Plagiarism is what I am really good at! See a good phrase – pinch it!
One I spotted this week on an American website (while I was visiting Canberra as it happens) is just right for use in Australia.
The blogger was complaining of “political bafflegab.”
Doesn’t that just sum up so much of what we are hearing in the local carbon debate?
As an example, the Prime Minister and senior colleagues have made much during the parliamentary winter recess of the government’s political pledge
that Australia will cut emissions by 80 per cent from 2000 levels by 2050.
As I turn 69 next month, I have no expectation of being around to keep tabs on this, but I have a lively interest in the issue because my three little grandsons will be 50, 47 and 44 respectively at that point and it is not unreasonable to expect that there will be a small tribe of Orchison great-grandchildren on the ground, too.
Looking during the recess at the Treasury papers released on carbon policy – and why, why won’t the Prime Minister or the Treasurer authorise release of all the modelling assumptions? – I have come to appreciate a couple of things.
The first is that the recent pledge is actually to reduce Australian emissions by two per cent in 2050 not 80 per cent.
Treasury’s “core policy” modelling says national emissions will be 545 million tonnes in mid-century after peaking at 621Mt in 2020. It was 556Mt in 2000.
The balance of abatement is to be bought in from the presumed global trading scheme.
Inherent in this mindset also is the belief that energy technology will have advanced to the point where these credits are relatively cheap.
I say “relatively” because the Treasury modelling assumes that the 2050 cost will be about six times the initial carbon price the government announced.
Whether or not there will be a global trading scheme is the far-distant future is one thing – the likelihood of there being one in 2015, when the carbon tax is supposed to switch over, is another entirely.
Sans an ETS, the carbon price,of course, would be kept in place and, on ACIL Tasman figures of modelling by Treasury last year that I hung on to, it would be $40 in 2020 and $55 in 2029, starting from $23 in 2011 as had been planned – and these are inflation-adjusted numbers using real 2009-10 dollars.
What the price may be in 2050 won’t interest many members of today’s community. What it will be in 2020 certainly will.
Any chance of the government talking about this?
“Political bafflegab” isn’t going to let that happen.
Also central to the current Treasury modelling is the claim, talked up by Julia Gillard, that 40 per cent of our electricity supply in 2050 will be from renewable sources – weighted heavily towards as-yet commercially unproven geothermal energy – and that the demand trend over four decades will be significantly flattened from what it is today, making the zero-emission supply task that much easier.
Solar power and wind, which is doing the RET heavy lifting today, are effectively given something of a brush-off.
(Bear in mind here that, on the low demand levels predicted by the Treasury, renewable supply would still need to double between 2030 – when the RET expires – and 2050. On what I consider more realistic long-term consumption numbers, it would need to treble.)
Sixty per cent of supply in the “clean energy future” is, in fact, fossil-fuelled, but “political bafflegab” keeps that well hidden. The non-renewable balance is envisaged as being provided by gas and coal plants equipped with carbon capture and storage systems – but this week we have Gillard’s political partner, Senator Bob Brown, giving gas, and especially coal seam methane, the evil eye.
As The Australian today quoted me saying, the Prime Minister is standing on Brown’s shoulders for this 2050 renewables and gas-fuelled approach – and he is wobbling.
But the government will not have a bar of a proven zero-emission technology (nuclear) and it will not support a newly-emerged Australian technology, gas-fired fuel cells, that could materially change power supply to households (and substantially impact on network capital outlays).
(It is ironic, I think, that the Prime Minister, Wayne Swan and Greg Combet make much of China’s renewable energy investments but they ignore the fact that the Chinese are going to build 50 reactors this decade.
(Has it ever occurred to them to ask Treasury to model how much we would need to invest in buying emissions credits from overseas in 2050 if, starting around 2020, we built, say, 1,500MW of nuclear power each year?
(Aren’t we in the community at least entitled to know the answer to this before they launch us down the current path, which I am afraid I see as a marriage of political desperation with out-of-date ideology?)
The second key issue arising from the recess papers is that Julia Gillard’s 2050 pledge is based on the promises at Cancun by 89 countries (90 per cent of the world’s economy) to deliver carbon action.
Leaving aside what such pledges are worth in reality, a bigger problem is that independent modelling overseas indicates, even if these promises are met, that the resulting abatement will not deliver a reduction in global temperatures to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels, as desired. Or even get close.
All of this reminds me of that old saying from the days of sailing ships that, if you don’t know where you are going, any port will do.
During the recess the government has spent $12 million of taxpayers’ money trying to persuade us to buy its policy.
The outcome, as reflected by the most recent Galaxy polling, is that 55 per cent of us are still opposed to what is proposed to be done and 69 per cent of us still think the country will be worse off when Gillard and the Greens have pushed the legislation through parliament.
(I am afraid I also suspect the Prime Minister of seeking to rush the carbon legislation through parliament so that she can posture at the Durban UN conference for domestic political gain in the way the Prime Minister she deposed did at Bali, so what else might she cede to the Greens to get the timing right?)
I really don’t care that Gillard may live to politically regret her approach to carbon policy – or that a continuing slump in the ALP primary vote may spook her colleagues in to cutting her down before the voters can get to her –but I do care that the grandkids may live with the legacy of policy that owes far more to “political bafflegab” than it does to good process.
Remember this: because electricity supply assets have long lives, poor decision made this decade may well still be hung around Australians’ necks in 25 and 30 years time.