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Statistical shenanigans

Addressing the South Australian Liberal Party annual meeting yesterday, Tony Abbott repeated his claim that the emissions reduction target – 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – was the same as the US.

One would expect that some form of research and modelling had gone into arriving at this figure but that is not the case. What Abbott has done is just use the exact same figure of 26-28%, as pledged by the US, without any context whatsoever.

For starters, the US goal is to achieve that reduction by 2025, five years earlier than Australia. They have also pledged a 17% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020 compared to our 5%.

Originally our commitment was to reduce emissions based on 2000 levels. Abbott has changed this to 2005 which, unsurprisingly, was a very high year for emissions (the second highest since 1990 when the Kyoto Protocol was drawn up), so using it as a basis allows us to have higher total emissions in 2020 than if we used 2000 levels.

But the statistical shenanigans don’t stop there.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia negotiated a lenient second sentence in Article 3.7 (sometimes referred to as the “Australia clause”) that allowed Australia to include 1990 or 2000 deforestation emissions in the base year.

For all other developed countries, large deforestation activities stopped a long time ago and therefore do not increase base year emissions. In contrast, in 1990 and 2000 Australia’s emissions from deforestation were significant, but are substantially lower today.

Thus, while Australia compares future climate targets against past emissions that include those deforestation emissions, other countries — such as the US — do not. Because emissions from deforestation have declined, Australia was able to substantially increase emissions in fossil fuels, industry, waste and agriculture, and still meet the 5% target.

If you exclude deforestation and forestry, the US target for 2020 will see them reduce emissions to 4% below 1990 levels. Australia’s target will see us increase emissions to 30% above 1990 levels.

Australia’s population by 2020 is projected to be almost 50% higher than in 1990, while the US population will likely increase by only a third so there is some reason for our total emissions to increase at a greater rate. Looking at per capita emissions helps eliminate this difference.

Australian and US emissions developed similarly after the Kyoto Protocol from 1990 to 1996. Thereafter, Australian emissions continued to increase, while US emissions levelled off and started to fall after 2007. While under its 5% target Australia will likely decrease its per-capita emissions to 2020 by 12% compared to 1990 levels, the US will do so by 28%.

The 2011 Garnaut Climate Change Review found that even discounting exports of energy, “Australia’s per capita emissions are nearly twice the OECD average and more than four times the world average.”

A 2013 OECD report concluded Australia was the highest carbon emitter per capita in the group of 34 countries from 2005-09 on a consumption as well as a production basis, with the latter excluding the carbon cost of imported goods.

Abbott’s claim that we will reduce per capita emissions by 50% relies on some very rubbery calculations and manipulations but even if it was true, if you weigh 240kg and halve your weight you are still overweight.

An apples-with-apples comparison done by the Conversation shows that, to match US efforts, Australia would have to increase its 2020 ambitions of 5% below 2000 to 21% or even 29%, depending on whether different population growth is taken into account, or not.

And then there is Greg Hunt’s ridiculous claim that Labor’s carbon tax “reduced emissions at over $1,300 per tonne [while] the Emissions Reduction Fund auction price averages $13.95 per tonne. That’s right, Labor’s failed carbon tax was more than 93 times more expensive.”

What the government has actually done is spend $660 million of taxpayers’ funds buying 47 million tonnes of carbon abatement. In contrast, Professor Jotzo’s Australian National University study on the emissions reductions directly attributable to the carbon price in the electricity sector alone found that it had achieved an abatement of between 11 and 17 million tonnes over its two year life, while raising around $6 billion in revenue.

The crux of it is that whereas the carbon tax brought in revenue, the Abbott government’s scheme forks out taxpayers’ cash to polluting companies.

The government spent roughly a quarter of the $2.55 billion it has said it’s willing to spend on the ERF but, at 47 million tonnes, it’s only bought around 15 per cent of the abatement needed to meet the five per cent target. There’s also no guarantee the contracts companies won in the ‘reverse auction’ will be discharged before the 2020 deadline. Many of them extend for seven or 10 years, and the government has not provided information about when the abatements need to be achieved.

