After all his careful statements of the prisoner’s dilemma, Ross Garnaut has blinked.
Garnaut restates the problem in today’s report, making the point that we cannot go to the global climate negotiations and plead a special case. He goes so far as to say that:
There will be no progress towards an effective international agreement if each country lays out all of the special reasons why it is different from others, and why it should be given softer targets. When climate change negotiators from any country list reasons why their country has special reasons to be treated differently, and take them seriously, we should be quick to recognise that the negotiators, and the countries they represent, intentionally or not, are inhibiting effective international agreement.
But then he spends the rest of his report pleading Australia’s special case, based on a disingenuous rorting of the contraction and convergence model.
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Contraction and convergence is the only truly equitable model for international action, under which the world moves to a position where every person is entitled to the same emissions as everyone else. This is a fair and equitable model when high per capita emitters agree to act fast to come down to the level of others. Garnaut, however, has used it, based on Australia’s high population growth projections, to argue that Australia should move slowly to reduce our per capita emissions.
Suggesting a model of linear convergence towards 2050, Garnaut argues that we rich Australians should get to keep polluting more than everyone else until 2050. We Australians, who have become rich thanks to our high historic pollution levels, should get to keep polluting more per capita than some of the world’s poorest people in India and China, for another 42 years. We Australians, who have done nothing for the last decades, should be rewarded for our recalcitrance by an easy path all the way through to 2050, while the Europeans, Japanese and others, who have made big steps in energy efficiency and renewable energy, should be punished.
The rest of the world will see through that immediately. It will be seen as a special pleading that will “inhibit effective international agreement”.
But for all that, the per capita numbers game is not the report’s worst problem. That distinction goes to the fact that it is based on outdated science. Garnaut’s entire architecture is based on emissions projections that are universally acknowledged to be hopelessly optimistic and out of date. His projections of temperature rise under each scenario assume out the tipping points that science has clearly identified in recent years.
Completely missing is a statement of the total global carbon budget Garnaut assumes. Without a statement of that budget, it is impossible to analyse the underlying detail. The appearance of the graphs is that the budget is too high.
Put together the outdated science, the unstated total budget, and the per capita numbers game, and the inescapable conclusion is that Professor Garnaut’s recommendation is a recipe for a global Murray-Darling type crisis of over-allocation. If we head down this road, it will be almost impossible — and certainly extremely expensive — to rescue the situation in years to come.
It would be unfair to close without giving Garnaut credit for one very important positive point. The good Professor has repeated his instruction to the Government that there is absolutely no basis for compensating domestic firms for costs under an emissions trading regime. This is a direct slap down of Penny Wong’s Green Paper’s proposal to compensate the coal sector and other major polluters who are not trade exposed.
The ball is now in the Government’s court. Will it take the easy way out that Garnaut has given it? Or will it step up to the plate and deliver the 40% emissions cuts on 1990 levels that Australians know we need.