Home > Environment > The carbon price: three months on

The carbon price: three months on

October 29th, 2012

The UQ Risk and Sustainable Management Group, which I lead, held a small workshop last week, looking at early experience with the carbon price. We plan to produce an edited volume from it, to be published early next year. A few items of information that were new(ish) to me;

* There’s been a lot of work going on to tighten up estimates of climate sensitivity (conventionally measured as the equilibrium response to a doubling of CO2). The news on this front has been moderately good. The worst case catastrophes are less likely and stabilization at 475 ppm would give a 90 per cent chance of holding the global temperature increase to 2C or less. This is excellent news, since, as I’ve argued previously, it will be a lot easier to get to 475 than to the internationally agreed target of 450. We’re adding about 2ppm/year, so the extra 25ppm more or less offsets the decade of delay we’ve just experienced.

* Just by selecting the right breeding stock, we might be able to reduce methane emissions (belches and farts) from ruminants by around 30 per cent

* Soil carbon storage, much beloved of Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt and others, is (almost) a complete furphy

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  1. alexinbogota
    October 29th, 2012 at 08:34 | #1

    John I’m not sure I can share your even moderate good news on this- do you have a link on climate sensitivity? In terms of policy those numbers don’t usually factor in feedbacks like the arctic-sea ice melt and methane release so:

    1) The ppm concentrations might not speak to the level of anthropogenic interference that is ‘allowable’ given the changes we’ve set in train.

    2) The evidence is growing that a 450(475)/ “2C” barrier is not in fact safe. It’s not just Hansen and Rockstrom who have been saying that 350ppm is probably where humanity should be aiming… Joe Romm also put together a nice set of links on impacts etc. His findings are:

    “We remain near the worst-case emissions pathways
    There is little prospect of major national or global action any times soon (thank you, deniers)
    Many impacts are coming faster than the models projected, and
    The overwhelming majority of the scientific literature in the past 5 years has been more dire than the 2007 IPCC report, which itself was more than enough motivation for the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and countries to call for urgent action to reduce emissions.”


  2. wilful
    October 29th, 2012 at 08:47 | #2

    I too would be interested in data supporting a safe target of 475. Wishing it were so…

  3. Hermit
    October 29th, 2012 at 09:56 | #3

    Hurricane Sandy could be a mixed bag for climate change acceptance. If it wimps out the deniers might be emboldened or others will say we can always cope. That’s this generation not sure about the next and the one after.

    The Carbon Farming Initiative should be seen as rural welfare the same as the corn ethanol blending quota in the US. It invites exaggeration as well as distracting from the urgent problem of coal dependence. For example if carbon sink trees burn down the carbon credit cash is not repaid but held ‘in moderation’ by some means.

    I see one pig farm in NSW can sell carbon credits on the basis that methane from effluent is burned rather than vented. If the expansion of activity is new there will still be more CO2e than before so the credit has a perverse effect. It excuses old emissions and causes new emissions to be ignored. Until big coal stations (1000MW+) close for good we’re not serious. It also hardly seems fair dinkum when the govt crows about coal exports.

  4. alexinbogota
    October 29th, 2012 at 10:05 | #4

    Off topic John, but thought you might like to know that your “zombie” ideas might have crossed over into mainstream meme… http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6TiXUF9xbTo#!

  5. Tim Macknay
    October 29th, 2012 at 10:46 | #5

    Prof Q, can I also beg for a link on the encouraging news about climate sensitivity

  6. Tim Macknay
    October 29th, 2012 at 10:47 | #6

    Forgot the ‘?’.

  7. Sam
    October 29th, 2012 at 13:35 | #7

    I’d also like to know more about the evidence for reduced climate sensitivity. Also, where have you talked previously about the relative economic impact of 450 and 475 targets? I’d love to see the hard numbers on these things.

  8. Ian Milliss
    October 29th, 2012 at 13:44 | #8

    I’ve been working on projects related to PA Yeomans keyline farming principles http://yeomansproject.com and one of Yeomans sons has strongly promoted the soil based carbon idea for genuine (if misguided, apparently) reasons but he too became disillusioned by what he saw as the LNP misuse of the idea. It does seem sensible that any form of farming that maximises the organic content in the soil will provide some degree of carbon sequestration and as we also know almost invisible creatures can add up to enormous bio mass, so I suppose the issue is how much carbon could be sequestered in soil? Will it only at best be part of the closed system of organically recycling carbon without any real net benefit? This is of course without going into the inevitable boondoggles that always result when the LNP waves a bucket of money in front of farmers. Are there any links to the research Dr Q?

  9. BilB
    October 29th, 2012 at 14:30 | #9

    Hi Ian,

    That looks like it was a great excursion. The Keyline concept is excellent application of clear thinking and common sense, with excellent results. I am a fan of that and other similarly innovative Australians.

    Soil Carbon sequestration is a very mixed subject. For starters any organic matter in soil improves its performance. Putting the organic matter in the soil comes at a cost. Farmers aim to reap a commersial revard for anything that grows out of their soil, and that usually means removing the material from the site. True “sequestration” requires very long term occupancy for he carbon. Charcoal and biochar are the main mediums to achieve this.

  10. BilB
    October 29th, 2012 at 14:47 | #10

    Carrying on…

    Biochar requires that biomass be produced, collected, processed through a gassifier, distributed to storage locations, and then utilised in a manner that protects the biochar in a sequestering manner. The gassification process does yield surpluss energy so there is scope self power some forms of biochar sequestration. However the source material still has to be grown, preferably without cost to the farmer. Biocharring is potentially economic for hte logging industry where large amounts of surface material is left on the ground to rot and form methane and CO2.

    One method for increasing soil carbon is to change our trees in suitable areas from native gums to deciduous trees. Such trees produce a different form of leaf litter, and grow in a way that reduces fire risk, thereby protecting the surface material so that it is not combusted in the cyclic bushfires, and improving overal soil quality. This is an unlikely change.

    That is my take on the subject, but I am sure that there is much more to soil carbon, and there may be many ways to improve soil carbon sequestration, knowledge that I am keen to gain.

  11. October 29th, 2012 at 16:09 | #11

    The burping ruminant “issue” is a diversion. The methane generated is part of a natural cycle where ruminants convert plant matter in to methane which breaks down quickly into CO2. This CO2 is then converted back to plant matter to complete the cycle. Yes, this cycle does effect the equilibrium value of atmospheric methane and reducing the number of ruminants would have some effect. However, what really matters is reducing the net use of fossil carbon.

    Eliminating the ruminants may lead to the odd protest. Wikapedia says:

    There are about 150 species of ruminants which include both domestic and wild species. Ruminating mammals include cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, bison, moose, elk, yaks, water buffalo, deer, camels, alpacas, llamas, antelope, pronghorn, and nilgai. Taxonomically, the suborder Ruminantia includes all those species except the camels, llamas, and alpacas, which are Tylopoda. Therefore, the term ‘ruminant’ is not synonymous with Ruminantia. The word “ruminant” comes from the Latin ruminare, which means “to chew over again”.

  12. October 29th, 2012 at 16:18 | #12

    Carbon sequestration have been used to improve the quality of soils for hundreds of years. It has been particularly beneficial in rain forest areas where nutrients are leached out of the soil. In the Amozan area the carbon has remained in the soil long after the towns that used it were deserted.
    In the Australian context it may be justified in terms of reducing fertilizer use and reducing fertilizer run-off to the barrier reef. It does have the attraction of actually refossilizing carbon.

