The 60% emissions target: science or ideology

For some time now Howard with the assistance of some people who should know better has been establishing a meme that Labor’s 60% emissions target by 2050 will wreck the economy. Labor and the Greens with their 80% target are “peas in a pod”?, both “crazy”? and “Irresponsible”?. We’ll all be rooned for sure.

This meme started back before Easter when within 24 hours at least three public figures repeated the theme. First there was our fearless leader, then John Roskam (the IPA guy) on local Melbourne radio and finally Max Walsh had a go on Saturday Breakfast, with Walsh warning about severe economic implications if instead of doubling power consumption we reduce it by 60%.

Then last week Terry McCrann really let fly, saying that the state premiers had declared war on their citizens.

EVERY state and territory premier has officially declared war on his – in the case of the Northern Territory’s Clare Martin, her – very own citizens.

That is the astonishing reality of their commitment last Friday to a 60 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050.

For if ‘achieved’, it would wreak devastation across the national and individual state economies of such degree as to make the Great Depression of the 1930s look like a picnic in the park.

At base Howard, Roskam, Walsh, McCrann may accept the reality of global warming and climate change, but are denialists about it’s scope and effects. They think that the effects will be so marginal that the economy can sail along on a penalty-free ‘business-as-usual’ basis. Stern’s main message, and they missed it, is that it is going to be more expensive to do nothing or too little than to take the appropriate action. Business will not be usual and Stern says inaction will cost us roughly 20 times as much as early concerted and co-ordinated action.

In this post I’d like to have a look at whether substantial cuts by 2050 are warranted, and in a second post look at some of the obvious practical measures that might be taken to achieve such cuts. Let’s remind ourselves of some of the targets.

National Labor is suggesting 60% cuts from 1990 emissions, whereas the Labor states have committed to 60% of 2000.

The Greens new policy (pdf) suggests 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 and 30% by 2020 with “a rolling five-year national energy budget”.

The EU are going for 20% by 2020 and 30% if other developed nations join the party.

Germany would be proposing the higher target to the G8, but will be thwarted by US recalcitrance. Radio reports I heard at the time of the G8 plus 5 environment ministers meeting stressed that China and India were not the slightest bit interested in curbing their lust for coal unless the developed countries cut their own emissions and paid them for the adoption of renewable energy solutions. It looks as though nuclear might get the nod, however.

Britain looks set to go for 60% by 2050 on 1990 levels, 26% by 2020 with statutory 5-year targets.

California has targeted 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, with other states joining in to some degree.

Two Norwegian scientists have gone for 80% below 2000 levels for 2050, with 95% cuts for the rich countries (on grounds of equity, no doubt).

George Monbiot’s Heat but he suggests 90% by 2030 if we really want to stop the planet from frying, and suggests it can be done “without bringing civilisation to an end.”? Please note: his specific calculation for Britain is 87%, for Australia it’s 94%

The metrics of the overall problem are actually quite simple. The scope of the problem is outlined very clearly in Chapter 8 of the Stern Review (download from here). Current emissions were running at 42 GtCO2e each year in 2000. We need to get that down to below 5 GtCO2e*, which is the absorption capacity of the planet.

Ideally we need to get them down to 5 GtCO2e* tomorrow. For a sustainable planet our irresponsibility has been gross in the extreme.

In practical terms, then, it’s urgent that we start reducing immediately because what goes up stays up. The later we start the more savage our annual cuts need to be and the more likely that we will overshoot.

In terms of carbon in the air, we are currently at about 430 ppm CO2e (CO2e means the CO2 equivalent of the so-called Kyoto greenhouse gases) and increasing at 2.7 ppm each year. Stern would clearly like to stabilise at 450 ppm, but he thinks it’s probably beyond us.

With 450 ppm we would only have a 5 – 20% chance of exceeding a 3C rise in temperature above pre-industrial levels (remember 2C plus is considered dangerous). With 550 ppm stabilisation the chance of 3C plus goes up to 30 – 70%. If you want to see what 3C means look at Figure 2 on page 5 of Stern’s Executive Summary (pdf). The coral reefs would have no chance and we’d be well into major species extinction, partial or complete collapse of the Amazonian rainforests, irreversible melting of Greenland but perhaps not yet the flooding of major cities such as London, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

According to Stern, for 550 ppm stabilisation emissions need to peak about 2015 and then reduce by 1% each year. Leave it another 10 years and we’ll overshoot for sure.

For 450 ppm stabilisation, emissions need to peak within 10 years and then fall by 5% per year, reaching 70% below current levels by 2050.

I would point out that 80% off 42 GtCO2e gives 8.4, still above the 5 GtCO2e* that the planet can absorb, remembering that GW is predicted to damage that absorption capacity. I can’t actually find the 1990 figure, but I suspect 80% off that figure would still see us short.

Given that 450 ppm stabilisation targets a 2C temperature increase, which brings the risk of significant positive feedbacks and runaway effects, I’d suggest George Monbiot’s plan warrants close attention. All the other targets carry too much risk.

