Tuesday, 30 December 2008

What is happening in Australia?!

How is it that the Rudd Government can have been doing so well in most areas, but have got targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts so wrong? At 5% by 2020 (on a 2000 base, not even 1990) it makes the country a laughing stock, using up precious international political capital built up by finally signing Kyoto last December.

Sure, it is better than the lost Howard years, but .... (the political leaders who deliberately blocked steps to address climate change will one day be regarded as climate criminals, along with those corporations who funded the anti-intellectual efforts to deliver changes needed to stop climate change).

The Australian Government has been arguing that its targets are "in fact better than Europe". This is based on saying that our "per capita cuts will be greater than European countries".

Yes, but Australia's base was so low (it being the world heavyweight champion emitter) that it isn't exactly a big leap being taking. The new climate policy isn't even trying hard on energy efficiency measures - the most RoI-efficient emission reduction wedge, where McKinseys tells us we can save millions while reducing emissions 20-30%!

The country has plenty of room to move much faster on emission cuts with zip-all impact on the economy.

Essentially the Government is not properly pricing the risk involved in not taking drastic action to reduce emissions. The country needs to be worrying what a 1 metre rise in sea levels, with increased flood surges on top of it, is going to do to our coal export market: look at this map of the Pearl River delta under 1 m. That's a stalled economy. Then think the same across northern China, Wuhan, Calcutta, etc.

It was all looking so sensible for awhile there ... then the Garnaut Report came and, somewhere between finishing off the (excellent) science and diagnosis parts of the report and writing the recommendations, Ross got hit on the head with a mallet and ended up putting in stuff that bore little relation to the nature of the problem he had described. And I don't think saying that "we can't do much because the rest of the world isn't going to" is an acceptable get-out-of-jail card - Australia should be in there leading, not dragging global plans back. (It's been embarrassing being told Australian was a recalcitrant in Poznan, working with Canada, the US and Japan, to hold back decision-making on key clauses ... a bit like the Howard years.)

Still, one ray of light: my mates at Climate Risk have been modelling forward emission impacts, and they think Australia might just be able to make 90% cuts (which will be the target by the end of this game) starting with 15% by 2020. That's good news, although it still doesn't help us get to declining global emissions by 2015. If we don't do that any future cuts look to be a waste of time.

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