Kelly on climate

While I’m on the Oz, this exceptionally confused piece from Paul Kelly gets just one thing right. Howard’s refusal to ratify Kyoto, despite accepting all the key terms, is evidence of paralysis. I can’t be bothered attempting a point-by-point rebuttal, so I’ll just state the facts about which Kelly seems to be confused
* The Kyoto Protocol constitutes the agreements to act under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for the period up to 2012
* The basis of the agreement was that developed countries would cut emissions first, and that less developed countries would do so in later rounds (the post-2012 round is about to be negotiated)
* Suggestions to “amend the Kyoto Protocol” make no sense, since it’s only got four years to run anyway, and its successor is about to be negotiated
* The reason Howard is paralysed is not because he is dogmatically inflexible on symbolic issues (look at his backflip on reconciliation) but because ratifying Kyoto would put him into direct conflict with George Bush, and he is incapable of taking such a step

20 thoughts on “Kelly on climate

  1. One of my absolute favourite statements about Kyoto that we hear from the Libs all the time is that “We need an agreement that gets the US, China and India on board, at the same table”.

    People seem to forget that China and India have actually SIGNED AND RATIFIED Kyoto… it’s only the US and our shameful government that needs to get on board. China and India just weren’t required to accept a cap on emissions in this first round 2008-2012.

    As Prof Q has rightly pointed out above, the first round was for DEVELOPED countries to start emissions cutting – it should be easier for us because our emissions are so much higher per person, and we have the economic resources to do so. The technologies developed in this first round could then be shared with China.

    Three other points:
    1. China’s emissions intensity (CO2/unit GDP) has decreased the last 10 years as their economic growth has outpaced growth in emissions.
    2. China’s emissions per person are less than one-sixth that of Australia’s or the US.
    3. At 15% by 2020, China has a higher MRET than Australia.

  2. “Look at his backflip on reconciliation”.

    Yep, one of those backflips where he ends up facing the same way!

  3. It needs to be pointed out that today’s Bali conference on climate is just the physical status quo but it costs more. There is no additional CO2 absorption, just the Indonesians now want to be paid not to cut down forest.

    In the UK Gordon Brown wants to water down the EU version of the MRET. I predict no gross emission cuts for Australia under the next PM, Kyoto signing or not. However the old trick of claiming a bigger forestry deduction (to lower the net amount) is certain to get a run.

    I don’t think we have time to wait for mere intensity reductions. From what I read we needed absolute cuts yesterday.

  4. Thanks John for the repetition of the simple facts of Kyoto. If only we could see this is Australian main-stream media! And just to add to Anna K. Yes, China and India ratified – indicating that they would take on their own targets after the first commitment period (2012) or at least be at the table to negotiate them.

    Secondly, because they are current participants in the protocol a lot of projects that are making emissions reductions are actually happening in China, and being used by the Europeans to meet their (ratified) target – under “Joint Implementation” and “Cleaner Development Mechanisms” This is how the protocol acknowledges that molecules of carbon dioxide don’t respect national borders.

    And because we are not in, then genuine Australian emission reduction projects (including geosequestration if it ever happens) can not currently earn income from overseas, so we sare

  5. Poor old Paul. Retirement can’t come soon enough. Megalogenis runs rings around him these days.

    However, I do agree with him on one point: Rudd will sign Kyoto for purely symbolic reasons and it will make little difference to Australia’s emissions during the 2008-2012 period. As Kelly says, “the benefit in ratifying Kyoto is ratifying Kyoto”. (that’s actually a pretty good line)

    However when he says:

    Labor’s claim that Australia is sidelined from debate or influence because of our non-ratification of Kyoto is nonsense.

    its Kelly talking nonsense, not Labor.

  6. Anna K, What’s the point of India and China ratifying an agreement from which they are exempted until 2012? That’s a straight question not a criticism.

    It is true China is reducing the ratio of CO2/GDP because their energy efficiencies are so appallingly low but still the growth in energy demand growth will swamp such effects for the next 30 years.

    China may well eventually sign up to binding targets because it (and India) and subject to imminent environmental crises (especially in relation to groundwater) that will be worsened by climate change. Also while CO2 emissions are a global public bad there are local pollution issues from China’s reliance on coal that are killing hundreds of thousands of Chinese each year.

    China and India do need to be bought to the party. I think they can be if it becomes clear to them that if they don’t (irrespective of historical justice) they will cop it in the neck as we will.

  7. when i wuz a young lad, i asked my daddy, “what will happen, daddy,when we fill up the earth?”

    “what will happen, daddy, when we drink the rivers dry, what will happen, when the oil is gone?”

    here’s what my daddy said to me: “no worries, young laddie, she’ll be right for sure! we have pollies to look after us, what should we fear!”

    dad was actually smarter than that. oz academics, on the other hand, are not.