Meanwhile we should be looking for a prime minister who understands that we need to live and work within a frame of ecological and biophysical sustainability. As Paul Norton so eloquently put it:

the ecological imperative must take priority, and economic and social goals redefined to be attainable within what ecosystems will allow.

Conclusion: The 60% by 2050 target is not ideology. In terms of science, it is inadequate if we want to stabilise GHG levels and the climate in a manner that does not risk a severe discontinuity with the world we know.

[* That should have read 5 Gt carbon or 18.35 GtCO2e. The error came from a typo in the Stern Review (and the annoying practice of stating emissions in terms of CO2 and absorption as carbon.) More recent science would indicate that long-term emissions should be zero for 280 ppm and a safe climate. Brian, April 2009 ]

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59 comments on “The 60% emissions target: science or ideology
  1. Lefty E says:

    Yes, but Howard’s on a hiding to nothing with this line anyway. Totally neutralisable, like every other desperate stunt he’s pulled lately.

    When Howard says “its irreponsible to do x without knowing the consequences”, enough punters will be thinking it rather more irresponsible to do nothing, knowing the likely consequences of global warming.

    Anyway, whats happened to this so called ‘economic reform’ agenda? Surely we should be reading the advance signals and getting ahead of the game. New sustainable industries, export opportunities, avoiding dramatic costs etc.

    And Howard’s claims that the ALP would “outsource” our economic control to the EU smacks of panic, and having lost his political touch altogether. You aint talking to yanks, Ratty. The EU dont scare us that much.

    The old tool is on the way out. Howard’s “alternative policies” (hehe, props to the Ruddster for that ballsy line) on climate change arent going to satisfy an anxious public.

  2. tim says:

    Try to cut your own emissions by 60%. See how easy it is.

  3. Paulus says:

    I am curious as to what specific changes in our lifestyle will ultimately be required to achieve the more radical targets. What will we have to sacrifice? Can we achieve it just by building non-carbon emitting power plants and accepting a modest rise in the cost of power? Or will it involve some sort of thorough re-engineering of the economy?

  4. Phil says:

    Try riding a bike for a change Tim.

    It’s actually very easy…….when you do actually try…….instead of throwing your hands up in the air in a fit of personal weakness and irresponsibility crying. “Al Gore is fat, Al Gore is fat!”.

    Right wingers are such pusssies.

  5. The Editor says:

    Try to cut your own emissions by 60%. See how easy it is.

    Clearly when things aren’t easy we should throw our hands up in the air and stop trying.

    (By the way, I reckon paying that extra couple of dollars a week for “green energy” would reduce household electrical emissions quite a bit. But paying extra money’s not easy so why bother?)

  6. steve says:

    Guess who is clueless and got his figures wrong again?

  7. Austin says:


    I buy 100% of my electricity (well me and my partner) from “green” sources, I grow some food and source much of it locally and ride/walk/catch train to work. I work with natural lighting and my computer uses very low power consumption and is not left on over night.

    And still I think I can make reductions, however it would end up costing a bit too much.

    It is pathetic that so many people don’t care about the somewhat near future (40 years is nearer than you think).

    The prediction about mass extinction is the most worrisome. Many people treat biodiversity as a “cute” think. Like having lots of animals in a zoo. But really it is the way nature ensure a sable ecosystem. When the species start disappearing from the planet, we know that things are going badly wrong. For Homo Sapeins are a species and nature doesn’t discriminate.

  8. Kim says:

    Try to cut your own emissions by 60%. See how easy it is.

    Furphy, tim.

    The time scale is over 33 years. Of course, it presumes the introduction of clean energy sources which are not currently available.

  9. Graeme Bird says:

    But Brian. You don’t have the least bit of evidence in the first place to so much as suggest that we ought to spend $1 reducing industrial-CO2 output.

    You should have figured out by now that its an energy-deprivation-fraud.

    Its bizzare that you haven’t sorted it out by now.


    I don’t think you do.

    In fact I KNOW you don’t.

  10. Graeme Bird says:

    Isn’t that just bizzare?

    Not one of the leftists on this site have even the slightest evidence that industrial-CO2 is a bad thing.

    You know it USED TO be about the science.

    The science of the matter is this:

    1. Industrial-CO2’s effects on the climate are so small that no-one yet has found any evidence that they exist. The only time that we might suggest there was evidence is between 1976 and 2000. And thats far more readily put down to other factors.

    2. Industrial-CO2 is an inmitigated boon to both the human and natural world.

    3. We are in the worst phase of a brutal and pulverising ice age. And although no-one has any evidence that we are warming the planet…… as well no-one has any evidence that a little bit of human-induced-warming is a bad thing under the circumstances.

    Now THAT’S where the science stands at the moment. And yet all the same usual suspects on this thread are in total denial and yet even actual contempt of the science.

  11. Jed says:

    thanks for an excellent overview…

    NB: There’s an interesting, (if a little depressing) article in New Matilda on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme this week.

  12. Phil Manning says:

    Just a thought.
    Australia only produces like under 2% of the world’s CO2 – so wouldn’t anything we do be more important as an example to other countries and for solidarity than for any actual result?

