Coincidence ?

I’ll be appearing (virtually) tomorrow, Monday 1 February to give evidence to the  the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s inquiry on Zali Steggall’s Climate Bills 2020, the core of which is a proposal to set a target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As readers would expected, I’ll be supporting the bill.

At almost exactly the same time, Scott Morrison is going to address the National Press Club, and there are rumours he’s planning an announcement on climate policy. Given the natural human desire to see patterns in the universe, and a little bit of past history[1] it immediately occurred to me that Morrison might announce that the government had decided to commit to 2050 net zero.

Such a decision would make great political sense for Morrison, if he focused on the objective situation rather than in-group loyalties. Now that Albanese has backed away from any firm commitment other than 2050 net zero, Morrison is in a great position to “dish the Whigs” by outflanking him, perhaps by adding in an upgraded 2030 commitment.

Equally importantly, the geopolitical need to act has become urgent. Biden has announced a major climate summit for Earth Day, 22 April, at which leaders will be pressed to enhance their commitments. The main target is China, where the push is to bring their 2060 target forward to 2050 and back it up with some firm action. But of the real laggards, with no zero commitment at all, Australia is the only one that isn’t already a pariah like Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Unless he wants a major international embarrassment, Morrison has to come up with something big, and soon.

This has largely unnoticed by our political class, who are still suggesting that nothing needs to be done until the Glasgow COP in November, and that an election can be held before then.

Supposedly, the big obstacle to this is the resistance of rightwingers on Morrison’s backbench, and in the National Party. Fear of this group will probably lead Morrison to duck the issue. But really, there’s nothing they can do. Even if they cross the floor and deprive the government of its majority, Morrison can carry on for months without a majority (as happened last time), then call an election at a time of his choosing to demand a mandate. He’d win easily, I think, with the backing of the business sector (who want the issue settled) and all the main media outlets.

My guess is that he will squib it. That was what Turnbull and Rudd did, when they wasted huge popularity looking for support from the wrong people, and what Gillard did kowtowing to Joe de Bruyn on equal marriage when she could easily have faced him down. It’s far easier to ignore objective reality than to disregard the opinions of long-standing allies, even when you don’t actually need their support.

fn1. For a brief period early in the pandemic, it seemed as if any policy I advocated would be adopted by the government a few days later. It didn’t last.

64 thoughts on “Coincidence ?

  1. Yep, and for a while in the late 1990s (IIRC). Dilbert was predicting what would happen in my office the very next week! It was uncanny. Then I realized that Dilbert was being printed in Aussie newspapers just as the American management fads it satirized were arriving in the Australian Public Service. Generic managerialism was making me want to jump out the window or reach down the phone line and strangle Canberra managers. Dilbert saved my sanity.

    On topic, I’d like to see a law banning political donations by fossil fuel companies. Now that would make a difference. I’d also like Scott Morrison to take his lump of coal and… you know the rest.

  2. The easy sop China can give Biden is an Indian-style plan to phase out thermal coal imports, and eventually metallurgical too.

  3. Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill 2020 sets a target of net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. That target has NO BASIS in the latest climate science. The 2050 target is TOO LATE for meeting the Paris Climate Agreement of keeping below +2 °C global mean temperature rise (relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age). What’s far more important are interim GHG emissions reduction targets (i.e. by 2025 and by 2030).

    Earth System scientist Professor Will Steffen (who is scheduled to be appearing in the same hearing session on Monday (Feb 1) as John Quiggin, from 2:45pm Canberra time) said previously in a YouTube presentation titled “Will Steffen – Climate Change 2020 – Why we are facing an emergency – April 2020”, published by Renew on 23 Apr 2020, from time interval 0:17:28:

    “And here you see those IPCC projections, anywhere from a degree-and-a-half to, going on to towards four degrees, depending on how much more we emit, possibly even toward five degrees. So, we are already committed to 1.5 – we can’t avoid that – ah, given the momentum in our economic system, and the momentum in the climate system. Ah, but fortune… fortunately we probably still have a shot at limiting temperature rise to somewhere, ah, around 1.5 to 2, but only if we really get our act together fast.”

    From time interval 0:37:51, Steffen outlined a COVID-19 type response to Climate Change for Australia:
    • From 2020: No new fossil fuel developments of any kind (coal, gas and oil);
    • By 2030: more than 50% reduction in GHG emissions; 100% renewable electricity generation;
    • By 2040: Reach net-zero GHG emissions – Net-zero by 2050 is now TOO LATE to meet ‘Paris’ upper target (to keep below +2 °C global mean warming)

    On Thursday (Jan 28) on the ABC’s 7:30 programme, Professor Will Steffen included these statements:

    * “…it is virtually impossible now to hold temperature rise to 1.5.”
    * “That brings the 2-degree target into question already. A 2-degrees is going to be a pretty difficult climate to live in. Even that means that we cannot afford any more delay.”
    * “At the very minimum, we need to cut our emissions by 50 per cent, not 26 to 28 per cent, by 2030 and that means we need to get them headed down quite strongly by 2025.”
    * “There is absolutely no room for the expansion of the fossil-fuel industry. That’s absolutely clear.”
    * “To meet these Paris targets, to get the emissions down by 50 per cent by 2030, we have to rapidly reduce our use of fossil fuels – coal, gas, and oil.”
    https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/more-extreme-weather-expected-as-atmosphere/13100714

    The Laws of Physics and the limitations of chemistry and biology are non-negotiable. I’d strongly recommend NOT supporting any GHG emissions targets that will inevitably fail to meet the ‘Paris’ upper limit – support only targets (including the more important interim targets) that are consistent with the latest available science.

