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Garnaut sucks up to Labor’s lack of principles

I thought Tim Colebatch in The Age this morning summed up the Garnaut Reviews proposals for climate management as well as anyone. Labor’s rants at the Bali conference last year about the need for 25% emissions cuts below 1990 levels by 2020 were just an instance of the standard bull-artistry we can come to expect from bureaucrats briefed by this terrible PM. ‘Say it first – then think’.

Ah, where are those computers in schools for every kid?

OK the proposal from Rudd’s Labor mate, Garnaut, is for a 10% cut on 2000 levels by 2020. The EU will cut its 2020 emissions to 20% below 1990 levels, and will go to 30% if others do the same.

Garnaut’s proposal for a miserly 10% cut (a 25% cut on bau) is of course conditional. It will go through only if environment ministers agree in Copenhagen next year on a global plan to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels at 550 parts per million. That’s twice their pre-industrial levels, but far above the 350-400ppm many scientists now say is safe. As this is unlikely to happen even the limited proposed cut probably won’t eventuate.

How does this differ from the much-criticised proposals of John Howard to commit to mitigation only if other countries do so?

550 ppm should (according to the Hadley Centre) ensure a long-term temperature rise of probably something beyond 2oC and, without an eventually reversed overshooting in GGEs, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef (see also here).

If the agreement in Copenhagen only cuts half the growth in emissions then Garnaut suggests only a 5% cut from 2000 emission levels. With no agreement at all Garnaut suggests no target but a carbon tax of $20 to $30 a tonne until an agreement finally emerges.

The world’s leaders will be quaking in their boots at the ferocity of the implied incentives for them to take an urgently accelerated approach to GCE mitigation on the basis of the couageous Australian proposal.

But Colebatch praises Garnaut and some of the praise makes a little sense. The proposals will cut emissions per capita by 25% over what they will otherwise be 2050 target and should converge to sensible global targets by 2050 – a 90% cutback in per capita emissions by 2050. That’s not too bad and it does get things moving on the basis of an emissions trading scheme that proceeds so slowly that even John Howard and Martin Ferguson would approve.

And a considerable advance is that the ALP (if it adopts these proposals) will have 2020 targets as well as earlier 2050 targets. These phonies didn’t have these before.

The most interesting aspect of Garnaut is the targeting of equal per capita emissions across developed and developing countries by 2050. Developed countries are being urged to make absolute cuts and developing countries cuts in the growth of their emissions to this date.  This reflects, for example, the insistence of India, that it will not exceed developed country emissions and provides a basis for a joint global response.  Both sides are being called upon to adjust.

Update: I agree with the views of the three Australian IPCC members that the Garnaut report is not ambitious enough.  One of the three, a Dr Hare, commented ‘…Professor Garnaut had taken the wrong approach: he should have made a case for a strong global deal, not give a political assessment’. Essentially Dr Garnaut’s cuts will almost certainly ensure 3o+C warming – a temperature increase that will devastate large parts of Australia.  When threatened with immenent peril it is inappropriate to be cautious on the grounds that this is politically realistic.

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