Tim Flannery talking to Phillip Adams last week said he had set himself the task this year of trying to get both major parties to adopt sensible climate change policies for the election.
He said they had to answer the simple question, What temperature change we can tolerate before risking dangerous consequences? One degree? Two degrees? Three degrees? When they have answered that one they need to consider what actions are necessary over what time frame to prevent a temperature increase that will get us into severe trouble.
Out of those two simple considerations they will then find themselves committed to emissions targets and develop (we hope) appropriate strategies to achieve those targets.
Howardâs language has undergone an interesting shift:
Mr Howard reaffirmed his opposition to the states’ target but insisted he was not against cutting targets “generically”.
A political fault line has emerged over the climate change issue, with federal Labor committed to the more ambitious target – but Mr Howard said he would not embrace targets that would harm the economy and destroy jobs.
“But that doesn’t mean to say that you forever say there are no targets,” he told journalists. “It depends on their levels and it depends on your understanding of their impact.”
So to sum up the major party positions, Rudd has accepted the 60% by 2050 target which is rapidly gaining favour as the generic standard. Rudd is also promising his own Stern review to look at the economic implications.
Yet Rudd has not answered Flanneryâs question of what we truly need to do to fix the problem. Nor has he nominated interim targets.
Howard is still saying, weâll only do what doesnât cost jobs and harm the economy. But he is completely disregarding Sternâs warning that no action or inadequate action is the more expensive route, (which is the counter-argument Labor is putting.)
Yet Howard seems to be hedging his bets and giving himself wriggle room, while posing as the one with safe hands on the tiller.
Lenore Taylor in the weekend edition of the Australian Financial Review has an interesting analysis of where Howardâs at. She says he is defending his climate change credentials in three ways.
First, he is spruiking that we will be one of the few developing countries to meet the Kyoto standards we didnât sign up to. But that is almost entirely due to the cessation of tree-clearing in Queensland, which in 1990 was at a record high. Our power generation emissions in 2012 will be at 156% of 1990 levels; our transport emissions will be 140%.
Weâve used a âonce only get out of jail cardâ? and the tough decisions are still to come.
Second, weâve played around with the Asia Pacific partnership (AP6) to help establish greenhouse-reducing technologies in developing countries in the region. Taylor points out that Howard has successfully passed this initiative off as the ânew Kyotoâ? to the MSM, whereas to the rest of the world it is irrelevant and well below the radar. In the real Kyoto world technology development and diffusion to developing countries is done through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM):
which has so far launched 621 registered projects in developing countries, reducing emissions by 860 million tonnes of carbon and earning their proponents an equivalent number of credits.
Australia is on the sidelines.
Third, Howard has sprayed some money around internally on technology development and trial projects. Yet such expenditure is unlikely to reduce emissions
because without a price signal, even the best new technology is not going to be bought.
It seems that Howard is going to attempt to fix this by adopting an emissions trading system after his working party of polluters and others is finished their work.
Taylor reminds us that back in 2003 a submission for a carbon trading system that would only inconvenience big business marginally was co-sponsored by the Treasurer, the Environment Minister and backed by Industry and Foreign affairs. Howard talked to the Ã¼berpolluters and canned it. Now heâs brought the big polluters right inside the tent to give it another whirl, because actually they themselves want a known framework for investment.
The states have decided to go it alone and install a system by 2010. Prof Rob Fowler, director of the Australian Centre for Environmental Law, says that the states initiative is workable. When Howard moves will mainly be determined by political considerations.
On the positive side the COAG announcement of a climate adaptation centre was a welcome addition to provisions for adaptation rather than mitigation. It is a recognition that despite the sceptics within government, the impacts of drought on farming and the danger to property on the coastline have reached a point where they canât be ignored.
Meanwhile there is a powerful meme being established, that 60% reductions by 2050 is going to wreck the economy. The press is too stupid to unravel it, with Max Walsh telling us the other day that by 2050 our per capita GDP will double, hence our emissions will double, hence weâll all be rooned if we reduce emissions by 60%.
I want to address this in another post, but the 60% norm may soon become an 80% norm. The grass roots US campaign Step it Up has just run a 1400 event campaign in 50 states calling on Congress to cut carbon by 80% by 2050. The campaign only started in January. Very impressive!