The types of projects contracted so far are largely land-fill and agriculture abatements, many of which may have been occurring already under ‘carbon farming’ initiatives, or would have occurred anyway. While the regulator will try, there’s also no guaranteeing baselines won’t be inflated to make abatements seem more significant than they actually are. Perhaps most importantly, the policy provides for only patchy, one-off cuts to emissions.

Also there is no cap on carbon production so there is nothing to stop businesses that choose not to take part in the reverse auction, or those who are unsuccessful, from increasing their emissions.

And then we have Greg Hunt’s assertion that “Labor’s climate policy” would impose a “$600bn carbon bill”. Abbott then used the same figure to claim Labor’s policy would “hit our economy with massive and unmanageable costs, massive increases in power prices, massive increase in the hit on families’ cost of living”.

Climate Change Authority chairman, Bernie Fraser rubbished the claim.

“This $600bn figure is not drawn from any logical process and it becomes weirder and weirder the more that you look at it. It compares a scenario where Australia has a 44% target by 2030 and the rest of the world is taking very strong action, with a scenario where Australia has no target and does nothing and the rest of the world does very little, almost nothing at all. It is the inferred cost difference between those two scenarios.

If you wanted a figure with some logical credibility or relevance you would model the cost of the government’s 26% target and a 40% target for 2030 and look at the difference between those two.”

Yet to be released modelling by leading economist Warwick McKibbin showed the 26% target would shave between 0.2% and 0.4% from Australian GDP in 2030, but the same modelling found that based on similar assumptions, a 35% target would cut only 0.3% to 0.5% and a 45% target would cut between 0.5% and 0.7%. The $600bn figure is based on a GDP cost in 2030 of over 2%. Coincidentally it was used in a story in the Daily Telegraph the day before Hunt trotted it out.

While Hunt’s newly released policy is supposed to cost $200 million a year from 2018 to 2030, with two thirds of the required reduction to come from “technology improvements and other sources of abatement” such as vehicle emissions standards, energy efficiency regulations and changes to the use of ozone and hydrofluorocarbons, none of these are actually outlined. They are just headings with numbers assigned to add up to…what did the US say…oh that’s right, 26 to 28%.

No-one agrees that this can be achieved at anywhere near Hunt’s figures.

The Australian Industry Group estimates that if Abbott’s target were delivered solely through Budget spending it would cost between $100 billion and $250 billion in unadjusted terms. The Climate Institute estimates that in the decade to 2030, relying solely on the Coalition’s Emissions Reduction Fund, taxpayers would fork out between $28 billion and $200 billion in nominal terms, depending on the carbon price per tonne.

Reputex project the government’s $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund will be fully eroded by next year, while emissions baselines proposed to be set under the government’s Safeguard Mechanism are set too high to have any impact.

“We project covered companies are likely to grow their emissions by around 20 per cent over the next decade under the government’s safeguard scheme – so current policy will fail to even curb emissions growth – let alone reduce emissions to meet the new target.”

Kobad Bhavnagri, head of Australia for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said “The reality is that if Australia desires a reduction in domestic emissions, the country must institute policies that reduce coal-fired power and boost renewables. If that doesn’t occur, Australia will have to consider a mechanism to purchase emissions reduction permits from other nations.”

It is time for Labor to take this fight on, to stop licking its wounds about the carbon tax and ‘Juliar’. The Coalition policy is rubbish, their figures are lies that can be so easily disproven.

With Paris coming up the spotlight will be on Australia so Labor should take the stage with not just aspirations but a credible detailed policy on how they intend achieving their goals.

 

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25 comments

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  1. M-R

    Whenever I read one of your posts I am reminded that every person who votes for the LNP at the next election is deliberately closing his/her eyes to the appallingly lengthy list of horror stories perpetrated upon this country by their leader and his cabinet.
    I simply cannot understand how anyone in his/her right mind can go along with these dreadful people.
    But then, no more can I understand how these dreadful people think.