  13. Robert Merkel says:

    Tim, just buying green power gets you a fair proportion of the way there.

  14. Jed says:

    “wouldn’t anything we do be more important as an example to other countries and for solidarity than for any actual result?”

    This shouldn’t be under-estimated, besides if each of the countries that produced 1-2% of the global emissions refused to play along we’d be more or less right where we are now…

  15. patrickg says:

    Yeah Birdy, the whole climate change thing is naught but a conspiracy, cooked up by Elvis and JFK from the New World Order Headquarters they’re hiding in, carried out by sentient lizards who are also poisoning humankind by putting flouride and mind-control drugs in our water, which has the side-effect of rendering us infertile, and causing teenagers to black out and wake up dead, in the Isles of Langerhans, Texas.

    The government knows about this, of course, which is why they’re working with the illuminati to perform medical procedures on blood donors, whilst they, unawares, think they’re being abducted by aliens, who are actually visitors from Mars, and the precursors to all life on earth.

    I wouldn’t stress too much dude, those tin foil hats you and Blair wear 24/7 don’t just protect you from thought-control beams and ‘voices’, they also reflect some heat back into the atmosphere. So you’re both reducing your personal emissions inadvertently.

    Now we just did to do something about all that hot air…

  16. wilful says:

    I buy green power as well, though I strongly suspect that’s mostly a feel-good measure. Why? Because it’s mostly affluent inner city elites who are double paying for the MRET installed capacity. But eventually it will make a difference, by giving generators more confidence in the market demand…

    But… our household is fairly typical, two and bit of us, and we’ve gone about bog standard energy efficiency measures (CFL globes, turning stuff off at the power point, buying efficient appliances, insulating) and according to Sustainability Vic’s figures, we use about half the average for a comparable domestic arrangement.

    So Tim, yeah, it’s actually really piss easy to get to 60% reduction domestically within 30 years. We’re basically already there, and without dreadlocks too!

    Graeme, everyone’s ignoring you because you’re a wingnutter. But please, make this a left v right thing, it’s all about the ideology, right?

  17. Wilful, the point of the approved Green Power schemes is that it has to be on top of MRET – your retailer can’t count the stuff you bought for meeting MRET as part of your Green Power.

  18. steve says:

    What happened the last time RWDB’s tried a scare campaign

  19. suz says:

    Brian, thanks for a very useful (and, as usual, scary) summary.
    Howard has managed to win elections based on fear-mongering. For this one he seems to be taking the ‘fear-mongering about fear’ approach. It will be interesting (and crucial) to see if his appeal to people to reject concerns about climate change are successful. I’ll be surprised (and depressed) if Australians opt for ‘relaxed and comfortable’ in the face of so much international (and domestic) evidence that global warming is real.

  20. philip travers says:

    I find it almost impossible to trust any form of government or industry when it comes to Australia or its people having a large looming problem.There are some aspects of all this outside of individual personal concern that need clarification,because percentage figures even of emissions etc. do not give justice to the reality it describes.And the electric grid is the problem as much as the coal related emissions for the front end loader and user arguments.Unless you are independent in terms of electrical use,to harp on about emissions is a substantial folly.Recently after trying to wrack my brain,because I believe even my inputs may be worthier than none,thinking about the collapse of Snowy River related electricity production,I searched the internet again.I felt there for a while, it maybe possible to keep turbines going without readily available water at the volume it requires through its tunnels,and thought,therefore,that tunnels need a smaller aperture dimension.Granted..silly English. Replace tunnel flow with smaller dimensional pipes and water pressure technology ,already on the market included industrial scale air pumps.This then lead me to the strange reality of how far can you go by alternative means to increase water pressure ,other than by the present water volumes running through tunnels. Answer depends on how the turbine receives the pressure of water flow across the material that does this.Flying blind on matters of real interface values is a problem for me,but what may be a problem for me.. may not be a problem for engineers.Persist.I lost the plot a bit in researching faraday cage related technology,but where I failed there was application rather than it couldnt be used,essentially I thought a series of Faraday cages in the tunnels would effect stream flow and then oxygenate the water as well and by the time it reached the turbine it could have some remarkable qualities,if in fact a electrical discharge into the water happened at the turbine propulsion interface.The discharge relacing water pressure but not the effect of water volume pressure,as any one could admit if they have touched an electric fence and stood in a puddle.A discharge of electricity into water is a well practiced technological event that has already existing proper measurements,and material science can locate a value for material of propulsion interface.The air pumped in then becomes an added force,replacing water as force,by electric discharge air and material resistance conduction of propulsion interface.This is long winded and theoretical.THE end result of these attempts to suggest a way through the present water volume as force shortage included the vortex tube development that put on a air hose can substantially reduce temperature to below 40 degrees I am not a technical whizz so some patience is required for final summation internet sites and even computer use accuracy can interfere, with the requirement of clearheadedness. Precision Brand found thru provided me with the latest on the VortexTube Experimental Kit and whilst at these sites try to find also the tool wrap for high temperature heat treatment because this stuff will have multiple uses in Aus. in matters of energy. Comes in 50 to 100 ft lengths 24 inches wide.The faraday cage matter I will have to find later perhaps it was PBP if it is Traverse City Michigan..But a general boning up on Faraday cages and tech.. will lead to faraday isolators which convert light and magnetic influence to uses of laser,and maybe,the boring requirements of Telstra.It isnt dramatic for me to think,that Australian science resources are too stretched to cope with the layman directions and theoreticians outside of the qualified,but I am not the devil in the detail,and even with their own support networks new insights can be offered.My confidence is based on the fact,that, I am not a cost to research or,prestige.I also think the technically interested should not confuse alarming figures as a prior set of predetermined responses.Conclusion the art of invention doesnt have to follow that which appears to be unshakeable convention..the scientific experimentor knows this as approach but not theory or substantial physical law.