  8. Al, we understand that you don’t like politicians. Unless you have something other than this to contribute, please don’t bother restating it.

  9. Dear John

    Your other article is on the culture wars. We know that this faux war is fought out on a battlefield of slogans and word play. Much of the debate on climate change has been skilfully but predictably shunted off into the unproductive squabble of ‘me last’. Some leading PR companies that advise ‘perception management’ issues for the Howard and Bush regimes promote this approach. It keeps us busy looking for the ball, so the game can never actually begin. Why do you think we are so angry and frustrated?

    Whenever John Howard is asked about his plans for Australia he always rattles-on about China and India, our two biggest coal customers. Ironically, John Howard hopes they will go on buying our coal forever. But the pollution from Australian coal is choking Indian and Chinese people to death. Their governments are already trying to convert to renewables. China is ahead of Australia in making this change. Will we wake up one day and find the order form for our coal blank?

    It is well worth raising the question of Kyoto, as we see mounting evidence of looming catastrophe. I agree with those who point out that Labor’s signature of the Kyoto Protocol is symbolic. It is, sadly, merely symbolic. We need to do some serious lobbying to get them to make it a meaningful action otherwise we are in danger of exchanging the Howard government with another ‘do-nothing’ mob of political tricksters. If you think Peter Garrett will do the right thing, think pulp mills!

    The opportunity cost of allowing the Howard government to get away with their sabotage of the Kyoto Protocol will be immense. Our grandchildren (if they are still around) will enjoy the fruits of the Howard government’s inaction. Our successors will be asking why we let them get away with it. Granddad, granddad, tell me why was John Howard the worst Prime Minister Australia ever had? I can hear this question being asked. Was this too high a price to pay for the power of a small clique of people?

    I have written to Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett to insist that they need intermediate targets (you couldn’t run a news agency on ‘aspirational’ long term targets). You would fail at your management studies if you advocated having no short and medium term targets. I have also written to ask them to say whether they value the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and whether they will just blame the collapse of the reef on the squandered years of John Howard – aka the Howard’s ‘black hole’. I think they are still deluded into thinking that they need not heed a few Greens voices (add ‘extreme’ to taste).

    The Australian electorate is not infallible; it does make mistakes. This time we have no room for error. We must have a Senate that works as a House of Review. Labor cannot win enough seats in the Senate, so votes will have to be for minor parties and independents. Work it out!

    Willy Bach
    Greens candidate for Griffith
    Willy Bach

  10. HC, to your straight question, “What’s the point of India and China ratifying an agreement from which they are exempted until 2012?”, the straight answer is contained within your own words…

    1.”Exempted UNTIL 2012″… there is the expectation that they will adopt binding targets after that date. It’s a fair phase-in period, for avoiding economic shocks and so on. 2008-1012 is a transitional period and an opportunity for China and India to prepare and invest, for R&D, so that they can make big cuts once that technology and government framework is available. I’d go so far as to say that they are unable, as a developing country, to even know what targets they could realistically meet over such a short term, to 2012.

    2. “China and India do need to be bought to the party. I think they can be if it becomes clear to them that if they don’t they will cop it in the neck as we will.”… Actually, by ratifying Kyoto, they’re both already AT the party. And they DO recognise that they will ‘cop it in the neck’. Australia and the US aren’t even acknowledging that. WE need to get to the party, not China. We’re fooling ourselves if we can’t see that.

    *****Visit to see how the major parties rate on environmental policy. Updated weekly during the election.****

  11. What backflip on reconciliation? If you put something in the preamble it really is symbolic. I think the earlier Les Murray version said it all – the Aboriginal contribution was historical. That’s the meaning of ‘special’. The ‘not separate’ part means that now they have to be more like us. A preamble has no legal force anyway. So he plays for the vote of the masses who want reconciliation and then, if he wins, he carries on as usual.

  12. WB
    I think you will find 9 or so bigger customers (lead by Japan) for Australian coal than China
    However the China market is growing by 27% p.a. and will explode if they run short in a year or two as predicted. Rather than have them implode a China-leaning PM will most likely say ‘have all the coal you want’.

    The Lucky Country with 0.3% of world population is instrumental in creating 6% or more (and growing) of manmade CO2 emissions.

  13. I think that Kyoto is more than symbolic. The biggest challenge for dealing with AGW is not morality, and not technology. ITs diplomacy. The hardest and thorniest problem is finding a way for all countries to get on board.

    Signing Kyoto is thus a big step on the most signficant challenge of AGW. Its not mere symbolism. Aus and the USA are accountable – they had ample opportunity to participate in the negotiations, and Australia even negotiated a sweet deal, but then we both threw a spanner in. That’s really irresponsible international diplomacy.

