Doomed Planet

Garnaut fails Australia

Garnaut’s Updates – even more politica

Last November Ross Garnaut was commissioned, for an unknown fee, to produce an Update of the Review of climate change he completed in 2008. Garnaut is an economist who describes himself as an independent expert but he acts like a believer in a greater role for government and has worked closely with Labor governments. As one commentator put it yesterday, “his work has been a key feature of Labor’s campaign to introduce a carbon trading scheme”. Indeed, his first Update and associated comments present a blatantly political perspective in portraying all developments since the Review as supporting the need for emission reducing action by government and dismissing or ignoring the reality that those developments have clearly heightened the uncertainties about the so-called science and whether there will be any agreed international political action.   

We now find former “free trader” Garnaut even more strongly supporting emission reducing action by Australia – and regardless of what other countries are doing. His advocacy of such action would, if followed by the government, reduce our international competitiveness and would be equivalent to asking the rest of the world to impose tariffs on all imports from Australia. The rationale? The naive, even laughable, view that the absence of emission-reducing action by Australia would go “a long way to ensuring there would be no effective global action” – as if Australia has such international influence! 

His support for a lone ranger approach also seems to reflect an acceptance of moral responsibility for the past – developed countries are “the source of the urgency of the global warming problem” and are better placed to make larger reductions in emissions. It also involves implicit acceptance of international redistribution rather than domestic policy changes by developing countries as the main solution to development. 

Despite giving himself a big pat on the back – the Review “has survived the public discussion as a robust, logical and ethical framework within which to consider the diabolical policy problem of climate change”- Garnaut will now produce no less than 8 Updates, the last on 31 May and the next on Monday 7 February. 

Given this self-congratulation, it is difficult to see why another seven are needed, particularly as he refers to only two specific criticisms by Australians, one being by Michael Porter of CEDA on how we should value the future relative to the past and the other by Professor Richard Blandy who apparently argued (sensibly) that the response to climate change should be to adapt to the effects if and when it occurs rather than assume damaging effects if mitigatory emission reduction action is not started now. But Garnaut claims “we are dealing with a very high probability that unmitigated climate change would lead to very large damage” and that we need to invest rather heavily to avoid this. Indeed, he warns that as Australia has failed to take mitigatory action, “substantial costs” have already been incurred. These costs allegedly include the decisions to build desalination plants and to re-zone land in some coastal areas. Yet both of these reflect the acceptance of the dangerous warming theory rather than any actual or threatened climate damage.   

His argument that Australia is falling behind both the United States and China in dealing with climate change is also hard to take. US President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union message indicated that neither an ETS nor a carbon price were on the US’s climate agenda and, although he proposes more action on the use of renewable energy, the objectives would not be realised for a considerable time – “by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources” – and would include one source not yet on Australia’s agenda -nuclear power. As to China, the latest projections in the World Energy Outlook show China’s emissions of greenhouse gases as being twice current levels by 2030.

As with much of this first Update, Garnaut’s response on the specific Australian criticisms (and on other issues) consists mainly of either a reference back to what was said in the 2008 review or to a political judgment that Australia should adopt a policy of playing a leading role in international negotiations on climate change. Thus, any refraining by Australia from mitigatory action to combat global warming would reduce the prospect of achieving strong global mitigation – for which “there is still a chance”. 

Garnaut’s failure to recognise the continued criticisms of and questions raised about the whole basis (as distinct from one or two specifics) of the dangerous warming theory since the 2008 Review is little short of amazing. There is no mention of the revelations of data and other manipulations arising from the Climategate exposures, presumably because the official inquiries have supposedly “cleared” those involved and despite the careful assessment of those inquiries by prominent Canadian economist Ross McKitrick that “the world still waits a proper inquiry into climategate: one that is not stacked with global warming advocates”. 

