The Productivity Commission’s clear attempt this morning to influence the outcome of the Garnaut Review may be couched in detached and academic language, but its implications are profound.

The Commission’s characterisation of the Stern Review as advocacy rather analysis can be equally applied to this morning’s Staff Paper and much of what has been published by this so-called politically neutral and independent body over many years.

We mustn’t forget that the economic troglodytes at the Productivity Commission put out a 500 page report in August 2005 the main thrust of which was that any energy efficiency opportunities that exist must largely have already been fully taken advantage of. This is patently wrong. In fact, most experts recognise that increasing efficiency is the cheapest and fastest way of reducing emissions.

Much of the critique in today’s Productivity Commission staff paper lies in the application of a discount rate to the value of human life, and the Commission is quite right to say that this is an ethical and moral question. But surely the basic assumption, as Stern concluded, must be that a life today is equivalent to a life tomorrow, and there should be a close to zero discount rate applied. Stern’s rate of 0.1% for human life takes into account the risk of the human race descending to extinction. I am one with the UK Tories, whose Blueprint for a Green Economy argues that Stern is “too complacent” in his estimates of climate impacts and emissions reduction targets, and his discount rate is too high.

Anyone putting forward models that value a human death in 50 years time as only 5% of its current worth, as would be the case with a 6% discount rate, is putting forward a position so divergent from cultural norms that it is surely more advocacy than analysis.

While the Productivity Commission is not advocating one value rather than another in today’s paper, their suggestion that the discount rate should be higher rather than lower is clearly part of their ongoing advocacy campaign to undermine climate action.

If the Productivity Commission staff bothered to follow climate science, they would realise that Stern’s choice of the IPCC’s upper band of warming is now being proven to be conservative. Climate impacts are shooting ahead of the projections, leaving policy way behind. Now is not the time for more rearguard action to delay emissions cuts.

Peter Fray

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