Labor Government of world-leading per capita GHG polluter Australia commits to climate change inaction
by : Dr Gideon Polya
Sunday February 27, 2011 - 14:31
Australia is a world leader in annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. Notwithstanding the political rhetoric and spin that they are “tackling climate change”, the pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-oil, anti-science, Australian Gillard Labor Government is overwhelmingly committed to climate change inaction as revealed by the latest Gillard Labor spin on a Carbon Tax and an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Labor policy is for a 5% reduction on 2000 greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by 2020. Australian PM Julia Gillard has now stated that Australia will have a Carbon Tax by mid-2012 to be supplanted by a Carbon Trading-based Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by 2015. .
In making this declaration PM Gillard has grossly violated a clearly-enunciated promise made before the 2010 Federal Elections: “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”. .
However Gillard Labor policy also grossly violates advice from top climate scientists, economists and analysts as set out below.
In short, the proposed “5% off 2000 value by 2020” GHG reduction is not only derisory but false – Australia’s Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution is predicted to actually increase to 149% of the 2000 level by 2020 under Labor policy. The adumbrated Carbon Tax of $10-$100 per tonne carbon will drive a disastrous transition from coal burning to gas burning that will be effectively just as bad GHG-wise and cripple implementation of science-demanded and achievable 100% renewable energy by 2020. The ETS approach has been condemned by climate scientists, economists and analysts as empirically unsuccessful, dangerously counterproductive and inherently fraudulent (it involves a government selling something that will become worthless and which it does not actually posses, specifically the right to pollute the one common atmosphere of all countries of the world).
1. Australia already has a huge Carbon Tax applied to taxpayers (but not to corporate carbon polluters) in the form of legislated subsidies for fossil fuel burning totalling $9 billion per annum, as determined by Dr Chris Riedy, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). [3, 4, 5].
2. Australia’s domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is 627 million tonnes CO2-e per annum (2008) or 627/3.7 = 169 million tonnes carbon per annum i.e. Australia’s present Carbon Tax on taxpayers is $9,000 million/169 million tonnes C = $53 per tonne carbon per year. In contrast to this existing Carbon Tax on taxpayers of $53 per tonne C, it is speculated that a proposed consumer- and polluter-compensating Labor Carbon Tax on GHG polluters will be about $20 per tonne C. .
3. It is estimated that about 10,000 Australians die each year from the effects of pollutants from carbon burning (excluding bushfires). Australians dying each year from the effects of pollutants from vehicles, coal burning for electricity and other carbon burning are estimated to total about 2,200, 4,600 and 2,800, respectively. At a "value of a statistical life" (VOSL) of $7.6 million per person (9,600 persons x $7.6 million per person = $73 billion pa for Australian carbon burning-related deaths) and $9 billion pa in fossil fuel subsidies, the minimum Carbon Price to cover carbon burning-derived deaths and carbon burning subsidies is $554 per tonne of carbon as compared to the best political offer yet of $20 per tonne of carbon. .
4. The Cap-and-Trade Carbon Trading ETS approach of the kind proposed by Gillard Labor is dismissed by leading climate scientists and economists as empirically ineffective (since the 1997 Kyoto Conference atmospheric CO2 has remorselessly increased notwithstanding EU ETS arrangements), dangerously misdirected (it is “astoundingly ineffective” according to top US climate scientist Dr James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) and profoundly fraudulent (thus the Australia Government will be selling something that is expected to rapidly become worthless and which it has not right to sell, specifically the right to pollute the one common atmosphere of every country on earth). .
5. The current Labor proposals mean an increase in Australian Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution to about 149% of 2000 value by 2020 (this includes estimates of Australian brown coal exports approved by the Federal Gillard Labor Government and the Brumby Victorian State Labor Government but ignores huge projected increases in Australian LNG exports). This is in stark contrast to the Labor’s patently false “promise” of “5% off 2000 GHG pollution by 2020”. .
6. Further to point #5 and a projected increase in Australian Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution to about 149% of 2000 value by 2020, the Federal Labor Government has described its ETS as a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme i.e. the Gillard Labor Minority Government, like its predecessor Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments, is essentially saying that “more is less” in a mind-numbing advance on Big Brother’s assertion in George Orwell’s “1984” that “war is peace, slavery is freedom, ignorance is strength and 2 plus 2 does not equal 54”.
