WE ARE ALL currently transfixed by the second coming of Kevin Rudd. The action is frenetic. Can he stop the boats? Will he vanquish the faceless men? Might he deliver us from Abbott and his unscrupulous band of ruffians, after all? asks Douglas Evans.
We continue with Douglas’s guest post.
No-one’s talking about global warming. Apparently forgotten, the climate kettle continues to simmer and as the temperature rises the clock keeps ticking ominously.
In the run-up to the 2013 Federal election that will determine government for most of what remains of the Climate Commission Report, ‘critical decade‘, it’s timely to remind ourselves just what our political parties plan to do about the most overwhelming issue of our era and one that will profoundly affect us all.
What does climate change science say is necessary to save our future?
The only useful measure of the climate change policies of political parties is their likely climatic effectiveness. Do they offer a reasonable chance of stabilizing global temperatures at or about two degrees of warming? WILL THEY WORK? In its recent report, The Critical Decade, the Australian government’s Climate Commission very clearly described the emissions reduction task we face globally in the first half of this century consistent with this goal. The report shows that if we implement serious carbon emissions reductions policies soon and achieve a global emissions peak by about 2020, we can realistically meet the 1 trillion ton emissions budget by 2050. However, in a scenario without serious carbon reduction policies in place, we’re looking at a potentially catastrophic warming of 4°C or more by 2100.
The Commission estimated that humanity can emit not more than 1 trillion tonnes of CO₂ between 2000 and 2050 to have a 75% probability of avoiding the danger limit. Currently, we are 25% of the way through the budgetary timeline, but we have burned through nearly 33% of the budget. We’re running out of wriggle room and need to act immediately. The longer we wait to take serious emissions reductions steps, the steeper the global carbon emissions cuts will have to be. If we wait too long, we will reach a point where the necessary annual emissions cuts are simply beyond our political and technological capabilities. If global greenhouse gas emissions were stabilized by 2020 and thereafter reduced to zero by 2040 (a task that requires a stringent maximum rate of reduction of 9% per annum) there is a reasonable certainty that temperatures can be stabilized around two degrees of warming.
Is ALP policy consistent with this goal?
The ALP’s climate change policies aim at a 5% reduction in pollution levels relative to 2000 levels by 2020 and an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas pollution levels relative to 2000 levels by 2050. While emissions 80% below 2000 levels by 2050 are not zero emissions by 2040, this might seem a reasonable approximation of what the science says is required apart from three important facts:
- Up to two-thirds of these emissions ‘reductions’ are intended to be purchased ‘offshore’ as ‘offsets’ to continued growth in Australian domestic emissions which are not expected to stabilize under these policies until 2035! Quite apart from the often discussed difficulties of validating such measures the science requires that the whole world needs to stabilize and reduce greenhouse gas emissions if the threshold of two degrees of warming is not to be exceeded. To claim the purchase of offshore offsets as emissions reduction for Australian industry is little more than an accountancy trick intended to deceive.
- The ALP policy is based on a notion of ‘clean energy’ that assumes widespread continued gas and ‘clean coal’ combustion. It is based on:
- The almost certainly erroneous assumption that the use of gas as a power source for electricity generation is less greenhouse gas intensive than coal.
- The certainly erroneous assumption that greenhouse gases generated by the combustion of fossil fuels in power plants can be economically captured and stored at sufficient scale, within a useful time frame.
- The claimed intentions of ALP climate policy are entirely swamped by support for the massive expansion of Australian fossil fuel exports which if they came to pass would see Australia double Saudi Arabia’s contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gas by 2020 or soon thereafter. Under Labor’s fossil fuel export policies greenhouse gas emissions from Australia coal and gas exports will dwarf domestic emissions by a factor of three- or four-to-one.
A more thorough discussion of the ALP climate change and energy policies can be found here.
It is not unreasonable to describe ALP climate and energy policy as the most cost-effective path to runaway global warming by 2100.
Are the Direct Action Policies of the Coalition consistent with this goal?