  13. David C
    October 29th, 2012 at 18:35 | #13

    Soil carbon storage, much beloved of Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt and others, is (almost) a complete furphy

    Tim Flannery didn’t think so a few years ago. Has he changed his mind since then?

  14. TerjeP
    October 29th, 2012 at 20:50 | #14

    Keen to hear what is happening regarding removal of the inefficient (ie non carbon tax) carbon mitigation policies. Such as MRET. Any news?

  15. October 29th, 2012 at 21:06 | #15

    @TerjeP TerjeP. Do your sums. The price increase under MRET would only have ramped up to the price increase due to the $23/tonne carbon price after % renewables had passed 50% (Assumes price premium for renewables power about $40/mW

  16. Fran Barlow
    October 29th, 2012 at 21:07 | #16


    The worst case catastrophes are less likely and stabilization at 475 ppm would give a 90 per cent chance of holding the global temperature increase to 2C or less. This is excellent news, since, as I’ve argued previously, it will be a lot easier to get to 475 than to the internationally agreed target of 450.

    Good news, if true, but mostly because it’s hard to imagine how the world will not get to 550ppmv by 2050 this side of unforeseeable changes in collective abatement policy. We really need to be aiming for at worst 350ppmv by 2050 and ideally stabilising at about 420 by 2020. That Arctic permafrost cannot be allowed to decompose.

    FTR, I’ve seen nothing to suggest we will stay within the 2degC target by 2100. Although I won’t be about to see it, 2.5 –> 3degC+ looks a very safe bet, if “safe” is not ironic here.

  17. Ikonoclast
    October 30th, 2012 at 07:31 | #17

    As well as getting the carbon price up to the level required (something like $55 a ton?) we need to remove all subsidies for fossil fuel energy in this country.


    When are we going to stop subsidising climate change?

  18. John Quiggin
    October 30th, 2012 at 08:03 | #18


    Climate Change Authority has a discussion paper suggesting no change to RET. I am presenting a paper to the PC in December arguing that RET is superior to existing carbon price, since implicit price is closer to long-run optimum. More on this soon.

    Still chasing the supporting info on this

  19. Ikonoclast
    October 30th, 2012 at 08:53 | #19

    Prof John Quiggin, what work is being done in Australia (political action and economic modelling) to remove fossil fuel subsidies? Are not fossil fuel subsidies a major barrier to mitigation of CO2 emissions? What is the true carbon price when carbon tax receipts in in 2013-2014 are projected to be 6.6 billion and fossil fuel subsidies are to be about $7 billion or more? By my arithmetic that equates to a net fossil fuel subsidy overall, though there are differences by sector.

    Why are fossil fuel subsidies a sacred cow in this country just like negative gearing? Add in the abandonment of the unemployed and you have the unholy trinity of Australian economic policy.

  20. Latebowl
    October 30th, 2012 at 09:14 | #20

    A few years ago I saw this story on the New Inventors:


    The story explained that a large proportion of CO2 comes from the manufacture of concrete and also that when concrete sets it releases CO2.
    Apparently TecEco’s “eco-cement” only needs to be heated to half the temperature during the manufacturing process and the end product actually sequestors large amounts of CO2 while hardening.

    That story was the last I heard of the invention but I know the company still exists: http://www.tececo.com.au/

    Another invention that may be of interest is another Austalian company Dyesol. They have partnered with Tata steel and one of the USA’s largest window manufacturers to introduce their DSC solar technology into window glass and metal roofing.
    Last time I looked they had working prototypes and were in the process of commercialisation for the metal roofing products, estimating that they would be available to the market by about 2014. The windows were expected to be available a few years later.

    BTW I have no commercial interest in either of these companies but I am perplexed as to why I keep hearing ridiculous ideas like planting millions of trees and soil carbon while inventions such as the two I just mentioned are either struggling to get funding or need to go overseas to get it?

  21. Hermit
    October 30th, 2012 at 09:35 | #21

    @John Quiggin
    Maybe so but by definition the RET excludes nuclear and CCS therefore it is not technology neutral. The quibbles don’t stop there if 1960s hydro doesn’t get renewables certificates whatever they are called these days. Some suggested outback geothermal wasn’t truly renewable if the steam wells had to be re-drilled every couple of years. A $50 no freebies carbon price seems draconian but shouldn’t need tinkering.

  22. John Quiggin
    October 30th, 2012 at 09:52 | #22

    @Hermit Since the quantity of 1960s hydro is fixed, and nuclear isn’t going to happen any time soon, these are irrelevant quibbles

  23. Tapen Sinha
    October 30th, 2012 at 10:32 | #23


    Are the papers available somewhere?



  24. Bill Burrows
    October 30th, 2012 at 10:33 | #24

    The rumen in domestic livestock (sheep and cattle) is a very well buffered microbial system. Likewise animals that share drinking water quickly develop a common rumen micro-flora and fauna. Meanwhile the main driver of methane production in ruminants is feed quality. Therefore I would be very surprised to see methane production drop substantially, based on changing animal genetics, rather than via improvement in feed quality. Of course getting one’s knickers in a twist over methane emissions from ruminants, while ignoring the carbon dioxide withdrawn from the atmosphere to produce the stock feed in the first place (see John D #11), is not a robust accounting practice I would suggest. Selective partial budgeting will always give you the answer you want. No doubt Bernie Madoff could further advise.

    It is the net effect of all sources and sinks of GHG’s in the atmosphere that should be the focus of attention. As has oft been pointed out it is what the atmosphere “sees” that is of most moment. Soils can be a good store of organic carbon. Ask any successful agriculturalist. The problem is measuring the organic carbon pool, and especially its flux over time, with sufficient accuracy and precision to justify its inclusion in paddock carbon budgets. For example, we might measure a flux of 1 t C/ha/yr in aboveground woodland biomass, but only (practically) measure the flux in the soil rooting depth of the vegetation within 5-10 t C/ha/yr. Yet above- and below- ground C are part of a continuum. Not to worry of course. Both government and opposition plans to buy carbon offsets would collapse if they were subject to rigorous scientific audit. This is not a furphy, but essential information the Australian taxpayer needs to be told.

  25. TerjeP
    October 30th, 2012 at 12:50 | #25

    John Quiggin :
    @Hermit Since the quantity of 1960s hydro is fixed, and nuclear isn’t going to happen any time soon, these are irrelevant quibbles

    What about natural gas? The problem with RET as I see it is that if we can lower emissions quickly and cheaply by switching fossil fuels then a carbon price will achieve this but the RET treats gas and coal as equal. At least in terms of their direct effect.

  26. Ootz
    October 30th, 2012 at 13:00 | #26

    wilful :
    I too would be interested in data supporting a safe target of 475. Wishing it were so…

    Ah yes, the complexities of Earth Sciences and implications to risk assessment – margin of errors, research reliability, validity and credibility.