  4. My guess he will announce one of;

    1 a new coal fired power station for QLD
    2 a new gas fired power station for NSW
    3 another link to Tas to utilise dam storage.

    Or maybe all 3, he’s ahead in the polls and is thinking about the next election.

    It’s become fairly obvious that pork barrelling is quite acceptable.

    With the ALP diminished, the Nats a joke and the Greens virtually invisible, it’s a pretty dismal political outlook.

  5. Great op & comments and thanks for appearing JQ.

    I am torn writing about politics on this thread when we are supposed to be putting out brainpower towards solutions, not political solutions.

    But… if the Nats continue and are still sprouting the same line before the Aug or Nov 2020? election, Libs / nats seperately wouldn’t poll well enough to get a majority. They’d just dump a term in office, have a couple if years of filibustering / whiteanting / false equivelence pr dissemination, while the Nats dump fossils, reform, and have Labor’s 3yrs -2021 – 2024? leadership change & and joel problem and further atomistic union grabs & rising rates and ballooning deficit to allow the libnats back in.

    Doubt it will come to that.

    But my question still is – how to get the coalition to be the Coal & Lition? Divide & get sensible policies sooner.

  6. The problem is that the Libs now have a very firm grip on politics. Morrison is a muscular operator who knows his business and wastes no time on entertaining doubts. He has no competition in the Libs and shows contempt to experts and academics alike. He knows his target and he knows how to meet their needs. He makes Tony Abbott look like rank amateur.

  7. I don’t think Morrison needs to adopt Net zero by 2050 as a policy by 22 April, as he doesn’t care about international pressure at this point. In fact refusing to adopt Net zero by 2050 until Glasgow, (even though we are de facto there becauses the States and Territores have adopted it), builds up his cred with the right wing because he appears to be standing up to international and left wing bullies. He will ‘announce’ a number of policies before Glasgow in early November including Net zero by 2050, a somewhat increased 2030 target, announcing the planting of lots of trees (its time for another billion trees, as previously promised (and achieved) by Hawke), and an International Soil Carbon initiative, a beefing up of the CSIRO algae feed for cattle project, and a sod turning (again) for Snowy 2.0 and announcing (again)Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation. Because of his current resistance on climate change, these initiatives – even though they mean little – will lead the media to congratulate Morrison for acting on climate change, and the Nationals will not be unhappy. (They might also announce a gas fired power station at Liddell, but they won’t ever build it, as its not economic).
    And after Glasgow they will go to an election.

    I think the political class have totally misread Morrison’s strategy on climate change, and their current rhetoric will help Morrison more than hinder him.

  8. Doesn’t Newspoll have them at 50-50? Does anyone remember the bushfires? If he was the political genius you all think he is then why did he kick so many own goals in January?

  9. akarog (Re your comment at FEBRUARY 1, 2021 AT 3:49 PM),
    You state: “The problem is that the Libs now have a very firm grip on politics.”

    Politics is about perception. I’d suggest once enough voting people wake up to the possibility that Morrison’s government is facilitating their (or their children’s/grandchildren’s) future suffering and untimely deaths, through inaction on the climate emergency and actually working against it through the promotion/encouragement/approval of more fossil fuel projects, then the Coalition will quickly lose their grip. The question is: Will that growing realisation come too late?

    The ‘proof’ transcript for the public hearing on Friday (Jan 29) for the inquiry into Zali Steggall’s Climate Change Bill 2020 has been published and is available at: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Environment_and_Energy/ClimateBills2020/Public_Hearings

    Dr Van Der Kallen, National Chair, Doctors for the Environment Australia, in his opening statement on Friday, included (page 11):

    “Climate change is the greatest threat to our health. This may seem an unrealistic statement, given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but daily we are experiencing the impacts of climate change on our health. Every day I see people whose health is affected by climate change. It may be the elderly person who has become dehydrated in the heat and ends up in hospital, the child who’s had an exacerbation of asthma due to air pollution, the farmer who has had to sell his breeding stock due to the drought or the bushfire victim who has lost his house in the fire. The list goes on, and these impacts are not going away.

    The most recent report on the 2019-20 megafires in Australia highlights the enormous health impacts of this single environmental catastrophe, which affected nearly 80 per cent of Australians. Nearly 19 million hectares were burnt, one billion vertebrates died and the economic cost is estimated to be upwards of $40 billion. Smoke related health costs were calculated to be $1.95 billion—a sum driven by the estimated 429 smoke related premature deaths, 3,230 hospital admissions for heart and lung disorders, and over 15,000 emergency visits for asthma. Thirty-three lives were lost directly in the fires, and it is likely that the mental health impacts and costs will be significant and protracted. We should do everything possible to stop this from occurring again.

    Extreme heatwaves are associated with significant rises in mortality and emergency presentations. An excess of 374 deaths were observed during the four-day period when temperatures exceeded 40 degrees in Victoria in 2009. Without significant mitigation, we can expect to see cities such as Melbourne and Sydney with temperatures in excess of 50 degrees by 2040.

