When I read today's speech by Opposition Leader Shorten to the Lowy Institute, my first reaction was "emotional pap." By the end of the speech, and cutting out all the assertions and opinions, I actually had no idea just what Labor was proposing. Fortunately, the ALP web site has more information. This defines the approach in this way:
Our approach to post-2020 pollution reduction targets has followed a clear and logical sequence of decision making:The proposed consultation process is intended to define the best path to the achievement of these objectives.
- Labor accepts the science that limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius is necessary to avert dangerous climate change.
- Our commitment to limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius requires Australia to be a net zero emissions economy by the middle of the century.
- To achieve this 2050 target, Labor will consult on the Climate Change Authority’s 2030 baseline target of a 45 per cent reduction in carbon pollution on 2005 levels.
In April 2010 I attempted to summarise my own position on climate change in Belshaw's position on climate change. The post included a listing of the 26 posts I had written connected with the issue to that point. Writing in my often cautious way, I concluded:
- On the balance I accept the majority scientific position that human induced climate change is a problem that need to be dealt with now. To wait until the science is proved right is a high risk strategy.
- To the degree that there are identifiable changes such as changes in sea levels, then we need to consider our responses to them. This holds regardless of the causes of those changes: we need to respond to the what, rather than the why. I say this because my study of history and pre-history shows that, regardless of current current climate change arguments, there have been considerable natural variations that have actually occurred quite quickly. Nature is not static.
- I have been concerned for some time that group think in the scientific community and beyond has, to some extent, crowded out alternative views and that this has dangers. Scientific group think tends to be self-correcting over time because of the nature of scientific method. However, broader group think is less subject to correction.
- Linked to three, I have been concerned at the way climate change arguments have become linked to so many disconnected issues. These arguments take the form if a (climate change) then b (add in whatever you like), when a and b are in fact disconnected or at best loosely connected. The tendency to link specific current events like the recent drought in southern Australia to climate change does not help. All this actually acts to discredit the core case.
- Again linked to three, I have been concerned at what I see as the failure in discussion to adequately explore alternative policy responses to climate change. It may be that a market based response such as an emissions trading scheme is the best response (I suspect that either an ETS or carbon tax will be necessary), but I would feel much more comfortable if there had been more public discussion of alternatives. Among other things, this would give us a much better feel for practical implications of an ETS and for supporting measures that may be needed, as well as reducing the risk of simply dumb policy responses.
- Despite the attempts by Don Aitkin to correct what he sees as the more egregious errors, the evidence for human induced climate change has probably become stronger. I mention Don because I do read his posts as a way of checking my own perspective against an intelligent skeptic's position.
- Regardless of 1, the global acceptance of human induced climate change creates a policy climate to which Australia must respond. We need to respond in a way that reflects our own interests. That requires cool thought, not emotional manipulation.
- The discussion I expected (hoped for) on intelligent alternatives has simply not happened. I actually got quite excited about some possibilities, but I don't think that there has been a new idea or indeed much advance on existing ideas since I wrote. All we have is a conflict between existing stereotypes.
- By far the worst outcome from the Abbott period was the rejection of pricing mechanisms. There will be some form of carbon pricing, and we had a structure that would fit into that.
- The economics in favour of renewables has shifted faster than expected.
- The magic pudding effect. For those who don't know this story, The Magic Pudding is an Australian children's book The central character is a pudding that likes to be eaten and constantly replaces the lost slices. To my mind, this equates to much of the economic modelling on the effects of climate change action We can have our pudding and eat it too. This is central to Mr Shorten's arguments. We can do things because they will have no real impacts on Australian wealth. I don't believe that.We need to recognise the costs and be thinking about them now.
- Double counting. Under the evolving global system architecture now emerging, each country will be responsible for the emissions created on its territory by activities carried out on its territory. Australian environmentalists do not accept that. In the case of coal, for example, they argue that Australia needs to consider the carbon costs of .our own activities in mining and burning coal within Australia plus the carbon costs incurred elsewhere. That's just dumb double counting.