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Garnaut to Australia: at least try to keep up

Australia should stop using China as a scapegoat for climate change inaction and recognise that it is one of the the world’s three biggest drags on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Gillard Government’s top climate advisor Ross Garnaut.

Speaking in Sydney yesterday to launch his second Climate Change Review update paper, Professor Garnaut said that, rather than moving ahead of the rest of the world, Australia is matched only by the US and Canada as a climate change laggard.

Australia has been a significant drag on other countries’ mitigation efforts,” Professor Garnaut said. “Stopping being a drag is a big step forward for us.”

On the ABC’s Lateline last night, Labor Minister Anthony Albanese said he rejected Garnaut’s assessment that Australia was a laggard.

I don’t think it’s a reasonable comment,” he said. “I think that Australia, certainly under this government, has taken climate change seriously. We’re determined to act on it. And that contrasts with the inaction and denial of the Howard government, who pretended that it didn’t exist.”

China, the world’s largest emitter, is often cast as a leading climate villain because it builds a new coal-fired power station every 10 days.

But Professor Garnaut singled out the rising superpower for praise yesterday, saying that China had voluntarily committed itself to stronger than expected emissions reductions targets.

In his 2008 review Garnaut said that a 35% reduction in China’s emissions intensity by 2020 would be a fair contribution to international action.

Yet China’s leaders have committed to 45% reduction by 2020 — a figure they have hinted could go higher if developed countries take strong action.

China has invested heavily in rooftop solar panels, electric cars, wind energy, new train lines and nuclear power as part of its stimulus package, Professor Garnaut said.

Professor Garnaut urged Australians not to underestimate their nation’s influence on overseas efforts to tackle climate change despite our relatively small population and low overall contribution to global emissions (less than 2%).

He said the rest of the world looks to Australia for leadership because of our highest per capita emitter ranking, reputation for effective economic reforms and the fact we are more vulnerable than most to the risks posed by global warming.

Australian success in introducing a carbon price is likely to assist the United States and Canada to maintain momentum in policies to reduce emissions,” he said.

We, and other developed countries, can through inaction exercise a veto over effective global mitigation.”

When asked whether it is appropriate for the Australian Government to base its greenhouse reduction targets on the outcome of international negotiations (with a 5 per cent target rising to 25 per cent if an ambitious deal is signed), Professor Garnaut said merely keeping up with the rest of the world would be significant progress for Australia.

While the economic risks of moving away from coal are often discussed, Professor Garnaut said the potential opportunities for Australia to prosper in a low carbon economy are too often overlooked.

He said Australia has “exceptional advantages” in its plentiful reserves of uranium, geothermal energy, natural gas and solar power — all likely to be key players in a carbon-constrained future. China has invested heavily in rooftop solar panels, electric cars, wind energy and nuclear power as part of its stimulus package, Professor Garnaut said. And despite Barack Obama’s failure to legislate an emissions trading scheme — “the US is far from sitting still”.

The Environmental Protection Agency is using regulatory pressure to close the dirtiest coal-fired power stations, leading to an increased use of gas for power generation.

While noting the much-hyped Copenhagen Climate Summit was a “diplomatic fiasco”, Professor Garnaut said that a binding global treaty was still needed to keep global warming under two degrees.

Without a deal, he said the famous “prisoner’s dilemma” — why should a country take action when it will allow others to freeload? — would be almost impossible to resolve. There is also no other way to create an effective global trade in emission entitlements.

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  • 1
    jimD
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    There is one elephant in the living room that might lead to resolution, of a sort. It is the trade issue. The Chinese may decide, if they do end up investing heavily in sustainable energy, to use this as a prop for their sale of consumables in countries which are concerned about climate change.Their dependency on Australian minerals can be relocated - to Brazil, for example - and China has many agendas to fill through use of trade as diplomatic instrument around the world. Meanwhile, the US - assuming sane leadership prevails there (not a slam dunk, as they say) - may decide to make a virtue out of necessity, by reducing their use of foreign oil (an inevitable development anyway, given peak oil concerns) and placing themselves in the ranks of the emission reducers. France has already muttered darkly about going to the WTO on the issue of imposing carbon taxes on imports from high emitting nations and manufacturers - a possible way to gain some stealth protection for the local industries. And, no doubt, there are many other permutations on the trade protection argument . One thing is for sure: if Australia does nothing to reduce its own carbon footprint it will be an easy target for anyone looking for a bit of international trade action on the cheap.

    In other words, it may not be merely irresponsible of us to refuse Garnaut’s call to try to take some international leadership on emissions reduction; it could end up being immensely stupid as well.