  21. Peter Wood says:

    Countries with high per capita emissions will probably need to reduce their emissions more than countries with low per capita emissions. If Australia was to reduce its emissions by 60%, they still will only be marginally lower per capita than present per capita emissions in the UK. The Stern Review (p. 474) cites a study by Hohne et al which looks at various options for a global framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    The study discusses four options for different countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it does not provide figures for Australia, but does for the United States, which also has high per capita GHG emissions. The results for the US are emissions 20-40% less than 1990 levels in 2020, and 70-90% less than 1990 levels in 2050. This is for a 450 ppm CO2 concentration, which corresponds to somewhere around a 550 ppm CO2 equivalent concentration. If we want to mitigate more of the low temperature increase effects of climate change, such as severe coral bleaching of the Barrier Reef, we will probably have to aim for a lower stabilisation target than 550 ppm CO2-e.

    If Australia was to adopt a carbon price signal on domestic emissions, and continue to export coal to countries which do not adopt similar policies, the negative externality of that contribution to global warming will not be addressed.

    According to ABARE, Australian black coal exports in 2004-05 were worth $10.8 billion, and contributed 6591 PetaJoules of energy. Most black coal fired power plants emit about 1.0 t CO2-e per TeraWatt hour. My back of envelope calculations suggest that this amounts to 1830 Mt CO2-e per year, about 3.8 times as much as Australian domestic emissions. To close down our coal export industry would therefore cost $5.90 per tonne CO2-e in lost exports, which I think is a pretty good price.

    Of course shutting down our coal export industries would upset some sectional interests in Australia’s economy, cause job losses, provide comfort to those who argue that climate change abatement will be too inconvenient, and probably be politically unachievable. A more sensible alternative would be to address this externality by inclusion in an emissions trading scheme, or by applying a carbon tax to coal exports. The very large amount of emissions associated with Australia’s coal exports mean that addressing this issue requires serious consideration.

    My preferred way for Australia to mitigate climate change would be for an emissions trading scheme and complementary measures for dealing with domestic emissions, and a carbon tax on coal exports, which will perhaps be somewhere around $5.90 per tonne CO2-e. If Australia can provide effective emission reductions, and reduce coal exports through a price signal, we will be setting a good example. If we can also achieve some economic benefits through efficiency increases, others may even want to imitate us.

  22. Lefty E says:

    Australia can punch above its weight by becoming leaders in solar and wind tech, and exporting it. Will help our woeful balance of trade, our lack of tertiary industry, and ‘export’ emissions cuts elsewhere while we’re at it. Id call that win win.

    Combine that trade agenda with an aid element for less developed countries, cashingin on carbon trading returns every we do, and away we go.

    Fair dinkum, the “economic” argument against reductions is starting to remind me of 1890s compositors opposing a mechainsed typesets, or Luddites smashing up new factories. There’s a fair element of it thats simply anti-innovation.

  23. Peter Wood, you seem to be making the assumption that the foreign purchasers of coal will not simply purchase the stuff from elsewhere.

    Unilaterally abandoning coal exports is utterly pointless.

    Lefty E, historically we have been very poor at manufacturing. What’s different about solar or wind technology?

  24. Kim says:

    Lefty E, historically we have been very poor at manufacturing.

    I don’t think that’s fair, Robert. Historically, we had a protected manufacturing sector that didn’t deliver consumer goods at low prices. However, I don’t know that Australian TCF, for instance, had a reputation for poor quality. So I’m not sure that statement is universally vaild. And the Keating government, rightly, encouraged innovative and high value added manufacturing. Which is why we have a world class auto parts industry.

  25. Lefty E says:

    True Robert, but historically it was heavily protected import replacement (aside from the early 90s, where quite a few complex manufactures took off, back in the days when industry policy wasnt a dirty word). Those days are gone, and Australia should have some natural advantages in the solar R&D area. That leading scientists in solar tech are fleeing (to China and the US, in the two recent high profile cases) is a sign of that capacity squandered, rather than somehow missing from the economic landscape.

  26. Lefty E says:

    Or, putting it another way – what Kim said….

  27. Kim says:

    Shorter me: what Lefty E said. 🙂

  28. Kim: that world-class auto parts industry is now under serious threat because of the rising dollar and the China price, not to mention that the uniquely Australian preference for large, rear-drive passenger vehicle seems to be evaporating in the face of increased fuel costs.