As with the ALP this Coalition ‘policy’ embodies a (totally inadequate) commitment to reducing CO2 emissions by 20% relative to 2000 levels by 2020. It comprises:
- An “Emissions Reduction Fund” of $3 billion to fund projects that would reduce carbon emissions, based on a tender process.
- Support for projects such as “soil carbon technologies and abatement”.
- A commitment to raise a 15,000 strong ‘Green Army’ of volunteers to clean up the environment. One of the tasks envisaged for this ‘Green Army is plantation tree planting as a means of carbon storage.
The abatement effect of the $3 billion Emissions reduction fund is unquantifiable but it is not unreasonable to compare it to the $5.5 billion ‘Contracts for Closure Fund’ that formed part of the ALP Clean Energy Futures legislation. This was intended to purchase reduction in greenhouse gas intensive, fossil fuel-fired, power generation capacity. It failed totally and had to be abandoned by the Gillard government.
The CSIRO’s review into soil carbon storage casts doubt over this assumption concluding that despite the theoretical potential of storage of carbon in agricultural soils research is currently inadequate to quantify this. Writing in Nature Climate Change, a group of seven Australian and UK climate researchers including Climate Commissioner Prof. Will Steffen, have gone further. They concluded that considering carbon storage on land as a means to ‘offset’ CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels is ‘scientifically flawed’. They conclude that:
‘Avoiding emissions from land carbon stocks and refilling depleted stocks reduces atmospheric CO2 concentration, but the maximum amount of this reduction is equivalent to only a small fraction of potential fossil fuel emissions.’
The Guardian reports research showing that for the DAP’s proposed tree planting to achieve the pledged return of an annual 85 million tonnes of CO2 captured, even using the most optimistic assumptions about growth and yield, would require a planted area more than twice the size of Melbourne. Under ‘real world’ conditions the area would be somewhat larger again increasing both the anticipated cost and management complexity of this massive undertaking.
The only likely explanation as to why the Coalition would propose such a useless climate change policy (incredible as it seems) is that from the point of view of the opposition the policy is a non-answer to a non-existent problem. They recognize the POLITICAL necessity for a climate change policy but actually don’t believe it is happening!
As blogger Alex White points out:
“In addition to saying “climate change is crap“, in a more considered interview with the ABC’s Four Corners, Tony Abbott said:
‘I have pointed out in the past that there was that high year a few years ago and the warming, if you believe various measuring organisations, hasn’t increased … the point is not the science, the point is how should government respond, and we have a credible response.’
The most honest assessment of the Coalition’s climate policy, ironically, comes from Malcolm Turnbull. In 2009, then-backbencher Turnbull, recently defeated by Abbott in a leadership ballot wrote in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald that the policy was ‘bullshit’:
‘…the fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming. As Tony observed on one occasion “climate change is crap” or if you consider his mentor, Senator Minchin, the world is not warming, it’s cooling and the climate change issue is part of a vast left wing conspiracy to de-industrialise the world.
The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is ‘crap’ and you don’t need to do anything about it. Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing. After all, as Nick Minchin observed, in his view the majority of the Party Room do not believe in human caused global warming at all.’
A more thorough discussion of the Coalition’s climate change policy can be found here.
It is not unreasonable to describe the Direct Action Policy of the Liberal-National Coalition as a deliberate attempt to deceive Australian voters on the most important topic of our times.
Are the Climate Change and Energy Policies of the Australian Greens consistent with this goal?
The short answer is, despite a couple of possible omissions, yes they are! The Climate Change and Energy policies of the Australian Greens can be found here but I will raise a couple of points. On two pages the Greens set out fifteen principles and seventeen Aims in respect of climate change and energy policy. They are comprehensive and in line with the task the scientists say we are confronted with.
Some key points of difference with the policies of the ‘old’ parties include:
- An emissions reduction target of ‘Net zero or net negative Australian greenhouse gas emissions within a generation’. Compare this with 80% below 2000 emissions levels by 2050.
