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Meetings, bloody meetings

July 10th, 2008

There have been quite a few important meetings lately including COAG, G8 and the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change (MEM) in Japan, attended by Kevin Rudd. Anyone expecting substantial progress to come out of these particular meetings was surely disappointed. But to look on the bright side, if any of these meetings had been held even a year ago, the results would have represented a substantial breakthrough.

Starting with COAG, the obvious disappointment was the lack of any immediate response to the drastic problems facing the Murray-Darling system. While most of the policies are now pointing in the right direction, nothing will really happen until 2009. The decision not to increase the amount of water that could be traded out of a region from 4 per cent to 6 per cent (still a tight restriction) was symbolic of the process as a whole. That said, there is currently so little water in the system that no amount of reform is going to do much good in the short run. We have to hope for the best.

The Major Emitters Meeting produced fairly predictable statements by China and India that the developed countries had to do more. With the US still to make any firm commitment, we’re unlikely to see much advance on that before the Copenhagen meeting, with a new Administration, next year. Still, that was accompanied by an acceptance in principle of targets for reduced emissions. And at least in one respect, these countries are walking the walk. Fuel subsidies in Asia are being cut in response to increased costs associated with higher oil prices. That’s a pretty sharp contrast with proposals for new concessions coming from (among others), Clinton and McCain in the US and Nelson and Turnbull here.

Finally, although the G8 proposal for a 50 per cent in global emissions by 2050 was carefully hedged, it’s still good news. Although this wasn’t spelt out a 50 per cent in global emissions requires a much bigger cut in developed country emissions, so even a weak commitment now will make backsliding harder in Copenhagen.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    July 10th, 2008 at 19:29 | #1

    About the only hope I’ve seen this week is the news that T. Boone Pickens (a Texas oil billionaire) is calling for a mass wind energy program in the US.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-9985905-54.html?hhTest=1

  2. don Owers
    July 10th, 2008 at 21:01 | #2

    Why is it that most of the world was totally unprepaired for the oil price rise even after nearly 50 years of warnings? We still have learned bodies like ABARE forecasting oil prices dropping back to $50/barrel, and they have been doing this for the last 2 years. Consequently many government departments are planning highway construction and suburbs witout public transport on the assumption that growth can continue. Even the CSIRO in its Future Delimmas report didn’t mention the impact of oil prices, it was if this was only a temporary problem.

  3. Ikonoclast
    July 10th, 2008 at 21:43 | #3

    The massive blind spots of organisations like ABARE, CSIRO and the US Dept of Energy on the Peak Oil issue are indeed astonishing in a supposedly scientific age. The science of “peak oil” is relatively simple (once enough field data is collected for any oil province or country) and was elucidated by M. Hubbert King as early as 1956.

    An excerpt from the Wikipedia states, “Based on his theory, in a paper[4] that he presented to the 1956 meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio, Texas, Hubbert made the prediction that overall petroleum production would peak in the United States between the late 1960s and the early 1970s. He became famous when this prediction came true in 1970. The curve he used in his analysis is known as the Hubbert curve, and the peak of the curve is known as the Hubbert peak.”

    Of course, it is then a simple step to predict the world as a whole must also have a peak, meaning peak production followed by inevitable decine. Similarly, the Club of Rome report (1972) predicted all of the world’s key non-renewable resources would run out and run out remarkably quickly if we kept growing at an exponential rate.

    Despite these logically irrefutable conclusions of scientists like King and Meadows et. al., the bulk of people preferred to stop thinking logically (or never take it up) and immerse themselves in the pleasant fantasy of an endless cornucopia in a finite world. Uneducated people might be excused for this ignorance. The populations of first world countries and the staff of places like ABARE do not have any excuse.

    It seems that in the power of “orthodoxy” (oil will last forever) and the shunning of “heresy” (the reserves are finite) we see once again the ability of religion and ideology to close minds to the empirically verifiable and obvious.

  4. Donald Oats
    July 10th, 2008 at 22:27 | #4

    Ikonoclast, I don’t know about ABARE, but CSIRO are very aware of Hubbert’s Peak Oil theory and do take it seriously. For example, see link:
    http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/44765/sub004appendices4-11.pdf

    Listening to Q&A now: Andrew Bolt et al. Bolt running the standard line on tackling global warming that Australia can’t make a difference so why trash our economy trying?

    Contrast this with Mike Rann recently explaining that geothermal energy in SA is sufficiently abundant to provide in principle the electrical energy requirements of Australia. Certainly, SA could at least be grid connected to the geothermally produced electricity.

    Once the initial capital hurdle is surmounted, and the infrastructure is there to provide geothermal electricity, then coal-fired power stations are so gone.

    Surely if geothermal is up and running then the value of coal-fired power diminishes, C&T (ie Cap-and-Trade) or no C&T. New coal fired power stations, especially “clean coal” and carbon capture coal fired power stations, would presumably find the capital raising for initial construction problematic, if they are attempting this once geothermal is live. Within a C&T and geothermally supplied power environment it would be even more difficult.