    Fossil fuel consumption that drives global warming is also a major contributor to air pollution. Every year this silent killer is linked to the premature deaths of 3,000 Australians. Higher levels of air pollution are associated with increased illness and death due to ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive airways disease, lung cancer, asthma and also adverse pregnancy outcomes including low birth weight and stillbirth.

    Australia’s doctors are very worried. We are worried about the increasing health impacts and we are worried about how we are going to cope. In 2019 DEA led multiple medical organisations in declaring a climate health emergency. Nothing much changed. Last year, medical organisations representing over 75 per cent of Australia’s doctors wrote to the Prime Minister urging a climate focused healthy recovery from COVID-19.”

    It seems to me “Melbourne and Sydney with temperatures in excess of 50 degrees by 2040” isn’t that far away, and if humanity (not just Australians) is ineffective in beginning to rapidly reduce GHG emissions by 2025, then extreme temperatures will likely get hotter. Mainland Australia inland regions most likely would progressively become uninhabitable in the second half of this century with days peaking with temperatures in mid-50 °C range or higher.

  10. Greg Jericho at The Guardian provides an excellent explainer on GHG emissions targets in his piece today titled “Australia needs to stop thinking that setting a target of zero emissions by 2050 is good enough”, that concludes with:

    “So we need to stop thinking that setting a target of zero emissions by 2050 is good enough – we need to be asking what political parties are doing to keep within our carbon budget.

    And if they don’t know, then we should treat their policies with the contempt they deserve.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2021/feb/02/australia-needs-to-stop-thinking-that-setting-a-target-of-zero-emissions-by-2050-is-good-enough

  11. The Libs are not particularly concerned about GHG and climate change because they have no real opposition on the matter. The ALP should be supporting Zali Steggall because it is the right thing to do, but they are too concerned with their own ructions.

    And most of the media think the world is flat.

    So we will have to depend on pressure from external sources, the US and the EU.

  12. So parliament was back today, throwing fruit and veg at each other, this time over Craig Kelly. This man is a cabbage.

    I’m impressed by Biden’s first steps, he is being bold and purposeful – did it take a Trump to elevate a Biden?

  13. Addressing climate change isn’t just about controlling GHG emissions. It is also about just development. If wealthy nations expect developing and emerging countries (including China) to do more on GHG emissions, then they need to step up on financing the projects required to make that happen.

    The Nobel laureate William Nordhaus have long argued that we ought to anticipate that future generations will be wealthier than the present, and so some kind of inter-generational equity is required in addressing climate change. This argument applies equally to intra-generational equity among the rich vs poor of the current generation.

    So if we simply focus on GHG emissions and ignore distributional considerations, we are perpetuating the climate injustice that so many of the poor people of the world already suffer from. Rather than look to the developing countries to do more, why not ask more of the rich nations??

  14. PS: I realise you dislike the Chinese government (and even call Xi Jinping a liar with so little justification), but you have to remember that there are real people living in China whose wellbeing matter, and who (despite so many wealthy in China) are much poorer than the average Australian.

    They have a legitimate expectation that their children should enjoy living standards that match those of Westerners. And if China achieves its commitment to be zero-carbon by 2060, in all likelihood they will have achieved this at a level of income that is below what Australians currently enjoy.

    Think about climate justice!

  15. There is zero prospect that Australia, China, the US or any other country will move to zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. It simply isn’t possible without almost the complete collapse of human civilization and a much smaller global population (probably less than one billion).

    There is basically a one to one correlation between the amount of fossil fuels that a country burns and it’s “GDP”. The people of the Warringah electorate propertionally burn more fossil fuels per capita than almost anywhere in the world. If people genuinely cared about climate change then this wouldn’t be the case and they would be taking genuine personal steps to reduce their emissions to zero which would coincide with a decline in living standards of greater than 90%.

    People will only support policies like this to the extent that they think it involves no personal sacrifice. When they realise the profound effects on current society the would accompany a drastic reduction in emissions, it’s likely that they will abandon this course and revert to burning more fossil fuels. It’s like telling a lion to eat grass rather than meat or any species of animal to stop eating or breeding – it’s never going to happen long term.

    Humans will probably keep burning fossil fuels until they run out of economic resources to extract.

  16. Actually the link between GDP and carbon emissions is pretty weak: there has been a dramatic reduction in CO2 emissions per capita in various European countries in particular over the last couple of decades, but continued (if slow) growth.

    Indeed China now has a CO2 emissions per capita (even accounting for goods shipped overseas) not that much lower than several EU countries including the UK.

    https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/consumption-co2-per-capita?tab=chart&stackMode=absolute&time=1990..latest&country=GBR~CHN~FRA&region=World

    So China does necessarily need to massively increase carbon emissions to have a ‘comparable lifestyle’. Places like India/Africa are a different story of course.

    Obviously though, places like the US and Australia need to rapidly curb their extravagant fossil energy use.

  17. Sure Ben, if you call an 0.99313 correlation between GDP and energy consumption “pretty weak” then go right ahead. http://energyskeptic.com/2017/nafeez-ahmed-economists-ignore-laws-of-physics/world-gdp-compared-to-energy-consumption-1969-2013/

    Around 85% of world energy consumption is currently burning fossil fuels.