    From the ipcc in 2007
    “… stabilisation and overshoot scenarios have implications for risk assessment as suggested by Yoshida et al. (2005) and others. For example, in a probabilistic study using an SCM and multi-gas scenarios, Meinshausen (2006) estimated that the probability of exceeding a 2°C warming is between 68 and 99% for a stabilisation of equivalent CO2 at 550 ppm. They also considered scenarios with peaking CO2 and subsequent stabilisation at lower levels as an alternative pathway and found that if the risk of exceeding a warming of 2°C is not to be greater than 30%, it is necessary to peak equivalent CO2 concentrations around 475 ppm before returning to lower concentrations of about 400 ppm. These overshoot and targeted climate change estimations take into account the climate change commitment in the system that must be overcome on the time scale of any overshoot or emissions target calculation. The probabilistic studies also show that when certain thresholds of climate change are to be avoided, emission pathways depend on the certainty requested of not exceeding the threshold.”

    so yeah …. I am with you wilful …. will we ever establish a safe level of CO2 …… have time to …. I too wish, cos we are to a large extend flying this planetary scale experiment blind.

  27. Ootz
    October 30th, 2012 at 13:15 | #27

    wilful #2

    I too would be interested in data supporting a safe target of 475. Wishing it were so…

    Ah yes, the simple complexities of Earth Sciences and implications to risk assessment – margin of errors, research reliability, validity and credibility.

    From the ipcc in 2007
    “… stabilisation and overshoot scenarios have implications for risk assessment as suggested by Yoshida et al. (2005) and others. For example, in a probabilistic study using an SCM and multi-gas scenarios, Meinshausen (2006) estimated that the probability of exceeding a 2°C warming is between 68 and 99% for a stabilisation of equivalent CO2 at 550 ppm. They also considered scenarios with peaking CO2 and subsequent stabilisation at lower levels as an alternative pathway and found that if the risk of exceeding a warming of 2°C is not to be greater than 30%, it is necessary to peak equivalent CO2 concentrations around 475 ppm before returning to lower concentrations of about 400 ppm. These overshoot and targeted climate change estimations take into account the climate change commitment in the system that must be overcome on the time scale of any overshoot or emissions target calculation. The probabilistic studies also show that when certain thresholds of climate change are to be avoided, emission pathways depend on the certainty requested of not exceeding the threshold.”

    ….. so yeah ….kind of with you wilful …. will we ever establish a safe level of CO2 …… have time to ….

    Sure wish, cos we are flying this planetary scale experiment blind.

  28. Ootz
    October 30th, 2012 at 13:22 | #28

    Make that ‘quasi blind’ … just for the truthers out there.

  29. may
    October 30th, 2012 at 13:32 | #29


    when soil is ploughed the life within it is killed and releases fertility.
    this is why “virgin” soil and ground that is left fallow is more productive.
    in agri business fallow is not an option and new ground rare.
    so the nutrients needed are applied from fossil derived sources.
    these (nitrogen as urea,phoshate as treated rock,etc) prevent regrowth of soil life and must be applied in carefully calculated amounts every season.
    the life of what is called soil in good heart is what holds the carbon in it’s various forms.
    as long as the food chain in place that relies on fossil input for fertilizer and machinery farming continues,that is as long as the depletion and prevention of soil in good heart regenerating with organic carbon building up into the soil will happen.

    a curious occurrance in the availability of phosphate is when a piece of ground that has had applications for many years and then left to regrow soil life.
    because super phosphate is only 12% available to plants in soluble form on application, the amount builds up.
    there is a phoshate bank in the ground.
    as a healthy population of soil life grows the PH of the soil changes and the phosphate is broken down by that soil life to become available to plants.

    please excuse the clumsy-ish writing,it’s a huge subject and i’m not up for a debate.
    just a personal position from experience.

  30. Ootz
    October 30th, 2012 at 13:48 | #30

    Why are we not talking about vulnerabilities?

    Paging Prof Roger Jones

    The Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2nd Edition, released today, reveals that climate change has already held back global development and inaction is a leading global cause of death. Harm is most acute for poor and vulnerable groups but no country is spared either the costs of inaction or the benefits of an alternative path.

  31. BilB
    October 30th, 2012 at 14:09 | #31

    Thanks for that information, May. Some things there that I did not know. I am aware of the advantages of no-till farming practices which I have been suggesting for some time for US corn ethanol farming to significantly improve its EROI.

    One little piece of information from the past that you may or may not be aware of, that is unless it is overwritten by more recent research, is that as CO2 levels rise plants build bigger root systems relative to their above soil growth. So where roots are are in soil that will preserve them for many years the sequestration value of the plants may be larger than expected.

  32. Hermit
    October 30th, 2012 at 14:45 | #32

    The trouble with a CO2 tax is that brown coal is so absurdly cheap and there is so much of it that gas can’t compete. Brown coal is priced about $6/t for 10 GJ thermal value or 60c/GJ. East Australian gas is about $4.50 a GJ at moment (Link) but when Gladstone Qld starts selling LNG to Japan that price of eastern piped gas should double to $10 or more.

    Without doing the tricky calcs for electricity conversion $23 is just not enough. Of course a quantitative cap of x million tonnes of CO2 p.a. rather than a fixed tax would see brown coal struggle. How it would affect gas demand would require modelling. I reckon gas will be effectively used up by mid century but we’ll still have coal under suburbs. That’s one for Gen Z to solve let’s hope those pesky cyclones don’t get worse.

  33. October 30th, 2012 at 14:49 | #33

    TerjeP, plans for new gas capacity have been scrapped due to demand being far below what was expected because of efficiency and rooftop solar, and gigawatts of coal capacity decomissioned or mothballed. With Germany demonstrating that that PV installation can be done for almost $2 a watt it’s hard to see anyone wanting to install any gas capacity that isn’t used for cogeneration anytime soon. So the MRET not not favouring gas over coal at the moment doesn’t appear to be of practical significance.

  34. Ootz
    October 30th, 2012 at 14:52 | #34

    Revisiting Prof Ross Garnaut

    To overcome problems associated with defining emission pathways to avoid a climate change impact the scientific community is using probability assessments to define the risk of overshooting particular global temperature targets with a given concentration of
    greenhouse gas in the atmosphere (Forest, Stone, Sokolov, et al., 2002; Hare, Meinshausen,
    2004; den Elzen, Meinshausen, 2005; Meinshausen, 2006), see Figure 4). For 350-450 ppm
    scenarios the risk of overshooting a 2oC global temperature target by 2100 to be between
    10-50 per cent. For stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at 550 ppm the risk of
    overshooting is very high – a 68-99 per cent chance. This is broadly consistent with work by
    other researchers who have estimated that the chance of overshooting 2oC enters the
    “unlikely” range at around 475 ppm. They suggest overshooting 2oC would be “very unlikely”
    below 410 ppm.

    Interesting footnote

    †† “Climate sensitivity” is one of the most uncertain aspects of climate system as it relates to climate policy. It is usefully defined as the total change in global temperature that would result if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were doubled in the atmosphere (at
    equilibrium). The IPCC give a likely range of 2-4.5oC with a “best guess” of 3oC.

    Perhaps the sceptics have the right position just the wrong focus, there is an awful lot we don’t know. Though with a quick introduction to Geomorphology and risk management, looking at Climate Change, you’d have to start question the conduct of those in charge … misfeasance and nonfeasance, and/or occasionally malfeasance or just plain stupid?

  35. October 30th, 2012 at 15:11 | #35

    Rather than changing farming practices to increase carbon in the soil, actually physically shoving carbon into the soil in the form of activated charcoal, or biochar as the cool kids call it these days, may be a much more practical aproach. Biochar has definite benefits in most Australian soils and it may be cost effective if farmers can receive credit for the portion of biochar carbon that is locked up in the soil long term.