    Andrew E: maybe. Might I suggest that part of the reason is that the Australian investment community has very little expertise in technologically-oriented venture capital. It’s all about mining, and, to a very limited extent, biotech.

    Furthermore, I’m still pretty dubious about greenfields large-scale export-oriented manufacturing in high-tech goods being set up in Australia in the current economic climate, with the dollar levels unseen for 20 years and unemployment similarly low.

  29. Peter Wood says:

    Peter Wood, you seem to be making the assumption that the foreign purchasers of coal will not simply purchase the stuff from elsewhere.

    Some of the foreign purchasers of coal will purchase from elsewhere if coal production is stopped, and a smaller amount will be purchased from elsewhere if a carbon tax was applied to coal exports. This will mean the cost of reductions will be higher than the very low price of $5.90 per tonne CO2-e, but probably still quite low. We will be reducing emissions that we are responsible for by digging up the coal in the first place. In the absence of viable CCS technologies digging up the coal will inevitably lead to emissions and in some ways it is somewhat arbitrary that emissions associated with energy are measured at the point of production.

    The point is that if we export coal to countries where there is no price signal (like most of the world), or a very low price signal (a tonne of CO2e is priced at less than a Euro in the European ETS at the moment), then we are contributing to the market failure of emissions without a proper price signal. By taxing coal exports or reducing them through other means we would be addressing that failure. This price signal would contribute to reductions in emissions, which means that the proposition that “unilaterally abandoning coal exports is utterly pointless” is false.

    There is of course the free rider problem. By not doing anything about the emissions caused by the coal that we export we contribute to that problem.

  30. Kim says:

    I’m not an expert, Robert, but it seems to me investing in it now may pay dividends for the future. There are lots of things that could affect the competitiveness of mining – people shouldn’t assume that there’s no will to tackle emissions in China for a start in some quarters, and revaluation of the Chinese currency and/or continued drops in the USD could change the picture of international trade and also the world economic position quite quickly.

  31. SJ says:

    What happened the last time RWDB’s tried a scare campaign

    Teh funny.

  32. Kim, I’m certainly not arguing against continued government funding for R&D into any and all renewable energy technologies.

    I’m just very dubious of the notion floating around that they will be our economic salvation. It strikes me as nearly as dubious as the idiotic claims by Walsh and McRann.

    Furthermore, I’m also very skeptical of the idea of renewable energy as a “job creator”. If we’re spending more money on energy by employing more people, that’s less money that will be spent on something else, and there’s no guarantee that that something was something less labor-intensive.

  33. Peterc says:

    We have got our household emissions down by about 80% with a combination of lowering power requirements, solar hotwater, gas for cooking, solar panels, riding bikes and using public transport.

    What you can do, in rough order of increasing cost:

    1. Vote for someone who will DO something about climate change and write letters to Howard and Rudd tell them that ANY Grubby Coal burning creates CO2 emissions. $0
    2. Reduce power consumption by fitting low energy light bulbs (could halve your consumption!) – cost $200-$500
    3. Buy green energy (go for 100% or as high a ratio as possible, some are not so green) – add $20-30 to your power bill
    4. Ride a bike (burn fat, not oil) – you can get a reasonable bike for about $500 & above
    5. Install a solar hotwater heater (you get a rebate for this) – about $2,000
    6. Install a gas oven (if you buy a new one) rather than electric – about $500
    7. Put grid interactive solar panels on your roof – from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on number of panels

    This list is not comprehensive. Check out Tiptheplanet for more ideas.

    Go for it. You can make a difference.

  34. Peterc says:

    And check out Al Gore’s 10 things to do (PDF)

  35. chrisl says:

    Congratulations to all those who have reduced their consumption of co2. Give yourselves “another” pat on the back.However the policy states that we must reduce emissions by a further 60%. Obviously that doesn’t include measures already taken.

  36. polluted skies says:

    I’d like to add a few observations about the current situation here in China.

    “people shouldn’t assume that there’s no will to tackle emissions in China for a start in some quarters… ”

    There may indeed be some will but remember that 16 out of 20 of the world’s most polluted cities are already here and that hasn’t done much except lead to the authorities saying ” we need to maintain economic growth so we will have the technology and finances to tackle the pollution problems.”

    From my trips to Australia I have received the impression that people value the environment in a manner somewhat different to people in other places. Australians appear to value clean air, open spaces and wild areas.
    Clean air would seem to be an unlikely quality to NOT value but most chinese people I encounter aren’t even close to the awareness of Australians when it comes to this issue. Startling figures are available documenting days of production last , lives shortened and chronic diseases made worse by poor air quality but rarely does this tranlate into substantive remedial action.

    A recent visitor from an overseas environmental group was explaining the poor efficiency of chinese steel making. They need to use 4 tonnes of coal, the japanese use only .75 of a tonne and the koreans about 1 tonne to make a tonne of steel. His plan was to encourage investment to promote more efficient steel production rather than less . And they warned that such efficiency gains may stimulate MORE steel production.