  2. Bronte ALLAN

    Not to worry, Tony Abscess is our “Minister for science” (??), so all is right with the world, coal is great, windfarms must be bad for everyone, there is no such thing as climate change, it is all the fault of those bloody Laborites anyway! SACK TONY ABSCESS!!

  3. Matters Not

    Looking at per capita emissions

    It seems to me that the only way to look at the problem and devise solutions is to focus on ‘per capita’ emissions. Too often we hear people (including Abbott) say: What about China? They emit far more than we do. That’s true, as a nation China emits much, much more than (Australia) does. They are a much bigger nation, particularly in terms of population.

    But if you look at the ‘per capita’ emissions the reality changes. Australians emit somewhere between 16 and 17 metric tons per capita per year, while the average person in China emits between 6 and 7 metric tons per capita. Sure, China will increase its emissions in the next 15 years but that will still leave them behind Australia.

    Australia at 16 to 17 metric tons per capita is in the same ball park as the United States at 17 to 18 metric tons per capita. No matter how you look at it Australia must do better.

    http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC

  4. kathysutherland2013

    Lies, damned lies and statistics….Don’t know who said that, but he/she must have had our Prime Monster in mind!

  5. Kaye Lee

    Addressing the South Australian Liberal Party annual meeting, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the emissions target was leading the pack economically and environmentally.

    “When it comes to emissions per capita, our target, a target that we are absolutely confident that we can and will meet, is the best in the world,” he said.

    “So let’s not have anyone say that this is a government which is indifferent to environmental outcomes.” ”

    Trust me….

  6. M-R

    Who the devil WRITES such garbage ?

  7. John Kelly

    “So let’s not have anyone say that this is a government which is indifferent to environmental outcomes.” Abbott is right. he and the LNP are not indifferent, they are hell bent on making sure they do next to nothing. As for the rubbery figures presented, not even his supporters are buying that rubbish.

  8. Clive Manson

    Thanks for the input, but really a a waste of time.

    Just ask yourself, “Does anybody take what TA mouths seriously?”.

  9. stephentardrew

    Them number thingies is not mathematical they are toys for the numerically challenged. All ya gotta do is shift a few of the dotty points and percentagy numbers. Talk about dottery.

  10. stephentardrew

    Brillaint summary.

    “It is time for Labor to take this fight on, to stop licking its wounds about the carbon tax and ‘Juliar’. The Coalition policy is rubbish, their figures are lies that can be so easily disproven.”

    Come on Labor a bit of courage is all it takes. Don’t be afraid of lies you have to be even more vehement and bullish than the L-NP.

    Start wielding the sword of truth fearlessly.

  11. Kaye Lee

    The Australian Press Council’s General Principles state that publications must:

    “Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion” and that “writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.”

    The Labor Party and environmental lawyers should be complaining to the APC every time the Murdoch Press prints their crap. Both the media and the politicians must be held to account for their lies because this is too important for Tony Abbott to play politics with. When they purposely use old studies they should be forced to correct their statements with the latest available information.

    There is going to be serious world pressure in the next few months. Will Julie use the death stare or the flirting approach to try to take the heat off? Will they let our Environment Minister attend the Paris talks…it’s passing strange that they never let him go to climate change talks. We have the world’s help, now if only we could get Labor to get serious with a real policy.

  12. diannaart

    The LNP, headed by Abbott and his fellow neo-conservatives, believe that the economy sustains everything – not the environment. From this perspective, Abbott’s machinations make a kind of sense.

    The message Labor needs must get out is the simple truth that; if our environment changes, so too does our mode of survival. The economy is a human construct, a mirage, wishful thinking.