  36. Ken Fabian
    October 30th, 2012 at 16:34 | #36

    Climate sensitivity still has a good deal of uncertainty, mostly courtesy of a “long tail” that still has a greater than 5 degrees C as greater than one in ten probability according to this paper by Roe and Baker – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/318/5850/629.full

    Treating 3 degrees as an upper limit is not good risk management. The chances it’s much lower are low but the chances it’s significantly higher are not.

    Ultimately the full extent of feedbacks – some acting over long time scales – that contribute to climate sensitivity are not fully known.

  37. Ken Fabian
    October 30th, 2012 at 16:36 | #37

    The above link may require registration (free) to access.

  38. MartinK
    October 30th, 2012 at 16:51 | #38

    Re Bill Burrows #24,
    I believe methane is 40 times more potent than CO2 so the amount of CO2 used up makes no real difference. As for the CO2 in feed not converted to methane that will be realesed again. So no accounting tricks there.
    As for John D’s comment about the methane eventually breaking down and cycling back, I am less clear on this but I beleive this takes in the order of hundreds of years. And I am guessing there has been a large increase in the number of ruminants in recent decades (10 fold is quite believable) and consequently the atmospheric methane level is a long way off from reaching equalibrium – ie the methane level is rising rapidly.
    So I think we can trust the experts to have their basic accounting right. And, in general, if you have thought of a complicating issue, you should check it really has not been considered it and that it is of significance in the modelling before suggesting the modelling is invalid.

    As for your paragraph about agricultural carbon sequestration I don’t see what you are getting at when you say it the net effect of all source and sinks that is important. This may be technically correct but what does it matter? What matters is whether a policy is likely to reduce CO2, thiswill likely consider all major sinks and sources but will consider a lot of other issues as well and it is a solution not just a summary of the (part of) problem. Similarly, I am really unclear what you are saying about fluxes and continuums. Are you saying anything more than that any measurement would be so inaccurate to not be of any use? Do you know what the either party are proposing here? (I don’t but then I’m not makign any claims).

  39. MartinK
    October 30th, 2012 at 16:54 | #39

    PS excuse my attrocious spelling and grammar, I can never see my typos till after I have posted even though I proof read several times.
    2nd sentence should be “As for the CO2 *from* feed *that is* not converted to methane, that will be released as CO2 again”.

  40. Bill Burrows
    October 30th, 2012 at 20:49 | #40

    Re MartinK#39
    Methane’s Global Warming Potential is actually around 21-25 (100 yrs) and it has a lifetime of about 12 years in the atmosphere. For native pastures (where most of our domestic ruminants graze) a harvest efficiency of 20% would give the animal the best chance of selecting high quality tucker (and therefore minimise its methane output). The accounting trick is that you can’t get that 20% down the animal’s neck without also growing the other 80% of pasture biomass that is not consumed. Then again, not all the pasture that is consumed is converted to methane, weight gain or fibre either. Ignoring these other pathways may be convenient, but it is not good science as far as monitoring carbon flows in ruminants is concerned.

    I’m not sure where you are getting your estimates of ruminant populations from. Let’s stick with Australia. Beef cattle numbers are now only just approaching the herd size we had in 1974. There are about half the dairy cattle numbers, and sheep numbers have plummeted over the same time frame. So your guess of a tenfold increase in numbers over recent decades is way off the mark, with respect to this country.

    Unfortunately Martin, it matters a great deal that we are aware of all sources and sinks contributing to net carbon emissions. Without such understanding for rural land, for instance, we can never manage the carbon flow at a plot, paddock, property or global scale. My example was based on a common situation in the land use, land use change and forestry sector (“carbon farming” if you like). There are enormous areas targeted for such initiatives. If we do not account for below ground fluxes in carbon, we also leave our estimates exposed to ‘leakage’ and ‘spillover’ effects – (Errors of omission).

    Whether in Australia or in third world countries, land based carbon offsets are a huge target for scammers, because we can’t realistically measure them with the accuracy and precision that would survive proper scientific and financial audit. To accurately determine carbon fluxes in vegetation based systems it is necessary to concomitantly account for changes in carbon content of the vegetation and the soil supporting it (the carbon ‘continuum’). But commonly the carbon flux determined within the vegetation is (at a practical intensity of sampling) less than the measurement error of the carbon content in the rooting zone of the soil e.g. a carbon flux of 2 t/ha/yr in vegetation might be growing in soil with a measured organic carbon content in the rooting zone of 80+/-5 t/ha. Obviously you can overcome this problem with more intensive sampling, but the cost of doing this will exceed the value of the claimed offsets for the foreseeable future. And of course to account for carbon fluxes in soil, it is necessary to measure its carbon content at least twice.

    I am aware of some 25+ ways to scam land based carbon offsets, based on a 40 year career spent measuring biomass and nutrient content in vegetation (mainly woodland) systems. Yet Australia is preparing to spend billions on purchasing such claimed offsets, inter alia, from overseas or within this country itself, during the next 20-30 years. Anyone want to buy a bridge? I’ve got a cheap one for sale in Sydney.

  41. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2012 at 06:20 | #41

    @Bill Burrows

    Bill’s post supports something I posted a long while ago on one of JQ’s carbon blogs. I criticised all notions and attempts to introduce a carbon emissions trading scheme. I said the whole thing would be scammed (in Australia and across the world) and the compliance issues were insurmountable.

    I say again the only thing to do is;

    (1) Remove all fossil fuel subsidies.
    (2) Remove all fossil fuel excises (by rolling them into the carbon tax).
    (3) Remove all royalties on export fossil fuel extraction and impose the carbon tax on exported fossil fuels.
    (4) Set the fossil fuel carbon tax at the full required price after allowing for points 1, 2 & 3.
    (5) Deem all imports to require a full carbon tax unless the exporting nation has a similar robust carbon tax.
    (6) Do not accept ETS trade or ETS credits from any nation.
    (7) Allow credits for imports provably made using exported (carbon taxed) Australian coal or LNG in manufacture. (This is a manageable compliance issue.)
    (8) Place a methane tax on meat, wool, leather and other animal products by estimating the emissions per beast. Rises in meat prices will encourage a reduction in our excess meat intake.

    This would be straightforward, simple and effective. Of course, the powers and vested interests fighting against action on climate change do not want simple and effective measures implemented. That is why they delay, obfuscate and finally propose circuitous and scammable measures like an ETS.

  42. Fran Barlow
    November 1st, 2012 at 15:24 | #42


    You raise some interesting points — many of which I’ve also pondered. It’s not a bad list and I could certainly live with it after some tweaking, but on balance I still prefer the cap and trade approach to pricing (ideally in concert with other measures packed in around the system). I assume the measurement design and audit procedures would be robust. If they couldn’t be made robust then I’d have a different view.

