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Clive James on Climate Change 3 June 2017

The Case for Withdrawal

It is not surprising to find that there is strong resistance to following Trump and announcing a withdrawal from the Paris Accord. But there is a small number of Federal MPs who have openly questioned our commitment (which isn’t a commitment in any legal sense) to Paris and some who would support withdrawal if leaders showed the way. There are also many outside Parliament who take the same view.

Of course, almost all current political leaders, a high proportion of leading journalists, a large proportion of scientists and many business leaders apparently continue to accept the theory that unless governments reduce usage of fossil fuels there will be an increase in global temperatures which will eventually  endanger the continuation of life on the planet. Many of these people and countries have publicly  locked themselves into acceptance of this theory and are psychologically unable to admit they may be wrong.

There are however good reasons for rejecting the theory and for Australia withdrawing.

It is not possible here to either spell out all the reasons or even elaborate the main ones in detail. I list some major ones below in brief form. I use as basis for comment the astonishing assertion by Paul Kelly in the Weekend Australian that Malcolm Turnbull’s decision is right for “policy, diplomatic and political reasons” (see Kelly on Withdrawal from Paris). I leave aside “diplomatic” reasons, although I observe that as an enhanced US ally, Australia would have an enthusiastic  protector against any threats from aggressive objectors and any attempt to discriminate against Australian exports. Australia has the possibility of discriminating against imports from aggressive objectors should action be threatened against its exports.

  • As to political reasons for W, properly handled that should lift the Coalition’s polling. The budget failed to do so and, despite the unbelievably bad policies enunciated by Shorten, Turnbull appears not to have the necessary leadership capacity to get across to the electorate the faults in Shorten’s policies and what virtues there may be in his. Of course, any announcement of W by Turnbull’s replacement would need to set out the basic reasons for doing so and an undertaking that these would be further explained asap. A W could be just the initiative needed to lift the Coalition’s polling. Contrary to Kelly, there are thus sound political reasons for W.
  • The main policy reason is that, while global carbon emissions have increased by about 50 per cent since 1997, average global temperatures have not risen to any significant extent, if at all. This indicates that the scientific theory that increasing emissions cause increasing temperatures is either wrong or has only very limited effects. Other reasons presumably explain the limited temperature outcome.  A similar conclusion is reached when temperatures and emissions are examined in periods before 1997.  A related reason is that the measurement of temperatures by existing official agencies almost certainly considerably overstates the extent of the increase over the past century or so, perhaps by more than half of the widely accepted 0.8%.

Many scientists around the world (including in Australia) accept that the emissions reduction policy is either without substance or would have very much less effect on temperatures. Australia therefore has good environment policy reasons for W.

  • The continuation of policies to reduce usage of fossil fuels will have adverse economic effects because the substitutes are more costly. This is already being reflected in higher electricity prices from usage of gas or renewable or higher taxes to pay for subsidies to producers using the costly substitutes. It appears that the imminent review by Chief Scientist Finkel (who has no background in climate policy but who has said publicly that he accepts the dangerous warming theory) will recommend “better” ways of reducing fossil fuel usage while at the same time reducing the higher costs passed on in prices. Whatever, there will continue to be (increasing) economic costs which are, in the end, paid for by individuals. Note here that  well known climate analyst Bjorn Lomborg has made estimates of these high costs globally and argues “these huge costs have imperilled the treaty since its singing. It is not hard to imagine other leaders balking”. Lomborg also claims that, even if aimed emissions reductions in Paris are met, any reduction in temperatures would be small  (see Lomborg on Paris).

The more important question however is how to justify a change in temperatures either way from reduced emissions when, in the past, temperatures have not even increased to any extent when emissions rose significantly.  There are therefore good economic policy reasons for Australia to W.

  • As Trump has pointed out (and others too), under Paris low income countries are not subject to restrictions in using fossil fuels and are supposed to receive aid to help lift their economic growth. China, which is now easily the biggest carbon emitter, is expected to double its emissions by 2030 and the announcement of an agreement on Paris with the EU does not affect its emission reductions agreement. India is also large emitter and it has a similarly expected large increase.

This means that, if Australia increasingly reduces its usage of fossil fuels, it will face higher costs itself AND international competitors whose costs are not increasing under the Paris Accord. A double whammy! While some may argue that this policy is justified as a means of helping low income countries, the main contributor to improving the economies of those countries is improved domestic economic and political policies.  This is another economic policy reason for W.

As Trump has shown, there are different ways of W and Australia need not adopt a straight-out W. We could say, for example, that we are reviewing our previous assessment of the dangerous warming theory and are temporarily halting our emissions reduction policy until we have clarified the situation.  But contrary to Paul Kelly, there is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed for the Coalition to announce W and an urgent review of the scientific analysis by scientists and economists who have not committed themselves to the dangerous warming theory.

PS I have attached an article by well-known Australian writer, Clive James, published in today’s Weekend Australian. In it he has written in style about why a range of alarmists on climate change do not deserve credibility but have been accepted because it has been fashionable.

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