Global warming statement

The statement by academic economists on global warming that’s been discussed here previously has been released, with 270 (or maybe 271) signatures including at least 70 professors. There’s a media release here. The statement is over the fold.

A Statement by University Economists on Climate Change

1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has determined that warming of the world’s climate is ‘unequivocal’ and that it is almost certainly due to human activity. It expects that further warming will occur, leading to sea-level rise and changes in weather patterns most of which will be adverse. This finding is supported by the leading scientific bodies of the world, including the CSIRO and the Australian Academy of Science.

2. The IPCC and the CSIRO anticipate that Australia will be seriously affected by climate change including more heat waves, fires of greater intensity, reduced soil moisture, declining water security, greater risks to life and property from sea-level rise and storms, risks to major infrastructure from extreme events and substantial impacts on agriculture and forestry.

3. Global climate change carries with it serious environmental, economic and social risks and preventive steps are urgently needed. Policy measures are available that would greatly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at modest economic cost. Credible estimates suggest that a 50% emissions reduction is achievable for less than one year’s economic growth.

4. Economic instruments – such as carbon taxes or emissions trading – should be an important part of a comprehensive climate change policy. Revenue raised from carbon taxes or the sale of permits can be used to reduce taxes elsewhere in the economy.

5. A major change in our emissions-related activities can be achieved over an extended period of transition. Australia has shown over the last two decades that it can manage significant change without major negative consequences for incomes or employment and, in fact, with change being a stimulus to improving innovation in the longer term.

6. Since developed countries are responsible for around 75% of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and are in a stronger economic position, they should take the lead in cutting emissions. It is fair that developing countries should begin reducing their emissions only when developed countries, including Australia, have led the way.

7. The Kyoto Protocol represents the first step towards a major international effort to deal with climate change in the long term. The refusal by Australia and the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is undermining global efforts to tackle climate change.

8. In addition to demonstrating international leadership befitting one of the richest countries in the world, it is in Australia’s economic interests to join the primary international effort to cut emissions and we call on the Australian Government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol without delay. This should be complemented by domestic initiatives dedicated to emissions reduction.

38 thoughts on “Global warming statement

  1. Andrew, since we spend our lives swiping credit cards and Medicare cards, would it be so hard to swipe a carbon card?

  2. Huh? the fact that it is an emotional reaction is exactly the point…. to get people to change their behaviour you have to engage them intellectually and emotionally. The problem with climate change is that it is difficult to do both at the individual level – it is not like saving a drowning child.

    Therefore – the solution has to be driven at the source. It needs a collective response not an individual one. I’m not about to go around planting trees, driving smaller cars or cancelling the overseas holiday – however, I’m very happy to pay more for my electricity because of a carbon tax forcing more of it to be produced from more expensive alternative sources. The reality is that it is not really more expensive when the cost of climate change is taken into account – even if you don’t believe in climate change, surely you wouldn’t mind paying just a little more for electricity as an insurance policy in case you’re wrong?

  3. I agree completely that GW is a national problem and has to be dealt with in that way. With solar thermal, geothermal, ethanol, and bio diesel, there is a complete solution for Australia that will cost us nothing in the medium term, more likely produce a reduction in the cost of living overall while bring our emissions down by 80%. It5 is just going to take a while for the fog to clear. Meanwhile I have my air conditioner on full.

  4. Jeez BilB, still banging on about biofuels?! I thought you would have figured out by now that biofuels do more harm than good. I can absolutely guarantee you that ethanol and biodiesel will never be a “complete solution” to Australia’s transport fuel needs.

    Some combination of solar thermal, geothermal, wind, solar PV, hydro, a bit of gas and an awful lot of conservation might one day be a “complete solution” to our electricity generation needs, but it will be a helluva a task. It certainly won’t “cost us nothing in the medium term”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with your 80% emission reduction goals, but I also agree with observa that there is zero political will to do anything about it. Its all greenwashing ATM, from all sides.

