IAN DUNLOP. Modelling Climate Change Minutiae

May 6, 2019

The hysteria surrounding Brian Fisher’s economic modelling of Coalition and ALP climate policies typifies the predatory delay which has bedevilled the development of any sensible response to our climate and energy dilemma since Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, namely: “The blocking or slowing of needed change, in order to make money off unsustainable, unjust systems in the meantime”.  

Fisher has form in this regard, having spent the last three decades in denial of the real implications of climate change. As a key architect of John Howard’s climate denial, he has contributed substantially to the current policy debacle.

His modelling approach has been widely discredited, particularly as it takes no account of the real risks and costs of climate change. To imply this is justified because: “—- the economic cost of not doing anything on climate change will accrue over decades, if not centuries, while the cost of carbon reduction policies will be felt by voters now.” – demonstrates a profound ignorance of climate science and the existential risk to humanity which climate change now represents.

To have a sensible 90% chance of staying below the 20C upper temperature increase limit of the Paris Climate Agreement, the world must not emit any more carbon to atmosphere – all fossil fuel operations and further investment should stop henceforth. Obviously that is not going to happen in a world still addicted to fossil fuel, but every extra ton of carbon now emitted pushes us further into extremely dangerous climate change territory. Our chance of limiting temperature increase to the lower Paris target of 1.50C disappeared long ago. Further, inertia in the climate system means that these continued fossil fuel emissions – coal, oil or gas – lock-in irreversible, existential climatic outcomes today, but their impact is not evident for years to come – by which time it will be too late to take avoiding action. Many will die, with many futures destroyed, as is already happening.

To imply that the Australian voter should ignore the potential risks of climate change because they are way into the future, whereas the important issue for the election is the carbon reduction costs incurred now, is deceptive and misleading conduct of the worst kind. Ethically, morally and professionally bankrupt

Climate change has always been about risk management, something denialist economists are at pains to avoid, focusing instead on narrow economic assessments of emission reduction policies, completely ignoring risk. The intent is to create acrimonious debate around policy minutiae, thereby diverting attention from any serious policy implementation.

It has been going on, successfully, for decades, promoted by fossil fuel lobby groups such as the BCA, MCA, APPEA and AIGN. Nothing has changed, except that climate risks foreseen in the 1990s are now materialising, as any insurer will tell you. Further, those risks have been badly underestimated, to the point that this deliberate political and professional dishonesty is now costing the country dearly, as it has left Australia totally unprepared for the climate impacts that are increasingly hitting us..

The choice today is straightforward, and stark. Carbon emissions nationally and globally have to be reduced far faster and more extensively than any political party is talking about here or overseas, and coupled with other major reforms. This will have a substantial cost, and we should not pretend otherwise. But ignoring the existential climate threat we now face means the far greater cost of economic and social collapse.

A decade ago, in reports such as the Stern and Garnaut Climate Reviews, the cost of sensible climate action was thought to be 3-5% of GDP. In comparison, the cost of inaction was seen to be in excess of 20% of GDP, equivalent to the impact of WW1, WW2 and the Great Depression combined. Three decades of inaction mean those costs today are considerably higher, as the transformation has to be made on an emergency basis rather than via the “orderly transition” promised in official rhetoric. On the positive side, they are being offset, to some extent, by rapid technological innovation, particularly in countries where policy supports such innovation – unlike Australia. But in the absence of rapid action, if temperature increase and other climate impacts continue to accelerate, collapse may occur before mid-century.

So our task, simply, is to transform Australia into a society and economy with net-zero domestic emissions and zero exported emissions as soon as possible but no later than 2050. The solutions are available; their implementation requires emergency action, akin to wartime, using the best leadership and expertise with a mandate to do whatever it takes to achieve that objective. Modelling is valuable to chart the optimal pathway, but not when it deliberately sets out to undermine achievement of the objective.

For the Coalition to nail their climate flag to Brian Fisher’s misleading modelling in such circumstances beggars belief, confirming they cannot be trusted on climate change – the greatest threat the country faces.

After years of lying and deceit, it is time for Australian climate denialists – Howard, Abbott, Morrison, Fisher et al, their corporate backers and lobby groups, the Murdoch press and assorted acolytes – to publicly apologise for placing the community in extreme danger from climate change. Then get out of the way, so real leaders can initiate the emergency action which is building globally.

My grandchildren would much appreciate it.

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He chaired the AGO Experts Group on Emissions Trading in 1998/99 which developed the first emissions trading system design for Australia under the Howard government – subsequently abandoned by Howard in support of George W Bush’s climate denialism. He is co-author of “What Lies Beneath: the understatement of existential climate risk” ” and of the Club of Rome’s “Climate Emergency Plan” 

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