Australia isn’t doing its part for the global climate …

… Sooner or later we’ll have to pay our share. That’s the headline for my latest piece in The Guardian. The more important message is in the “standfirst” text that runs before the article proper.

The cost of responding to climate change is trivial compared with the benefits

To spell this out, here are the concluding paras of the article

The good news is that the cost of an emergency response, while large compared with an efficient policy, will be very small in relation to an economy with an annual output, by 2030, of $2tn a year or more. To see this, we can turn to the estimates prepared for the government’s election campaign by Brian Fisher of BAEconomics.

These worst-case numbers, higher than the costs of the most radical emergency measures, amount to around $50bn a year, or 2.5% to 3% of national income. That’s a lot of money – like adding a new program on the scale of the NBN or the submarine contract every year for five to 10 years.

At the same time, it’s small enough that it would barely be noticed against the background of the general fluctuations in the economy. The average household has lost far more from the wage stagnation of the last decade. As far as the government budget is concerned, the likely impact is comparable to that of increasing health expenditures arising from our increased life expectancy and the development of new treatments.

More importantly, the cost of an emergency response to climate change is trivial compared with the benefits of stabilising the global climate at a level that is livable for humans and the natural environment. We are currently shirking our contribution to this global public good, and free riding on the efforts of others. But sooner or later we will have to pay our share.

35 thoughts on “Australia isn’t doing its part for the global climate …

  1. Hi Ronald,

    Thank you for the multiple times you reiterated my comment above. Someone famous once said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.

    The assertion is clear, if Australia cut emissions by 100%, AGW would proceed unabated and climate change will continue regardless. The only way to stop climate change is to have a policy that can actually curb the emissions of China, India and the US. The figures categorically show the rest of the world is not reducing emissions.

    “You are looking at just an uptick in the emissions. You’ve got to look at what happened the year or years before”
    Ronald, thank you for pointing out a cherry pick in my data, but unlike the famous hockey stick; the trend figures conclusively back my assertion.

    Looking at the longer term International Energy Agency (IEA) data from the graph in the ABC article, it clearly shows total world emissions will continue to increase no matter what Australia does. So, until the rest of the world pulls their weight, Australia can have no effect stopping climate change and it makes clear economic sense for Australia to do nothing.

    The International Energy Agency (IEA) graph in the ABC article shows total world carbon emissions growing from 20.1 billion tonnes in 1990 to 33.1 billion tonnes in 2018. Total world carbon emissions have been growing at a compound annual rate of growth (CARG) of about 2% per year since 1990, or a total increase in world carbon emissions of approximately 622,000,000 tonnes pa in 2018.

    At present, Australia only emits 1.3% pa or approximately 404,300,000 tonnes pa of carbon emissions.

    If Australia permanently closed its economy and shut down carbon emissions 100%, in 2019 the increase in total world carbon emissions would still be approximately 217,700,000 tonnes (622,000,000-404,300,000). In 2020 with the Australian economy permanently shut down with 0 emissions, total world carbon emissions would still grow by 626,340,000 tonnes. This is more than the growth of emissions in 2018 with no shut down of the Australian economy.

    The facts are clear, if Australia cut emissions by 100%, AGW would proceed unabated and climate change will continue much the same. It is best for the Australian economy for Australia to do nothing until the big emitters, China, India and the US can be reined in.