    This spokesperson also went on to mention that during 2007 China will overtake the US as the greatest emmitter of GHGs. More worryingly the Chinese per capita GDP is projected to meet that of the US by 2030. That means several hundred million more middle class consumers who may want to flex their economic well being by purchasing cars . The total number of cars in the world is estimated to be 800 million. Using their improved purchasing power if the per capita GDP strength translates into a US style of car ownership the chinese will need 1.1 billion EXTRA cars.
    How long are oil reserves thought to be going to last ?

    I’m not entirely convinced about this last argument as many cities have extensive and heavily utilised public trtansport systems and the authorities here do heavily tax private car ownership.

    The biggest concern the central authorities have is maintaining what they call social stability and prosperity. The big trade off being made here is that while individual economic wellbeing is dramatically improving there is almost no improvement in individual political rights.
    The majority have seemingly accepted this bargain – and the authorities concede that without 10-11 % GDP growth there is not going to be an ability to move people out of decaying state owned enterprises and into jobs in the private sector. If they lower the growth rate there is a great fear that social unrest will occur and those who think they are being deprived of the benefits of this transformation of the chinese economy will challenge the authorities.
    So expect continuing growth as we have seen over the last 10 years and the corresponding need for ever greater amounts of energy and the cheapest way currently available is coal fired power stations.
    Announcements have been made about substantial investments in solar and wind power and targets have been set for the amount of power that will be sourced from alternative means but within this society the concept of what constitutes a state secret severly limits independant verification of any statistic released by the state.

    Unfortunately I think the authorities here think nuclear power is an alternative power source and so I expect that many new reactors will be commissioned.

    Sorry about the length of this comment but the last point I’d make is about how different cultures perceive their relationship with nature. Living in harmony is a frequently heard ideal in Asia but this isn’t what many Australians would understand . The idea that we don’t overly interfere and try to have a balanced interaction is strange to many people here . Nature is to be confined , tamed even ( eg the 3 gorges Dam on the Yangtse River ) . Where we may see wild beauty many others see waste and some even express fear about natural settings. How do we convince these people that such natural settings have intrinsic worth ?
    Not be telling them they are wrong and they need to change that’s for certain .
    As the chinese become more successful they are not unexpectedly becoming more certain that their way is the best way.
    What they perceive to be “outsiders” demanding dramatic re-evaluation of the economic model that has lead to hundreds of millions being lifted out of bleak, grinding poverty usually receives a polite but bemused refusal.

  37. tim says:

    I would just like to point out that the tim who posted up top was not me, the tim who regularly posts here on climate and energy-related issues 😉

    Brian, I’ve been hoping for a post like this for quite some time, and am not in the least surprised that it came from you. Very high quality as always. Thanks so much for stimulating this discussion.

    My only regret is that, since I’m moving house this weekend, I don’t have the time or energy to contribute ;-(

  38. Joop says:

    Most of the discussions in the media on carbon reduction are about the details, bhow much reduction in so many years etc. But there is very little discussion about the process:

    A: what main energy sources are we using now
    B : what energy source will we be using in say, 50 years time
    C: what do we need to do to get from A to B

    A: we are using mainly hydrocarbons, coal, some nuclear and some renewable sources here and there.

    The answer to B is clear in what it will NOT be: oil and to a lesser extend gas. Regardless of the scenarios if we are at an oil peak at the moment or that we will reach it later, oil capacity will decline and we need to look at different sources (NB, we will not run out of oil, but out of capacity for a reasonable cost). Same for gas, usage will still go up, but eventually it will decline as well as it is a finite resource.
    So the answer is that we need to go other sources, and ones which will not change the energy balance of the earth and has minimal impact on the environment. So in order of importance: solar/thermal and renewables like wind and water. Nuclear could be good in principle, it is clean and relatively safe, but the problem is with the side issues like waste, ingredients for nuclear bombs, security, etc.

    So if we agree on B, the question is how to get there. We need an incentive to create the means and methods to use alternative sources of eneregy. And the only means we have in our society to stimulate production of a product is money (morals as a driver would be nice, but you cannot make an industry based purely on morals). So we need to give a financial incentive to go solar and phase out coal and hydrocarbons. This tax should take all the carbon needed to do an activity into account, so it will be a sort of Carbon Added Tax, e.g. CAT.
    This will also brake the silly drive from certain quarters to use biofuel. Why on earth should we do something that nature has already done for us for millions of years, e.g. making oil? Much better to grow something useful.

    The conversion from coal/hydrocarbons has to be started with the countries who have the means to do so, e.g. the rich countries. Also it will help if the main source of energy is available. So Australia is a perfect place to do this: we are rich, receive a lot of sunshine and have the potential knowledge (universities, industry) to really set our teeth into it to get it started.
    The rewards will come soon as we will develop knowledge and products which we can sell abroad. There will be other countries who will follow suit, and several will be dragging their feet. But even they will have no choice but to follow sooner or later. For instance China who is a big user of coal and is intend on substantially increase its consumption of that commodity, will see that their products will get expensive because of the CAT. So smart exporting companies will reduce their cost by using energy from alternative sources. Then there will be the internal pressure by people who like to have clean air and external political pressure by the converted countries (which are the rich countries, buying their goods), and they will have to change as well.
    And that is the way to do it: rich countries first, poor(er) countries will follow by using existing technologies.

