Conditional and unconditional targets

There’s been a striking divide in reactions to the government’s changes to the ETS, with most of the major environmental groups supporting it, while the Greens (and most commenters here) seeing only negatives. The headline change (a one-year delay in the start date) is so minor that it’s not worth discussing, but it seems to have set the tone for a lot of responses. And some responses have taken it for granted that the government is acting in bad faith, but on that assumption, there is no point in arguing the specifics of policy.

Coming to substantive issues, a major complaint appears to be that the unconditional target of a 5 per cent reduction is not enough. Those making this complaint seem to me to be influenced by an error that’s the mirror-image of the doolittle-delay claim that, since Australia only accounts for 2 per cent of global emissions, we may as well do nothing.

The element of truth in the doolittle-delay line is that, in the absence of a global agreement, the planet is done for. That means that, when offering a conditional and an unconditional target, the crucial requirement for a defensible policy is a conditional target consistent with a global agreement to stabilise the climate. The unconditional target is important only insofar as it helps to achieve such an agreement, and a higher unconditional target is not necessarily a better one.

There’s room for argument over the 25 per cent target, but
(i) it seems consistent with a path leading to 60-90 per cent reductions by 2050
(ii) relative to the Kyoto targets it’s as large as anyone else is offering,
On this point it seems to me that the government’s position that the Kyoto targets should provide the starting point is more convincing than the European preference for 1990. Of course, both are self-serving, but that’s the way international negotiations tend to go.

As regards the unconditional target, it needs to be sufficient to show that we are willing to take some pain without waiting for everyone else to move first, but also far enough below the unconditional target to make it a credible bargaining chip. If I had to pick a number I’d probably go for 10, but it really doesn’t make much difference if it’s 5 or 15.

Coming back to Australian political choices on this, it’s hard to see how rejecting this proposal, as opposed to trying for some amendments, can possibly be a good idea for anybody. Whatever the short term politics, the conservatives will pay a big price in the long term for their consistent sabotage. As for the Greens, how will things look for them if the government goes to Copenhagen with no ETS and no alternative plan, and if our failure contributes to a similar failure at the global level? And if Fielding provides the swing vote against (I think Xenophon will be OK), there can be no option but a double dissolution to wipe out the consequences of the disastrous Labor preference deal that put him into Parliament in the first place.

60 thoughts on “Conditional and unconditional targets

  1. I should add that I make my comment at #50 as someone who was saying publicly in 2007 that I thought the Federal ALP was handling the politics of the climate change issue very well coming into the 2007 election, even if the policy was not above criticism. I would still maintain that, at that time, that was the case. Nonetheless, it is clearly not the case now.

    The other factor that may be at work is a certain reading of the 2004 Tasmanian forests issue, namely that it was the actual policy which hurt Labor. This is wrong: what hurt Labor on that issue was not the policy but its mishandling of the timing and the tactics, and more generally Labor’s complete disorganisation and disunity on the issue throughout 2004, as reported in the Latham Diaries, which is a manifestation of the sort of systemic problems for Labor which I was pointing to at #69.

  2. Could the people who express radical dissatisfaction with the government’s climate policy please indicate what sort of policy they would consider proportionate?

    As a starting point, I have posted here a maximal approach. Is that the sort of thing that people would actually like to see? Or would something less categorical be considered adequate, and if so, what?

  3. mitchell I tend to agree with your proposals. Pull the bandaid off in one go. Instead of free permits to supposedly vulnerable industries give them a highly visible cash subsidy for ‘transitional assistance’. Limit offsets be they credible or dodgy to 10% of the cap. Mandate coal production for both domestic use and export to decline 2% a year.

    These things are not really that hard to do nor is the burden massively unfair. It just takes political cojones.

  4. seems fair to me mitchell – I’d also add in much of the post by moz at that link except I’d transfer a lot of the money from cutting subsidies into sustainable tech research as I mention above at #5.

  5. Then there are the senators who think increasing Australian emissions is good for the world: Barnaby and co.

    Re #14, #37: No, Tony, I cannot explain the science to you. I don’t think any scientists on the planet are able to explain it to your satisfaction. As for the policies themselves, you’ll have to ask the politicians what their expectations are.

  6. Yes Paul Norton, we both know the extent to which Labor has been controlled by a motley, seedy collection of vested interests when it comes to things like Cubbie Creek and the disgusting Victorian and Tasmanian native forests issues, over nearly two decades, in such cases.

  7. Gavin Schmidt has a graphic, for the probability estimates based on different emission scenarios, here.

  8. mitchell #52 not only is that a good plan but it is just the type of challenge Australians need to to get them off their apathetic, obese, leisure loving backsides, out of their comfort zones and into a nation building project which will be a buffer against the coming energy and resource starved times.

    The often used argument that action on AGW will reduce wealth is a boil that needs to be lanced. Yes, it will reduce wealth. Our wealth needs to be reduced. Our wealth is killing the planet.

    We need to reduce our population and our consumption and the consequent modest reduction in wealth will be good for us and the planet.

  9. John, I’d take issue with your claim that “most of the major environment groups” have supported it. WWF have, but they supported a lot of the Howard government actions. The Climate Institute has, but they have privately admitted they’re a “mine sweeper for the ALP”. The only significant support has come from the ACF, and that may be overturned by their council.

    Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Wilderness Society are all opposed. The Green Party is not off on a frolic of its own here.

  10. On the substance. I agree that the delay and the unconditional target are much less important than the conditional one. But that doesn’t resolve all the other problems with the CPRS, particularly the way it has been designed to reward the largest polluters and make further tightening difficult by maximising the pain for the rest of society.

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