Trailing the world

For a brief period after the election of the Rudd government, Australia wasn’t right at the rear of the pack in the race to cut emissions of CO2 before irreparable damage is done to the global environment. The ratification of Kyoto and a strong performance at Bali deprived both the Bush Administration and would be backsliders in Japan and Canada of a crucial ally.

But, with the release of US plans for cuts in emissions, and the deplorable 5 per cent target of the CPRS (with a conditional maximum of 15 per cent) we are now further behind than ever.

Its obvious now, that even the watered down CPRS will never get the support of the Libs/Nats. And its hard to see the Greens settling for the quarter loaf on offer here. So, it’s time for the government to do a drastic overhaul of the legislation and come back with something serious.

The idea that we could just decide that it’s all too hard is untenable, and not merely in terms of environmental responsibility. Just like the EU, the US is now talking about carbon tariffs on non-complying countries. Some commentators think the WTO will stop this, but it’s equally likely that by declaring carbon dumping to be an unfair trade practice, the WTO may judge it can divert other protectionist pressures.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard movies

23 thoughts on “Trailing the world

  1. I wouldn’t assume the US plan will meet with an easier passage than Australia’s. Word is that well funded lobbyists will descend on Washington like an invading army. The end result may be a plan compromised beyond recognition. Clearly elected legislators are easily intimidated by threats of job losses, with future generations being someone else’s problem. Therefore I’d expect US plans to be watered down in the usual ways …free permits, generous offsets, exemptions and so on. That is why incidentally the EU is in no position to threaten carbon tariffs as their pre-recession carbon cuts were abysmal.

    On the other hand the pro-tobacco lobby failed badly.

  2. Via larvatus prodeo to this .pdf:

    “The program reduces the number of available allowances issued each year to ensure that aggregate emissions from the covered entities are reduced by 3% below 2005 levels in 2012, 20% below 2005 levels in 2020, 42% below 2005 levels in 2030, and 83% below 2005 levels in 2050.”

    Note 2005 levels, not 1990.

  3. Australia emits sweet FA carbon so what ever we do is just a token gesture ,But the USA emits 22% of the worlds carbon, considering the carbon emissions are growing at 2.5% PA The US 20% reduction by 2020 is the equivalent of an approximate 4% cut of the worlds 2005 annual emissions. This is more than their fair share.

    If other countries follow the US’s example and cut by a similar amount, carbon will start to decrease in the atmosphere. (provided the increasing carbon is anthropological caused. [at least we could safely assume causation if it did start to reduce after the 20% cuts])

  4. I estimate that the US 20% reduction by 2020 will result in a reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels of 7%. This is what the US originally agreed to at Kyoto for the first commitment period. By itself it is better than nothing, but still makes the US more of a free rider than most nations.

    There are two good aspects to the legislation however. One is that the 20% reduction is an upper bound on emissions, and unlike the Australian legislation (see Section 15 of the Exposure Draft CPRS legislation) there is no lower bound on emissions. Having a lower bound on emissions is akin to saying that you are unwilling to reduce emissions beyond a certain level no matter what the rest of the world does, and seriously undermines global cooperation. IMO this is the worst aspect of the CPRS legislation and for this reason alone we are training the US.

    The other good thing about the US legislation is that it also provides for reducing international deforestation emissions by equivalent to 10% of the US’s 2005 emissions. This is additional to the 20% reduction.

  5. “If other countries follow the US’s example and cut by a similar amount, carbon will start to decrease in the atmosphere. (provided the increasing carbon is anthropological caused. [at least we could safely assume causation if it did start to reduce after the 20% cuts])’

    Yes and if I cut the rate of tap water flowing into my bath by 20%, the level of water in the bath will decline.

  6. In my opinion, trade was always going to be the tool with which laggers were punished on climate change. Punishing carbon-laggers with trade restrictions equal to (or slightly above) the carbon emission content of their imported products will prove a strong incentive to recalcitrants.

  7. Pr Q says:

    For a brief period after the election of the Rudd government, Australia wasn’t right at the rear of the pack in the race to cut emissions of CO2 before irreparable damage is done to the global environment.

