Waiting for Garnaut

Well, that pun has been made before I just made it, but I was going over Crikeys I’d not had time to glance at this week and came across Christine Milne’s take on Garnaut. As I read it at first I thought it was Glenn Milne and it rather took me aback. In any event, Milne’s piece is below the fold, and predictably it says Garnaut doesn’t go far enough and we’re not moving fast enough. It’s predictable, but that doesn’t mean that what she says is wrong. I don’t know. But she does make a good point which is that quite a few smallish things of a no-regrets and few-regrets nature could be done without waiting for the final report. Since we’ve just hit the beginning of the first commitment period, every bit counts.

Could we please have a 100% tax on Hummers. The automotive equivalent of the pit-bull.

Then again, it’s not as if the bureaucracy is sitting round twiddling its thumbs.

When Kevin Rudd approached Ross Garnaut last year, he clearly wanted two things. One was a convenient excuse, “waiting for Garnaut”, for not announcing key climate policies in the lead up to the election. The second was an economist’s analysis of climate policy, sidelining the cental question of what cuts climate science says we actually need.

In other words, in the face of global catastrophe, he was expecting a “we shall fight them on the beaches depending on a lengthy economic analysis of how many troops we can afford to dispatch at this time.” How fascinating to see Rudd now distancing himself from Garnaut, nervous that Garnaut will say “we should fight them on the beaches with everything we’ve got, because not to do so is unthinkable.”

Garnaut began as a conservative economist, but it seems that he is now coming to understand the science and is foreshadowing recommendations that are making the Government extremely uncomfortable. But if the noises being made by this conservative economist are making Rudd and Co nervous, they are way behind the current science.

Garnaut is right to say that climate change is so urgent that, if we don’t act by 2020, the game is over. But today’s statement that he is only modeling trajectories for stabilising atmospheric concentrations of CO2e at 450 and 550 parts per million (ppm) show that he hasn’t digested the even greater urgency provided by the latest science.

Last year there was record Arctic ice melt, discovery of a reduction in the oceans’ capacity to absorb our carbon pollution, and the revelation that global emissions are increasing faster than the IPCC’s worst projections. Put these together, and the risks of even 450 ppm triggering runaway climate change are far too great, while 550 ppm should simply not be on the table. Instead of modeling 550 ppm, the Review should look at how to stabilise at 400 ppm or less as quickly as possible, to give us the best chance possible of maintaining a liveable climate. Certainly this will be extremely difficult, but this is no time for defeatism we need a clear-eyed assessment of what is required.

We have no time to waste. Garnaut has already made it clear that we need deep cuts fast. We do not need to wait for his final report to take immediate action to substantially reduce emissions in the fastest and cheapest ways. As the Greens have identified for years, and the McKinsey Report reiterated last week, rapid implementation of energy efficiency and stopping land clearance and native forest logging are no brainers. As we put those sectors on target, we need to look at everything else.

Now that Rudd’s has a solid indication of the direction the Garnaut is heading in, his government’s first Budget must start this process by looking at all the anti-inflationary savings that can be made which will help cut greenhouse emissions. He will be judged, above all, on whether Australia’s emissions keep rising or whether 2008 is the year they peak and finally begin to fall.

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Jc
Jc
13 years ago

Nic:

As far as I understand it Garnaut has wildly overstepped his terms of reference and the government ought to not pay Garnaut for the report or ask for their money back.

Garnaut was asked/ tasked to prepare an economic report based on the government’s objectives for 2020 and 2050. Essentially he was asked to do a CA as well as present an economic road map on how to get there.

Garnaut proceeded to prepare a report on what he thinks the science indicates. Garnaut is not a scientist, he is an economist and as such he has no core competence to tell the government what he thinks the lay of the land looks like in 2020 and 2050 as far as the science is concerned.

If the government needed advice in that area it would have tasked a climate scientist to prepare a science report, which they could then have passed to an economist to figure out.

No wonder Rudd seems pissed off over this report. As I said, they should not pay one red cent or ask for their money back.

wilful
wilful
13 years ago

jc, I don’t believe the Federal Government is paying for it – the Victorian Government is providing secretariat for it.

Bring Back CL's blog
Bring Back CL's blog
13 years ago

Wilful is correct. The States payed for it.

Geoff
Geoff
13 years ago

What is it about Hummers that causes otherwise intelligent people to make irrational statements about them? If it is their size, they are by no means the largest or heaviest vehicles in the personal transport category, and even if they were, where would the 100% taxers rule the line for this treatment? If fuel consumption is the criterion, is it not relevant that the owners of larger vehicles already pay more tax on their fuel, and that kilometers driven is as much an influence on fuel consumption as individual vehicle fuel economy? I don’t have a Hummer or have any interest in owning one; for me a Hummer would be impractical for mainly suburban and city driving. However, others have different desires, and good luck to them.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

Never own one, but I actually like the way they look. The GM Suburban is far more inefficient. Women love hummers for some reason.

Peter Gallagher
13 years ago

“Garnaut began as a conservative economist, but it seems that he is now coming to understand the science…”

Nick, did you read the same interim report that I did? If so, how did you read the statement on page 8 of the Interim Report:

The Review takes as a starting point, on the balance of probabilities and not as a matter of belief, the majority opinion of the Australian and international scientific communities.

I take this as a classic nolo contestere, not as a statement about Garnaut’s understanding of the science. I don’t find, as you seem to, any specific endorsement of the IPCC theses or any other statement by scientists.

I view this as a major fault in the interim report. I understand the Review’s reluctance to revisit the science and the policy implications in the IPCC report. It is technically difficult to do so and the chain of IPCC reasoning is full of controversy — in part because of cascading uncertainties that Garnaut illustrates pretty well in his report.

But it seems to me that it would be irresponsible finally to recommend such drastic public policy solutions as Garnaut contemplates (up to 90% reductions in carbon-equivalent emissions) without a very strong, explicit and urgent confirmation of the IPCC theses. There has to be a reasonable co-relative for this extraordinary recommendation. He’s not proposing to do that, it seems.

I don’t for a minute think Ross is irresponsible. But nor do I think there is an objective basis in this report (or the IPCC report that forms his unexamined premiss) for the scale of social and economic experiment he has in mind.

It’s a massive change, as I’m sure you appreciate. You could throw out all of Ken Henry’s ‘intergenerational’ estimates; all of the Productivity Commission’s careful examination of the impacts of demographic change in Australia; you could (and would probably have to) pour the ‘Future Fund’ down a carbon-sequestration demonstration bore-hole for starters.

Before we do that, I want to see hard evidence, not accepted wisdom. This isn’t ‘climate skepticism’ (although I’m becoming a skeptic), it’s just a demand for proportionality in public policy.

Incidentally, I don’t think your assertion about the Arctic ice cover is currently correct (I realize it’s not your fundamental point). If you look here at the official data you’ll see that the extent of the Arctic cover is back close to the 1979-2000 average and that Antarctic sea ice is thirty percent above the mean for the same period.

Best wishes,

Peter

Peter Gallagher
13 years ago

Oh oh. I’ve mis-attributed this story to you Nick.

I’ve just seen that I’ve unfairly attributed to you a quote from a story by Christine Milne. This is my error. There were no quotes in your story and I lost track of the seque between your words and those in Milne’s article.

More careful reading shows that your own views are likely to be more nuanced.

Again, my apologies (although I don’t take back my questions about the Garnaut report, even so).

Peter