Is Bjørn Lomborg writing Australia’s climate and energy policies?

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LIMA: Just what is Andrew Robb going to be doing in Peru at the climate negotiations in Lima – apart from “chaperoning” Julie Bishop, as Tony Abbott charmingly phrases it, and making sure the Coalition’s most popular politician does not become “too green”.

Well, that is probably exactly what he will do. Negotiators and observers hear in Lima are scratching their heads as to what role Robb could possibly play in the climate talks – he has no counterparts to talk to because no other country thinks of sending their trade minister. Most of them send their environment or climate change ministers.

Will Robb involve himself in the detail of climate finance, loss and damage, or ratification of the second period of the Kyoto Protocol? Likely not. And why is Australia suddenly sending an “economics” minister to a “climate” event, when it has refused to talk about climate at “economics” events such as the G20 and the FTA with China, arguing – to the astonishment of most – that the two don’t intersect.

Perhaps, then, Robb has been sent to convey a simple message – namely that Australia does not understand what all the fuss is about, that addressing climate change is not that urgent, that we need more research before we start deploying new technologies such as solar, and anyway, it’s a bigger priority to sell coal to poor countries to alleviate “energy poverty.”

To do that, all the government has to do is to channel the thoughts of their favourite thinker, Bjorn Lomborg, who as others have pointed out has made quite a nice career casting doubt on the seriousness of climate change, arguing the problem is overstated, and concluding that on a cost-benefit analysis there is no need to do anything. That pretty much sums up current Coalition government policy.

robb lomborgRobb has certainly been brushing up on his research. Last week he tweeted this picture after a briefing with Lomborg . “Had a good chat about the power of trade in eliminating poverty,” Robb tweeted.  Presumably Robb meets many people in his role, but this is the only one he bothered tweeting in the last few weeks.

Given Lomborg’s past form, that idea of eliminating energy poverty would almost certainly be about trade in coal, the commodity that he says is the only way to lift 1.3 billion people out of poverty. This is a favourite line from Big Coal PR. Lomborg and Tony Abbott have swallowed the Kool-Aid, but most others say it is nonsense.

Lomborg, who was brought in to speak at G20 event sponsored by Peabody Coal, the world’s biggest coal miner, has been a favourite consultant for the Coalition government because he says what they want to hear. i.e. There is no urgency to act, it’s fine to burn fossil fuels, and there is no point deploying renewable energy. Sounds a lot like government policy and rhetoric.

Last December, for instance, Lomborg suggested that the world should stop installing solar, and add not a single panel. He told the ABC Radio PM Program:

“What we need to stop doing is to buy another solar panel. It makes us feel good, but it doesn’t do very much good. What we should be doing is to buy a solar panel researcher – and that’s obviously putting it way to simply – but it’s about getting the next generation and the next generation so that eventually it’ll be cheap enough that we will want to put them in without subsidies.”

That, of course, is music to the ears of the utilities whose business models are being wrecked by solar and other renewable technologies, or at least those too dumb to change.

But it’s also nonsense. Anyone can tell you that the biggest cost reductions in the past five years have occurred because of deployment – and efficiencies in manufacturing, installation, monitoring, maintenance and integration. That will deliver further cost reductions of between 10-20 per cent a year, while further R&D will add cream to the cake.

Solar is now cheaper than fossil fuels in many markets, against oil, diesel, LNG and new build coal-fired power stations. It is cheaper “behind the meter” in more than 100 countries

And the biggest utilities are already changing. E.ON is dumping its entire fossil fuel and centralised energy businesses into a new entity, and will focus instead on solar, storage, and distribution and localised networks. NRG is also changing its focus in the US. In Australia, Origin Energy, AGL and EnergyAustralia know what’s coming, but are so wedded to the revenues of the old technology that they cannot commit to the new. That’s the Kodak dilemma.

Conservatives, being conservatives, are kind of like Kodak, wary of the new, reassured by the old. That’s why Lomborg gives them comfort, reassuring them that focusing on the past, taking new technologies off the roof and sticking them back in the R&D lab is OK.

Lomborg justifies his do nothing gospel by claiming there is no point in doing anything right now, because what counts is the total amount of CO2 that we put out into the atmosphere across the century. “It doesn’t really matter all that much when we cut it,” he told that same ABC program.

Actually, it matters a lot, the scientists say. And there is not that much time left to act. In order to keep global warming below 2C, and give the world a 50-50 chance of avoiding runaway climate impacts, the world needs to observe a carbon budget that will exhaust itself well below 2030 at current rates. Every economic study says that the quicker action is taken, the less costly it will be.

But Abbott is a fan. This came from his book, Battlelines, and its effusive in his praise:

“It doesn’t make sense, though, to impose certain and substantial costs on the economy now in order to avoid unknown and perhaps even benign changes in the future. As Bjorn Lomborg has said: “Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is man made and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.”