7. In contrast to Labor policy of increasing CO2 and other GHG pollution, top climate scientists say that the world must achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and that top per capita polluters like the US and Australia must get to zero CO2 emissions by 2020. Thus according to Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber CBE (Founding Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, and Professor, Potsdam University) states that the world must reduce CO2 pollution to zero by 2050 in order to have a 67% probability of avoiding a catastrophic 2 degree C temperature increase (EU policy and a conservative proposition: would you board a plane if it had a 33% chance of crashing?). Professor Schellnhuber’s analysis and the assumption that "all men are created equal" mean that high per capita GHG pollution countries like Australia and the US (30 and 27 tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year, respectively) must reduce CO2 pollution to zero by 2020. [9, 10].
8. Australia’s Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution has already increased under Labor and is expected to increase enormously in future years. Thus Australia’s annual Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution was 4% higher under Labor in 2009-2010 than under the Coalition in 2006-2007. The bottom–line for assessing the success or otherwise of “tackling climate change” by a government is whether the national GHG pollution decreases or increases. Under Labor Australia’s Domestic plus s Exported GHG pollution has increased enormously and is set to increase even more. .
9. The Rudd Labor Government Prime Minister, Treasurer, and Minister for Climate Change and Water, in “A new target for reducing Australia’s carbon pollution”, May 2009, set out their conditions for limited GHG pollution cutbacks: “The Rudd Government has today committed to reduce Australia’s [domestic] carbon pollution by 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 if the world agrees to an ambitious global deal to stabilise levels of CO2 equivalent at 450 parts per million or lower… 5% [if no agreement]”. Unfortunately the CO2 equivalent is now already about 475 ppm. [12, 13, 14].
10. World Bank analysts Robert Goodland and Jeff Anfang recently re-assessed annual GHG pollution as 50% bigger than previously estimated and that livestock production is responsible for over 50% of the revised bigger figure. Yet the Gillard Labor plan, like the Rudd-Turnbull ETS compromise of 2010, excludes agriculture from consideration i.e. it excludes over 50% of the problem. .
11. Top climate scientists and biologists say that for a safe planet for all peoples and all species we must urgently decrease atmospheric CO2 concentration to 300 parts per million (ppm) from the current damaging and dangerous 392 ppm. This can be rapidly achieved by rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning, methanogenic livestock production, deforestation and other land use GHG production (e.g. CH4, N2O and CO2 production via biofuel production) and rapid installation of 100% renewable energy, energy efficiency, large-scale biochar (charcoal, carbon) production and re-afforestation. Timely implementation of these measures may avoid catastrophic temperature increases and the need for radical geo-engineering (e.g. pollution of the atmosphere with sulphur oxide aerosols to cause global cooling by global dimming) [10, 16, 17, 18].
12. Reducing atmospheric CO2 to 300 ppm is urged by leading scientists but Labor proposes to do the opposite. The elimination of CO2 pollution requires an increase in energy efficiency, 100% renewable stationary energy, and renewable energy-based electrification of private and public transport (electrical engines are 5 times more efficient that internal combustion engines) but Labor is committed to steadily increasing GHG pollution in the Export and Agriculture sectors. The much-acclaimed Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) plan for 100% renewable stationary energy for Australia by 2020 (ZCA2020) envisages an energy mix of 40% wind and 60% concentrated solar thermal (CST) with molten salts energy storage for 24./7 base-load operation. Other eminent scientists, notably Professor Peter Seligman (University of Melbourne, Australia), Professor Mark Jacobson (Stanford University, US) and Professor David McKay FRS (Cambridge University, UK) have also presented detailed plans for rapidly implementable 100% sustainable renewable energy. Pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-oil, anti-science Labor is silent. [10, 19, 20, 21].
13. While the Australia Coalition Opposition has indicated interest in a Direct Action approach to reducing GHG pollution by means such as energy efficiency, changes to agriculture, re-afforestation and biochar (charcoal generated by anaerobic pyrolysis at 400-700C of agricultural and forestry waste), pro-coal pro-gas, pro-oil, anti-science Labor is silent and remains committed to a flawed, counterproductive and fraudulent Carbon Trading mechanism [18, 22, 23].