  5. Carbonsink,
    I think that you have missed something here, perhaps the whole thing. But let’s examine your concerns. If you are interested post a list of your concern points as one liners outlining what your doubts are with the ethanol and biofuel solution and I will put your points to our research scientist associate (it might take several weeks to get a written reply) and we will see if he will validate your assessment.

  6. The elephant in the lounge room still remains ‘we’ the ‘royal consumer’ who have to change and who need to be convinced that increases in costs via increased energy bills hence increased product prices to reduce emissions is critical and then the transition economically and socially as fossil fuels are replaced by renewable(s) which means a significantly new (or old) way if doing a whole lot of activities we take for granted. That taken if I may also throw into the equation the asset replacement costs of some very expensive and soon to be very expensive fossil fuel based ways of doing business still to be put into the forward estimates balance sheets (that represents a significant fiscal and monetary cost cahnge).

  7. BilB, I don’t think I missed anything.

    Lets start with yield per hectare for sugarcane ethanol: 6192L/ha.

    Annual petrol consumption in Australia: 19 billion litres.

    Total area of sugarcane in Australia: 410,000 hectares

    If we converted all our sugarcane production to ethanol (and there is one crop harvested annually) we could potentially produce: 2.54 billion litres of ethanol per year.

    Of course, ethanol has less than three-quarters the energy content of regular petrol, so in reality we’d produce less than 2 billion litres of petrol equivalent per year. For biodiesel we won’t even come close to meeting current diesel demand.

    To the best of my knowledge there isn’t much suitable land available in Australia to expand sugarcane production, unless we cut down the Daintree, which gets back to my point that biofuels cause more harm than good.

    ABARE has some stuff on this:
    http://www.abareconomics.com/interactive/ac_mar07/htm/a5.htm

    P.S. I don’t want to hear about cellulosic ethanol, or algae biodiesel, because these things don’t exist, much like “clean coal” does not exist.

  8. Andrew I’d rather not get into what a reasonable person would do as it is partly a social construction and fraught with cultural bias, as reasonable people have been racists sexists eugenicists etc from a comfortable mainstream position. Reasonable people also often fall victim to the what the eyes don’t see the heart doesn’t mourn -out of sight out of mind- problem with folk morality.

    Maybe when we have our screens full of millions of climate refugees driving that electric car will have the same impact. The fact remains if it is contributing to the problem it is part of the problem.

    I applaud your willingness to pay the true cost of your activities but as has been pointed out carbon offsetting isn’t about the 1st world offsetting their affluent lifestyles carbon impact, its supposed to be used as a last resort once you have seriously cut your consumption and done your best to address your carbon footprint. It will take more than just paying a bit more for our electricity, but serious lifestyle changes.

    The thing about climate change –that some are already starting to pick up- it isn’t just about Global warming it’s also about global living standards. Before the 1st world could ignore –with token or self serving efforts- what was going on in developing nations. Now with have a situation that if they take the same route of using cheap and dirty fossil fuels to raise their living standards they will take us down the gurgler with them.

    I can understand completely China’s and India’s stance completely why should their citizens not have the same living standards as the 1st world; most of them don’t even have a fraction of it and we expect them to make substantial sacrifices while we still enjoy the fruits of our pollution.

    Both morally and as far as policy towards a solution, developed nations will have to contribute serious monetary and technical capital to developing nations so they can leapfrog our polluting past.

  9. Just a point on the personal responsibility issue and the example of litter. I was in a tutorial today where someone expressed horror at the idea of litter on the beach and this was accepted unquestioningly.

    But historically, our personal attitudes to litter have changed quite radically and this may in large part be attributed to the efforts of a single person (Ian Keenan). Now the point is, that he’s not a saint, but he was the right person at the right time. There do exist tipping points in society where personal attitudes can be moved quite drastically due to a mix of emotional responses and political imperatives.

    So the idea that changing people’s attitude to energy consumption cannot possibly occur or will only happen reluctantly as bills increase, may be only half the story.