    Then of course, big solar thermal plants as well as smaller pilot solar thermal plants, are being trialled overseas. Myriad solutions are available for capturing solar energy as heat. It is not a one horse race in the competition to get large-scale solar thermal into the energy mix.

    Regards, Don.
    Murray (nearly gone) Bridge.

  5. John Mashey
    July 11th, 2008 at 05:53 | #5

    re: #1
    Pickens is maybe half-right: wind (good), but to free up natural gas for cars to replace oil (not so good, and not a very long-term solution).

  6. wilful
    July 11th, 2008 at 10:41 | #6

    Regarding the COAG meeting on Murray Darling, here’s what the senior Victorian Bureaucrat had to say about it on his blog:
    Last week was dominated for me by COAG and the now regular Victoria vs the Commonwealth stoush on water. As is often the case, the media over-simplified and skewed the different perspectives on the problem.

    The focus on water purchasing is at once sensible and at the same time deceptive. For many years, including within my own memory at the Murray Darling Basin Commission meetings (I’ve been a Commissioner since 2004) – the only State arguing for serious water purchasing for the environment was Victoria! And the Commonwealth led the opposition.

    We know water purchases for the environment make sense and we should have them. We have done our own environmental watering here in Victoria this year, because we have a real water reserve. But the Commonwealth wasn’t ever going to buy billions of dollars of water in the next 12 months – its own budget forecasts show that. And the timing is garbage – you don’t buy permanent water when the price is high, you buy temporary water (it’s a much bigger market) if you want to meet immediate environmental needs and go for permanent water when the price is low (like after it rains again). The much-criticised 4% cap is about permanent water sales. But we hear none of this.

    And if we were all interested in genuine solutions, we’d quickly work out that there simply isn’t enough water – even if we drain the Menindee Lakes, which would be a different but still significant environmental event – to alter the inevitable situation of the SA Lower Lakes unless it rains again. It’s not a comfortable thing, but there are lots of new realities around climate change.

    And notwithstanding all the other fuss, the Basin States all agreed on the details behind an Intergovernmental arrangement that will see the Commonwealth re-set the caps on overall water use by 2011. Any sooner than 2011, as some ill-informed dills called for, would mean some fairly arbitrary judgements on who wins and who loses (or more likely who loses and who loses more). The rhetoric makes this a bit like the politicians last year virtually all being in favour of emissions trading – until the ugly reality of sharing out the pain comes into view.

  7. Keiran
    July 12th, 2008 at 12:08 | #7

    Rudd: “Because the fact is if we do not begin reducing the nation’s levels of carbon pollution, Australia’s economy will face more frequent and severe droughts, less water, reduced food production and devastation of areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu wetlands.�

    Of course once you abdicate the responsibility for your own actions then you can claim any extraneous influence as the source or reason for your behaviour. So what is this “carbon pollution” if it is not a paradox?

  8. melanie
    July 12th, 2008 at 18:11 | #8

    wilful, Are you saying (or is the bureaucrat saying) that irrigators are not taking any water out of the MDB?

    It did rain this year and the Warrego in Qld flooded, but almost none of the water made it to the Darling mainstream. Why?

  9. Louis Hissink
    July 12th, 2008 at 19:23 | #9

    John,

    wondering, were you elected, or appointed?

  10. Keiran
    July 12th, 2008 at 20:39 | #10

    So now it all moves on from Guano’s diabolical to Rudd’s dilemma although it was just the other day he said “that in this business there is one thing we cannot do and that is make it rain.” So one has to assume with some carbon taxes across the board he can make climate.

    Hallelujah, only by the grace of Algorean science will we be saved.

  11. jquiggin
    July 12th, 2008 at 21:30 | #11

    #7,#9,#10 Has somebody really odd linked to this post?

  12. jquiggin
    July 12th, 2008 at 21:35 | #12

    Unfortunately, Melanie, most of that water was lost to seepage into the flood plains. Between extraction, seepage and evaporation, not a lot of water that enters the catchments of the Darling makes it all the way to the other end.

  13. Andrew
    July 13th, 2008 at 10:52 | #13

    Ah yes, another good meeting…. let’s all sit around and discuss the problem. How embarrassing was that – Kevin Rudd’s 6minutes at the G8…. oh boy. You tell ‘em Kevvie!

    I can see an episode of Hollowmen coming up – all about the PM jetting off to another international meeting…. complete with some grand sounding idea about establishing a regional committee. Let’s call it Climate Response Asia-Pacific and the key members will be the US, China, Japan and… ohh… Australia! Yay for us! Great opportunity for a press conference.

  14. wilful
    July 14th, 2008 at 09:35 | #14

    ‘Guano’. How effing childish.

    melanie, no he didn’t say that, I’m not sure what your real question is.

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