  13. David

    Kaye Lee while your stats debunk the Abbott crap and rightly so, sadly the great majority of Australians would never take the time to even try to comprehend the figures and the twisting and manipulating of them Abbott and Hunt engage in. Give them list of names and scores etc on a cricket scoreboard, no problem that’s interesting and meaningful.
    Whys and wherefores of climate and emission reductions targets?….ok you tell me the guts of the deal and that will do, don’t confuse me with all those numbers and calculations. Perfect formula for an Abbott load of lies and deception.
    I suspect while more and more realise climate change is happening now, how to fix it is someone elses problem, apart from the more informed under 25’s most just want someone to fix it and tell them when it’s done. Simple… I wish.

  14. flohri1754

    Hear, hear ….. well put and I do so hope that Labor takes this up (along with the Greens) and shoots so many holes in the Abbott/Hunt abomination that it can be clearly seen for the farce it is …..

  15. John Lord

    They said on Insiders this am that his speech was weird. I can see why. Monday we have a Fairfax Poll that could be the beginning of the end.

  16. Keith

    It should not be any surprise that Abbott and Hunt have tried to use deception. Abbott’s actions have all been towards dismantling any Agency and anything to do with climate change. Abbott is a climate change denier; but, strategically tries to give the impression that he wants to take action, for political reasons only. If he was really concerned he would not have reduced the allowable quota of renewable energy; nor, would we be hearing nonsense about wind farms.

  17. Lizzie

    Where does the approval of mega coal mines come into this? Surely, a winding down of coal production should sit hand-in-hand with targets for emission reductions?

  18. Keith

    @ Lizzie

    The mega coal mines being promoted by Abbott further display the farce of Abbott’s emission goal.

  19. AndrewL

    When you have the Environment minister and the Prime Minister of Australia deliberately misleading all Australians on the most important issue of our times, you know the Liberal Party and by extension the political system is broken.

  20. Matters Not

    John Lord It’s out (some time ago).

    Fairfax-Ipsos: 54-46 to Labor

    Unfortunately it may be the end of Abbott.

    But Abbott isn’t the problem, incompetent as he is, the real problem is the ideology he promotes.

  21. Pingback: Tony Abbott repeated that the emissions reduction target – 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – was the same as the US. | olddogthoughts

  22. Kaye Lee

    The claim: Treasurer Joe Hockey says that Treasury documents show “that electricity prices have come down $550 per household as a result of us abolishing the carbon tax”.

    •The verdict: The documents, dated up to February 2015, contain predictions that household savings – not electricity savings – will be $550 over 2014-15. The ACCC’s most recent estimates for annual savings on electricity bills – which are based on the actual savings passed on by companies to consumers – range between $100 and $200 depending on which state or territory the household is located. Mr Hockey’s claim is wrong.

  23. Harquebus

    The wealthy will do whatever it takes to extend their temporary privileged lifestyles. This includes the total destruction of our environment and the severe hardship to be inflicted onto those who survive into the next generation.

  24. Kaye Lee

    Comparing like for like and assuming the US continued its promised rate of cuts beyond 2025, the US is offering 35 to 39 per cent, compared with Australia’s 26 to 28 per cent.

    Abbott’s modelling shows that the dent from an emissions target of 26 per cent would be 0.03 per cent. The dent would mean that instead of being worth $2.4 trillion when rounded to one decimal place, the economy would be worth $2.4 trillion when rounded to one decimal place. It’d be hard to see.

    And hard to feel.

    It would amount to $7 billion in a $2.4 trillion economy.

    But by then, even with the emissions target, the economy would be growing at the rate of about $5 billion every four weeks. In six weeks, it would have made up the $7 billion it lost as a result of the emissions reduction target.

    If you don’t much mind feeling as well off as you did six weeks ago, you’re going to not much mind an emissions reduction target of 26 per cent. Nor would you mind one much bigger.

    The Climate Change Authority’s assessment of what is needed works out at a 45 to 63 per cent cut in emissions on 2005 levels. It might set us back 14 weeks.

    That’s how small an economic price we would need to pay to do everything that could reasonably be expected to limit the increase in global temperature. That’s how easy a confident government would have found it to do more.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/higher-emissions-reduction-target-would-cost-economy-little-20150816-gj0e3x#ixzz3j81GYnpJ

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