In other words, axe the tax – and replace it with a policy like Direct Action, dreamed up by Greg Hunt, another enthusiastic disciple of the Lomborg principle.

As David Holmes reported in The Conversation, Hunt credited some of Lomborg’s work – a discredited analysis of the cheapest abatement technologies – as being a blue-print for the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Now, it seems, Lomborg, the climate confusionist, is back on two of his favourite hobby horses – that renewable energy causes energy poverty, and more coal fired generation can solve it.

This too, accords with government policy, and Robb’s view of the world. But if Robb is taking that message to Lima, then he will be laughed out of the tent city that forms the venue for the talks.


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  • john

    This has to be the joke of the week for sure.
    Get a person of ill repute to advise you.
    I guess one should go see a mechanic about a tooth ache and a doctor about a faulty starter motor just about the level we are witness to here.

    • Keith


      I’m afraid you are not understanding how they operate. You make the mistake of assuming one would ask someone with qualifications to help.

      These guys demonise people with rational qualifications. You need to be an ideologue, quite out of touch with reality, to get the ear of the LNP.

      • john

        I am coming to that point of persuasion.

        • suthnsun

          Keith used to console me(while I was despondent) with the assertion that the more balanced heads in the LNP would exert some force eventually. Alas for us all it has not happened. The demonising predilection seems to be proliferating everywhere.. Putin’s recent comments are textbook. While that psychological dysfunction is prevalent a global agreement is even more difficult.

  • barrie harrop

    Expecting Lomborg,will have is normal 5 star suite ,holding court,issuing his pearls of wisdom,hoping Aust Govt is not picking up the tab.

    Note in his own country most people brush him off.

    • john

      seems my last post was disqualified.

      this one.

      In January, 2003, the DCSD released a ruling that sent a mixed message, finding the book to be scientifically dishonest through misrepresentation of scientific facts, but Lomborg himself not guilty because of lack of expertise in the fields in question.
      This is of course his book and the above just about sums it up.

    • Mags

      Same sort of deal at Christopher Moncton, at home he is regarded as a nutter, but here he is interviewed on Catalyst!

      • wideEyedPupil

        catalyst interview monkton or lomborg?! that’s right up their with their “The heart of the Matter” promoting Paleo (so called) dietary advisements from snake oil salesmen in a two part extravaganza.

  • Marka

    “but it’s about getting the next generation and the next generation so that eventually it’ll be cheap enough that we will want to put them in without subsidies.” a statement that makes total sense – 15 years ago!

  • mike flanagan

    And sadly Lomborg is nurtured and supported indirectly by the Guardian
    Newspaper with their sponsorship of the Project Syndicate site where Lomborg
    regularly dominates the Sustainability section with his proselytizing for his Fossil
    fuel corporate mentors

    • Miles Harding

      Must make it a mission to challenge his rubbish each time it appears.

    • john

      Really I have not looked at the Guardian after it went to the mobile display site totally useless now so I just don’t click it

      • mike flanagan

        Project Syndicate site !!!! But I am of the same
        mind in relation to the Guardian’s new layout and presentation. Their marvellous Environment section has now been relegated to a back seat

        • john

          True I do not see the Environment site any more so they have lost me as a click person who used to help their bottom line

  • David McMullen

    I understand that in much of Africa, renewables might have trouble competing with local gas. Can anyone throw light on this?

    • Possible in those place where they have a grid. But most of africa not connected to the grid, and gas needs a grid, or a network of pipelines. both expensive. so the answer is no when competing against distributed solar.

      • Peter Thomson

        Giles, pipe networks are not essential for gas; it is commonly supplied to rural areas across the globe in cylinders. This is true for Australia too – even Berowra, 40km north of Sydney CBD, is bottle gas only.

        Dave, do you have a link to this discussion anywhere? I would be curious to read more about it. Gas and PV service different energy needs which are complementary rather than competitive.

        Bottle gas can replace biomass (wood, peat, animal dung, etc) for thermal needs such as cooking and water heating. As population levels rise and local biomass resources become scarce, gas provides a scalable alternative.

        But a modest PV installation can provide lighting and mobile phone charging for a family; a larger system can run a TV or a PC. These are game-changers for people who have never had access to these resources.

        • wideEyedPupil

          a coin spent on a gas appliance is a coin not spent on electric heating/cooking appliances which you can run without fuel costs if you have the PV system. gas will lose especially as electrical storage becomes ubiquitous.

          • Peter Thomson

            A PV array and battery large enough to supply power for cooking? Way too expensive for rural Africans – we are talking about people who struggle for years saving up to buy a bicycle. A solar thermal cooker (a mirror concentrator) is much cheaper and can reduce reliance on other fuels, but it only works during the day, and you still need backup heating for the days when the sun doesn’t shine.
            A biomass digester might also be an alternative to bottle gas; I know some people working to develop a system cheap and safe enough for use in rural India. That should work fine in Africa too.