    So Australia, where are we waiting for. A government with a vision for the future perhaps?

  39. steve says:

    The New Matilda Magazine the Jed spoke of earlier is here.

  40. steve says:

    Apparently Howard is going to announce tomorrow a plan for nuclear Power Generation. Hope he has fun explaining how that is economically feasible and why the nuclear powered nations still happen to be the biggest polluters in the world.

  41. steve says:

    Looks like ideology is going to knock science offf its perch with Howard set to announce tomorrow that Nuclear Power generation is due to start in Australia.

    As well as explaining why such a high risk and high priced form is necessary in Austrralia, he could also tell why the nuclear powered nations are the biggest polluters and where we are to get the workers from as the US can not even keep up.

  42. he could also tell why the nuclear powered nations are the biggest polluters

    That’s just flat wrong, Steve.

    While this just lists CO2 rather than all greenhouse gases, it’s reasonably illustrative: list of countries by co2 emissions per capita.

    Compare France to Germany, or Sweden to Denmark – to take pairs of similar countries. The countries that get most of their power from nuclear emit about 40% less CO2.

  43. Brian says:

    Thought you might like to know that England is looking at the warmest April for over 300 years.

    China is a worry. It looks as though they are going to be the champion GHG emitter within months.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the 4,732 million tonnes quoted for 2004 is just below the sustainable allowance of 5 Gt for the planet. I read somewhere in the last few days that they have flatly refused to consider GHG caps of any kind.

    There was a feature in Thursday’s AFR about pollution in China which was similar to this earlier one from Spiegel.

    I think the WTO may have to concern itself with this issue eventually if significant GHG emitters remain recalcitrant. The ‘polluter pays’ principle should apply.

  44. Kim says:

    Brian, serious question, has this April in Brisbane broken any records? We had about one week of autumnal weather, but since then I reckon the average has hovered around 28.

  45. Kim says:

    I would just like to point out that the tim who posted up top was not me, the tim who regularly posts here on climate and energy-related issues 😉

    Don’t worry, tim, we know timmeh when we see him… 🙂

  46. steve says:

    That’s just flat wrong, Steve.

    While this just lists CO2 rather than all greenhouse gases, it’s reasonably illustrative: list of countries by co2 emissions per capita.

    Call it flat wrong if you like but I actually read all the reports that both you and Brian post including the eighty two page Productivity Commission Report from the 4th Apri; this year. I have also looked at the table you posted last week.

    Trouble is that your table is a listing on a per capita basis whereas the Productivity Commission report just lists the Biggest polluters by amount of GHG emissions. On that basis The US and China are streets ahead of the fiel with Russia third.

    Of course China is going to look good in figures on a per Capita basis, as does the US but in actual worst polluter terms they are so far in front nobody will ever match their achievements.

  47. steve says:

    Cast your eye over table 1.1 on page 17 of this report and tell me that the major polluters of the world are not the nuclear nations. Nuclear Nations clean and green – I don’t think so.

  48. Steve, how much of their energy needs do China and the USA actually get from nuclear, compared to coal?

    In the USA’s case, only about 20% of electricity comes from nuclear power. In China, I don’t have the exact statistics to hand, but it’s much less – they only have 10 reactors in operation.

    Where countries do rely on nuclear power for most of their electricity needs, their emissions are a lot lower.

  49. Brian says:

    steve, you do an excellent job reading reports and bringigng them to our attention. But I’m with Robert on this one. Stern cites France going nuclear as an example of how countries can make major cuts to their emissions.

    I haven’t read that Productivity Commission report in detail, but there is something strange about the figures. They are way below total emissions (354 vs the official figure of 564 for 2004). I suspect they represent either stationary plus transport CO2e emissions only or perhaps ‘energy’ emissions of CO2 only. Almost certainly they leave out four other categories.

    There must be a definition there somewhere, but I don’t have time to look right now.

    Kim, obviously we need to wait a few days, but it will be interesting.

    The average max for April (1840-1994 was 26.1, for May it is 23.2 so we should be getting about 24.6 right now.

  50. Jed says:

    Brian, some of the figures you quote in the original post are derived from the Stern Report, which preceded the 4th IPCC Report. Do you know whether these estimations have changed much subsequent to the latest Report?

  51. drscroogemcduck says:

    The point is that if we export coal to countries where there is no price signal (like most of the world), or a very low price signal (a tonne of CO2e is priced at less than a Euro in the European ETS at the moment), then we are contributing to the market failure of emissions without a proper price signal.

    What market failure? What is the correct price for a tonne of CO2e? Lets see the numbers. I suspect what you think is the correct price is whatever will cause people to burn less coal. Birdy is correct in accusing people of engaging in energy deprivation.

