12
Oct
2017

Response to Abbott & US Repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan

A New World?

As expected, the London address by Abbott has led to many critiques, including some that attempt to present his analysis as ridiculous partly be being selective in quotes. I respond to some of these critiques below. Suffice to say here is that the response  so far by Turnbull and Frydenberg is basically limited to saying “well he didn’t say that when he was PM” (see Frydeneberg’s Critique of Abbott). Turnbull has refused to comment on Abbott’s address but has rejected any withdrawal from the Paris agreement (see Turnbull to Stick to Paris) But the responses by some backbenchers indicate that Abbott has stirred the possum –and on more than one tree. He has also reinforced (without actually saying it) the problems with Turnbull.  In The Australian, Simon Benson points out that the government led by Turnbull has created a policy vacuum and “when the government does finally dump the CET, Abbott will doubtless be there congratulating them for finally listening to him” (see Benson on Turnbull).

Meantime,  Scott Pruitt, the head of the US EPA,  has signed a measure repealing the Clean Power Plan announced by his predecessor in accordance with instructions by Obama (see US EPA to Repeal Clean Power Plan).This repeal would have been ticked by Trump. In effect, the repeal supports the basis of the proposals in Abbott’s speech, which still seeks to have reductions in emissions but subject to limits and to a freeze of the subsidies for renewable. If implemented, the EPA repeal is more important than that speech because it would reverse the finding under the previous EPA head that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health – an astonishing finding that the Supreme Court ruled as acceptable because it was made by “experts” ie by EPA bureaucrats. Now that it has “new experts”, the US EPA would now have the power and the potential to set a new standard, at least in the US, that says the usage of fossil fuels is unlikely to be harmful. That would have international implications, possibly leading to a “new world” on assessing global warming. There will doubtless be legal challenges whose outcomes cannot be predicted. But there would seem to be a reasonable chance of success.

Responses to Abbott

As noted above, the response by government ministers is largely limited to drawing attention to what Abbott said and did when he was PM, including his signing of the Paris agreement. But that of course does not rule out a change in thinking and policy, the more so as Paris is voluntary and allows countries not only to reduce its emissions reduction targets but to withdraw without penalty. I have previously suggested that Australia might reduce its target from a 26-28 per cent reduction by 2030 to around the same target as South Korea and Russia (about 10 per cent). Such an approach is basically similar to that recommended by two highly respected economic reformers, Professors Banks and Hilmer, who provided advice in the past of which a considerable proportion was accepted –and worked (see Banks & Hilmer on Cutting Emissions Policy).  Such a move would come at a time when there are reports that emissions reductions are running below targets and, of course, when the US has announced the repeal of its CPP. It would also recognise  Abbott’s point that China and India are building or planning more than 800 new coal-fired power stations ie continuing to emit at significant rates.

This makes nonsense of the argument that, because of the agreed reductions in emissions, the Paris agreement will help meet the major objective of keeping global temperature increases below 2C. Abbott has stated that temperatures here in Australia  “have only increased by 0.3 degrees over the past century, not the 1 degree usually claimed”. This claim should have been better explained but it is clearly based on the now widespread evidence that temperatures have been incorrectly recorded by the BOM and that part of the increase is due to the impact of urban heat islands ie not “real” increases in temperatures. There is also evidence of mis-recording in overseas countries. Abbott also correctly points out that “over millions of years there have been warmer periods and cooler periods that don’t correlate with carbon dioxide concentrations”. As readers of my Commentaries will be aware, this similarly applies to what has happened over the past century.

The government ministers also say that their decisions are based on advice from experts. But it is already clear that the Chief Scientist’s report will not be implemented and that the report itself did not take account of the views of experts who are sceptics (none are mentioned in the references). As they are now saying that “the policy” will be announced by the end of the year, there is an opportunity to obtain such advice from the considerable number of sceptical experts. That would seem to be a minimal requirement. Beyond this, Abbott rightly draws attention to the absurd claims that the science is settled and that “no big change has accompanied the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over the past century”.

There are still many, possibly a majority, who believe in the dangerous warming thesis and the need for governments to install emissions reductions policies. The action being taken in the US, together with the courageous and well justified address by Abbott, will help change these beliefs and hopefully the policies adopted by governments

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