No island is an island anymore: the flaw in Morrison’s 2050 plan

Nov 25, 2021
COP26 Glasgow
A globe half full: pledges by governments at COP26 left the world still poised at the edge of dangerous global heating. (Image: Flickr/COP26)

There’s the emissions reduction modelling, and then there’s the reality. Guess which side the Australian government prefers?

Luckily, the increasingly disruptive and violent climate events caused by global warming — the ocean’s rise, polar ice retreat, glacier melts, heatwaves, droughts, floods, hurricanes, and pandemics — won’t involve Australia.

There will be no economic impacts as the tipping points are reached in the global climate, ecological, and human systems. The government modelling tells us so!

The most astonishing thing about Australia’s Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan: Modelling And Analysis (the modelling) is that it simply wishes away the threats. The climate tempest will bypass the island continent of Australia, and the economic and social storms beyond these shores will only be felt as gentle zephyrs.

The government’s secret power lies in the assumptions in the modelling’s improbable scenarios.

In the first of the two scenarios modelled, it is assumed that “All countries, except Australia, reduce their emissions to achieve a below 2.0 degree Celsius global emissions trajectory” and “all developed countries reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050, except Australia”. In the second, the plan scenario, it is assumed that “all countries, including Australia, implement additional abatement action to shift to this below 2.0C trajectory beginning from 2031″.

What?

In summary, it is assumed that the world takes “effective global action to reduce emissions and limit global warming to either 2.0C or lower, or well below 2.0C”. A brave assumption to make prior to COP26, a fundamental mistake post-Glasgow. The world won’t avoid exceeding 2.0C by mid-century as a result of the conference.

The modelling’s assumptions are inconsistent with the science and current actions. The UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2021 makes clear that arriving at net zero emissions by 2050 requires a global effort. COP26 failed to land on the answer.

The Glasgow Climate Pact noted with “serious concern” that “the aggregate greenhouse gas emission level, taking into account implementation of all submitted nationally determined contributions, is estimated to be 13.7 per cent above the 2010 level in 2030”. Subsequent analysis indicates that even if all countries meet their 2030 targets, global temperatures will still rise 2.4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

While the modelling was undertaken pre-COP26, the latest science available from the IPCC was clear but ignored. The IPCC said “Crossing the 2.0C global warming level in the mid-term period (2041–60) is very likely to occur under the very high GHG emissions scenario, likely to occur under the high GHG emissions scenario, and more likely than not to occur in the intermediate GHG emissions scenario”.

Surely the government could have modelled a scenario beyond 2.0C.

The IPCC adds that “With every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger”. Because “every additional 0.5C of global warming causes clearly discernible increases in the intensity and frequency of hot extremes, including heatwaves (very likely), and heavy precipitation (high confidence)”. Moreover, “There will be an increasing occurrence of some extreme events unprecedented in the observational record (italics added) with additional global warming, even at 1.5C of global warming”.

While the historical data demonstrates that the relationship between the cumulative CO2 emissions and global warming is nearly linear, the relationship between temperature and the frequency and intensity of climate events is exponential.

The chance of what was a one-in-50-year event between 1850-1900 occurring, and being more intense, has become 4.8 times more likely today, and will be 8.6 times at 1.5C, 13.9 times at 2.0C, and 39.2 times at 4.0C.  To clarify that; at 1.5C what were once one-in-50-year events will occur on average every 5.9 years, and at 2.0C every 3.6 years.

At 4.0C, a possible end of century outcome on current trajectory, what were one-in-50-year events could become close to annual. Or, just think of the consequences of events on the scale of the Vancouver floods happening at least several times a year across the world at a number of major urban areas, industrial centres or global supply chain nodes.

The modelling’s assumptions about the development, adoption, scalability, and diffusion of “advanced technology” are also courageous. The development of pandemic vaccines provides a good indication of how this will play out. Companies that develop technologies of great significance for human wellbeing and security have products that inevitably attract a higher premium and produce greater profits. That’s capitalism. There is no reason to think that a sudden rush of altruism will make technology developers donate their technology, or provide it at cost, to developing countries.

Obviously, the government has to operate on the basis of some assumptions about the future state-of-affairs. That said, it seems naïve to be working on the assumptions that the world will stay below 2.0C and that the technological advances required to achieve this will appear and be deployed globally at scale, and affordably priced, in time.

However, it is inexcusable for government to exclude from its calculations rational and probable alternative future states-of-affairs emerging. The coming decades will bring dangerous uncertainty and unpredictable change. If the 2.0C target is missed, discontinuities and catastrophes loom; mass migrations, famines, failed states, conflicts, and economic collapses. On all current indicators 2.0C will be missed and by a considerable margin.

Any predictions about global financial positions, trade, or commodity prices and markets, in the Modelling are clearly suspect.

Betting everything on benign assumptions that are designed to produce outcomes favourable to a preconceived, politically palatable position is an unforgiveable abrogation of responsibility.

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