    That was just tokenism to appease and co-opt the Greenie-Left, as I predicted at the time (04MAY08). Forgive me for resorting to cruel powers of recollection but here is my summation of the 2020 conference:

    I see that the Left-liberal commentariat, in the wake of the 2020 summit, is now pretty much co-opted into the federal ALP’s political apparatus, going by the series of love letters to Rudd published that are flying back and forth accross the aether. He listens to you and, hey presto, you are eating out of his hands. Pretty cheap date.

    Rudd…will do nothing about King Coal.

    I guess a five percent cut is statistically equivalent to “nothing”. Incidentally, Rudd’s performance on ecological policy so far refutes the theory that HOward was acting as a stooge for GWB. Pretty clearly there are sufficient forces at work within the AUS political system which are curbing effective ecological policy, no necessity to invoke the spectre of GWB.

    Pr Q says:

    But, with the release of US plans for cuts in emissions, and the deplorable 5 per cent target of the CPRS (with a conditional maximum of 15 per cent) we are now further behind than ever.

    My understanding of OBama’s climate change policy is that he is promising pie-in-the-sky carbon cuts in the long term, but over the time-horizon of his presidency he is being much less bold:

    Obama has called for the US to cut emissions 80% by 2050. But, during his election campaign, he proposed reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, well below the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidance that developed countries should make cuts of 25-40% by 2020.

    In short, in an apples to apples comparison over through to 2020, Obama is proposing 0% cuts in US emissions versus Rudd’s proposed 5% cuts. Not really “trailing the [US part of] the world” by that much.

    Pr Q says:

    Its obvious now, that even the watered down CPRS will never get the support of the Libs/Nats. And its hard to see the Greens settling for the quarter loaf on offer here.

    LIke Pr Q, I am fairly confident that the GREENs will reject the CPRS. But I dont understand the L/NP’s hostile stance towards it. My prediction, made in 05JUL08, was that they would finally give in-principle support for an ETS:.

    The LN/P will fall into line with ETS. More so than the ALP did with the GST…Certainly the basic implementation of the cap and trade carbon pricing scheme.

    I would be surprised if the L/NP rejected the CPRS/ETS. That would mean abandoning the converging Vital Centre of AUS politics. Even the Right-wing side of AUS public opinion is fairly favourable to at least token carbon sacrifice.

    I am not to fussed if this particular prediction is refuted. The exception to major party Great Convergence will prove the rule. What is the evidence for Pr Q’s certainty about L/NP’s foolish and short-sighted political opportunism?

    Pr Q says:

    So, it’s time for the government to do a drastic overhaul of the legislation and come back with something serious.

    I agree. The ETS/CPRS is a lame-duck, full of holes and dead in the water.

    “What do we want, Carbon Tax!
    When do we want it, Now!”

    I have already predicted that Rudd will swing to the Left on ecological policy, possibly in the lead-up to Copenhagen.

    I predict that Rudd-ALP will swing sharply to the Left on carbon constraint over the next couple of years. By shifting Left I mean he will raise the target for emission level cuts. And probably increase the scope and scale of regulatory constraint, possibly including carbon tax.

    But it may be too little too late. I’ve got a horrible feeling that the debate is literally academic the globe is sliding pretty rapidly toward “tipping point” where ecological sources of GHG take over.

  8. # 6 Ian Gould Says: April 2nd, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Yes and if I cut the rate of tap water flowing into my bath by 20%, the level of water in the bath will decline.

    The analogy of tap and bath to carbon source and sink is not all that good. It assumes that the bath plug is a seamless fit with no leakage into the “sink”.

    Which is not really the case as oceans and plants can absorb a fair bit of carbon which mitigates the build up of heat.

    However, the current rate of carbon production from technological sources greatly exceeds the absorption ability of ecological sinks. So the analogy will hold well enough for now.

    Of course the whole carbon cycle thing will have a naive and threadbare look about it when the melting Siberian permafrost starts belching out billions of tons of methane.

  9. I have taken the view some time back that Rudd’s Ecology Haters like Ferguson would white-ant any attempt at meaningful action. Whatever is the case, a 5% cut upon current emissions is so much farther from where we should be that I view it as a deliberate move to have the CPRS mowed down. Cynical? Probably, but we’ll see.