  • 2
    tones9
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    So the lead story ‘Garnaut on climate science’ has disappeared because it was a ‘sad story’ about how dishonest Australia’s leading climate change advisor was about climate science.

    Now let’s have a story about how Australia’s policies will influence Canada and the USA! Is this guy serious?

    No need to worry about China. They’re good greenies to be admired.
    China has committed to a 45% reduction by 2020. That sounds impressive.

    Why didn’t Garnaut mention that figure is relative to business as usual?
    It’s not a real reduction, in real CO2.
    It is in fact a massive increase.

    Why didn’t Garnaut mention that China will double its energy production in the next 10 years, and most of that is by coal power? China will increase its coal power by the equivelant of Australia’s total coal power, every year for 10 years.

    The Australian government is doing its best to prevent any coal power to ever be built here again.

    Can Garnaut get anything right?

  • 3
    gregb
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Tones,

    You’re the one who doesn’t understand what’s going on. Of course it doesn’t stop you from being sarcastic about stuff you don’t understand. China has committed to a 45% decrease in energy INTENSITY against business as usual by 2020. They’ve never said they would cut their total emissions. It is quite likely that China WILL double it’s energy production in 10 years, and their per capita emissions will STILL be a small fraction of Australia’s.

    Garnaut gets a lot right. It’s you who get’s stuff wrong. Probably because you’re arrogant enough to think that you know more than Garnaut!

  • 4
    jimD
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    GREGB

    Well said. Only a complete idiot would misunderstand what the Chinese have promised; and only a fairly advanced idiot would think it necessary to explain the meaning of the undertaking to the rest of us.

  • 5
    Scott
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    As I interpreted Tones, it was more a reflection on why China is being held up as the poster child for climate action when in fact they are proposing no reduction in emissions. The western world has been trying for 20 years to get more efficient with its energy use, but we have found our emissions have still increased over that time (as growth of production has added to emissions at a faster rate than the intensity gains has reduced them). China is just following our bad example.
    There is no doubt Australia needs to get on board with cleaner production, but using China as our guide is not the right way to go in my opinion. We need to compare ourselves with countries that are reducing emissions (not just mucking around with intensity) in a democratic and inclusive way.

  • 6
    Richard Wilson
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    To me, these remarks appear as little more than follow up propaganda from a globalist elite bent on controlling energy internationally at the expense of the public, the states and the non insider business community. Why are we not arguing that emissions should be based on area covered not people i.e. emissions by land mass e.g. per square mile of territory? On that basis Australia’s emissions would be inconsequential.

    I am reading today that Obama, in defiance of congress, is attempting to shut down all major forms of non renewable energy, in particular coal, by slapping a massive tax on all existing plants while a the same time giving a free pass to insiders like GE, McDonalds and the rest of the globalist cronies in that place. You have a situation taking shape in the US where the heaviest polluters will receive “pollution indulgences” while non insider business, manufacturing, local and state government will be slugged viciously. Talk about crony capitalism! While non insider energy companies and others go out of business, the big boys are getting dispensations. Is this what Garnaut has in mind for Australia – selling out to the multinationals what little sovereignty we have left? In my view, this is nothing more than a formula to ensure that the globalist insiders control energy in every country at the expense of national sovereignty and private enterprise of the non crony capitalist form. Are we back in Suharto’s Indonesia or is simply for the greater good of mankind!

  • 7
    Michael James
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    What a load of Tripe.

    Australia, single small country of 22 million is “recognise that it is one of the the world’s three biggest drags on reducing greenhouse gas emissions”?

    Garnaut should perhaps remove his head from whatever place it is currently residing and take a good hard look around.

    China, 1.1 billion people (close to 50 times our population) and the top emitter of greenhouse gasses

    United States, 305 million people (14 times our population) and the second greatest emitter of greenhouse gasses

    The EU, 501 million people (22 times our population) and the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses

    India, 1 billion people (45 times our population) climbing out of poverty, with the commensurate increased requirements for power, they will need to look at fossil fuels partly because our idiot Government won’t sell them uranium, but happily will to China?

    Australia might rate highly in the minids of some pollies, but in the scheme we are small potatoes, someting which needs to be kept in mind when people state Australia has to ‘do something’ or else the Barrier Reef will die’.

    If we shut down Australia for good tonight, shuttered our entire country and turned all the lights out, it would make not the slightest difference , for within one year China would have more than made up for our entire emissions output with new coal fired plants.

    Crap like this might work for the alarmists, but Garnaut should know better.

    A lot less of the hyperbole and some actual facts would help Garnauts case. Alarmism and demonstrably false statements such as this help no one, least of all his own cause.