- ‘Binding national emission targets for each year through to 2050 supported by a detailed strategy to reduce emissions from the energy, transport, industry, waste, agriculture, and land management sectors.’ Compare this with the total absence of any recognition of the importance of structuring the rate and methods of emissions reduction from the other two parties.
- ‘100% stationary electricity in Australia from renewable sources as soon as possible by increasing the renewable energy target (RET) and in addition measures such as feed-in tariffs and regulations to support a range of prospective new renewable energy technologies.’ The Coalition does not mention emissions reduction from stationary power generation. They hope we will believe that their $3 billion Emissions Reduction Fund will achieve something. The ALP bases their policy around the continued presence of fossil fuel-fired power plants and hopes we will believe that they can somehow deliver ‘clean’ energy.
- ‘No new coal-fired power stations or coal mines, and no expansions to any existing power stations or mines’. Contrast this with whole-hearted support for the expansion of the sector from both the ‘old’ parties.
- ‘The adoption of the precautionary principle in relation to carbon capture and storage (geosequestration) by opposing public funding, and ensuring that companies are financially responsible for the risks of CO2 leakage’. Contrast this with the completely unwarranted faith of the ALP in these technologies and the silence of the Coalition on this matter.
As with all the policies of the Greens, these ‘Principles’ and ‘Aims’ are brief and unlike the policies of the other two parties describe where we must go. They do not embody assumptions of what existing ‘stakeholders’ and their representatives may be prepared to accept. That is correctly deferred to the negotiation process that leads to legislation. They do not attempt to set out how we should get there. That is also correctly deferred to the negotiation process leading to legislation.
A more thorough discussion of these policies can be found here.
It is not unreasonable to describe the Greens’ Climate Change and Energy policies as the only policies by an Australian political party that rationally respond to the severity and interlocked complexity of the climate crisis we confront. This is the only policy response currently on offer to Australian voters that truly gives hope that this problem might be overcome.
The Climate Institute, somewhat ironically funded by a philanthropic fund bankrolled by Rupert Murdoch’s niece, Eve Kantor and her husband Mark Wootton, rated the seriously inadequate Labor Clean Energy package as two and a half stars out of a possible five. There seems something wrong with a methodology that gives a bare pass mark to climate policies that guarantee runaway climate change but nevertheless that is what it finds. Using the same methodology it rates the Liberal Party’s Direct Action Plan one lonely star out of a possible five. Using the same methodology it rates the Greens policies as five out of a possible five. You can download the Climate Institute’s comparative analysis if you want to look further into the issues. The rank ordering could not be clearer. The Greens followed by Labor followed by the dismal deceptive, disingenuous Coalition effort.
Now, as I have written elsewhere. It seems to me that we either use the limited power of our vote to push for an increased tightening of climate policies or we are complicit in wrecking our future. I can’t find any other way to put it. No point blaming Gina Rinehart and Andrew Bolt et al if we are not prepared to do anything ourselves. How bad must things get before those who see the problem begin to demand effective action from our elected leaders? Now the 7 September election presents all Australians with a chance to demand better from our elected leaders. For the time being, whatever our political persuasion, we must all be single-issue voters.
The voting options that I see are these:
- If you are a Coalition voter and seriously concerned about climate change you face a difficult choice. This article reveals their fraudulent, deliberate attempt to mislead voters. You either swallow your concerns about your future and that of your children and grandchildren, voting again as you have always done. Or you look around for the most effective policy. You won’t be happy when you find where it is.
- If you are a Labor voter and seriously concerned about climate change your choice is fairly simple I would say. If you accept the assessments I have made, you wish to continue to support the Labor Party but wish to send them a message that they need to lift their game, you should vote Green with Labor second. You can comfortably do this in the knowledge that in all House of Representatives seats, with one possible exception, your vote will end up supporting Labor. The message will have been sent and noted.
- If you are a Green voter concerned about climate change, you vote for your party in the knowledge that they are advocating for the strongest policies.
So now it’s up to all of us to do our little bit to save the future for our kids. Remember, this is the critical decade and by the time you get another vote the chance may well have vanished forever.