    Once countries are roughly agreeing on an approach, it will be easier to actually go about reducing emissions, try different approaches to doing that, and put increased pressure on developing nations to make commitments.

  14. “The Lucky Country with 0.3% of world population is instrumental in creating 6% or more (and growing) of manmade CO2 emissions.”

    The Saudi Arabia of Uranium could also be instrumental in reducing emissions as countries like China scrap fossil-fuels for nuclear power.

  15. Kelly’s critique (and somewhat Willy Bach et al here) is largely that Rudd is all symbolism, with little substance. Now JQ largely levels the criticism that at least this is a lot better than Howard’s denial of the need for Kyoto, presumably because he’s beholding to Bush. Now it might be fair to say that Howard didn’t have JQ’s and others early vision on GW and was hence a late adopter, but as far as the practical consequences of the early Kyoto adopters transpired, Howard’s skepticism has been somewhat vindicated. Whatever, that begs the question what are the real differences between the parties now and he concludes not much and so do Willy and others by the sounds of things. I’d agree. Having said that then JQ may well be right that Rudd and Co are the best bet to get us cracking on GW.

    My own view now, is that by sheer good luck, Howard’s insightful skepticism of cap and trade, or just plain obstinacy/ Bush poodling, we have the golden opportunity to get the best cap and trade system in place, now that we have the pitfalls and mistakes of the largely impotent, early adopters to learn from. That’s where I’d accuse Rudd of simply being a moral badge wearing poser, all symbolism and no substance. If that’s not true, then perhaps JQ can present Labor’s fully detailed cap and trade scheme here for us all to peruse sometime. Personally I don’t think he can and as such, level the claim that his champion is just a moral poser, whereas I say Howard at least has the guts to be honest with us about the prospects of current cap and trade policies. That said I’ll lay down a challenge to JQ right here to prove I’m barking up the wrong tree and the commenters here can be the judge, say by Nov 24th, since to rephrase John we now have 4 weeks to go (groan). As far as cap and trade goes, the best I can come up with I outlined already in John’s ‘Dead catat Bounce’ post (comment 35 and subsequent, so I’d direct you all there for the substance of it and I’m happy to field queries on it here and subsequent. The challenge now is for John to come up with Rudd’s plan, any Kyoto signatory’s or any other cap and trade plan he can think of and do likewise. Then you be the judge of all the aforesaid. As Howard would say grow up Mr Rudd, or as his mate would say- Get real!

  16. Mulling over my cap and trade plan, whilst it does have the merit of locking us(our govts) into an even path of CO2 reductions toward our ultimate goal, it might suffer the problem of diminishing returns. ie be increasingly onerous. We should probably address all that low hanging fruit everyone’s been gushing over, as well as not resting on John Howard’s tardy laurels. With that in mind perhaps we should front end load the coupons and back off the last 10 years or so. An excellent idea. Say Year1-5% reduction, Yr2-4% and Yr3 another 4%, giving us 10% less reductions in the first 3 years to spread relief across the tail. What say all you GW evangelists to that sort of sensible and responsible tapering? JQ?

  17. Melanie,
    You are right – there is no backflip on Reconciliation – just another politically astute move.

    John Howard has crafted the words – of course for reconciliation the words need to be agreed by both parties.

    What John Howard is suggesting is to put something to the Australian people whilst avoiding mentioning the spiritual relationship Aboriginal people have with the land – mentioned in many local government, state and federal ceremonies already. The acknowledgement of counrty is a key element of any reconciliation statement.

    It also states that they must now become like everyone else. What Howard wants to guide through the referendum process is not worth having even if it gets through the various stages.

    Many organisations have fashioned a reconcilitiaton statement and it has often taken months and years to get the words right. Howard believes he can impose his on a community – no doubt only seeking the approval of Noel Pearson.

    In the context of Kyoto Howard has tried ambiguity and obfuscation. The only thing left is to sign; and remember Mrs Howard told us John is not into making commitments.

  18. “ us 10% less reductions in the first 3 years to spread relief across the tail.”
    Of course it doesn’t on those figures. I was thinking about 1% equal reductions over 40 years, but of course it was 1.5% pa to reach the 60% target. I was not trying to test if you were all awake, but rather had a senior moment. Still it’s probably easier to bandy about figures than actually implement them, from experience. You can see where I’m coming from though. We could perhaps sensibly add 0.5% to the first 10 years (2% reduction pa) and correspondingly reduce the last 10 years coupon reduction rate (to 1% pa). Then we could leave a newly elected govt to up the first 3 yrs rate further if they chose to, depending on their belief in the urgency of the need for immediate reductions. Presumably Rudd would win this sort of bidding war hands down eh?

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