    Too really appreciate just how bad this is:
    “Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy use are now about 40% above the 1990 figure…” [page 49, Ian Lowe, “A Big Fix”, Black Inc, 2009].
    The 1990 baseline was considered too high at the time, so to be as high above it as the present is really just collective stupidity.

    At least in South Australia we have a State Government that is willing and able to push alternative energy sources – 17% of energy for generation of electricity is now from wind turbines, and the world hasn’t collapsed around us yet. The grid hasn’t melted down from all that “variable” supply of electricity from turbines. Maybe wind isn’t the best or most efficient, but by golly it can be rolled out NOW.

  10. Ian Re 6,

    Maybe, I am missing something, (I’m English and bath tub analogies don’t wash with me) so can you explain it again to me?

    Are you saying that the only thing to do is cut emissions by 200% (turn the tap [lights] off and start bailing)? Ian if you did that the planet would start dying, carbon in the atmosphere is needed , it is not a poison.

    Why wouldn’t CO2 in the atmosphere decrease by reducing total world anthropological emissions by 20%?

    Anthropological CO2 emissions in year ‘A’ grow by 2.5%, so 2.5% more anthropological carbon the atmosphere at the end of year ‘A’.
    Year ‘B’ anthropological CO2 emissions reduce by 20%
    Nett reduction of anthropological carbon in the atmosphere after years ‘A’ & ‘B’ 17.5%.

  11. Rudd heads a right wing government. Labor is dead as the party of working people and thinking people and people who have a concern with environmental and sustainability issues.

    The Labor party is morally dead. They are a pack of gutless, opportunist, sycophantic sell-outs whose only interest is sucking up to the corporate capitalists. They disgust me and they ought to disgust every thinking person.

    There is no hope for Australia unless we get a new major political that actually believes in something other than corporate environment destroying capitalism.

    Perhaps people will think my comments intemperate. Perhaps I will get moderated. But the moral venality of the Labor party and all our major party politicians has to be called for what it is.

  12. I too am more than fed up with the pandering and grovelling to large business structures that goes on this country and the lack of focus on governing for all (particularly the lack of attention given to small business and employees).

    Its both parties though Ikonoclast. What is it?…as soon as they become a political minister (or before?) they get crash tackled, mobbed or seduced into bidding the will of large firms.

  13. It seems to me the major parties care only about the citizens during an election campaign… and then only long enough to get the votes. For the rest of the three year term, there’s a conga line of corporate lobbyists trekking through the backrooms of parliament, promising campaign funds and getting ministers’ ears for their needs.

    Somehow or other we need to address the subversion of our democracy by corporate influence. I would ban all political donations by businesses, unions and corporate entities of any kind and permit only donations by individuals. Furthermore, no individual would be permitted to donate more than $100 to a registered political party in any tax year. Laws would also be required to prevent fund raising events becoming a loophole in relation to the above rule.

    We also need equal access lobby laws so lobbying access is limited and rationed and equal for all sectors of society. We have to crush the life out of the corporate hydra and restore a true representative democracy for all the citizenry.

  14. Exactly Ikonoclast and until we ban donations across the board to all political parties and to election campaigns (and that means being prepared to accept the public funding of political party processes and election campaigning) we have no hope at all of stopping political interference by those with means.

    We built the harbour bridge in the middle of the great depression. We had vision once. If any one politician was able to implement this across Australia I would have some small hope we could be visionary again.

    Until this happens, we will have no vision here in Australia. We will only have yes men, perhaps rich men, or well connected men or women groomed for the job they have to carry out for special interest groups (nothing will change and a postman will bever become prime minister again – do you know who I refer to???).