    Some comments Re:

    #1 It goes without saying. We should do that right now.
    #2 No problem there, assuming that the actual price imposed really did reflect the true community cost of fossil fuels.
    #3 More tricky as royalties are state revenues rather than commonwealth. I understand offshore Gas is a split between the Feds and the relevant state
    #4 I’d want the full cost to the commons which would exceed current excise. I might make an exception for petroleum fuels in transport. I like the idea of motorists paying a price for tailpipe emissions (which would include not just Co2 but NOx, CO, and other noxious emissions). Those buying petroleum fuels for off-road usage (such as farm equipment, aircraft, mining would get the same charge.
    #5 Here I would adjust to take account of the WTO non-discrimination rules. Where the CO2-intensity of the production exceeded ours I’d impose the tariff to the extent necessary to create the level playing field, which stops free-riding. Whether they are imposing a carbon price or not is less important than their CO2-intensity. They might have a largely renewables based economy. Aluminium from Iceland is produced almost entirely from geothermal and hydro electricity. That they don’t have an express carbon price isn’t that germane. Any economy that wants to build renewables is de facto paying a carbon price. If they are lucky enough to have ecosystem services that make that cheap, good luck to them.
    #6 Disagree An ETS is a way of expressly pricing CO2 emissions. Many jursidictions are adopting the method. Providing the mechanism has integrity, I’m Ok with recognising it. This might violate WTO rules.
    #7 I don’t know how you could determine this. CO2-intensity — the relationship between GDP and emissions is probably as accurate a measure as one can get. If they are paying a duty on Australian coal I’d prefer to “return” it to those economies having a lower CO2-intensity than ours by hypothecating the sum to a fund that could give soft-loans for suirably feasible CDM proposals, or perhaps as some kind of targetted development aid.
    #8 I agree with this, though again you simply calculate the GWP of the direct emissions and make that the basis of the levy.

  43. Newtownian
    November 1st, 2012 at 17:05 | #43


    Interesting. Scamming and manipulation are certainly major issues – especially when you consider how good the financial and accounting industry has got at the skills of finding and exploiting loopholes. But your solution still doesnt look like it is ‘straightforward, simple and effective’.

    For example:
    re 8) how do you sort out carbon inputs into imports given they are often the products of many different countries chains and secondary inputs.

    re 6) you propose to not accept other nations’ trading systems but selectively credit them according to a local idiosyncratic system?

    re 5) – similar to 6)

    In short you seem to be suggesting we as the world’s worst polluting nation per capita – or close to it – tell eveyone else how to suck eggs. And that’s before other little complications like the demand from poorer countries for special consideration (very difficult when they lie on a continuum), our impact on the methane emissions from the northern tundras – a collective global responsibility – and finally re methane taxes when some of the biggest sources are so hard to quantify sufficient for accounting practice like Indian cattle, the rice paddies of south east Asia and wetlands like the Everglades that desperately need rehabilitation (are they to be penalised?).

    Please dont think I’m narky and I give full marks for your trying to propose a solution. But I fear the truth is that economic instruments without a philosophical change wont work whatever accounting tricks are explored.

  44. Hermit
    November 2nd, 2012 at 06:24 | #44

    With carbon tariffs on imported goods we could make coal derived energy the default assumption. For example a tonne of aluminium ingot embodies 15 Mwh of energy. If that generated say 12 tCO2 then X $23 the tariff would be $276 on top of an FOB price of about $1,900. That might not save our smelters but it beats indefinite cash handouts. Note at least one metals producer, Bluescope Steel, has argued for carbon tariffs. If the overseas producer insist they used hydro energy not coal then let them plead for a case review. I believe the legal power to do this already exists under anti-dumping laws.

    Recall GW Bush said ‘you’re either with us or against us’. In that spirit we could ask China and India to pay Australian carbon tax on our coal they import. I’ll spare some numerical examples but the revenue could be paid into green programs in those countries. However their kneejerk reaction to the EU airline tax doesn’t inspire confidence. I guess they fail the mateship test.

  45. BilB
    November 2nd, 2012 at 08:52 | #45

    Keep in mind, Hermit, that to take that tack the same approach would be applied to petrol imports which would add 5.3 cents per litre to the import cost of fuel. This would translate into 10 cents per litre with margins added.

    I’m not saying that its is a bad thing, just that this is what would need to happen to be consistent. The revenue collected would be useful in all manner of ways. The political damage would be terminal in the hands of the right wing media, ABC included.

  46. Newtownian
    November 2nd, 2012 at 09:16 | #46


    “The political damage would be terminal in the hands of the right wing media, ABC included.”

    What is so galling is their and Tony Abbot’s hands are not being forced in respect to stating either:
    - They actually dont believe in climate change and the fiddle faddle around carbon trading taxes etc. is just a smokescreen for cheaps shots until they get government; or
    - They believe in climate change but their only plan is ‘the Invisible Hand’ of the markets.

    This is of course made easier by their control over the media (including the ABC) especially the crucial economic pages which treat these issues not as crucial to the future generations but just more chess pieces in political games.

    Of course this ‘creative destruction’ approach to problem solving is nothing new to anyone familiar with how Menzies got his nickname ‘Pig Iron Bob’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_Iron_Bob#Rise_to_power

    One wonders why these guys just dont change their pan corporate motto to “Nos aliquid facere pro pecunia” (see Google translating engine).

  47. Ootz
    November 2nd, 2012 at 14:02 | #47

    BilB – “The political damage would be terminal in the hands of the right wing media, ABC included.”

    That is really what it has amounted to, old media is holding the planet and its inhabitant to ransom. All the while they try to stay alive via flogging infotainment, sponsored by big $ hellbent on BAU.

    BTW Anyone seen last night that interview on 7.30 The once high flyer for Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith says the company’s culture has turned for the worse while the industry issues that led to the Global Financial Crisis are unchanged.

    GREG SMITH: I think very few lessons have been learnt. And I’ll give you an example: in the States there was a very big deal where JPMorgan lost more than $6 billion on bad trades. And this happened this past summer. And the CEO of the company gets called in front of Congress and he’s trying to convince Congress that this was just some kind of hedge. The truth, and everyone on Wall Street knows, this was a reckless gamble. The five biggest banks in the States are actually bigger now than they were before the crisis and the biggest issues that led to the crisis, which were banks betting with their own money and complicated securities called derivatives, are still continuing unabated. So, I think there’s this perception that things have been fixed, but in fact there’s less competition and the bonuses are just as big and the behaviour’s just as reckless, frankly.

    Me thinks big money needs a good shake up.

  48. Tim Macknay
    November 2nd, 2012 at 14:29 | #48

    That is really what it has amounted to, old media is holding the planet and its inhabitant[s] to ransom.

    This strikes me as being just a tad hyperbolic.

  49. BilB
    November 2nd, 2012 at 14:54 | #49

    “This strikes me as being just a tad hyperbolic”

    This strikes me as a tad naive.

  50. Tim Macknay
    November 2nd, 2012 at 15:12 | #50

    I’m happy for it to strike you any way you like, BilB.

  51. BilB
    November 2nd, 2012 at 16:01 | #51

    A quote from Greece:

    “Vaxevanis said the trial was not about him, but “all about a corrupt oligarchy of businessmen, politicians and controlled media that have long acted against the interest of the nation and its people.””

    Says it all. We are blinded, as Ootz suggests, by infotainment and are oblivious to the many ways that we are subtly managed to service the interests of the 1%.

  52. MartinK
    November 2nd, 2012 at 18:35 | #52

    Re Bill Burrows #40,

    I still stand by the main point I was trying to make – that, on the sort of issues you and John D raise, I am confident that the relevant scientists, academics, generally government depts, NGOs and the like will have taken those issues into account and come to the right conclusion. You and John D have (and others too) brought up a number of facts but they are mostly irrelavent and neither of you make any case for where the experts have it wrong.

