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July 07th 2010 print

Crikey criticises Flannery

Crikey has published an article by Andrew Macintosh, associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy, criticising Tim Flannery. Macintosh disputes seven claims Flannery made in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece.

Crikey has published an article by Andrew Macintosh, associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy, criticising Tim Flannery. Macintosh disputes seven claims Flannery made in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece. Crikey readers are not happy:

Flannery on the CPRS: separating fact from Flannery

In the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend, Professor Tim Flannery attacked the Liberals and the Greens for their positions on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), calling them liars and stating that their claims are “just plain wrong”. In the interests of an honest and accurate debate, I decided to see whether I could find any errors or untruths in Flannery’s article. It wasn’t hard. After extracting the errors, there is not much left of the article. Set out below are details of his biggest howlers (in the order they appear in the article).

Claim: “If implemented, it [the CPRS] would see Australia emitting 5 per cent less greenhouse gas in 2020 than it did in 2000”.

Fact: Wrong. If the CPRS was introduced with a 5% target, Australia’s emissions would probably increase. However, Australia’s net emissions — domestic emissions less imported offset credits — would decline. Provided the imported credits represent actual abatement, they will not undermine the environmental integrity of Australia’s target. Yet the extent to which these credits will represent actual abatement is still uncertain and, to a large extent, will depend on the outcomes from the current international negotiations.

Claim: Nicholas Stern’s analysis suggests that “humanity is set to be emitting 48 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2020 – up a mere billion tonnes from today’s 47 billion tonnes”.

Fact: Wrong on two fronts. First, Flannery uses incorrect units. Current emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are about 36 billion tonnes (Gt), not 47 Gt. He presumably meant emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e).

Second, Stern’s analysis does not show that “humanity is set to be emitting” 48 GtCO2-e by 2020. Flannery refers to a recent article by Stern in the New York Review of Books as his source. The full details of Stern’s analysis are contained in a paper co-authored by Chris Taylor (a senior economist in the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change) that was published in March 2010 by the Grantham Research Institute and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy.

The paper concludes that global emissions are likely to be 48.2 GtCO2-e in 2020 but only if all countries adopt and achieve their highest targets, no surplus emissions allowances are carried over from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, there is no double counting of mitigation commitments, the rules regarding terrestrial carbon do not weaken the level of ambition and economic development in developing countries follows current expectations.

These caveats on Stern and Taylor’s projections are of critical importance, a point they stress. Combined, the caveats almost represent the difference between the projected 48.2 GtCO2-e and emissions under “business-as-usual” conditions. And to suggest that all of these areas of uncertainty are going to fall in favour of a strong mitigation outcome is extremely optimistic; some might say delusional. Even if the analysis is confined to whether all countries will adopt their high-end target, it takes an eternal optimist to believe the international negotiations are headed for this sort of outcome. For example, Australia’s target range is 5%-25% reductions below 2000 levels by 2020. Yet discussion of Australia going beyond 15% has all but dried up. Similar dynamics are playing out in other developed and developing countries.

 The complete article, with indignant reader comments, is here…