Worth reading Andrew Macintosh’s dissection of Tim Flannery’s latest
12. Flannery on the CPRS: separating fact from Flannery
Associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy Andrew
CLIMATE CHANGE, CPRS
In the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend, Professor Tim Flannery
attacked the Liberals and the Greens for their positions on the Carbon
Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), calling them liars and stating that
their claims are “just plain wrong”. In the interests of an honest and
accurate debate, I decided to see whether I could find any errors or
untruths in Flannery’s article. It wasn’t hard. After extracting the
errors, there is not much left of the article. Set out below are details
of his biggest howlers (in the order they appear in the article).
Claim: “If implemented, it [the CPRS] would see Australia emitting 5 per
cent less greenhouse gas in 2020 than it did in 2000″.
Fact: Wrong. If the CPRS was introduced with a 5% target, Australia’s
emissions would probably increase. However, Australia’s net emissions —
domestic emissions less imported offset credits — would decline. Provided
the imported credits represent actual abatement, they will not undermine
the environmental integrity of Australia’s target. Yet the extent to which
these credits will represent actual abatement is still uncertain and, to a
large extent, will depend on the outcomes from the current international
Claim: Nicholas Stern’s analysis suggests that “humanity is set to be
emitting 48 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2020 – up a mere billion tonnes from
today’s 47 billion tonnes”.
Fact: Wrong on two fronts. First, Flannery uses incorrect units. Current
emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are about 36 billion tonnes (Gt), not 47
Gt. He presumably meant emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e).
Second, Stern’s analysis does not show that “humanity is set to be
emitting” 48 GtCO2-e by 2020. Flannery refers to a recent article by Stern
in the New York Review of Books as his source. The full details of Stern’s
analysis are contained in a paper co-authored by Chris Taylor (a senior
economist in the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change) that was
published in March 2010 by the Grantham Research Institute and the Centre
for Climate Change Economics and Policy.
The paper concludes that global emissions are likely to be 48.2 GtCO2-e in
2020 but only if all countries adopt and achieve their highest targets, no
surplus emissions allowances are carried over from the first commitment
period of the Kyoto Protocol, there is no double counting of mitigation
commitments, the rules regarding terrestrial carbon do not weaken the
level of ambition and economic development in developing countries follows
These caveats on Stern and Taylor’s projections are of critical
importance, a point they stress. Combined, the caveats almost represent
the difference between the projected 48.2 GtCO2-e and emissions under
“business-as-usual” conditions. And to suggest that all of these areas of
uncertainty are going to fall in favour of a strong mitigation outcome is
extremely optimistic; some might say delusional. Even if the analysis is
confined to whether all countries will adopt their high-end target, it
takes an eternal optimist to believe the international negotiations are
headed for this sort of outcome. For example, Australia’s target range is
5%-25% reductions below 2000 levels by 2020. Yet discussion of Australia
going beyond 15% has all but dried up. Similar dynamics are playing out in
other developed and developing countries.
Claim: “To avoid dangerous climate change (a warming of less than 2
degrees) we need to reduce emissions to about 44 billion tonnes by 2020.
This could be achieved if Europe agrees on its planned 30 per cent target
rather than the current 20 per cent, and the US and other developed
nations increase their own targets by a few percentage points”.
Fact: Wrong. Stern and Taylor’s conditional estimate of 48 GtCO2-e already
assumes Europe and every other party that has a conditional pledge adopts
and implements their high-end target. Stern makes this point in his
article in the New York Review of Books when he states, “If countries
deliver their ‘high intention’ reductions, the plans submitted to the
Copenhagen Accord would result in global annual emissions of about 48
billion metric tones of carbon-dioxide equivalent in 2020″.
To bring global emissions down to 44 GtCO2-e in 2020, both developed and
developing countries need to raise their pledges significantly — a few
percentage points within the current range is not enough. For developed
countries, the pledges currently add up to cuts of between 10%-14% below
1990 levels. As analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) has shown, to provide a realistic chance of keeping warming to 2°C,
the aggregate reduction in developed countries has to be greater than 25%.
Current pledges fall well short of what is required.
Claim: “If Australia increased its target from 5 per cent to between 7 per
cent and 15 per cent, we could rightly say we were contributing our fair
share to the global target. This is a far cry from the Greens’ unrealistic
demands for 25 per cent to 40 per cent cuts.”
Fact: What constitutes a “fair” contribution to a 2°C outcome is
subjective and there is no universally accepted method for “equitably”
distributing the global abatement burden among countries. Having said
that, the notion that Australia could adopt a target of 7% for 2020 and
say it is making a fair contribution is difficult to defend. Under
Flannery’s approach, Australia’s per capita emissions in 2020 would be
almost three times larger than Europe’s and four times the global average.
Other developed countries are unlikely to accept such a low target, to say
nothing of developing countries.
Claim: The CPRS is one of the emissions trading schemes “with the fewest
give-aways of free permits” in the world, “with 70 per cent to be
Fact: In the early years of the CPRS, the proportion of free permits
issued to coal-generators and emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries
would be about 30%. However, by 2020, the proportion of free permits
allocated to these industries would rise to about 50%.
Claim: “The Greens argue that allowing industry to offset emissions into
forestry and agriculture is a kind of get-out-of-jail card for polluters.
Again, this is not true. Offsets into agriculture will have to be real,
and will come at a cost”.
Fact: The rules regarding terrestrial carbon offsets have yet to be
determined for the post-2012 international climate regime and the CPRS.
Therefore, it is impossible at this stage to say whether these offsets
“will have to be real”. Under the present international regime, one of the
main issues with terrestrial carbon offsets is “additionality” — the
offsets often do not represented an actual decrease in emissions or
increase in removals beyond what would have occurred under normal
Claim: Emissions trading schemes do not impose any costs on the economy.
In Flannery’s words “It is increasingly clear only one thing changes when
emissions trading schemes are introduced — the level of emissions”.
Fact: Wrong. The only way this could be correct is if there was a
limitless supply of zero cost abatement. If there was, we would not need
an emissions trading scheme.
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