  52. Brian says:

    Jed, Stern said in his national Press Club speech here that IPCC confirmed the science in his own report. My impression is that he’s right, but he’s probably seen stuff in draft form that I haven’t.

    IPCC have a cut-off date for what scientific papers are considered. Stern, working without that restraint, has included some material that is later than the IPCC would be looking at. That’s my impression at least.

    Both have tried to standardise the way they present the data and I think there are some differences, eg in what “now” actually means.

    From the IPCC we only have the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) documents for the first two working parties. When we get the full documents I expect it will have detail comparable to, probably exceeding, the already large Stern Review. Meanwhile Stern has more detail on what I wanted to post on.

    The SPM of the third working party, the one on Mitigation of Climate Change is due next week on 7 May. I wanted us to have a bit of a think about the 60% target before it hit the deck. An outline of what it will cover is here (small pdf).

    There are some annoying problems about how the data is presented, and I ran into one that made my head spin last night. If my head stops spinning and it’s still a problem I’ll post on it. Don’t worry it doesn’t set existing science on it’s ear or show that we a re plunging into a new ice age.

  53. steve says:

    According to this piece of official propaganda China gets 2.3% of its energy from 9 nuclear power stations with a huge expansion to bring it to 4% by 2020.

  54. steve says:

    The US equivilant tells us that 20%of United States Energy is derived from 103 Nuclear power stations.

  55. steve says:

    In Brisbane we have the usual footdragging we have come to expect from Government in explaining radioactive gas leaks at Bulimba in 2003.

  56. suz says:

    “people shouldn’t assume that there’s no will to tackle emissions in China for a start in some quarters… â€?

    There may indeed be some will but remember that 16 out of 20 of the world’s most polluted cities are already here and that hasn’t done much except lead to the authorities saying â€? we need to maintain economic growth so we will have the technology and finances to tackle the pollution problems.â€?

    Polluted skies, I’ve heard that all factories around and in Beijing will be shut down for the three months before the Olympic Games next year in order to allow athletes to function in clean air. It will be interesting to see if that has any galvanising effect inside China.

  57. Oigal says:

    “My preferred way for Australia to mitigate climate change would be for an emissions trading scheme and complementary measures for dealing with domestic emissions, and a carbon tax on coal exports, which will perhaps be somewhere around $5.90 per tonne CO2-e”

    That will work….. Must be why the Indonesian Government is forecasting a 40% increase in coal exports over the next 18 months…They must be counting on “feel goof (ooops good)” concepts like these.

    and the net effect of the carbon tax on emissions..NIL..
    but what a way to throw the guilt by being free and easy with other peoples jobs (who cares if it achieves nothing as long as we make a point..oh and doesn’t affect us personally)

  58. Brian says:

    suz, I’m sure the Chinese will do what’s necessary to showcase the place.

    This graphic shows the nitrogen dioxide problem relative to the US and Europe.

    There are some attitudes in this article I find scary. If the want per capita GDP bigger than the US and a car in every garage, then they can’t have it if it’s going to kill the planet.

    Oigal, drscroogemcduck is right, IMHO, when he says:

    I suspect what you think is the correct price is whatever will cause people to burn less coal.

    I thought that was the idea. The hope would be that it doesn’t lead to energy deprivation, though.

  59. Peter Wood says:

    What market failure? What is the correct price for a tonne of CO2e? Lets see the numbers. I suspect what you think is the correct price is whatever will cause people to burn less coal.

    The market failure is the planet heating up. The external cost associated with greenhouse gas pollution is experienced through impacts of global warming. Estimates of the cost of a tonne of CO2 range from less than $0/tCO2 to over $400/tCO2 (see page 287 of the Stern Review). As explained in Stern, “if the marginal cost of abatement is lower than the marginal cost of the long-lasting damage caused by climate change, it is profitable to invest in abatement.” As global warming increases, the costs increase, as does the social cost of carbon. This ‘convex behaviour’ means that the uncertainty in costs is an argument for more abatement because of the increasing risks (risk = probability * badness).

    As Greenhouse Gas Levels increase above 550 ppm CO2e risks get especially bad and it will be necessary for Australia to eventually reduce emissions by greater than 60% in order to prevent this. The correct price is therefore at least as much as required to cause people to burn less coal.

    One of the earliest likely effects of climate change on Australia is severe damage to the Barrier Reef, which is likely to occur at temperature increases of less than 2 degrees C. The Barrier Reef is worth about $5.8 billion per year, so if Australia invests this much or less per year in climate change abatement, it is likely to be a good investment provided it is well spent. Other costs that you should count are increased climate variability and drought (the 02/03 droughts and 06/07 droughts both cost something like $6 billion).

    The marginal costs of different forms abatement generally increase with respect to abatement (as we start with “low hanging fruit” like reducing land clearing, not using incandesant lightbulbs etc). If we restrict abatement to one area (eg electricity generation) then the marginal costs increase more quickly. If we expand abatement activities to include areas such as reducing coal exports or reducing deforestation overseas then the marginal costs increase more slowly.

    Sorry for the long post..

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