reports have gone largely unremarked or cherry picked by much of the mainstream media. After the report from Working Group II last month, The Australian reprinted an article from the Wall Street Journal highlighting how global warming might mean fewer deaths from cold. This morning its headline screamed that action to mitigate climate change would cost 10 per cent of GDP. The Australian Financial Review and the Daily Telegraph completely ignored it in their print editions. Apparently, their editors believe it is neither a business issue nor one that would trouble the general public.

This media approach has created an insular and distorted view in Australia of what is happening around the world. But any chance that world governments might sweep this under the carpet, as the Abbott government has been allowed to do by the mainstream media, were swiftly torched by the US.

Within minutes of the formal release of the IPCC report, US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying the report was a “wake-up call” about the global economic opportunity that the world could seize.

Kerry said abatement technologies can cut carbon pollution while growing economic opportunity at the same time.  “The global energy market represents a $6 trillion opportunity, with 6 billion users around the world.  By 2035, investment in the energy sector is expected to reach nearly $17 trillion.”

“We already know that climate science is unambiguous and that every year the world defers action, the costs only grow.  But focusing only on grim realities misses promising realities staring us right in the face.

“This report makes very clear we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity.”

As if to prove Keerry’s point, the Australian government’s response was to announce that it would wait to see what action others take: Despite the protestations of its environment minister Greg Hunt, it has no will-power to address the science, and is currently intent on dismantling its capacity and the mechanisms that would allow it to do so. Just what it proposes to put in its place to respond to the science has never been articulated, apart from a unspoken concession that it could not possibly be Direct Action as currently envisaged.

Consider what Abbott has done in the seven short months since elected prime minister. He has sought to remove or castrate every instrument that could help deliver the cheapest abatement and facilitate the profound changes that are required – the carbon price, the renewable energy target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

And Abbott has sought to dismantle any organization that might inform him that this is a really dumb idea and an act of economic and environmental vandalism – the Climate Change Authority and the Climate Commission – and slashed the numbers of those who may do so “internally – the environment ministry and the CSIRO.

Given the contents of the IPCC report, the huge amount of research that has contributed to them, and the acceptance of these findings by virtually all the world’s governments, the Abbott government policies are being seen increasingly for what they are – policies that could only be introduced by a government that does not accept the science, or is so hopelessly blinded by short term politicking.

It is no accident that Abbott has chosen climate change science denier Maurice Newman to be his chief business advisor, and another climate change denier and nuclear advocate Dick Warburton to head the review of the renewable energy target. Even the head of his banking review, David Murray, has questioned the science. Abbott’s inner core is infested with advisors from the arch-conservative Institute of Public Affairs and other hard-right affiliates, who hold a similar contempt for the science.

The Abbott team, however, is not the only institution blithely ignoring the obvious, and the ethical. The fossil fuel industry continues to frame its forecasts, business strategy and investment decisions on the premise that nothing can, or will, change. This is happening across the world, but the Abbott government is unique in that it is the only government in the developed world – apart from perhaps Canada – that has so obviously kow-towed to the ministrations of Big Coal and Big Oil.

This graph below shows what the fossil fuel industry is concerned about. The IPCC says the decarbonisation of the world’s energy system will require a significant increase in renewable energy sources, and in energy efficiency, and a dramatic reduction in annual spending on fossil fuel extraction and burning. Remember, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $600 billion last year just looking for new deposits.

IPCC investment

The IPCC report makes clear, however, that action must be taken urgently. There is, perhaps, only a 15-year window for meeting the 2C target affordably. And to do so, would not sacrifice living standards – for either the developed world or emerging economies.

“It is actually affordable to do it and people are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living,” Professor Jim Skea, an energy expert at Imperial College London and co-chair of the IPCC report team, told The Guardian. “It is not a hair-shirt change of lifestyle at all that is being envisaged and there is space for poorer countries to develop too.”

Another of the three co-chairs, Ottmar Edenhofer, said it was clear that business as usual – the base case that governs the investment decisions of most of the large oil, gas and coal companies in the world – is no longer tenable.

“Emissions are increasing, and the highest growth has come in the last decade, despite the global financial crisis, and we do not see that business as usual has changed,” Edenhofer said. “We have to deviate from the business as usual pathway. We cannot expect fossil fuel markets will solve problems because of the scarcity of fossil fuels.

