I’ve been at the annual conference of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society for the last few days. I’ve been coming to these for nearly 30 years, and it’s always good to catch up with old friends and colleagues. For many, it’s the first time they’ve seen me without a beard, and quite a few failed to recognise me until I accosted them.
The big change in 30 years has been the rise of environmental and resource concerns at the expense of old-style agricultural economics. Most of my early papers dealt with now vanished policies like the wool price stabilisation scheme, and the analysis of production systems needed to inform such policies. Now the conference has continuous sessions on both water and climate change, and only a handful of papers on production economics.
Ross Garnaut spoke on Tuesday and his talk was pretty sobering. Short version – as regards the likely consequences of business as usual, Stern was an optimist. Unless the world acts decisively, and well before 2020, we’ll have emissions higher than the highest of the IPCC scenarios Stern looked at. What’s worse new information on feedbacks suggests that the models relating emissions to temperature change are also likely to be on the conservative side, as the capacity of sinks to absorb emissions declines.
The positive side of this, I guess, is that the problems arise from China (and to a lesser extent India) growing fast, and that means China has more resources to address the problem, if we can only get the politics right.
One aspect of the latter is the near-certainty that we won’t be able to get away much longer with the notion of historical rights for high-emission countries like the US and Australia. By 2050, under any plausible agreement, we’ll have uniform emission entitlements per person, for everyone in the world, at a level well below our current emissions.