    A big chunk of the remainder is nuclear, then hydro (need to build big concrete dam walls using fossil fuels) and then wind/solar only around 4%. Which are not renewable but rather “rebuildable” and require a lot of diesel to mine the raw materials, transport them, manufacture, install and then rebuild when they reach the end of their life after around 20 years. Above does not even consider raw materials eg. copper in electricity transmission and the fact that many metals can’t be smelted using solar/wind as not enough heat can be generated.

    http://energyskeptic.com/2021/renewables-not-enough-minerals-energy-time-or-clean-and-green/

    The reason Michael Moore’s documentary planet of the humans generated so much anger is that most of it was true and that faith in solar and wind power has become a something of a substitute for traditional religion in a lot of the western world and makes promoters feel good about themselves rather than accepting the reality.

    Number of people in the world has gone from around a billion in 1800 to around 7 billion now largely because of the multiplier effect from burning fossil fuels eg. electricity, modern healthcare, tractors, petrochemical fertilisers, combine harvesters etc. It will head back down when when either stop burning them or run out of them. This will not be a peaceful/prosperous period of human history but rather something more akin to Cambodia under Pol Pot.

  18. David,

    Notwithstanding some of the facts you marshal we need to;

    (1) Reduce the use of fossil fuels drastically; and
    (2) Utilize renewable energy where it has a positive EROEI (Energy return on energy invested).

    This will entail a large reduction in GDP as you mention. It will also entail a large reduction in total energy use. But the facts are that GDP is a poor measure of real activity in any case and much GDP is derived from non-essential activities. Energy is a better measure of real activity as you say, however once again much energy use is for non-essential, wasteful consumption activities. Probably about 50% of modern energy consumption is wasteful and unnecessary especially in prodigal nations like the USA.

    Much of we do now is NOT essential. Here are some examples of non-essential activities in the first world;

    (1) Private automobile ownership and driving for many activities;
    (2) International and even domestic tourism;
    (3) Fashion and planned obsolescence of vehicles, white-goods and consumer items.
    (4) Sporting stadiums and sports extravaganzas.
    (5) Owning multiple consumer items when one or to two would do and replacing them too often (see obsolescence).
    (6) Owning extravagant consumer items (power boats as one of many examples).
    (7) Using private vehicles instead of mass and shared transit.
    (8) Going out all the time to pubs, clubs and restauants.
    (9) Drinking sugary and alcholoic drinks when potable water will do and is actually better for you.
    (10) Eating excess meat.

    The list goes on and on. All of the above and more are potent and strictly unnecessary emitters of greenhouse gases.

    I once had a primary school teacher who said: “Can’t means won’t.” For feasible things he was absolutely right. Can’t give them up means won’t give them up. But we will survive better and with less future pain if we give up some of these things right now, in good time, before the outright crisis. If we cling to these things, the denouement will be far more terrible.

    You prefer to say “It’s all impossible”, back that with bad science, and then say everyone will inevitiably die. I prefer to say some things are possible, back it with good science, and say we may save some or a lot of people from premature death. I don’t know how many. I don’t pretend to know that in a complex, open-ended situation. I do know that in survival situations not involving a broken down vehicle in a remote arid zone, the general advice is to keep moving, keep looking for solutions. Sit on your ass, do nothing, cavil at people seeking solutions, and you die.

  19. It is pleasing to see that the climate change denial memes by people like David are diminishing and going in ever diminishing circles until they will disappear up the proverbial orifice. It will be interesting when researchers get a better handle on the factors that affect the propagation of truthful and untruthful memes. The weight of evidence is one factor affecting propagation, but at some points in the cycle weight of evidence seems to have very little influence. The weight of money is a very influential factor, and it would be interesting to understand at what point money has the most influence. Is it at the beginning of the process when the false memes are generated or is it at some other point? And how influential is money overall. It could be argued that the change in the climate change information flows is almost entirely due to money changing sides.

  20. Ikonoclast I agree with your comments. Many of the current uses of the world’s remaining economic reserves of oil will likely be looked back in history as extremely wasteful and foolish eg. the cruise industry, urban motorways, suburbia etc. Remaining economic reserves of oil need to be prioritised to where they are needed most eg. agriculture, essential services and maintaining more efficient forms of transport that will be needed in the future eg. railways, waterways

    Problem is our brains are not evolved to live in modern technological society and thinking 20+ years ahead is not a priority. Humans will probably only act when there is a crisis and no other alternative.

    John where in my post do I deny climate change? Present data or facts and not emotion.

  21. Kien Choong (Re your comments at FEBRUARY 2, 2021 AT 7:17 PM),
    You state: “So if we simply focus on GHG emissions and ignore distributional considerations, we are perpetuating the climate injustice that so many of the poor people of the world already suffer from.”

    You may be interested in this tweet from Shane White posted on Jan 26 (including graphs of 2018 per capita CO2 emissions and 1751-2018 cumulative emissions):

    “Buying EVs Australia?
    Granting ourselves gradual change is #ClimateColonialism.
    Chart on the right is each country’s Co2 emissions since 1751 to 2018, divided by population in 2018 (updated version since study published); it’s a ranking of who’s most to blame for climate change.”