The IPCC report canvasses a range of possible solutions, but a major scaling up of renewable energy and a focus on energy efficiency – the two policies threatened by the protestations of the incumbent industries in Australia – lie at the core of all scenarios.

“Renewable energy sources are very, very important,” Edenhofer said. “Without renewable energy, we cannot meet those targets. A large scale and rapid transformation is needed. Developed countries will be called on to advance that transformation and to meet it quickly.”

Frank Jotzo, lead author on ethics and economics and of the report’s technical summary, said that the IPCC report connected “quite closely” with the recent findings by the CCA, which were ignored by the Abbott government.

Essentially, this means that for Australia, deep cuts in Australian emissions are needed as early as 2030 – possibly a reduction as much as 50 per cent (that compares to the current target of minus five per cent).

And much of this would need to happen in the energy sector, where the greatest opportunity for low cost abatement lies. Ironically, studies from the likes of Reputex and IES and others have suggested that Australian coal output and energy emissions are likely to rise under the new policy regime. A new study from Schneider Electric suggests that without the renewable energy target, electricity costs are likely to rise because of a greater dependence on expensive gas.

Jotzo noted, however, that it was not just the domestic policies that would affect Australia. “There are many things coming Australia’s way from policy settings in other countries,” he said. If other countries imposed controls on coal, as is likely in China, and even India, this will have direct impact on coal industry in Australia.

And the chance of them doing so is increased not just because of a response to an IPCC report, but because such policies would enhance energy security and air pollution. In China, and other major emerging economies, they are looking at all three, and recognizing the ability of low cost energy sources such as solar PV to effect a dramatic transformation of the energy system. Unlike Australia, these countries are likely to accelerate that transformation, rather than slow it down.

IPCC costs

 

   

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  • Keith

    If the LNP think that the Australian public don’t care about the climate stuff and renewable energy, then they need another explanation for the remarkable resurgence in the Greens (17% support in latest poll).

    If they think this is just disaffection for Labor, then they’re dreaming.

    The Greens are now focusing in on these issues more explicitly, with renewables (solar and wind) being addressed in relation to the upcoming Victorian election.

    I agree that time is running out for Tony Abbott, and if Nick Xenophon exercises his influence in making sure Direct Action is clearly enunciated before deciding to get rid of carbon pricing, maybe we’ll keep pricing carbon. We do need the levers to be in place when the world turns around soon.

  • Motorshack

    The problem is not the politicians, but the millions of people who continue, entirely voluntarily, to consume vast quantities of resources. No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head, so all this consumption could be cut dramatically the moment people decided they really wanted to do so.

    Moreover, I am speaking from experience. I have all the modern conveniences that I need, but I have a carbon footprint that is about a tenth of the average for Australia and the U.S. I just made the changes that were entirely within my personal scope of authority, and – Bingo! – almost no carbon footprint. I needed no permission from government or anyone else.

    So, if you are still guzzling resources, but blaming the politicians for the lack of action, I suggest that you think a lot more honestly about what you are doing.

    Because what you are doing is killing your grandchildren.

    You. Not the politicians.

    • Keith

      Motorshack,
      All true and we’ve done the same, but we elect politicians to look after the big picture and to control the levers in a grown up way.

      Our individual actions can’t close down coal and gas and bring in renewables; Govt has a big role in that and they are acting against the interests of their electors and solely for the fossil fuel industries.

      • Motorshack

        Not to put too fine a point on it, that is crap.

        If enough people cut their demand then fossil fuel use will drop, and there will be damned little point in running a billion-dollar mining operation at a dead loss.

        My point, Keith, is not to insult your personal efforts, or your sincerity. We are both going in the same direction.

        Rather, my point is simply that a big cut in demand by millions of individuals would dwarf anything that government might do, even supposing they were inclined to try, which, obviously, they are not.

        That is to say, do not underestimate the aggregate effect of millions of small changes. It’s really the only the only thing that will solve the problem. As the recent history of Australian rooftop solar demonstrates very nicely. We just need a lot more households getting serious, and in a variety of ways, not just solar PV.

        • Keith

          We are on the same team here Motorshack and your comment is spot on. I suspect your “lots of individuals” is also translating to political clout via the Greens, which was my initial point.

