Ross Garnaut’s final report warns that Australia faces an even grimmer climate change future than previously estimated, with scenarios previously considered unlikely now a greater chance of inflicting major shocks on Australia and the world.

However, Garnaut’s final recommendation maintains the dismal logic of his earlier work on targets and trajectories, proposing that an international agreement is the only means of addressing climate change and that an international agreement aimed at a long-term stabilisation of emissions at 550pm is the best we are likely to get. Such a level assumes significant permanent environmental damage to Australia.

The final report at a glance:

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  • The report’s framing question is what level of mitigation of carbon emissions provides the maximum net benefit compared to the reduced costs of climate change? However, some costs, especially environmental costs, can only be estimated, or cannot be estimated.
  • There are no data to support claims that global warming has slowed or ceased in recent years.
  • Carbon emissions are growing faster than predicted due to economic growth and despite current economic uncertainties won’t slow down. And the world has already past the point where damaging climate change is avoidable.
  • Australia faces significant damage from climate change, with a 10% chance of “profoundly disruptive” damage. Australia will be the biggest loser from climate change.
  • An international agreement starting in 2013 is the only means of effective abatement of emissions. Australia must play a leading role at Copenhagen next year.
  • An international agreement aimed at stabilising at 550ppm is feasible (10% reduction from 2000 levels by 2020), with 450ppm (25% reduction) “a desirable next step”. All developed countries and China must be subject to binding emissions limits. Developing countries should be able to trade permits but not be subject to sanctions. A World Trade Organisation agreement on rules for trade measures against countries doing too little is required. In the absence of agreement, Australia should aim at a 5% reduction from 2000 levels by 2020.
  • Australia should contribute ~$2.8b to a $100b international low-emissions technology research effort.
  • Modelling shows the net cost of aiming at stabilisation at 550ppm rises until 2060 and then falls. But GNP is actually higher in 2100 with mitigation than without, and this does not include the value of non-market benefits such as environmental preservation. Stabilisation at 450 costs 1% more GNP than 550ppm but yields much greater benefits in non-market values, and will yield “much larger” benefits into the 22nd century.
  • An ETS needs to start in 2010, with a fixed price for permits until 2012. Trade-exposed industries to receive credits but no permits should be given away. The Mandatory Renewable Energy Target should be dumped.
  • First step in adaptation to inevitable climate change is a significantly greater research effort. A new climate change research institute is required. Flexible markets, stronger markets in insurance, water and food and a bigger role for government in emergency management and environmental protection are also required. Australians also need to think about what they will actually pay to preserve icons like the Great Barrier Reef. However, full employment and a good social safety net are the most important requirements for adaptation and mitigation.
  • Half the proceeds of an ETS to go to households, focussing on the lower half, but with “green credits” to assist low-income households to adopt energy efficiency measures (an idea recommended by the Greens). 20% of revenue should fund R&D for new technologies and 30% as credits or tax cuts for trade-exposed industries. Up to $1b should be provided to assist in the transition to low-emissions coal generation technology.
  • The “saving grace” to counter the “diabolical problem”: it’s not all doom and gloom. Australia is well-placed to handle the challenge because of its strong skill base and human capital, its abundance of alternative energy options, opportunities for sequestration (both bio- and geo-). And Australians have expressed strong interest in addressing climate change.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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