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 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.