    United States

  • 8
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I thought it was a complex issue. It’s so reassuring to discover we actually have more than one simple solution. I guess there’s no longer any need for anyone to worry?

  • 9
    Lorry
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if all the Gen Y’s realise that they will never experience the great aussie dream of home ownership when this great big new tax on air comes into play. The additional costs associated with building a new home will be felt long and hard. How good will your feel good factor be when you realise that the tax on air will add another 5 years to your mortgage (albiet for a 2 bed plus sleepout sweat box). Yep, hope it sure feels goooooood.

  • 10
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Michael James, you want to have your cake and eat it too, even if it’s done in the dark. You wrote:

    If we shut down Australia for good tonight, shuttered our entire country and turned all the lights out, it would make not the slightest difference , for within one year China would have more than made up for our entire emissions output with new coal fired plants.”

    Now that is true. If we turned off everything in Australia and closed all the doors and windows and never came out, it is probably true that over the following year China would produce a whole lot more than Australia - except for whingeing and wailing. But we’d all be dead (and buried and cremated) mate. It’s a completely stupid ‘model’ and you should go and stand in the corner - while you eat your cake. You’re mad.

  • 11
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Hugh, don’t be a Charlie. Michael didn’t say we had to shut all doors and windows, let alone keep them shut. Even IF he had said that, how could we [as you suggest] all be “whingeing and wailing” if we’re all dead? Do you think we’d become banshees? Not to mention that if [as you suggest] “we’d all be dead (and buried and cremated)”, who’d have been doing this burying and cremating? Chinese sub-contractors?

    If I may once again use one of your quotes, I have to tell you that with regard to your odd suggestion to Michael that “It’s a completely stupid ‘model’ and [he] should go and stand in the corner”, perhaps it’s YOU who should be occupying a corner. On second thoughts, though, that’s far too soft a punishment, so instead, what about writing a coherent essay on — -. No, on third thoughts, that’s too hard a punishment.

    I have it! Why not go and eat your own cake in a corner, while you reflect on whether you really wanted to make Michael look so good by criticising him in such an inane manner? That might at least be a good start on your rehabilitation programme.

  • 12
    freecountry
    Posted Wednesday, 9 February 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Hanscombe, don’t be a Norm. To spell out the glaring flaw in James’ reasoning would be stating the obvious, so McColl opted to joke about it instead.

  • 13
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Wednesday, 9 February 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Norman, “shuttered” is good enough for closing all the doors and windows. We’d whinge and whine until we were dead - all except you Norman, who’d be flicking the light switch on-off, on-off silently beating yourself up for some special reason. After a year, you’d be dead too.
    It’s a stupid comparison and you know it.

  • 14
    Michael James
    Posted Thursday, 10 February 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Idiots.

    From the Dictionary

    Shuttered:

    verb (used with object)
    5. to close or provide with shutters: She shuttered the windows.
    6. to close (a store or business operations) for the day or permanently.

    I suppose it is too much to hope for rationality from a number of Crikey readers, but still…

  • 15
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Thursday, 10 February 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Michael James, I take it that you want to see no action whatsoever from Australia on carbon dioxide emissions? Just business as usual and if there are unwanted consequences we’ll come up with some adaptations - or buy them from China.
    Well I want to see sea level rise slowed to a standstill and I gather that if we can stabilise atmospheric CO2, eventually temperatures will also stabilise and oceans will cease expanding (and rising). I don’t expect rationality from you but anyone who makes their case the way you do and then refers to detractors as ‘idiots’ hardly earns respect.

  • 16
    tones9
    Posted Thursday, 10 February 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Hey Hugh I’ve got good news for you.
    Last decade global temp and sea surface temp decreased.

  • 17
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Great Tones9, and while you say those things happened, fact is sea level rose at least another 10mm.
    Actually, refer me to a reputable report that “sea surface temp decreased” between 2000-2010. It looks like you just make stuff up because you couldn’t care less.

  • 18
    tones9
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadsst2gl/from:2001/to:2011/plot/hadsst2gl/from:2001/to:2011/trend

  • 19
    tones9
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Hugh, it seems moderators don’t mind you calling me a liar, but have a problem with me pointing out your ignorance.

    I await your apology.

  • 20
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Boys, play nicely.

  • 21
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately Tones9, the sea level still rose. And is rising now, regardless of the moderator.

  • 22
    tones9
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Sea level rise is decelaerating.
    It is not at the upper end of projections as Garnaut claims.
    Are you a denier of all the evidence?

  • 23
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Saturday, 12 February 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    IPCC next edition is coming up soon. We’ll see all the evidence then.

  • 24
    tones9
    Posted Saturday, 12 February 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    That’s a year away, but don’t be afraid to look at evidence today.

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