  10. kyangadac quite right, there is an argument that slavery didn’t change due to moral reasons alone but economic and social circumstances that were just right for the change. I expect it won’t be until some quite major disasters befall us before the shift occurs.

    Some are also saying this will shift global morals as well both in respect to the environmentbut also regarding poverty as well.

  11. Carbonsink,

    Thanks for the points and the challenge. I will pass the information along to see what reaction it achieves. Just going on your sources, however, Abare points to 1.2 billion litre ethanol (current and planned) from predominantly grain stock, and the ord river alone offers 440,000 hectares with a possible yield of 3 billion litres of ethanol. That is before you find other suitable North WA and Queensland areas or use the allusive (by your reckonning), although significant future potential according to Abare, cellulose cycle. By my guestimation that takes us one quarter of the way to the target. What will happen when the mood swings from obstructive disinterest to enthusiastic recognition of national (global) need? Consider also what that fuel replacement does to our balance of payments.
    I grant you that the biodiesel side does not look as promising. I will also accept that there are environmental costs in acquiring the additional land for the extra production (the Daintree is safe as well as unsuitable). The actual amount of land required is relatively small, it is just where it has to be is the problem. Aboriginals own much of the suitable land and it will take a lot of goodwill all around to make it possible.

    Anyway, I am working on it.

  12. SimonJM – I’m also quite prepared to make a switch to an electric car…. but only when the sacrifice involved is at a reasonable level (that word again). When the performance of electric cars is not too dissimilar to carbon burning machines and when battery technology allows for decent range travel then fine. The problem is how do we get there? Who’s going to invest in the technology when the alternative is so cheap? The answer again goes back to the issue of properly pricing carbon – bring in a carbon tax and then we’ll see market forces make the necessary changes.

    There are two aspects to how a carbon tax will help reduce C02 emissions – the first is to encourage alternative energy sources, the second is to provide an incentive for people to conserve energy.

    I agree with you and kyangadac that raising awareness of the issue will help in conservation efforts – and Al Gore is the GW equivalent of Ian Keenan in this respect – and all power to him. Conservation will certainly help – and I’m prepared to do my bit in ways that won’t detract significantly from my lifestyle. I’ll install energy efficient devices, put in solar panels, low wattage light bulbs etc…. but I suspect I’m like most people in that I won’t ditch the car, cancel the overseas holiday or downsize the house.

    I can reduce my carbon footprint by paying for it – I’m quite prepared to fund more solar, wind, thermal or nuclear power by paying more for my power bill. Bring in a carbon tax and let the market sort it out.

  13. Carbonsink,

    Investigation well under way. Bad news for you I am afraid. I’ve just has a very exciting conversation with a Queensland cane/ethanol producer. Broad brush figures: Queensland cane yields 100 to 124 tonnes per hectare and 92 litres ethanol yield per tonne of cane (10,500 litres ethanol per hectare average). The cellulose conversion is projected to yield another 86 litres per tonne on top of the 92. There is a new technology being trialed now which uses neither sulphuric acid nor enzymes to break down the cellulose (technology secret at this stage). If the combined process comes to fruition then we only need 1 million hectares for all of our Australian ethanol needs. There are 440,000 hectares possible at the ord river, another 150,000 hectares already under cultivation and the possibility to expand that by as much again. The gap is closing. Australian ethanol currently sells at 70 cents per litre. Farmers are getting 25 dollars per tonne return for cane for sugar production but 48 dollars per tonne for cane for ethanol production (there is an arrangement that gives 2/3 of the end product to the farmer and 1/3 to the mill). There is a need for DE10 (diesel 90% ethanol 10%) which apparently burns very cleanly but there is a separation problem which will probably be solved with a pre injector pump mixer.

    Ethanol is lookin’ good.

    My advice? Buy shares, but look at the type of process before buying. There is evidence that Europe will take an increasing interest in Australian Biofuels.

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