    So getting to some specific’s of your reply, the global warming potential of 25 is over a hundred years but it 70 over 20 years. Howvere, it is also a weight for weight comparison (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_methane) and it takes 3t C02 to produce 1t NH4. So for the purposes of considering the CO2 consumed it’s warming potential needs to be reduced to a third which is still over 20 (and actually a lot higher, as we need to consider the current potential of 1t of NH4 in the atmosphere not the potential over a period of 1t of released NH4). So the CO2 consummed is not significant. As for only 20% of vegetation being consummed, the rest will break down and realease the CO2 again. That makes it irrelevant. Also very liitle of the carbon in consummed pasture will be converted to NH4 but that is irrelevant too. (You actually seem to be assuming that the carbon in an pasure not consummed will automatically be stored in the soil, that is very wrong).

    Regarding John D’s comment about NH4 breaking down, having had a look at the the technical summary in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (find it at http://www.ipcc.ch) it seems that the NH4 cycle is not well understood but they have certainly taken into account that there is a cycle. And they seem to beleive that a reduction in NH4 production will give rise to a reduction in NH4 levels which is what matters.

    I really have no idea of the national herd size so I am no doubt wrong on that, though it surprises me considerring the increase in worldwide meat consumption. Perhaps we need to look at lonerg time frame. That also knocks of my arguments about methane but I stand by the above paragraph on that which is what really matters.

    On your paragraph about sinks and sources and flows, you still have not made it clear why any of this matters. The same for why we need to manage carbon flow. In order to claim carbon credits, all that is needed is a measurement of total carbon in vegetation and in the soil and compare that to the previous year. Just measure it at 2 points in time no need to worry about when and where it “flowed”. Such measurent is not necesarrilly easy but I think possible, and that also addresses your concerns about a “continuum”. I don’t think measurements would need to be highly accurate and would likely be done as an audit. And this is all not necessary if we can’t actually sequester much carbon in the soil as John Quiggin claims.

    You point about gaming the system is a completely new point not directly related to whether carbon accouting is dodgey, you wre not suggesting that in your first post. Even then it is not clear that just beacuse you can’t measure something accurately that it is rife for gaming. In fact, unless the goverment gives unchecked reign to independant auditors I can’t see any easy way to gane the system.

  53. MartinK
    November 2nd, 2012 at 18:39 | #53

    And please excuse my typos again. I really do proof read my stuff. (I should also point out that typos do not make my reasonign wrong. )

  54. Ootz
    November 2nd, 2012 at 23:07 | #54

    Tim Macknay :

    That is really what it has amounted to, old media is holding the planet and its inhabitant[s] to ransom.

    This strikes me as being just a tad hyperbolic.

    I am in good company Tim … CARBON TAX = ECONOMIC RUIN …. Cobra strikes … python squeezes .. octopus tangle …. rabbtos blood oaths … wombat farts …. the mining tax (any TAX) will rooon us …

  55. TerjeP
    November 3rd, 2012 at 07:01 | #55

    Hermit :
    The trouble with a CO2 tax is that brown coal is so absurdly cheap and there is so much of it that gas can’t compete. Brown coal is priced about $6/t for 10 GJ thermal value or 60c/GJ. East Australian gas is about $4.50 a GJ at moment (Link) but when Gladstone Qld starts selling LNG to Japan that price of eastern piped gas should double to $10 or more.
    Without doing the tricky calcs for electricity conversion $23 is just not enough. Of course a quantitative cap of x million tonnes of CO2 p.a. rather than a fixed tax would see brown coal struggle. How it would affect gas demand would require modelling. I reckon gas will be effectively used up by mid century but we’ll still have coal under suburbs. That’s one for Gen Z to solve let’s hope those pesky cyclones don’t get worse.

    What this says is that the carbon costs isn’t the only cost that will determine decisions. Nor should it be. If brown coal is cheap and so a carbon tax causes somebody to switch from black coal to gas instead of somebody else switching from brown coal to gas then job done and job done cheaply. The “job” being the reduction of some quantum of carbon emissions.

  56. November 3rd, 2012 at 10:46 | #56

    Hermit, the carbon price has increased the cost of brown coal by $84.40 for every tonne of carbon it contains, or very roughly, $60 per per 10 gigajoules of thermal energy, so it no longer costs most coal plants just a few dollars a tonne. Since the first of July the Yallourn brown coal plant has been shut down, the Playford B brown coal plant has been shut down, and the Northern brown coal plant has been switched to seasonal load following. The carbon price was a very important factor in these changes, but was not the only contributor. Demand for grid electricity is considerably below where it was expected to be thanks to a combination of improved efficiency, rooftop solar, higher retail electricity prices, and comfortable weather.

    before the first of July the marginal cost of brown coal was only a few dollars a tonne for most generators, but now for brown coal with a 60% carbon content the marginal cost is about

    Before the first of July the marginal cost of most brown coal used in Australia was only a few dollars a tonne. Now it is at leat $40 a tonne or over or over $85 a tonne for each tonne of carbon it contains. This is large difference.

  57. November 3rd, 2012 at 10:48 | #57

    Sorry, once again, due to rewriting, I have left two paragraphs at the bottom of my last comment that I meant to delete. I appologize for the mess.

  58. Bill Burrows
    November 3rd, 2012 at 13:59 | #58

    Well Martin, I’m not too sure where to start or where to finish in replying to your comments. But first let me not disabuse you of your obvious faith in “government departments” and experts in “academia, NGO’s and the like”. If it helps you get a good night’s rest, far be it from me to challenge that. However it is only fair that you know where I come from too – although I do this reluctantly as I abhor arguments based ‘on authority’, especially on blog sites. Nevertheless I believe my 40 years of biological research, related tertiary qualifications and lifetime public service experience are pertinent to my comments. Also for many years I led a project team within the CRC for Greenhouse Accounting. It focussed on determining net sinks in land based systems.

    With respect to Global Warming Potentials all I was doing was clarifying your initial statement. Your latest comments have now addressed this. I am not privy to John Quiggin’s workshop discussions, nor what are the bases of his claims that carbon storage is (almost) a furphy. But could I just observe that his conclusions would come as a complete surprise (and be strongly challenged) by the organic farming industry, the huge area of crop land managed as “no-till” agriculture and the large numbers of consultancies pushing rotational grazing systems in Australia. Of course if his concern was based on acceptance of the difficulties in accounting for changes in soil organic matter then I would agree with him. [By the way, this latter is a sampling problem – not a technique one. This comes about because soil organic C is not evenly distributed within the soil, and we are essentially ‘blind’ as to its location. Yet measuring changes in soil C are an essential component of any dollars paid for carbon offsets or credits claimed by ‘C farmers’, or from permissible forestry activities].

    In the meta-analysis carried out by Conant et al. (2001) Ecological Applications 11: 343-355 improved management increased soil organic C in about 75% of studies. Grazing pastures at 20% utilisation leads to build up in soil organic C, and if I was being charged for methane emissions from my livestock I would want a discount for the former. [This is why it is important to know where the sinks, sources and fluxes are Martin. If you want an analogy, think of your electricity provider charging you for electricity consumed, but not paying you for your PV electricity when you export it back to the grid]. One estimate made by Ash et al. (1996) is that more sustainable grazing over northern Australia could sequester up to 315 Mt C in the 0-10cm soil layer alone, over an extended period. Perennial grass cover or basal area (x) of pastures improves with lighter stocking. One relationship is soil organic C (%), y = 0.22 x + 0.63 (R2 = 0.81). The actual amount will depend on the bulk density of the soil in question. Depth of soil to sample depends on the vegetation it supports and whether it is “leaky” or not.

