Friday, December 07, 2007

Kevin Rudd needs to come clean on climate change

Kevin Rudd is a bit of a bull-artist. Of course most politicians are. His personality marks him as a Labor Party baloney merchant - only one of the many reasons I prefer the conservative side of politics.

Rudd is full of significant claims but, one senses, without John Howard’s innate sense of caution and, more than that, foresight. It is easier to make strong claims than to think things through. I hope I am wrong since much that Rudd advocates is worthwhile - particularly on climate change.

Rudd and the Labor Party have an apparently strong position on climate change – recall that the Coalition was evading the issue according to Rudd - an important reason to vote Labor.

But then Peter Garrett spilled the beans. Post 2012 Labor’s policy on cutbacks will be conditional on developing countries making agreed-to cutbacks. They could not be excluded from an international agreement. But this was Coalition policy and Australia will already hit its Kyoto targets anyway. Indeed ratifying Kyoto although an important gesture masks the fact that the real issue is what to do post-2012.

This is where things get very murky for Labor.

Labor seeks a 60% cut in emissions by 2050. But Rudd has rejected 25-40% cuts in carbon emissions by 2020 while he waits to be told what to do by Ross Garnaut. Is this serious? Garnaut is not a climate change specialist - he speaks of tragedy-of-commons issues as if they are some great new original insight. There have been many other inquiries into climate change organised by people more knowledgeable (in this area) than Garnaut.

The cuts, according to Rudd, will be ‘environmentally meaningful and economically responsible’ whatever that means. This is gobbledegook.

Setting targets to be met in 42 years time is easy politics. Many of the current batch of Labor politicians will be dead by then. But a 25% cut in 12 years time is a policy that has more bite.

Moreover, taking a linear interpolation, if Rudd is sincere about his 60% cutback target he should cut carbon emissions by 2020 by at least 60%*12/42 = 17% anyway. Given that the early cutbacks will be the easy ones a figure of 25% does not seem outrageous as a target.

And why set a 2050 target if you are uncertain about the target you want to hit in 2020? It is all very well for Rudd who ratified Kyoto a few days ago to say ‘Australia will lead the world’ - he is already sounding like Keating - but cut out the bull Kevin.

Do - don’t talk Kevin - the issues are serious and we need to recognise that meaningful action will be costly - don't let insincerity undo us all.

15 comments:

GirlFriday said...

Have you ever seen good policy made on the run? All Rudd is doing is waiting to hear the considered advice of experts like Garnaut. Isn't this what good managers should do? It is true that good policy is a rare thing to see in our Federal Government, after 10 deadly years of John Howard actively blocking greenhouse policies (even against the advice of his own Ministers) but let's give Rudd's MO a go. If Rudd rushed into nominating a % cut today (instead of say in 3 months' time) you could bet that every Joe Blow would be howling because it's too high, too low, too this or too that.
It's not as if Rudd is intending to put off a decision on an interim target for years (like Howard did); Garnaut's report is likely to report within months.
What's a few months, to get it right, when Howard has been fiddling while the world burns for 10 years and spraying bad, knee-jerk policy all over the shop?

Spiros said...

Harry, it's all about the process. He said he wouldn't do anything until Garnaut reported. If he was to commit to 2020 cuts now, he would be asked what then is the point of getting Garnaut to report to him. We all know what the answer is going to be. It's just a matter of getting the timing right. And as girlfriday says, it's just a few months.

Mind you, steep cuts by 2020 are a very big deal indeed. We're not going to have clean coal or nuclear by then, so how is it going to happen?

Bring Back CL's blog said...

Harry,

you are sounding sillier and siller by the moment.

Rudd has been consisitent on this all along.

He even appointed Garnaut because the old Government was dragging their heels.

GirlFriday said...

How do we make steep cuts by 2020?1) Dramatically reduce our demand for coal-fired electricity by using our energy smarter in households, offices and industry(e.g. using Compact Flourescent Light bulbs, installing insulation, energy efficient appliances, solar water heating.)

Believe it or not, Energy Efficency as a measure on its own is actually powerful enough to prevent the need to build new coal fired power stations (or nuclear, for that matter). Even better, in the long term it saves money so energy effiency is at least cost-neutral - a win-win situation for the economy and environment.
But for these energy efficiency measures to be effective, they need to be enacted as widescale national policies, not just something that a few concerned individuals do here and there.

2.) Put a price on pollution by implementing a carbon trading scheme. Coal is artificially cheap because it doesn't include the polluting cost of the Carbon Dioxide it spews. A carbon cap-and-trade scheme would make it fairer for clean technologies such as solar power to compete with coal, because in effect a carbon price rewards clean techs for producing zero-emission power. As it should.

3)Stimulate those carbon markets through other measures as ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, thereby allowing Australia to play in international carbon markets

3)Increase R & D for renewable electricity sources such as geothermal, bioenergy and wave power
4) Consider gas as an alternative baseload electricity source during the transition to a low-carbon economy. (Gas produces one-third of the emissions of coal.)

All these measures can and should be used. It's not about choosing one better form of energy over another, but using everything we have - solar, wind, gas, energy efficiency - the lot. We need to use it all. And lucky for Australia, we've got lots of renewables.

We could be a world leader in clean energy and save the planet too!