    Top five emitting countries in 2018 per capita (tons C per annum per person):
    #1 USA
    #2 Australia
    #3 Canada
    #4 Russia
    #5 Japan

    Top five cumulative emitting countries 1751-2018 (tons C per person):
    #1 USA
    #2 UK
    #3 Germany
    #4 Canada
    #5 Russia

    Ian Dunlop and David Spratt wrote an op-ed last year titled “Net-zero emissions by 2050: Leadership or climate colonialism?”
    http://www.climatecodered.org/2020/11/net-zero-emissions-by-2050-leadership.html

  22. David,

    We are in agreement more than I thought. I misinterpreted your comments as completely fatalistic but not as climate change denial. I myself have said significant real damage to lives and property from climate change effects will have to occur in first world countries before real action is taken. I guess the issue is how much damage has to occur to galvanize action. There is some hope now that the damage to date, plus near term indications and predictions, have been bad enough to galvanize real action. Let us all hope it is not too little too late. We are running to catch up with events now. We will know by 2024. If Biden’s presidency just brings forward more tokenism and if China insists on its right to raise 1.4 billion people to current first world living standards then I doubt the denouement can be good.

  23. David
    I apologise for not being clear. I was using ‘climate change denialism’ as shorthand for a group of world views which without substantive evidence either denies climate change, or like yourself takes an apocalyptic view that there is no prospect of getting to net zero carbon emissions without massive population decreases and other changes. In retrospect it was not the best phrasing. I was really trying to understand why it is that memes which I consider do not have evidentiary backing still propagate. Although your apocalyptic view is not climate change denial, and I’m sure its sincerely held, I consider it does damage, both because its untrue, and because it discourages people from acting on climate change.

    And to be clear. I’m not wanting to argue against your sincerely held beliefs. I’m trying to understand why memes I consider to be without evidence propagate. You will argue that the reason your memes successfully propagate is because they are indeed backed by evidence. And we are not going to come to agreement on that matter, so I won’t try and engage with you on that. That’s something I will leave you to engage on with others like Ikonoclast.

  24. Hi, Geoff. Thank you for your comment (at FEBRUARY 3, 2021 AT 10:34 AM) and the interesting links.

    It reinforces my view that China is already doing more than its fair share by committing to a 2060 target for zero carbon emission. (in fact, knowing the Chinese government, they probably hope to achieve zero emission a few years before 206).)

    So I respectfully urge Professor Quiggin to focus on climate justice considerations, and not simply push for unrealistic targets for countries that are less wealthy than Australia. Whatever his personal prejudices towards the Chinese government, asking China to achieve zero carbon emission by 2050 means that this Australian (Quiggin) is asking millions of Chinese (much poorer than him) to give up a higher living standard while he himself and his compatriots (in Australia and Western countries generally) have to date done so little.

    Yes, we do care about climate change. But we also care about justice. If Professor Quiggin thinks that China should commit to a 2050 zero carbon emission target, then the way to do it is to require Australia and other Western countries to pay for the cost of shifting the target from 2060 to 2050. Now, would that be achievable? Will Professor Quiggin make that call?

  25. Kien Choong (re your comments at FEBRUARY 3, 2021 AT 12:14 PM),
    You state: “It reinforces my view that China is already doing more than its fair share by committing to a 2060 target for zero carbon emission.”

    China and the United States are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the world by far in absolute terms, releasing 10 and five billion metric tons of CO2 respectively in 2019. However, whilst emissions in the United States have declined since 2009, China’s carbon emissions have increased significantly.

    Carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 for top five countries (million tonnes):
    China (mainland): _ 10,175
    USA: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 5,285
    India: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2,616
    Russia: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1,678
    Japan: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _1,107
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/270499/co2-emissions-in-selected-countries/

    China isn’t doing enough. Neither is Australia.

    “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.” – Winston S Churchill

    The Laws of Physics and the limitations of chemistry and biology are non-negotiable.

    China’s GHG emissions target for net-zero by 2060 is inadequate. A net-zero GHG emissions target by 2050 GHG is also inadequate. See my comments above (at JANUARY 31, 2021 AT 9:18 PM and at FEBRUARY 2, 2021 AT 10:01 AM).

    I’d suggest pushing for “unrealistic targets” is in China’s (and Australia’s, and many other countries’) long-term best interests. A +4 °C global mean warming (relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age) would force humans away from equatorial and mid-latitude regions. It could mean China and mainland Australia (among many other regions) become uninhabitable for most of the year. Even a +2 °C global mean warming will be very difficult, and that could be arriving as early as 2050.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/18/climate-crisis-heat-is-on-global-heating-four-degrees-2100-change-way-we-live

  26. Whatever his personal prejudices towards the Chinese government, asking China to achieve zero carbon emission by 2050 means that this Australian (Quiggin) is asking millions of Chinese (much poorer than him) to give up a higher living standard while he himself and his compatriots (in Australia and Western countries generally) have to date done so little.

    I have no idea what John Quiggin himself has or has not done. Neither do you. You’re just shamelessly fabricating .

  27. @Kien Choong My post was about Australia’s policy not China’s. I mentioned the Biden Administration’s position on China’s target as part of my description of the situation that will face Morrison.
    But since you’ve taken the trouble, I’d say that Xi Jinping’s position on decarbonization appears to be substantially more reasonable than what you are implicitly suggesting. You may want to adjust accordingly.