    Money changes hands when the government or companies buy offsets or get charged for emissions Martin. So I hope it is your taxes or business and not mine that pays for it where, as you say, “I don’t think measurements would need to be highly accurate”. Your fuel supplier must love having a customer like you. Me, I want to see that the gauges are regularly calibrated and/or the scales checked on a routine basis. Sadly I have a suspicious mind I know, and I guess I would be even more paranoid if, for example, I was buying offsets from Nigeria and the like.

    Finally, although I claim to know of at least 25 ways to scam land based carbon accounts I’m not going to detail them here. Some people might just want to test them out in a real market, and we don’t want that. But, given the previous discussion, I guess there is no harm in alluding to a couple of ways of boosting sinks on grazing land. First, whatever paddock you are going to put up for C monitoring make sure it has been heavily stocked for several years beforehand (the baseline measurement). Second, lightly stock it once monitoring commences. This will boost soil organic C, while at the same time reducing methane emissions over the baseline figure. Apply your results to the remainder of the landholding, or apply them to the land system, region, State or country if you are estimating net emissions for the latter. [I would not do it, but it is an example of how we could manipulate the 'results' at any particular level if you like].

  59. murph the surf.
    November 3rd, 2012 at 15:36 | #59

    Tax all animal products? Duck meat? pork ? Didn’t you see the stories about the major pork producer who is earning income using methane to produce energy?Tax what then?
    Tax for fish consumption?
    Let’s say you mean ruminants- then will producers get credits for careful and C soil building use of their pastures especially in organic systems?
    The C cycle needs to be taken into account throughout the cycle and excess taxed – no doubts about that but simplistic solutions will be gamed.
    At a recent AFI talk in Armidale they stated clearly that they had found no way to make a positive return either financially or through the current protocols for Soil C storage. Howver they were very keen to encourage blue gum forestry and it would be quite rewarding to set one up.
    Other than that Bill Burrows is someone to read and appreciate his comments . Full of info and balance- well done!

  60. November 5th, 2012 at 10:05 | #60

    On reducing livestock methane emissions through selective breeding, generally speaking, a digestive system that produces less methane is a more efficient digestive system, so this could be one of the many emission reduction stratagies that pays for itself.

  61. Bill Burrows
    November 5th, 2012 at 12:45 | #61

    @Ronald Brak

    What I find most intriguing is that we are relying so much on the CFI to drive abatement, mostly through reduced emissions from livestock and improved savanna fire management practices. See http://www.climatechange.gov.au/~/media/government/aep/AEP-20121022-Agriculture.pdf .

    As I have earlier suggested I have more faith in improved feed quality, rather than selective breeding, as the route to follow to reduce enteric emissions. But in any case how do you express any such improvement at the farm gate? How do you ‘reward’ or ‘punish’ the farmer for his particular outcome? You could only do this equitably by measuring net emissions on each livestock holding. Who is going to do this for c. 26 M head of cattle and c. 80 M sheep? And as I previously noted you could not ignore the pasture and underlying soil organic C content on which the animals grazed. To do so would be analogous to judging someone’s financial position solely on the basis of expenditure, while ignoring their income. Surely we are not that silly – or do we want our “peasants” to be revolting?

    While we are on aspects of the CFI could I respectfully request that people who want to drive the CFI through reduced savanna burning first take some time off to do some reading? Here is a suggested list: Stephen J. Pyne (1991) “Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia”; Tim Flannery (1994) “the Future Eaters: An ecological history of the Australiasian Lands & People”; Darrell Lewis (2002) “Slower than the Eye Can See: Environmental change in Northern Australia’s cattle-lands” and Bill Gammage (2011) “The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia”. Ask your local library to obtain them on loan, if you have not read them already. All good reads I can assure you.

    The only conclusion one can reach from these books and their reference citations is that fire keeps the Australian bush open. By corollary, reducing fire (to reduce GHG emissions), especially in the northern savannas, will encourage the shrubs and trees to thicken up. This will inevitably reduce livestock production, as well as exposing the new woodlands to ‘holocaust’ fires, as already occur in southern Australia from time to time. Darrell Lewis’s book provides a good photographic record of this process. And the monitoring of stable soil carbon isotope signatures provides irrefutable proof of the switch from open savanna to closed woodlands e.g. Krull, E. S. et al. (2005). Recent vegetation changes in central Queensland, Australia: Evidence from delta13C and 14C analyses of soil organic matter. Geoderma 126, 241-259. It seems to me that as far as agriculture is concerned, too much of what we want to do to lower GHG emissions, involves “not seeing the wood for the trees”.

  62. November 5th, 2012 at 19:26 | #62

    Bill, no, you can totally ignore the pasture and underlying soil organic C content on which the animals grazed. It is completely possible to assume that carbon in pasture/soil is constant and just focus on reducing methane emissions. The neat thing is, that while precision is nice, we don’t need precision to achieve our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, instead of a $23 a tonne price on CO2 we could have just put a 2 cent tax on coal and a one cent tax on gas per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced from them. This would be pretty blunt and woud not be as efficient, but it would still do most of the work of our current $23 a tonne carbon price. When it comes to methane from livestock, if it’s too expensive to be precise, or not possible to be precise, we can use blunter approaches and still get the job done.

  63. Bill Burrows
    November 5th, 2012 at 22:26 | #63

    @Ronald Brak

    Wow Ronald! Surely to be consistent it would be equally logical to likewise assume methane emissions were constant, and just focus on ‘crediting’ the build up or decline of carbon in pasture/soil? But this just reinforces my initial point i.e. that accounting for one “box” while ignoring all interconnected “boxes” (carbon pools & flows) over a grazed paddock lends the system for rorting and scamming. Frankly, you would be on stronger grounds if you did put a tax on coal or gas as you suggest, and ignored the biosphere. At least then you would be targeting fossil fuels and there would be little argument as to the weight or volume consumed, as we have rigorous and reliable systems of weights and measures in place for gauging these. Under your proposal who would sign off (audit) the alleged methane emissions from a landholder’s livestock? On a particular property emissions could vary from 100-1300 g CH4 per kg of live-weight gain, depending on the class of stock, paddock, stocking rate, feeding regime and season, inter alia. Given this wide range of potential emissions it is incredible that you believe that you can “get the job done” without any concern for the accuracy and precision of methane measurement. ———- I shudder to think what your “blunter approach” would be!

  64. November 6th, 2012 at 09:42 | #64

    Bill, read back through what I wrote, find where you’ve misunderstood me and then acknowledge the misunderstanding. (Hint: Look at what you wrote about what I believe.)

