Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Greenhouse 2011 – notsolive blogging2

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Day 2 of the Greenhouse 2011 conference in Cairns. Talks by Janice Lough (palaeoclimate) and  Ross Garnaut (economics and policy).

Janice Lough AIMS – palaeoclimate proxies inform the relatively short instrumental records. They need to be dated, measured, controls identified, calibrated, replicated and uncertainties quantified. Law Dome snow accumulation is tightly linked to SW WA rainfall (van Ommen and Morgan, 2010), unprecedented in the past ~750 years.  Tropical tree-ring records include Callitris intratropica can be linked to spring rainfall.  Callitris in SW WA reproducing winter-spring rainfall pretty well. Recent records from about 20 GBR Porites records show ~4 years suppressed growth due to sublethal bleaching. Other examples are shorter (1 season) in 1998 but are unprecedented in a two century history. Coral growth increased during the 20th century then declining from 1990, the decline unprecedented in past 400 years. NEQ summer rainfall back to 1720 has been reconstructed from corals, is correlated with SSTs and linked to ENSO. !973–4 wettest year in 343 year record. Sr/Ca gives temperature from the Western Pacific warm pool – 20th century ENSO variability is larger than the glacial – interglacial record measured (roughly 120,000 years but not continuously). Recent SH 1,000 year record of temperature equivalent to the ‘hockey stick’ of the northern hemisphere has been constructed by Turney and others. It is more variable but has the same large recent upturn in the latter 20th century.

Ross Garnaut 2011 update. He re-emphases the point that uncertainty becomes a greater reason to act rather than to justify inaction. This is because of the undesirability of serious outcomes. He focuses the uncertainty in the review on the mean of business as usual (BAU) outcomes and the distribution of uncertainty around that. He speaks of the modified BAU that has moved considerably from the 2008 review. Growth has spread to other developing countries including recent growth in Africa (that he didn’t mention explicitly). Recent discussions have leaned towards ‘giving up’ in the face of overwhelmingly difficult problem, however mentions that even limited improvement will pass on a great benefit. Recent discussions in Cancun brought world back to a ~650 ppm or ~4°C in terms of modified BAU; better but not good enough. Australia has more to gain than any other developed country (or more to lose from failure). Agriculture is a particularly vulnerable sector. He also points out that we are also vulnerable because of our proximity to other, more vulnerable countries in the region. Australia is also the best endowed of the developed countries as having the basic resources for a low carbon economy, perhaps the second best endowed country (to Norway) for fossil fuel resources. Gas and high quality coal for transitional fuels. Solar, wind, marine energy, biomass, some geothermal and nuclear fuels as low emission energy resources. Opportunities for bio- and geosequestration are exceptional. Our human capacity in science, technology and commercial innovation in key sectors are also important: agriculture, geosciences as an example. Proportional efforts can easily get entangled in arguments about the small national contribution to global efforts, but lose the benefits that Australia can gain more than other countries. He will say more about Australia’s proportionate effort in the final paper handed down on May 31st. Setting an economy-wide price on hidden damages is the most low-cost way to limit those damages. The US pathway is implicit cost, but the US are setting a social cost on carbon in policy where they can, for example in limiting vehicle emissions. But this is more expensive than a widespread price mechanism. Recent discussion with China also show it is moving faster than Garnaut reported in his update,

Innovation requires fiscal support. It could be funded from the carbon price mechanism if that mechanism isn’t used to smooth the pillows of dying economic activities. The energy market and its regulation is major factor in our having the highest per capita emissions in developed countries. Recent price rises have been higher than in any other developing country and are unnecessary.

In conclusion, an economy-wide price on carbon is the least-cost way to deal with the climate change issue.

A question on denial and delay, asking when will the people at the conference who agree start screaming aloud led to an answer that the bulk of Australians support action, once the plan to use the returns from carbon pricing in a positive economic way is understood more fully, that support will become more solid.

A question on fossil fuel subsidy led Garnaut to concentrate on those subsidies that lead to higher emissions rather than to the fossil fuel industry per se. He nominated the tax breaks on company cars that is about $1 billion dollars in an easy strike-out and $2 billion with a bit more effort as the most obvious targets. He will provide a 15-year budget for the change in tax and fiscal arrangements to make the transition to full carbon pricing in his final report.

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Written by Roger Jones

April 5, 2011 at 11:00 am

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