Morrison on Energy Policy & IPCC Report

Background on IPCC Report

The IPCC has published what it describes as a “Special Report” whose press release astonishingly claims it has been “approved by governments”. There is no sign of any such approval and the only Australian on the drafting committee is a professor of Danish origin from Queensland who is a believer in climate change problems and would be highly unlikely to have secured government approval. The Chair is a South Korean economist who seems to have no publishing record. These activists are, we are told, assisted by 91 authors, 133 contributing authors, and a total of 42,001 expert and government review comments.

Further, using the press release as a guide, the “science” of the report seems the same as in the many previous IPCC reports. This “science” is that the continued use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) will produce dangerously high temperatures because the emissions from fossil fuels stay concentrated in the atmosphere and this leads to  temperatures increasing to dangerously high levels. To prevent that the use of fossil fuels must thus be constrained/stopped by governments. Accordingly, the report aims to stop temperatures from reaching 1.5C above pre-industrial levels (which appears to be from about 1850) whereas previous reports have envisaged allowing for a somewhat higher increase (the Paris agreement envisaged an aim of “well below 2C”).

It says that the decision to compile a report originated from the Paris Agreement of 2015, which led to some countries (incl Australia) agreeing to targets to reduce emissions of CO2 and to provide aid of $100 bn per annum to help less developed countries. This means that some of the biggest emitters, such as China and India, will continue to emit and, with the announced withdrawal of the US by Trump, total world emissions are likely to continue to increase.

The IPCC claims that its analyses are scientifically based  and it argues that, if action is taken to limit global warming to 1.5C, there will be “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems” as well as “strengthening… sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”. The report acknowledges this would require“rapid and far-reaching” changes in economic and social structures and “net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero ’around 2050”. This then leads it to a remarkable conclusion that “any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air” (see IPCC Special Report Press Release Oct 2018).

No account appears to be taken in the report of the implications of the big emitters being “let off” or of the US withdrawal, which means that in practice Australia is one of a limited number of contributors making emissions reductions even though we actually contributes only 1.3 per cent of total emissions (Australia has already made a small contribution to the $100 bn per annum agreed at Paris). In fact, by drawing attention to reducing the usage of fossil fuels through ceasing the use of coal Australia is in a sense a target of the Report. Further, given that the Australian who is on the drafting committee claims expertise on coral reefs, it is unsurprising that the Report draws attention to the risks faced by the Great Barrier Reef.

This is not the place to attempt detailed comments on the “scientific” basis of the IPCC thesis, other than to point out that there have been two periods since the early 20th century when temperatures have been relatively stable despite CO2 concentration levels having increased strongly. This suggests little or no correlation between the two ie prima facie, this means that even though human activity does contribute to CO2 concentrations, they could be having only a minor effect on total temperatures. Note also that, as only a relatively small proportion of CO2 concentrations appear to stay in the atmosphere, this suggests that other factors are likely to be more causitative contributors to temperature increases (further extensive analysis is available on my web site www.ipe.net.au). Yet the IPCC analysis implies that temperature increases are all due to increases in CO2 concentrations and that this conclusion is science-based.

The report refers to a number of “impacts” which could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5C. But this does not appear to be correct.

  • Sea levels would be 10 cm lower than if temperatures were allowed to increase to 2C by 2100. But this is not of real concern as, at the current rate of increase, sea levels would  increase by only about 30 cm by 2100 and this would not involve any significant additional flooding;
  • The number of times when freedom of ice occurs in the Arctic Ocean would be much less than with temperatures of 2C. But the melting of ice in the Arctic is of no concern as the ice there is already floating on the sea and its melting does not add to sea levels;
  • Virtually all coral reefs would be lost with a 2C temperature compared with a loss of only 70-90 percent with a 1.5C. But there is no evidence of any significant reduction in such reefs in present temperatures and the recent bleachings in the Great Barrier Reef may mainly reflect light winds limiting the flow of cooler water over the reef;
  • There has been more extreme weather under current temperatures. But past Australian droughts occurred when global temperatures were lower than now and wetter years occurred when such temperatures were rising.
  • Re the GBR, an attempt to “save” the reef from the effects of higher global temperatures would require other countries (incl China and India) to participate in measures which reduce temperatures.

Overall, there are fundamental faults in the statistical and scientific analyses in this  IPCC report and it does not provide any justification for the policies adopted by Australian governments to reduce emissions of CO2. Indeed, those reductions which have already occurred are reducing the extent of CO2 which would otherwise allow and encourage additional growth of vegetation.

Morrison Government’s Reaction to IPCC

An excellent editorial in The Australian of Wednesday 10 October outlines the reactions by Morrison and two of his Ministers, viz

“Scott Morrison has declined to follow Donald Trump in quitting the non-binding global compact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the Prime Minister has sent a clear message that in a nation responsible for only 1.3 per cent of global emissions, his government will retain perspective on what action it will take. When the latest IPCC report was released on Monday, a full contingent of senior government ministers was prepared to put the interests of consumers ahead of the climate science community dictates.

Mr Morrison said the report — which states coal use must be phased out worldwide by 2050 to limit future warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial averages — would not be binding on us. “Let’s not forget that Australia accounts for just over 1 per cent of global emissions, so there are a lot bigger players than us out there impacting on these arrangements,” Mr Morrison said. Josh Frydenberg said without coal the lights would go out along Australia’s eastern seaboard. Environment Minister Melissa Price said the IPCC report was designed to inform policymakers but was not policy proscriptive. She followed up with a plain-speaking interview on ABC radio saying that climate scientists had “drawn a long bow” on coal and it would be irresponsible to commit to a full phase-out by 2050. Coal is on track to become the nation’s most valuable export this year. “I just don’t know how you could say by 2050 that you’re not going to have technology that’s going to enable good, clean technology when it comes to coal,” Ms Price said.

Such direct language would have been unthinkable only a short time ago but it is exactly what the Australian public deserves to hear. It signals a true contest on energy policy at the next federal election”.

One hopes that there is in fact such a “true contest”. But it would have been helpful to the Coalition’s prospects if the government had indicated that, while it will carefully examine the report,  it is not convinced by the scientific analysis used in the report. That would more clearly delineate itself from Labor and could still be done. It would provide an opportunity to say that perceived questions about various aspects of a report which provides the basis of policies adopted in Paris re-opens questions about such policies. This would be an important precursor to the next IPCC meeting in Poland in December.

As Environment Minister Melissa Price almost told the ABC that there may be deficiencies in the report, before Poland it would be useful to have a published report by the government, involving some of the many outsiders who are experts, identifying queries about the IPCC report, particularly in regard to the possible effect of CO2 concentrations on temperature increases since 1850. In my letter published in today’s Australian I say that

“The IPCC report claims that limiting global warming to 1.5C would reduce various alleged adverse effects from higher temperatures caused by humans.

But it overstates the increase in temperatures since its starting point around 1850 and fails to recognise that most of the increase has not been caused by human activity. It also fails to recognise the enormous benefits that have developed from the increase in carbon emissions that has occurred since that period started.

True, there has been a slight increase in sea levels but the IPCC wrongly claims more extreme weather. Any adverse effects from climate changes are similar to what occurred prior to 1850, and we are now much better equipped to handle them”(see OZ Letters for other letters expressing concern about the Report).

It is of particular interest that Morrison stated that the idea of phasing out the use of coal is not binding on Australia. Such an approach by the government could also be made in regard to Australia’s non-binding agreement at Paris to reduce emissions by 26 percent by 2030. Morrison has indicated that Australia will reach its target in a “canter”. But why not leave the horse to rest in the field for a while?

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