          We need action on both (individual and political) fronts, as we know both the LNP and Labor are hell bent on digging up as much coal (and gas) as possible, with all kinds of negative consequences not only with climate change, but also health, water, marine environment etc. Individual consumption won’t affect this as it is focused on export $$. Fortunately China (command & control economy) is likely to create problems by cutting back on their coal use.

          With respect, the destructive action of politicians is beyond the pale and needs aggressive pushback.

          • Motorshack

            Actually, the real solution to the problem will not be hypothetical political changes or equally hypothetical changes in consumer behavior.

            Rather, the One Percent, their pet politicians, and about a billion very gullible high-tech consumers, will all go on turning the crank on our global economy, as fast as possible, until the wheels come off. Then we will all have vastly reduced carbon footprints, whether we like it or not.

            What most people do not know, because CNN and Fox cannot use the information to sell pick-up trucks, is that about two dozen key resources are now in dangerously short supply.

            For example, there is a growing shortage of phosphorous rock for use as agricultural fertilizer. It’s just one of those wonky things that only farmers care about, but when we go short, as expected, food production will drop in a really, really painful way. Expect food riots in lots of places.

            More to the point, expect funerals in lots of places.

            I have no doubt that our carbon footprints will shrink dramatically. That is not at all what worries me.

            The question in my mind is: how many people will die very painfully and very prematurely in the process?

          • Keith

            Motorshack,

            I don’t think any of the following are hypothetical political changes:
            i) keeping the RET at the current level,
            ii) leaving CEFC alone to keep doing its good work and
            iii) keeping on pricing carbon

            They are very practical issues and in each case Tony Abbott is going against world action in this area. All of the above contribute constructively and additively to individual action.

            Likewise keeping intact expert decision making is a very practical thing to do in a world beset with lots of challenges in this area. Again Tony Abbott is purposefully and aggressively getting rid of informed decision-making capacity.

            Citizens are entitled to say “stop doing these destructive actions”.

          • Motorshack

            Sure, of course. It’s an absolute right to say such things.

            And isn’t it fascinating how easily English-speaking politicians go right on doing as they please, while the voters are so busy “exercising their rights” as vigorously as possible.

            Anyway, enough cynicism for one day.

            I’m going to get back to dusting off my organic gardening books, so I will be clear on how best to keep my garden productive in the absence of imported phosphorous. I haven’t done any gardening in some years now, but at least I was once an expert, and I still have some space with decent soil.

            Getting set to go off-grid, too.

            As for the rest of you, I can only wish you good luck with your political demands.

          • Keith

            Get some chooks & that will solve your phosphorus problems

          • Motorshack

            Chooks? I assume that is an Australian word, but, in any case, I don’t know what that is.

          • Keith

            chickens … chook is more evocative … chicken poo is a great source of phosphate.

          • Motorshack

            Ah, right. I’ve seen a fair number of episodes of MacLeod’s Daughters on the web, and now that you remind me I’m pretty sure I recall a scene in which Terry gets sent out to grab a chook for dinner, or some such.

            Unfortunately, I am a fairly strict vegetarian, and I am not overly fond of chickens as neighbors, but I daresay something could be worked in the way of trade with a chicken farmer.

            Perhaps a tracking solar mount in return for the occasional bucket of fertilizer.

          • Keith

            Just get some wire and setup a chook run over parts of the garden that are fallow (need to keep out foxes/dogs/powerful owls) and you’ll have a brilliant vege patch. You’ll be very popular with neighbours who’ll take the eggs. …. or as you say do a trade.

          • Motorshack

            Then again, there is the output from my composting toilet.

        • Alistair Spong

          You negate the power that policy has . For example an increase in bicycle riding has a direct correlation to how safe people feel . When roads are redesigned to protect bicycle users, the change in behaviour is massive, 40-50% year on year increases are seen . Im not saying i dont get frustrated that more people do not take their personal consumption more seriously, on the other hand there are just as many who feel completely helpless about this situation.

          Public policy has an enormous importance, which is why our right wing media is doing everything it can to confuse and disempower us, if this wasnt true , forests would be saved by direct action protest alone and transition groups around Australia would be outstanding models of success

          • Motorshack

            I did not say that policy could not have an effect, or that it does not have effects, or that intelligent policy choices would not be welcome.