    • john

      David I would say read ‘Sun Above The Horizon’ by Peter F. Varadi
      He sets out the history of PV and especially how PV in Africa is working.
      Renewables absolutely are front and centre for remote areas in the story, from not just now, but a lot of years back.
      Varadi was one of the pioneers in PV a good read I must add.

  • Ken Dyer

    Crikey, Lombard the Luddite meets Robb the Redundant urged on by Abbott the Agnotologist.

  • Alen T

    I can’t wait for the day when fossil fuels are viable without subsidies. Let’s have a race between energy sources, coal vs solar PV, and see which of these is the first to be viable without subsidies (direct and indirect!!).

    Coal though has had a few decades head start, so to be fair give PV a fears (not decades) to catch up. Who will you be betting on?

    • mike flanagan

      A recent report in the international business press suggested the cost of unreliable and unproven CCS for coal generators around the world starts at $17.5T. A fraction of that figure invested in alternatives will make a major step towards where we need to be.

  • Chris Fraser

    Talk about Kool-Aid. Indeed what has the Minister been drinking when he insists on taking selfies with everyone who looks like a pop band Roadie and clearly need ID tags to show they had reason to be in Lima.

  • JohnD

    Sending Andrew Robb as a negotiator is three parts useless if his free trade agreement with China is any example of his credentials. The one key element which should have been front and centre was Cleantech and it was not even mentioned. It was simply designed to protect the coal export trade from unwanted tariffs pure and simple. Simple being the apt word to describe the governments wasted opportunity.
    Julie Bishop is nothing more than a bull dog that attacks anything or anyone that doesn’t agree with her governments policies. She and Robb will be completely out of their depth and will be comedy relief at best on the world scene and a tragedy for us in Australia.

    • Miles Harding

      We should remember that Julie Bishop is a lawyer who, in the 1980s, defended CSR against the claims of their employees, who had contracted mesothelioma as a result of their exposure Asbestos. Her aggressive defense the LNP’s current crop of ludicrous policies can be seen as an continuation of that practice.

      • mike flanagan

        That would be Hardy Bros Miles would it? The same mob of business ethics fringe dwellers who spend more time and resources chasing tax effective (read theft) programs to avoiding their monetary responsibilities than they do paying their past victims of their heinous manufacturing and distribution of death

        • Miles Harding

          It would be the one and the same.

          From a lawyer perspective, they may say that they were only defending the indefensible, a major challenge and good career move, but I have a different take in view of our current politics.

          The same sort of moral fibre needed to defend CSR (Hardies) is also needed to defend the LNPs blatantly unreasonable policies.
          The entire front bench is guilty of the same, including Malclom Turnbull who did a sterling job lying about the size of the cuts to the ABC recently.

          • mike flanagan

            It is not exclusively his ABC response that is coated in Turnbull’s mendacity. The public’s eventual realisation of the facts and reality of the NBN program together with his spinelessness on CC will help to destroy his future in politics. But thanks for the confirmation Miles.

  • John McKeon

    The Abbott government is incompetent. How bloody stupid can they be when Robb sides up to brazen Lomberg, and they sprout public policy on climate change that is out of this idiot’s songbook.

  • Bjorn Lomborg is writing only half of Australia’s climate policy.And I’m sure that Andrew Robb will be able to parrot that out well. That’s the half that says “well, climate change doesn’t really matter much, and even if it did matter we don’t need to do anything about it. And coal is so morally good”.

    Then Julie Bishop can articulate the other half of Australia’s policy – “Climate change does matter a bit, just enough to necessitate Australia promoting nuclear power, because we all know that nuclear power is ‘low carbon’ ”
    (Actually it’s not “low carbon” at all, when you count the entire nuclear fuel chain, from uranium mining, to deep burial of radioactive wastes and dead reactors)

    But the Abbott government has to serve all the polluting industries – coal, gas, nuclear – they all work in tandem to dictate Australia’s policies.

  • Miles Harding

    Truly awful climate policy is only one of the assaults on common
    sense and decency that this government is perpetrating in the name of
    the Australian people.

    While it may be comforting to blame the LNP’s actions on stupidity, it has no part in such a cynical campaign.

    I prefer to see this as the LNP holding a deeply flawed set of values that permit the sort of abhorrent policy we are seeing. Once any concerns for the country’s reputation, social values, the welfare of its citizens (or other people) or anything beyond the next election is dispensed with, this sort of behavior can be explained.

    It is extremely difficult to find any ‘expert’ that would support their radical and harmful policies, so Lomborg and Monckton are necessary allies.

    I consider us all fortunate that the senate has been largely dismissive of the policies of the Abbott government. Consider for moment how crazy it would be if the senate were also dominated by the LNP.