It's not impossible, but it is a big complex task, and it does need strong, cohesive and courageous leadership.

If we don't have this leadership and action, then we're all going to hell in a handbasket.

Simple!

hc said...

I don't believe Garnaut will get it right in a few months - I don't think he will add to knowledge.

Why did Labor set 2050 targets but not 2020 targets? They were targeting the ballot box not emissions.

You are right they are steep targets which is why Howard was careful to move slowly on cap and trade vschemes. But he was strenuously criticised by the Greens whereas Labor which is replicating his approach is seen as responsible. It is hypocrisy.

Most of girlfriday's suggestions I endorse. But I think that nuclear should be part of the mix despite its costliness. Of course it won't happen with Labor.

Homer, You don't add anything to discussion by stating irrelevancies - they are - and being insulting.

Spiros said...

girlfriday, these are all useful suggestions, but they won't happen by 2020.

Harry, neither will nuclear.

Bring Back CL's blog said...

Sorry mate but even Club Troopo has noticed your strange behaviour.

I might add Garnaut now has federaal Government resources and treasury help in particular.

take a holiday and get over the election

via collins said...

On the one hand, as climate change was a key plank of the ALP platform, one would expect a little more clarity on policy.

On the other, he did have to spend an immense amount of time winning an election. An electionm which was drawn out far, far longer than is decent.

GirlFriday said...

Hmm... Two things: 1) Although Rudd is demurring on an interim target, it is not fair to say he is replicating Howard. John Howard's "caution" was largely because he actually didn't beleive Climate Change was a problem - until it became a political problem for him. He was a CC denier for most if not all of his Prime Ministership, and regarded the Kyoto Protocol with contempt. HC it sounds as if you are questioning the substance of Rudd's action on an interim target, and that's fair enough, all politicians need to be held to account for their actions. I would suggest though that it's a little premature to declare it's all hot air?
2) Nuclear power is being shut down all over the world because a) it's enormously expensive, requiring billions in taxpayer subsidies to prop it up; b) In Australia, it will take 10-15 years to build one reactor, and we simply don't have that amount of time; c) Transporting and storage of nuclear waste is still a huge and costly problem; and d) Nuclear reactors demands vast quantities of water for cooling.

Some countries without many renewable energy resources may need nuclear: Australia does not.

hc said...

friday girl, I agree that nuclear is expensive - so too are most renewable options. But the Ziggy Swit report provided a conditional case for it. So I suggest it as a part of the mix of solutions - we currently have no skills to even have a nuclear industry.

Your statement that it is being abandoned all over the world is exaggerated. Nuclear power is a significant source of global power demands - see here.

Don't write-off viable options.

Mark U said...

Harry

You say "Given that the early cutbacks will be the easy ones a figure of 25% does not seem outrageous as a target."

Why are early cut backs necessarily the easier ones? Mightn't it be the case that it takes a while to develop viable reasonable cost alternative energy sources and to develop less polluting technologies such as clean coal, nuclear etc? If so, costs could be very high to start with and low in the middle period (as new technology spreads) before escalating at the end (if it is harder to make the final cut backs). In that case a figure lower than 17% could be feasible. The best path may also depend on what is assumed about the dreaded discount rate.

You also say "...why set a 2050 target if you are uncertain about the target you want to hit in 2020."

The 2050 target is, as I understand it, based on the requirement established by scientists to avoid catostrophic climate change. To use a golfing analogy, when you play a golf hole you know you want to get the ball in the hole in a given number of shots, but there are many ways you can achieve that target - eg. you can try and hit your drive as far as you can but, if this means there is a water hazard that comes into play, you may be better off to lay up and have a longer second shot.

hc said...

Mark, Many of the early cuts can be met by conservation, limiting tree clearing (the current source of reductions) and so on. Reasonable caps on emissions will realise these at relatively low cost through trade.

The nuclear, renewable and clean coal options will be anything but cheap and easy although yes, they will operate with a lag.

I think debate has settled on choosing a rather low discount rate - Robert Pindyck provides convincing arguments.

As a golfer I don't follow the golfing analogy - I take each shot to minimise my score. A big drive off the tea makes the next shots much easier. Postponing significant cuts beyond 2020 will make it difficult to get developing countries to agree to emissions targets at all.

The issue is that everyone has motives to avoid immediate cuts and procrastinate. An alternative to stating fairly meaningless long-term targets is to state more meaningful short-term targets.

My main poinr here is that Rudd's stance is observationally equivalent to that of Howard - he was going to set cap and trade objectives in 2008 he just did not have a pie in the sky 2050 target.

Anonymous said...

Look Kevin Krud has only said he will do things about this issue but he hasn't done anything yet. We must take action now! If the world is going to reduse the effects of climate change then one world leader ust start! Kevin Rudd said he would do it so he should do it NOW!! Or was that all just a lie?

rock-angel said...

girlfriday, yeah right. Kevin Rudd said that he would take action if he became prime minister in 2007 and he did. Nothing has happened and it has been almost six months! When will he act. I mean, we could have 10 more deadly years of Kevin Rudd ignoring this issue! He will just keep putting it off until it's to late and a real leader steps in and actually does something about climate change! I mean it's about time someone ake action regarding this issue.

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