            I am saying that a mass change in personal behavior would have very dramatic effects, which would certainly dwarf any policies presently in effect.

            I am also saying that the bulk of those changes need no policy support, because they are already well within the scope of authority of all citizens.

            More to the point, government policy could not stop such choices, because most of what I have in mind is a simple matter of not buying various things, which is generally as legal as church on Sunday.

          • Alistair Spong

            ‘A mass change in personal behaviour’ is not possible without subsequent changes in policy …. Changes in policy that make public transport viable , that make micro electricity grids possible and community renewable energy projects possible , that make community gardens possible , that stop runaway urban growth at the fringes , that protect biodiversity and natural carbon stores , that make organic gardening possible and free if gmo’s . It’s all very well to pin the problem on the nature of human beings individually , but it’s how we work together that counts ….
            There are limits to what we can achieve individually , but when we join hands as a community to shape the way we want to live , that’s where massive change can occur .. And it’s at the heart of democracy

          • Motorshack

            Okay, be helpless, and wait for politicians to become honest, if that is what you prefer.

            Meanwhile, I have things to do that are actually useful.

    • Tyger Tyger

      Only problem with this Ayn Rand-like low carbon paradise we all stubbornly refuse to embrace, is that many people are not in a position to make the changes necessary to reduce their carbon footprint and still more are yet to be convinced they need to.
      What of the poor; the oppressed; the disabled; the mentally ill; people in hopelessly energy-inefficient rented housing; the low-paid workers relying on their crappy old cars to get them around because the public transport out in the ‘burbs is rubbish or non-existent; and the list goes on?
      What of those who simply refuse to accept the science – many powerful politicians included – and the power of the media-backed, “business as usual” vested interests who encourage them in their beliefs?
      To say that activism, politics and politicians – and, by association, the education and empowerment that come with effective, inclusive policies – have little to contribute to mitigating AGW and we can solve everything by individual actions, is libertarian nonsense.

      • Motorshack

        I agree that there are many who are living with very serious disadvantages, and I would not leave those folks to fend for themselves if we can help them. Not at all.

        For example, in college I worked in a nursing home as an orderly, and I have also been a teacher’s aid in classes for the mentally challenged. Not only are jobs like that necessary in my view, but of all the jobs I have had, those two still rank as the most satisfying in social terms. In contrast, my lengthy career designing software was the social equivalent of a very long walk in the Gobi desert.

        Some years ago I also had a bout of depression so severe that a social worker persuaded a judge to order me into the hospital for a few days of observation just to make sure I regained my equilibrium in a safe environment. Much later we finally figured out that I had an undiagnosed sleep disorder that was screwing me up far more than anyone realized at the time.

        In short, I certainly do understand the value of humanitarian social institutions. That was not my point.

        My complaint is more narrowly with those who do have choices, who say they are worried about climate change, yet continue with the grotesquely wasteful consumer lifestyle, all while conveniently blaming politicians or big business.

        That is not really the fault of politicians, but a matter of personal choice, and, as someone who has cut his carbon footprint in major ways that were entirely within my own scope of choice, I have little patience with those who insist that nothing can be done until the politicians become less corrupt.

        As for Ayn Rand, I am old enough to be able to remember very well seeing her in television interviews, and she was a relentless, spiteful, selfish bitch of the worst sort. I should hope that I never come close to an attitude that uncharitable.

        Finally, in general, it is not the poor and the helpless who are pissing away the huge quantities of resources. Being poor and helpless means they do not have much in the way of excess resources in the first place.

        It is the rich and complacent who are causing the bulk of the problem, so that is why I focused my original comment on that group.

        Perhaps that will clarify our points of agreement.

        • Tyger Tyger

          Consider it clarified. I got a bit frustrated because my own life has been blighted by mental illness and the many forms of self-harm and self-sabotage that go with it. I’ve lived at more addresses than I’ve had years on this planet and, for a few years there, had no address at all. I’m finally getting it together and hopefully before too long can own my own place and can’t wait to set about living a more sustainable life.