  65. Bill Burrows
    November 6th, 2012 at 17:15 | #65

    @Ronald Brak

    Ronald, you are being a bit too cryptic for me. I would welcome further enlightenment. Meanwhile I will focus on the final sentence of our respective ‘last’ posts, as in my case this is where I wrote about what “you believe” and you hinted that is where you think I misunderstood you. You suggested there were “blunter approaches” to “get the job done” if it was “too expensive to be precise, or not possible to be precise” about methane (emissions?) from livestock. I must admit that in my own mind I conflated this with your previous comment that “we don’t need precision to achieve our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions”. And not being sure whether you appreciated the difference between accuracy and precision I spelt out that both measures were important in methane assessment. Please disabuse me if I have wrongly implied that you appear to have a somewhat cavalier attitude to this problem confronting methane measurement – especially when estimating levels of that gas emanating from grazing ruminants on Australian pastures. The potential errors are huge, as indicated by the range of possible values which I detailed. As a scientist I have measured biological matter all of my professional life. If I can’t do this with acceptable accuracy and precision, so that my peers are confident of my statement of amounts, trends and error then I refrain from generalisations. Rightly or wrongly your statements appear to place yourself in that camp where “near enough is good enough” or in bush vernacular “near enough for a sheep station”. My apologies if that is a complete misreading. Finally, if near enough is good enough for you (on the subject in question), I am happy for us to leave this discussion and go our separate ways. Cheers!

  66. November 6th, 2012 at 19:26 | #66

    Sorry if I’m being too cryptic, Bill. You appeared to think that I was without concern for the accuracy or precision of methane measurement when my point was that if the cost of being accurate is too high, or not simply possible, we can still take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Personally, I would love to know exactly what is passing in and out of each cow in Australia, but for practical purposes we are forced to assume that at least some cows are spherical. I could give some examples of simple measures to reduce methane emissions that don’t rely on a great deal of accuracy if you like, but I’d probably just embarrass myself as this is the blog of an economist and they specialize at this sort of thing where as my ideas will be more or less off the top of my head.

  67. rog
    November 7th, 2012 at 06:08 | #67

    PriceWaterhouseCoopers have a new report out saying that things are worse not better;


  68. rog
    November 7th, 2012 at 09:34 | #68

    I had heard that next IPCC report was going to be conservative but apparently not, it is to be shocking http://m.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/former-un-official-says-climate-report-will-shock-nations-into-action-20121106-28w5c.html

  69. Jim Rose
    November 7th, 2012 at 09:51 | #69

    @rog The Stern report tried that approach and shot itself in the foot.

  70. rog
    November 7th, 2012 at 12:47 | #70

    @Jim Rose What approach are you referring to?

  71. Jim Rose
    November 7th, 2012 at 13:14 | #71

    @rog shock people with scary numbers

  72. rog
    November 7th, 2012 at 13:47 | #72

    @Jim Rose Are you suggesting that numbers be altered to be less “scary”?

    This would be consistent with the conservative approach of making the facts fit the story.

  73. Jim Rose
    November 7th, 2012 at 14:10 | #73

    @rog the Stern Review produced numbers on the cost of global warming that were so far outside the range of the previous published literature.

    In a tribute to yes minister, these much larger numbers in the report still broadly confirmed existing UK policy targets.

  74. BilB
    November 7th, 2012 at 14:57 | #74

    Well, Jim Rose, I think that I can now say …out loud…that Mitt Romney is a Climate Change casualty. I’m prepared to predict that the missing topic of the re-election campaign will now become the primary objective of Obama’s second term spliced into an economic rejuvenation built on sustainable technologies.

    We’ll see.

  75. Ootz
    November 7th, 2012 at 14:58 | #75

    “Too late for two degrees?”: asks PricewaterhouseCoopers.

    “The PwC Low Carbon Economy Index evaluates the rate of decarbonisation of the global economy that is needed to limit warming to 2°C. This is based on a carbon budget that would stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 ppm and give a 50% probability of limiting warming to 2°C. This report shows that global carbon intensity decreased between 2000 and 2011 by around 0.8% a year. In 2011, carbon intensity decreased by just 0.7%.

    The global economy now needs to cut carbon intensity by 5.1% every year from now to 2050 to achieve this carbon budget. This required rate of decarbonisation has not been seen even in a single year since the mid-20th century when these records began. Keeping to the 2°C carbon budget will require unprecedented and sustained reductions over four decades.

    Governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2°C appear highly unrealistic.”


    Time to call a spade a spade.

  76. Jim Rose
    November 7th, 2012 at 15:10 | #76

    @BilB Obama did not fight for cap and trade even when he could have won.

    there were 5 republican senators who would have voted for cap and trade in April 2010: Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, and George LeMieux.

    Obama could have fought harder to get a Bill passed by the House though the Senate but he did not. He lacked the political skills to build the coalitions even within his own party to deliver.

  77. rog
    November 7th, 2012 at 16:19 | #77

    @Jim Rose Those large numbers are still there and still standing, 2% GDP.

    You still deny that insurance is taking a hit;

    “The Insurance Council of Australia reports that weather related incidents accounted for 32% of all general insurance claims in 2007, as compared to 12.3% in 2000. The trend in weather related claims pose an escalating risk for the general insurance industry and community as a whole, given the expectations of increased severity of weather events.”

  78. Jim Rose
    November 7th, 2012 at 16:33 | #78

    @rog same thing is happening for hurricane insurers. the value of beach front property and property values in general are rising fast despite the threat on rising sea levels.

  79. Newtownian
    November 7th, 2012 at 16:42 | #79

    @Jim Rose

    Re your scary numbers concerns – Just thought you’d like to know that Price Waterhouse Coopers have joined the great global greeny science conspiracy.


    Maybe you could enlighten us further on which evil forces are involved that we cant guess at. I’d most like to hear your views on the possible involvement of the illuminati, Bildebergs, Knights Templar and Emperor Xenu – Swiss Re of course is a given.

  80. rog
    November 8th, 2012 at 04:30 | #80

    Annual Geological Society conference has some interesting research relevant in that they are seeing sea level rises in the higher not lower bands.

    Also touches on moral and ethical issues.


  81. rog
    November 8th, 2012 at 04:33 | #81

    @Jim Rose Which beachfront property has fast rising values? I put it to you that they have globally taken a hit. You need to get your facts sorted.

  82. Ootz
    November 8th, 2012 at 09:18 | #82

    Sandy’s havoc makes planning a priority – by Dr Andrew Ash, director of CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship

    “Since Hurricane Sandy, far more media attention and debate in Australia has focused on the causation argument than on the need to better adapt to these extreme weather events, particularly in our coastal cities and settlements where most of Australia’s population resides.
    This issue is especially important when you also consider Australia’s population growth and that more people are living in potentially vulnerable locations in settlements and cities on flood plains or near the coast.

    This urbanisation has led to a much greater investment in infrastructure in these areas.
    Consequently, the damage bill resulting from extreme weather events has been increasing rapidly in the last few decades in both economic and social terms.

    This trend is set to continue. In south-east Queensland the number of dwellings at risk from a 1-in-100 year storm tide is expected to nearly double by 2030 based on current development patterns.

    Most of this increased risk is from a rapidly growing population occupying vulnerable areas though a small amount of the increased exposure is due to the modest amount of sea-level-rise expected by 2030.”

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/sandys-havoc-makes-planning-a-priority-20121107-28y9g.html#ixzz2Ba5fGPP0

    In reality the over arching problem we are facing is far more complex than most are willing or even capable to acknowledge.

  83. alexinbogota
    November 10th, 2012 at 02:32 | #83

    This suggests climate sensitivity is actually higher than previously estimated – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6108/792

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