  15. Well actually – no one was a postman…..but it has been overweight in the legal profession..and since the 70s we havent had anyone from an “ordinary background”. It must be influence or money..
    Barton – barrister
    Watson – newpaper compositor
    Read – public servant -barrister
    Deakin – Barrister
    Cook – Coalminer
    Fisher – Miner
    Hughes – Teacher
    Bruce – Barrister
    Scullin – Grocer
    Lyons – teacher
    Page – surgeon, businessman
    Fadden – accountant
    Curtin – clerk
    Forde – Teacher
    Chifley – engine driver
    Menzies – Barrister
    Holt – too rich for a previous job
    McEwen – Farmer
    Gorton – Orchardist
    McMahon – solicitor
    Whitlam – Barrister.
    Frazer – Grazier
    Hawker – Research officer and advocate for trade unions
    Keating – union advocate and pay clerk
    Howard – solicitor

  16. I’m deeply disappointed but not at all surprised that Australia is still no closer to taking serious action on climate change. The world’s no.1 coal exporter continues to pretend what it does or doesn’t do is of little consequence. First thing our FedGov is doing is developing policies that sound like action on climate change whilst ensuring the ongoing viability of the coal export industry and the first thing for them not to do is own responsibility for the emissions from exported coal.

    If actions speak louder than words then Australia’s gov’t is shouting loudly that climate change isn’t worth serious effort.

    Serious, expert voices on climate change are saying time is getting short – a decade to have low emissions energy production in action – yet priority appears to still be to avoid serious action – to do as little as possible rather than tackling this very serious issue head on.

  17. Tony G – suppose your country is going to emit 1 billion tons of CO2 without a climate policy, and 750 million tons of CO2 with a climate policy. Then enacting the climate policy will reduce CO2 relative to the other outcome, but in reality CO2 will still have gone up by 750 million tons. (Or perhaps just by half of that, since about half of extra CO2 disappears into the ocean and other carbon sinks.) But it sounds like you understood the point anyway.

    With respect to the desirability of “turning off the tap and then bailing out the water”, i.e. having an economy of net zero emissions and then engaging in a drawdown of atmospheric CO2, that is certainly what the new generation of CO2 targets is about. During the ice-age cycle CO2 has moved between 170ppm and 300ppm, more or less. It’s now 385ppm and rising, and there are a number of other anthropogenic warming influences, like elevated levels of methane and of airborne soot, and the artificial greenhouse gases, though they are offset to an uncertain degree by anthropogenic cooling from other forms of aerosol pollution.

    The people who want to draw down CO2 don’t want to get rid of it entirely, that would indeed starve the plants and plunge the whole planet into subzero conditions. They generally want it below 350ppm, this being Hansen et al’s estimate of the threshold beyond which the multi-century process of completely melting both icecaps gets initiated, or all the way back to 300ppm, on the grounds that the preindustrial climate was safe for human beings. I think if we can do 350 we can do 300, because just getting back to 350 already implies a zero-emissions society engaged in carbon drawdown, so you would just continue the drawdown (however it was being accomplished) until you reach 300.

    It is conceivable that the world might aim to get below 350 ppm CO2-equivalent, while CO2 remains at 400ppm or higher, by deliberately putting up lots of cooling aerosols, e.g. dumping lots of sulfates into the stratosphere from high-flying objects (balloons, planes, rockets). It would have to be done persistently since aerosols wash out of the atmosphere quite quickly, whereas CO2 hangs around for a long time; you would still want to cut back on the CO2 emissions, and you’d have to look at the geography of the induced cooling, which would not be homogeneous.

    For drawdown of CO2, there is a continuum of methods open, from biological (reforestation, biochar sequestration) and mineralogical (carbonate formation on exposed rock surfaces) to currently nonexistent high-tech (nanomechanical capture of CO2 and assembly into solid forms of carbon).

    The politics of climate change mitigation hasn’t caught up with all this yet. The politically countenanced targets are generally 450ppm or higher (though the least developed countries and island states have started talking about 350ppm), and they are seen as being achieved by going to a low-emission society. No politicians are yet advocating aerosol geoengineering. The IPCC’s most recent report did not examine these new arguments from Hansen et al about polar melting beginning somewhere above 350ppm, or methods of achieving <400 ppm targets, though they will probably be in the 2013 report currently being assembled.

    But current political trends indicate that, regardless of what Australia does, the world is going to give this a shot, and that the pressure over time will be in the direction of increased, not decreased, ambition (i.e. towards the zero-emission scenario). My own expectation is that we’ll get some distance along that path, then the nanotech option will draw visibly near, and at that point we’re in a new ball game, because that technology is so powerful that it poses a genuine extinction risk. Sustainability will no longer be the issue, instead it will be about survival and about choosing between a variety of futures that currently sound like science fiction.