  28. Hi, thank you. I think I can agree with you that the world as a whole (incl. China) is not doing enough, while also arguing that China has done more than its fair share. If the rich Western nations step up to do more, than it’s reasonable that China do the same.

    Specifically, Australia and other rich nations should pay for the incremental cost (or at least contribute substantially to it) if they want China to aim for a 2050 zero carbon emission target.

    That said, my understanding is that the Chinese planners don’t think 2050 is feasible, so if we really want to convince them otherwise, we need to engage with their scientists and social planners on the details of how we think they can achieve a 2050 target. It’s not fine to just assert that China should aim for 2050 without showing them how to achieve it. That’s not how the Chinese system (of long-term planning) works.

  29. I think you are missing my point (about climate justice), but thank you for reading and commenting. I’ll try to express my ideas better next time.

  30. Seriously doubt that China has any meaningful plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the short to medium term. Because of the 1/1 correlation between burning and “GDP”, this would reduce all of the “economic growth” that has occured there since the 1970s and probably cause overthrow of the government. China is a leader in electric cars, wind, solar power etc. however these measures largely tinker around the edges of total emissions and will not reduce them.

    What we refer to as “economic growth” is basically an increase in the amount of fossil fuels being burned in a country.

    Ultimately China like the rest of the world will have to grapple with declining economic oil supplies over this century.

  31. I guess a lot of the unwillingness to believe that we can do anything about carbon emissions arises from trying to extrapolate the previous century into the current one.

    E.g. if you were born about when oil became dominant over coal, around 1950, you’ve spent 70 years living in an oil-dominated society, and it might be hard to imagine anything ever changing. You might also resent the idea that your profligacy is responsible for the current mess.

    Yet world primary energy only became dominated by fossil fuels around 1900 (before which it was mostly still burning stuff, just not fossil fuels), and coal was dominant until 1950, and the means of transport went from horse+steam train to cars over roughly this timescale. Things like water/wind mills and draft animals were more important than their contribution to primary energy would suggest, of course.

    In the vein of ‘the future is here, just not evenly distributed’, you can see what a low-carbon mostly electric-powered society will look like: in many countries, heating is largely electric, and there are places where battery and plug-in cars now outsell new fossil cars.

    Australia’s extravagant carbon emissions is largely a matter of choice…

  32. David is talking nonsense. The fixed-proportions relationship he imagines doesn’t exist, at least as regards carbon-based fuels. For example, the output of oil per person peaked in 1979. Coal consumption is decreasing in most developed countries and the use of coal to generate electricity is ending in most.

  33. Isn’t the whole point to break this 1:1 relationship between GHG emissions and economic growth? Aren’t we beginning to do this by using renewables (wind, solar) to produce energy? Why such a deterministic world view?

  34. John, respectfully this is thoroughly irrelevant. Electricity and energy are not the same thing. Even if you completely switched the entire electric grid to wind and solar power (which is unlikely to be possible), electricity use only represents a fraction of total energy. For example while Germany currently produces 44.6% of electricity from “renewables”, when you move to total energy consumption this figure declines to 16.8% https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-energy-consumption-and-power-mix-charts, which even then doesn’t necessarily consider that a lot of the energy going into producing the solar panels and wind turbines (diesel for shipping, mining, coal for smelting metals) occurs outside of Germany eg. in China where most of the world’s heavy industry is now located. They also need to be rebuilt after say 20 years and while some of the materials can be recycled, a lot of them will be dumped in landfill (again using diesel powered equipment). This is why Europe is also investing in liquified natural gas import terminals and pipelines from Russia – wind and solar will never meet their total needs.

    Also take vehicles, there is currently no way to realistically replace freight trains, shipping and trucking from running on diesel. In the case of a truck the battery would likely be around the same size/weight as the entire cargo as it lacks the energy density of diesel/oil, which is simply the most dense and practical form of energy that humans have ever discovered. https://www.amazon.com/When-Trucks-Stop-Running-Transportation/dp/3319263730 Electrifying the entire rail freight network would use more energy through transmission loss, the energy going into the copper wiring etc. compared to a diesel electric train which is basically a mobile power plant. Electric cars may tinker around the edges of petrol demand, which still needs to be refined to make diesel and far more energy goes into producing the electric car.

    Above also goes for concrete/bitumen roads, bridges etc. all require diesel and fossil fuel energy to produce to allow the Tesla to drive around.

    Refer you to these statistics – doesn’t look like oil or coal consumption has declined to me http://energyskeptic.com/2017/nafeez-ahmed-economists-ignore-laws-of-physics/

    The idea that we can run anything like our current civilization on wind turbines and solar panels is (sadly) a fantasy and at some point when we run out of fossil fuels to extract we are probably looking at a far smaller economy and global population. We would be going back to something similar to before 1800 ie. powered by photosynthesis and burning wood (unless the remaining humans on earth cut down all of the remaining forests to try to survive – in which case we would probably be looking at something closer to extinction).

  35. David, I followed your link and came to this interesting graph, which show a strong negative correlation between German GDP and greenhouse emissions over the past 30 years, the opposite of your claim. Makes the point that correlation is not causation very neatly.