14. Leading climate economist and former World Bank Chief Economist Sir Nicholas Stern has spoken out in favour of a global carbon tax, warning that global warming represents "the biggest market failure the world has ever seen". However Gillard Labor is determined to rely on the market via a grossly insufficient Carbon Tax and a counterproductive and fraudulent ETS. In contrast, the Liberal Party-National Party Coalition Opposition has a policy (albeit limited) of Direct Action to reduce GHG pollution rather than a dubious, theoretical, indirect and demonstrably manipulable market-based Carbon Trading system. [22, 23] .
15, Further to point #14, the following comments on Direct Action by Coalition Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt MP is acutely relevant: “ALI MOORE (ABC TV interviewer) : ... your alternative, because this, this does go to the heart of what you’re saying. Just this week the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in fact not this week, it was earlier this month, they released a new report that showed that by 2020, emissions are predicted to be 24 per cent above 2000 levels. Now you, and the Government, have committed to at least five per cent below 2000 levels. Now, how do you get to 20, how do you avoid 24 per cent above 2000 levels and get to five per cent below, by 2020 without a price on carbon?
GREG HUNT: Very simply, that’s an abatement challenge of 160 million tonnes. What does that mean for people who aren’t familiar with this space? It means we’ve got to reduce the amount of emissions by about 160 million tonnes. How do we do that? We go and do real things and we purchase the lowest cost emissions reduction in the economy. And we go and do that by creating a market, just as you buy back water, which the Government and almost everybody supports, you buy back the lowest cost emissions. And it happens in many places and most significantly it leads to real things. Planting of trees, capturing of carbon in the soils, cleaning up of power stations, cleaning up of waste coal mine gas. Real things, where every dollar goes to reducing emissions. And it doesn’t involve about $114 billion of tax raising in the form of electricity and … [interrupted by Labor Finance Minister Penny Wong] … petrol prices.” .
16. Further to point #5, the Gillard Labor plan means that GHG pollution will increase i.e. it is not just a plan for inaction but a plan for doing the opposite of the decrease that is required. This is gross violation of the expert advice of top scientific bodies. Thus 255 members of the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences in an Open Letter in 2010 stated in relation to climate change action that “Delay is not an option”. The Synthesis Report of the 2,500-delegate, March 2009 scientific climate change conference at the University of Copenhagen concluded that :”Inaction is inexcusable”. [14, 24].
17. Critical aspects of the Carbon Tax are (a) the human and environmental cost of carbon burning (e.g. circa 10,000 Australians die each year from carbon burning pollutants; 10 billion people are predicted to die in an horrendous Climate Genocide from unaddressed climate change this century; the species extinction rate is already 100-1,000 times above normal) and (b) the effectiveness of the price in advancing the required 100% renewable energy for Australia by 2020 (see item #7). A BZE analysis (personal communication) suggests that up to about $100 /tonne carbon would promote an utterly undesirable coal to gas transition that would be counterproductive and hence utterly unacceptable in relation to GHG pollution. On current “market prices” a Carbon Tax of $300/tonne would be required for the necessary transition from coal to Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) with molten salts energy storage. [6, 10, 25].
18. Clearly the general notion of “putting a price on carbon” is reasonable and equitable in relation to the global human and environmental impact and an appropriate societal solution to the worsening climate emergency - indeed it is just as reasonable as “putting a price on smoking” (circa 6 million deaths globally each year). However, the notion that a small initial price (e.g. $20 /tonne carbon) would represent a desirable “first step” is dangerous, romantic rubbish – the currently advanced prices in the range up to about $100 /tonne would be counterproductive by promoting a dangerous coal to gas conversion, locking Australia into a further half century of large-scale fossil fuel burning and by effectively blocking 100% renewable energy for Australia, noting that, depending upon the rate of gas leakage, in relation to GHG pollution industrial gas burning can be just as dirty GHG-wise as coal burning. [26, 27, 28].
19. Further to point #18, the speculated Carbon Price of $10-$100 /tonne would simply effect a coal to gas conversion. Indeed Climate Change Minister Combet has indicated that he expects that a carbon price would increase investment in gas-fired power plants (ABC TV, Insiders, 27 February 2011). The Age newspaper reported (3 February 2011) “Mr Combet said a carbon price would boost Australia’s economic competitiveness by opening up new market opportunities and prompting investment in renewable and efficient gas-fired power”. Burning natural gas (mainly methane) can be as dirty GHG-wise as coal burning. At a leakage of 3.7%, the leaked methane has the same GHG effect as burning the remaining 96.3% methane to generate CO2 (noting that methane is 72 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time scale). The latest US EPA data mean that the US natural gas leakage is 3.3%. At this level of leakage a coal burning to gas burning transition has almost no significant impact on GHG pollution and accordingly a coal to gas transition is a waste of time and money GHG-wise. The core argument of Minister Greg Combet and Gillard Labor that a Carbon Tax would decrease GHG pollution is utterly false. The Gillard Labor Government should be crucified for ignoring this basic error to the detriment of the Australian people and the World. [27, 28, 29, 30].