  18. Mitchell said;

    “Or perhaps just by half of that, since about half of extra CO2 disappears into the ocean and other carbon sinks.) But it sounds like you understood the point anyway.”

    Lets just say ‘where’ the environmental carbon is, is in a ‘state of flux’ and the IPCC’s figures are flubbery on the matter. With environmental carbon it is easy to surmise it is moving somewhere, but exactly where is difficult to conclude.

    Although, there is strong evidence to suggest that carbon in the atmosphere has increased from about 315 ppm in 1958 to 387 ppm today, an annual compound growth rate of about 0.431%.

    The IPCC’s hypothesis is that 95% of that 385 ppm fluxes from natural sources, and that the other 5% is sourced anthropologically.

    Based on the IPCC’s assumption, if the rest of the anthropological world follows the US’s example and cuts their atmospheric carbon flows by 20%, then 20% of 5% = 1% of the 387ppm.

    If anthropological activities are in fact causing atmospheric carbon to increase by about 0.431% per year, then ‘the 20% cut in anthropologically emitted’ carbon, which is the equivalent of 1% of atmospheric destined carbon being cut, then the nett effect should be an annual decrease in atmospheric carbon by about 0.569%. (1%- 0.431%=0.569%).

    If atmospheric carbon doesn’t reduce by 0.569% per year after the cut, then causation is out the window and the IPCC’s theory is down the toilet.

    “having an economy of net zero emissions and then engaging in a drawdown of atmospheric CO2, that is certainly what the new generation of CO2 targets is about.
    &
    Sustainability will no longer be the issue, instead it will be about survival and about choosing between a variety of futures that currently sound like science fiction.”

    I suppose there is some truth in the saying “The best way to predict the future is to invent it” and “science fiction” is a way to do that.

  19. Tony G: “The IPCC’s hypothesis is that 95% of that 385 ppm [my emphasis -MP] fluxes from natural sources, and that the other 5% is sourced anthropologically.”

    The bit in italics is wrong. See figure 7.3 here (top of page 515) for an IPCC depiction of the carbon cycle in the 1990s. There’s 597 + 165 = 762 gigatons of atmospheric carbon, but if you add up all the arrows (both black and red) depicting annual flows into the atmosphere, you get 119.6 + 1.6 + 70.6 + 20 + 6.4 = 218.2 (and the annual flows out of the atmosphere are 0.2 + 120 + 2.6 + 70 + 22.2 = 215). So according to this inventory, in any given year two-thirds of the atmospheric carbon stays in the atmosphere, and (if you examine the diagram) most of the movement of carbon in and out of the atmosphere is back-and-forth movement, involving plants or the ocean surface.

    The important thing is that in this model, in any given year the net flow of CO2 into the atmosphere exceeds the flow out by about 3 gigatons, and this is due to anthropogenic use of fossil fuels and anthropogenic deforestation. Once it gets up there, it will join all the non-anthropogenic carbon in circulating through the various parts of the cycle, but the net effect is that the amount of CO2 present at any given time in one crucial part of the cycle, the atmosphere, is going up and up.

    So to return to the statement that I quoted, the anthropogenic emissions are indeed a small fraction of the total annual emissions, but they are causing the inflow to exceed the outflow every year, and thus causing atmospheric CO2 to accumulate; and the portion of that CO2 which is due to the accumulation is far more than 5% – it’s getting close to 25%.

  20. Alice, I love AGW science fiction

    Mitch see Figure 7 and this little disclaimer;

    “Gross fluxes generally have uncertainties of more than ±20%”
    Yet the end result of those ±20% uncertain debits and credits is a net flow into the atmosphere of “about 3 gigatons”” or about 0.431% of 762 gigatons.

    It is uncanny how the large 40% range of uncertainty can be manipulated to pinpoint with great certainty, the 0.431% long term recorded growth rate of atmospheric CO2.

    When extrapolating, it good to have a figure to extrapolate to.

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