  36. John,

    Again, this doesn’t even begin to consider the whole picture. A wind turbine or solar panel might be located in Germany, however the process of making it involves inputs from all over the world. For example one 2MW wind turbine requires 1,671 tonnes of material, including 1300 tonnes concrete, 295 tonnes steel, 48 tonnes iron, 24 tons fiberglass, 4 tonens copper, and Chinese rare earth metals 0.4 tonnes of neodymium and .065 tonens dysprosium (Guezuraga 2012, USGS 2011). To get to even half of US electricity (not energy) use then you would need to repeat the process above over a million times every 20 years.

    It takes a lot of fossil fuel energy to make cement and mine the sand for concrete, the steel requires iron ore mined in Australia or Brazil using diesel equipment and then shipped on an oil powered ship to China when it is turned into steel at extremely high temperatures using coal and the copper may be mined in Chile using diesel powered equipment. Mining alone counts for around 10% of global emissions. The energy it takes to bring these materials out of the ground will only increase in future eg. the copper mines in Chile need to go deeper and the diesel powered truck needs to use more energy to take the ore to the surface from deeper and deeper in the ground.

    When you recalculate based on the emissions generated outside of Germany above, things look a lot less rosy.

    I am not saying that the return on wind or solar is necessarily negative or zero (although in some cases it may be), although the return is maybe 10X lower than oil – so therefore you need to build more and more units to break even – a bit like running on a treadmill where the speed keeps increasing. You will never get anywhere near replicating our current energy use (and therefore economy/society) only on wind and solar.

  37. David, I’ve been all over this for the case of solar. Energy costs of construction are trivial in relation to energy generated. This post is from 2015, and the efficiency of solar PV has improved massively since then https://johnquiggin.com/2015/08/04/eroei/

    You can do the same with your wind turbine numbers. Concrete production generates about 0.2 tonnes CO2 per tonne of concrete, so that’s about 260 tonnes for your 2MW turbine. Replacing coal at 1tonne/MWh that would account for just over 5 days of output. I imagine you’d get the same for steel.

  38. David (Re your comments at FEBRUARY 4, 2021 AT 1:58 PM),
    You state: “I am not saying that the return on wind or solar is necessarily negative or zero (although in some cases it may be)…”

    David, can you please explain how ERoI can be NEGATIVE or ZERO?
    It seems to me you perhaps have a different understanding of what ERoI is, compared with my understanding – see my comments at: https://johnquiggin.com/2020/12/01/the-path-to-decarbonization/comment-page-2/#comment-231386

    Renewable energy technologies may soon provide a better energy-return-on-investment than fossil fuel resources.
    https://johnquiggin.com/2020/12/06/the-full-court-press/comment-page-1/#comment-231461

  39. Geoff,

    I have reviewed your article. Respectfully, it only goes covers three paragraphs and as you say yourself in the article doesn’t even cover all of the materials in the panel eg. silver, copper, aluminium, steel, glass etc. I do agree though that planting crops to power cars is a dumb idea and largely ignores the oil that goes into growing modern crops.

    Similar to the example I gave for wind, if you were looking to replace current entire US electricity use with solar panels then you would be looking at a solar panel with an area of approximately 21,000 square miles. It’s hard to put an exact area on the requirement but you can see the scale of the problem as this area is larger than entire states. Even then, you are assuming that power demand could be made more seasonal ie. only use power when the sun is shining or wind blowing, (which it can’t in many case). If you were to use some of the panels to charge a battery then you might double the area again. This is only electricity use (not energy) so if you could somehow electrify trucks, ships, all trains and agricultural equipment (which you can’t) then the figure might double again.

    On current technology, cost of a battery (sodium sulphur) to meet one day of US electrical consumption would be $40.77 trillion dollars, cover 923 square miles, and weigh 450 million tons (like wind/solar panels would need to replace regularly). Using similar logic and data from DOE/EPRI, Li-ion batteries would cost $11.9 trillion dollars, take up 345 square miles, and weigh 74 million tons. Lead– acid (advanced) would cost $8.3 trillion dollars, take up 217.5 square miles, and weigh 15.8 million tons. Sodium sulphur is the only material above abundant enough to make such a big battery, (Alice Friedemann) http://energyskeptic.com/2019/utility-scale-energy-storage-has-a-long-way-to-go-to-make-renewables-possible/

    Therefore to replace all current US electricity use with wind and solar, you would be looking at over a million wind turbines and possibly around 21,000 square miles of solar panels. Double these if you wanted to charge a battery with enough capacity to meet one day electricity demand (battery almost 1000 square miles).

    I am not saying that the energy return on wind and solar is necessarily zero or that they are bad, but you can see above that there are limits to what they can and can’t do. To build the above you are going to use an awful amount of diesel and natural resources which are only going to become more scarce and expensive in the future. Even then, you’d be doing nothing to reduce the dependency of other areas of our economy on oil.

  40. It seems fair to point out (as you say) that energy is required to produce solar panels, wind turbines, etc. But presumably the energy which these renewable generators produce far exceed the energy required to build them?

    While it would surely take time to reduce the correlation between GDP growth and GHG emissions, surely the correlation will eventually fall (even disappear) over time?

    Are you simply arguing that we need more time to address climate change (which I could agree with), or are you saying that it is pointless to address climate change altogether?