20. In 2010, before the Federal and Victorian State elections, Victorian Labor Premier John Brumby promised to cut Victoria’s annual GHG pollution “by at least 20% by 2020 compared to 2000 levels (equivalent to 40% per capita [i.e. with a doubled population])”. What this meant was that Victoria’s Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution would actually increase from 122 Mt CO2-e in 2008 (and about the same in 2000) to 172 Mt CO2-e in 2020 i.e. it would actually increase 41% by 2020 compared to 2000 level. Importantly this assertion by Premier Brumby also meant a projected doubling of Victoria’s population each 20 years from 4.3 million in 2000 to 8.6 million in 2020 (and accordingly to 68.8 or nearly 70 million by 2080). Political realities of increasing economic growth, full employment and a stable standard of living mean that the ultimately politically-massaged Carbon Tax and ETS proposals must necessarily mean an increase in GHG pollution by 2020 – in stark contrast to the zero CO2 emissions scenario demanded by top climate scientists. [7, 31].
21. Gillard Labor has set up a $5.6 million Climate Commission of 6, including only 3 research scientists, Professors Tim Flannery, Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes, headed by Professor Tim Flannery as Climate Commissioner, advised by a Science Advisory Panel of 8 scientists (including 6 professors) and with a function, according to Climate Change Minister Combet, to “inform Australia’s approach to addressing climate change and help build the consensus required to move to a competitive, low pollution Australian economy.” Why then is Gillard Labor policy so out of step and indeed utterly contrary to climate science? According to Climate Change Minister Greg Combet: “The commission will not comment on policy matters nor provide policy advice or recommendations.” Coalition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said: "The Climate Commission is just another piece in Labor’s jigsaw puzzle to try to justify their plan for an electricity tax. Australians should get used to this Government trotting out a steady stream of reports and committees dedicated to their plan for higher power prices.” However Professor Tim Flannery responded to Greg Hunt thus: “I was a bit sad to read that, because I think we are genuinely independent. We don’t take advice from the Minister. Our role, really, is just to get a little bit more clarity and understanding in the public around these big issues. We’re going to have make a decision around this and everyone will be better served by getting a better understanding around the science. Any option we take to deal with this issue will come with a cost, whether it’s the current Opposition policy or a carbon price, and that’s unavoidable. No-one in the Commission is trying to dodge that particular reality." [32, 33].
22. An obvious answer, in short, as to why Gillard (Rudd, Combet, Shorten, Arbib) Labor ignores science is that Australia is a Lobbyocracy (money buys policy) and a Murdochcracy (oligopoly-controlled Mainstream media heavily determine public perception of reality and voting intention). According to Mark Davis writing in The Age: “ How much does it cost to bring down a prime minister?... The Australian Electoral Commission’s political-spending disclosures for 2009-10, released yesterday, reveal how much the miners spent campaigning against the federal government’s plan to levy a 40 per cent tax on their ’’super’’ profits. The campaign contributed significantly to a slump in Labor’s electoral standing in the middle of last year, which prompted Labor MPs to replace Mr Rudd as prime minister with Julia Gillard. The figures show the industry spent $22.2 million on the campaign, which ran from the start of May until late June when Ms Gillard took over and negotiated a compromise on the tax.” According to the Australian Journal of Mining: “If nothing else the mining industry’s campaign has succeeded in proving how big it is. According to its figures, the industry has made $80 billion in tax payments over the last decade. The mining industry represents about 7 per cent of Australia’s GDP [of about $1 trillion] and almost half of total exports. Mining company profits were (before tax and royalties) around $8 billion on the eve of the mining boom in 2004-05; increasing to just under $50 billion in 2008-09. Earnings from energy and minerals exports are forecast to increase by 29 per cent in 2010-11 to around $170 billion, which reflects forecast higher prices especially for bulk commodities and increased export volumes.” Mining is responsible for about 1.3% of Australia’s circa 11 million jobs. [34, 35].