  2. Tony,
    It is true that any efforts that Australia makes towards solving the world’s global warming problem count for unless supreme sacrifices are also made by the USA, China, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Brazil Iran, Indonesia and so on. But Australia can play an important role in two respects.
    First of all, why should developing countries give up their goal of developing and industrial economy when those countries that are already industrial countries seek to maintain their industrial ecomies?
    Because of that it seems to me that those in industrial economies had choice. It seems to me that it is likely that it is now to late to make that choice. The choice was for industrialized countries to give up their auto based economies, and their air conditioners, minimize their home heating use, euthanize their pets, eat a lot less meat and when meat was eaten make it for the most part chicken and rabbit with some veal. I do not imagine that the dairy industry could have been completely shut down and a by product of the dairy industry would be veal. Mothers could have attempted when practical to breast feed their children longer before switching to cows millk.
    Those would have been first steps not to mention the verry obvious of maximizing investment in to wind and solar power, or just solar power, and continuing research on nuclear fussion power. Naturally if industrialized countries would have made this choice the oil field of Saudi Arabia and every where else would have become irreverent. Therefore no excuse for the existence of a US empire, a massive US military, and especially a massive US Navy.
    By not chooseing to power down sooner the leaders of the western world chose to live well until such time as the world heats up enough that there are massive crop failures and the die offs of marine life.
    They convinced enough people that the threat was distant enough that science would come up with solutions in the mean time.
    The western industrialized countries make the rules of the world economy. The US makes the rules for the western industrialized countries. China might be moving up in the world but it has a long way to go to catch up with the USA plus all of its allies. Despite what the common wisdom tells us there is no balance of power in the USA between the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch. The US military controls all three of the branches. There is no check on the power of US military leaders. Any events that occur that might indicate otherwise are simply staged to prevent the world from figuring out who is in charge.
    Under such conditions the leadership of Australia, or any faction that wants to become the leadership of Australia has to decide if there is still a large enough chance that the world can be saved to make it worthwihile to try.
    If the answer to that question turns out to be Yes, then the only thing that Australia can do is to gift Saffron to all US military officers when ever they have contact with them. Just to make sure that those on the recieving end of the Saffron get the message it shold be reinforced with Barberries.

  3. I imagine that the only place that a person could find both Saffron and Barberries would be in an Iranian import store, maybe an Afghan one too. But I am nost sure about that.

  4. I imagine that the only place that person could find both Saffron and Barberries would be at an Iranian Import store, maybe an Afghan one too. But I am not sure about that.

  5. Here is a comment by Louis Proyect on Counterpunch. HIs closing comments in the book review about standards of living and carrying capacity closely align with what I wrote about at 12:34 am.

  6. Tony – “The facts are clear, if Australia cut emissions by 100%, AGW would proceed unabated and climate change will continue much the same.”

    Australia is not proceeding alone – it is one of many nations that are (to varying degrees) reducing emissions. If our contribution to emissions (leaving aside fossil fuel exports) – is (only?)1% then that 1% should be our goal.

    Around a quarter or more of global emissions come from “insignificant” nations with emissions similar or less – far too much together to rate as insignificant. Should all those nations refuse to act using the same (flawed and ethically bereft) logic Australia’s leading opponents of climate action use then we have no working agreements at all. Which only appears like a victory for Australia so long as you don’t accept decades of top level expert advice about how serious the problem can become if unchecked.

    Most of those “insignificant” nations are not amongst the highest per capita emitters in the world – as a high per capita nation we should do as much as we can, not the least we can get away with. I think it takes a lack of acceptance of how damaging and costly global failure on this is likely to be – science denial – to so willingly support ongoing responsibility avoidance and engage in the systematic undermining of what unanimity the global community has managed to get.

    We should be doing the most we can in combination with ongoing efforts to negotiate more effective international agreements, not less. Our government should be entering into international negotiations in good faith – something I don’t think we have been seeing so far. Our nation’s negotiation seem to me to be about doing the least that can be gotten away with and has included behind the scenes efforts to engage other nations in undermining the goals, the emissions targets and any hard won unanimity.


    The Australian economy would be $550 billion better off by 2030 through reducing carbon emissions to stem the impact of damaging climate change, a new report has found.

    Described as the first comparison of the costs of emission reduction relative to the potential damages from climate change under current policy settings, the report by the Melbourne Sustainable Societies Institute at the University of Melbourne finds Australia is on track for $535 billion in economic damage within a decade, if global emissions continue at their current rate.

    The cost – growing to more than $5 trillion in cumulative damages by 2100 – can be avoided with a “negligible” impact on GDP of 0.14 per cent, estimated at $35.5 billion from 2019 to 2030.

    The report’s authors say the costs are conservative and exclude the bulk of the impact from floods and bush fires, pollution, damage to environmental assets and biodiversity losses.

    “Overall, the costs of emissions reduction are far less than the damages of inaction – even with modelling underestimating damages from climate change and overestimating the costs of emissions reduction,” the report says. …

    Indicative potential damages from the status quo add up to $115 billion for Victoria and $171 billion for Queensland by 2030.

    The net present benefit is $16.2 billion, at a discount rate of 7 per cent, and finds even when the benefit of reduced emissions is excluded, the transition to a low-carbon economy would generate benefits outweighing the costs at 2.8 to 1…

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