  41. David (Re your comments at FEBRUARY 5, 2021 AT 11:14 AM),
    It seems to me you haven’t answered my question: “David, can you please explain how ERoI can be NEGATIVE or ZERO?”

    Instead, it seems to me you’ve deflected with other things.

    You state: “Similar to the example I gave for wind, if you were looking to replace current entire US electricity use with solar panels then you would be looking at a solar panel with an area of approximately 21,000 square miles. It’s hard to put an exact area on the requirement but you can see the scale of the problem as this area is larger than entire states.”

    21,000 square miles is equivalent to a square with sides measuring 144.914 miles, or 233.217 km.
    USA lower 48 states plus DC: 2,959,064.44 square miles (7,663,941.7 km2) is contiguous land.
    Looks like less than 1% of US (lower 48) land area to me.

    In case you missed my earlier linked comment, I’ll repeat it again: Global ‘peak oil’, ‘peak gas’ and ‘peak coal’ are inevitable. Either humanity finds adequate alternative energy solutions that are long-term sustainable, affordable, rapidly deployable and low GHG emissions, or human civilisation becomes energy starved.

    Additionally, if global human-induced GHG emissions don’t begin to rapidly reduce within the next few years (peaking by 2025 is now too late), then the consequences will likely be existential for billions of people and human civilisation later this century.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/18/climate-crisis-heat-is-on-global-heating-four-degrees-2100-change-way-we-live

    What are you saying, David? It seems to me you are advocating for burning more fossil fuels.

  42. Kien,

    I am saying that wind and solar power will not solve climate change or meet the needs of our current economy and society since there is no feasible way that they can replace the current role played by fossil fuels, especially diesel in the trucking, transport shipping and agricultural sectors. The Haber-Bosch process alone may be required in supporting crop yields for billions of people. Wind and solar may meet some of our future electricity needs, although even then they require an underlying fossil fuel base.

    I do no not begin the claim to have all the answers. It is normally the role of engineers to solve scientific problems.

    Later in the 21st century may prove to be extremely violent and disorderly as the rate of oil production declines and economies contract with them. Climate change may also play a role here, although it is harder to predict than depletion of resources. We do need to come up with a long term energy plan and ask ourselves while there is little debate about the exponential growth in the number of people on the earth relative to total resources. A personal approach may be to purchase farm land and learn how to grow things with fewer fossil fuel inputs.

  43. Kien,

    I am saying that wind and solar power will not solve climate change or meet the needs of our current economy and society since there is no feasible way that they can replace the current role played by fossil fuels, especially diesel in the trucking, transport shipping and agricultural sectors. The Haber-Bosch process alone may be required in supporting crop yields for billions of people. Wind and solar may meet some of our future electricity needs, although even then they require an underlying fossil fuel base.

    I do no not begin the claim to have all the answers. It is normally the role of engineers to solve scientific problems.

    Later in the 21st century may prove to be extremely violent and disorderly as the rate of oil production declines and economies contract with them. Climate change may also play a role here, although it is harder to predict than depletion of resources. We do need to come up with a long term energy plan and and ask ourselves while there is little debate about the exponential growth in the number of people on the earth relative to total resources. A personal approach may be to purchase farm land and learn how to grow things with fewer fossil fuel inputs.

  44. It seems that after a year where many people’s routines and lifestyles have been comprehensively disrupted, arguments that societies can’t/won’t change seem to me to to be self-serving nonsense. It’s too late to argue change is impossible when we have had a year of it – with widespread support in the community. The change is inevitable since the climate instability is already forcing change. The idea that we can continue “business as usual” is pure fantasy. The fires of last January were a turning point. I can’t believe I have been drawn into responding – if David is responding in good faith and isn’t a concern troll then he is definitely rhyming with them.

  45. A carbon pollution trading scheme anyone? Instead of people pouring so much energy into Bitcoin (literally) and Gamestop plays why not harness all this speculative appetite into finding novel ways to make a buck reducing carbon pollution? It couldn’t be any worse than the last two decades of practised inaction, lying and obfuscation.

  46. David, every assertion you’ve made clear enough to be testable has been refuted by evidence. We get that you don’t believe solar and wind can’t work and that even seeing them deliver more energy than fossil fuels (as is already the case in the EU) isn’t going to change your mind. Nothing surprising about that (many comparable examples of denialism about) but also nothing interesting. If you have a comprehensive analysis of the issue point to it. If not, don’t bother posting random internet links or restatements of your argument from disbelief.

  47. Hi, David. Thank you for explaining your position.

    I’m afraid I still don’t understand it (apologies) since electric vehicles seem to be feasible, and so given time, I am sure all the other applications that currently require diesel/fossil fuel engines could be replaced by electric engines. I think even electric planes will one day become feasible, or alternatively, planes using fuel produced sustainably. (I read recently that scientists are investigating capturing carbon and converting it to jet fuel.)

    Perhaps I’m just more optimistic than you are? Again, I appreciate that feasibility depends on time frame, and it seems to me that as long as we have a sufficiently long time frame, anything is feasible.

    However, if your claim is that we cannot rely on wind and solar alone, but should include other technologies (e.g., nuclear, carbon capture, etc), I tend to agree with that position. We should not artificially restrict ourselves to only wind/solar as our solutions …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s