23. To whom is the Gillard Labor Government listening apart from Rupert Murdoch, the US ambassador and the various industrial, religious and political Lobbies? It is patently not listening to leading climate scientists from around the world nor to the scientists associated with the $5.6 million Climate Commission.
24. According to eminent climate scientist Professor Schellnhuber CBE, for a 67% chance of avoiding a 2C temperature rise (EU policy), the maximum per capita emissions permitted across all populations of the world would need to be limited to 110 tonnes of CO2 per capita over 40 years (2.75 tonnes per person per year for 40 years). At the present Australian CO2 emissions of 20 tonnes CO2 per person per year, Australia’s CO2 emissions budget would run out in 5.5 years; Australia’s 30 tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year permits only 3.7 years of Business As Usual (BAU); and Australia’s 54 tonnes of Domestic plus Exported CO2-equivalent per person per year would permit only 2 years of BAU. For all that it ignores the circa 10,000 deaths from carbon burning pollutants each year (and 9,000 Indigenous Australian avoidable deaths per year), the Australian Labor Government evidently regards Australians as entitled to 20 times more than other human beings, an estimate that is 10 times greater than former Labor leader Arthur Calwell’s notorious assertion that “Two Wongs do not make a White”. [9, 10].
25. As a 5-decade career scientist who is still very heavily involved in teaching theory and laboratory classes to second year university science students, I have attempted to inform the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments about climate science and basic chemical realities. In particular I have repeatedly informed media, politicians, students and the public about the continuing, and variously explicit or implicit falsehoods of the Labor Government that “gas is clean energy” or that “gas is cleaner energy than coal” – but to no avail. In short, gas is dirty energy, it is not clean energy. Burning natural gas yields twice the CO2 as burning brown coal on a weight basis. While burning gas for power can be twice as efficient as burning coal, this makes gas “cleaner” not “clean”. Depending upon the rate of industrial gas leakage (recall images of the Montara and Varanus Island gas leakage disasters off Western Australia and methane bubbling out of “fracked” farmland in Queensland, all under Federal Labor in recent years), natural gas can be as dirty greenhouse gas-wise as burning coal. Rational risk management is what we demand of government, this successively involving (a) data, (b) scientific analysis and (c) informed systemic change to minimize risk. Gillard Labor subverts this with (a) ignoring the data, (b) anti-science spin and (c) politicized blame and shame. A government that ignores rational risk management vital for the security of its citizens is fundamentally unfit to rule. [37-40].
Notwithstanding endless political rhetoric and spin, the pro-coal, pro-gas, pro-oil, anti-science Australian Labor government is overwhelmingly committed to climate change inaction as revealed by the latest Gillard Labor spin on a proposed Carbon Tax and ETS. Labor policy is for a derisory 5% reduction on 2000 greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by 2020nthat ignores Australia’s huge liquid natural gas (LNG) and world-leading coal exports. PM Gillard has stated that Australia will have a Carbon Tax by mid-2012 to be supplanted by a Carbon Trading-based Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by 2015. The projected Carbon Price of $10-$100/tonne carbon will ensure a coal to gas transition but, depending upon the degree of industrial gas leakage, gas burning can be as dirty as coal burning in relation to greenhouse gas emissions. The Carbon Tax already imposed on taxpayers to subsidize fossil fuel burning is about $53 /tonne carbon. The Carbon Price based on the cost of fossil fuel subsidies and about 10,000 Australian deaths annually from carbonaceous burning pollutants is $554/tonne C. Further, numerous climate scientists and economists slam the ETS approach as empirically unsuccessful, dangerously counterproductive and inherently fraudulent. World Bank analysts say that annual GHG pollution is 50% bigger than hitherto thought and that livestock contribute over 51% of the higher figure. Yet Gillard Labor excludes agriculture from any consideration. Top climate scientists and analysts say that for a circa 2/3 chance of avoiding a 2C temperature rise the Word must stop CO2 emissions by 2050 and Australia must stop by 2020. Gillard Labor is ignoring the science by claiming or implying that ‘”gas is clean” and by resolute inaction on climate change when top scientific bodies have declared “Delay is not an option” and “Inaction is inexcusable”. Labor has not just betrayed Australia, the World, Humanity and the Biosphere, it has also betrayed pro-environment Labor voters.
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