Nor is there any reference to the public acknowledgement by the leader of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia and a lead author of the IPCC’s 2007 report, Philip Jones, that from 1995 to 2009 there was no statistically significant global warming; or of last year’s Royal Society report (in response to internal complaints of one-sidedness amongst scientist members) which acknowledged that “it is not possible to determine exactly how much the Earth will warm or exactly how the climate will change” and that climate change “continues to be the subject of intensive scientific research and public debate”. By contrast Garnaut falsely claims that that Royal Society report means “the informed non-scientist can be left in little doubt about the way the scientific community sees certainty in climate change”! 

Looking beyond these exposures, there are of course many critics amongst world scientists, including the more than 30,000 (of whom over 9,000 have PhDs) who have signed the Oregon Petition rejecting the dangerous warming theory. That Petition is unequivocal – 

There is no convincing evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heat of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’ s climate.

As to Australian critics, it is little short of disgraceful that Garnaut fails even to acknowledge the expert critical analyses by the likes of Bill Kininmonth, Bob Carter, David Evans, and Stewart Franks, all of whom were granted the privilege (sic) of making a presentation and submitting a major document to the (then) Climate Minister Wong. Australian scientists have also signed letters to international organisations expressing disagreement with the warmist theory. That apart, Australia has the many critical publications issued under the aegis of the Lavoisier Society and Quadrant.  

The reported public comments by Garnaut also indicate that he has attempted to bolster his argument by making incorrect claims. For instance, that sea level increases are “tracking right at the top of range of possibilities” (they are well down the range and at rates over recent years would pose no substantive risk of inundations). He also claims there would be more frequent “extreme” cyclones – though not necessarily more frequent cyclones! But this is reportedly based on an article in Nature (a warmist journal) claiming more intensive cyclonic activity in the North Atlantic! By contrast, our Bureau of Meteorology web site says that “a growing number of studies indicate a consistent signal of fewer tropical cyclones globally in a warmer climate”. There is no evidence to support the view that climate change arising from increased temperatures is to blame for the recent flooding, or for Cyclone Yasi, and the argument that higher sea surface temperatures could have contributed to the strength and size of Yasi has no factual basis – the tropical ocean surface temperature during January 2011 was slightly cooler than average.  

In his 2008 Review Garnaut presented economic modelling showing that with or without mitigation “Australian living standards are likely to grow strongly through the 21st century”, with mitigatory action improving GDP in 2100 by only about 5 per cent above what it would otherwise have been. By contrast, Richard Tol (an author for the IPCC, a shared winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and classified as among the top 5% economists in the world) has put the cost of mitigatory action at about 40 times greater than the benefits. There is no discussion in this first Update of such critical analyses. 

The Update does puts emphasis on benefits that were described in the 2008 Review as immeasurable but of “great importance” (environmental amenity, longevity, insurance against risks, etc). This Update claims that new information now available will require a re-assessment of the measurable benefits and costs in a future Update. This new information, which smacks of a clutching at straws and assumes the science is correct, are stated as including increased scientific knowledge suggesting more serious adverse effects from climate change, lack of progress towards a comprehensive global agreement (which adds to future mitigation costs), and improved low-emission technologies.  


The conclusions to this first Update make claims that are capable of being interpreted either way. Thus “it is clear from preliminary analysis that there have been significant scientific, policy and analytical developments since 2008” and that “The international framework changed fundamentally at Copenhagen and Cancun”. But these developments are arguably not supportive of the case that Garnaut puts. Nor can it justifiably be claimed that “The climate science has developed, mostly in ways that heighten rather than ease concerns.” or that “There have also been considerable developments in the domestic policy discussion.” which strengthen that case. 

It is probably true, however, that “the costs of some low-emissions technologies appear to have been falling faster than anticipated.” This might suggest though that there is less need for early emission reduction action. 

Equally, the conclusion that “a late start globally on mitigation has raised anticipated costs of both climate change and its mitigation” takes no account of the increased uncertainties about the science and the likelihood of global action. 

All up, much as expected but seriously disappointing from someone who might have been expected to present a more professional analysis.

Des Moore, Director, Institute for Private Enterprise

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