          Having said that, I do think there’s an insidious line of thought that says individuals can solve some of the many environmental issues we face without the need for major reform at government and corporate levels. A classic example is when Sth Eastern Australia endured the “millenium drought” from 1995-2009. Severe water restrictions were in place and there was an endless campaign telling us all what a “difference” we could make by saving water. This despite the fact domestic water use in Australia accounts for a mere 6% of the total, 15% going to commercial/industrial use and the rest to agriculture. Clearly the most effective reforms we could make in this area would be to the agricultural sector, in particular irrigation and the thousands of kilometres of hopelessly inefficient open irrigation channels we currently employ. So where is all the infrastructure funding going under this government? Roads and airports. It’s sickening.

          Now I’m over my hissy fit I have to say I agree with you on your main point. People too easily blame the politicians THEY ELECT for all their woes and confine their involvement to voting every few years, thus abrogating any personal responsibility. Who was it said in a democracy we get the politicians we deserve?

          Please forgive the Ayn Rand slur. Totally uncalled for. Must do something about that Irish temper of mine!

          • Motorshack

            No sweat with respect to the Irish temper. My own ancestry is rather a mixed bag, but about 3/8 of my ancestors were Irish, and I too have the classic Irish temper, as do most of my family.

            Also, my sympathies with respect to the personal problems.

            Aside from the one episode that I have already mentioned, the bulk of my life has been fairly normal, at least as far as the rest of society has known, even though I have almost always had some internal stresses to deal with.

            Nevertheless, I can easily imagine what a mess my life might have been with just a bit more bad luck.

            In any case, the big lesson for me, which also applies to many other issues, including personal environmental choices, is that, in the end, each of us must run his own life.

            That may be a lonely, miserable job, but, really, there is not much choice about it. Indeed, our only real choice is to learn to play the hand we were dealt as best we can.

            So, given that attitude, when I became concerned about the issue of climate change, I did not argue much about it with others, but instead just focused on cutting my own footprint as much as possible.

            And I was quite startled to find that it was not even very hard.

            Moreover, doing these things actually increased my economic security very dramatically, just when everyone, including me, was going completely broke in the Great Recession.

            Could we use better government policies? Sure, that might well be very useful.

            Would it be helpful if business managers took a more long-term view of their interests. Absolutely.

            Still, if millions of individuals simply did what is already well within their personal scope of choice, the problem would be cut right down to size in very short order.

            We might also have far more time, money, energy, and other resources to lend a hand to our less fortunate citizens.

            Just for starters, it is perfectly amazing what becomes possible when you are not struggling constantly to keep up with a quarter-million in bank debt.

            I could go on, but I daresay you can see the general point already.

  • Alistair Spong

    I don’t feel help less , I have my solar lamps , and my inverter and recycled deep cycle batteries , my electric bike and my vegie gardens , I just know there are limits to inspiring others by my actions alone and limits to what I can achieve individually without changes in policy …… What exactly is it about Scott Ludlum that is dishonest ? I’ve just been door knocking for the greens over the last month and seen a fantastic victory …. I’ve seen people want change and openly reject a liberal pm they voted for …. It’s actually a fantastic time to be positive and proactive in politics … Tony Abbott is like the last charge from a dying wild bore

    • Motorshack

      All right. Fair enough. You are doing useful things, too, and not just whining about the awful politicians. Good for you.

      And, yes, I saw Scott Ludlum’s now-viral YouTube video, and I do wish I had the choice to vote for someone that refreshing (although Obama sounded pretty good in 2008, too, and we now know how that turned out).

      My point remains: the really useful stuff we can each choose to do all on our own authority.

      And if you choose to do those things in concert with your local neighbors, that is fine too.

      It still is not the least dependent upon government policy. Not in any important way.

      So, I refuse to be distracted more than momentarily by the rampant idiocy of the politicians. If it stops even being comical, then it is just irrelevant.

      That’s all.

  • Chris Fraser

    It was heartening to hear the Australian government’s response (to the IPCC Report) was to announce that it would wait to see what action others take. While i wouldn’t agree that Australians are world leaders in mitigation works, things must be looking up if they don’t respond with some kind of demented slogan-ridden rebuttal.
    Imagine working for the federal Environment Ministry, an echo chamber full of doers and yes-people, and led by dimwits (abbrev. ‘don’t include me willya in the solution’).

  • patrickg

    Well put Giles excellent piece