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The Forum > Article Comments > From Rio to Copenhagen the model was wrong > Comments

From Rio to Copenhagen the model was wrong : Comments

By Geoff Carmody, published 18/1/2010

Nations won't compromise economic growth by losing industry competitiveness in the name of mitigating climate change.

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Something missing from this analysis is the fact that fossil fuels are becoming more expensive on their own without CO2 penalties. Conceivably by the time they ran out then methane released from tundra and sea floor mud could increase independently of human action. This may have happened to Earth several times in the geologic past. Corollaries of this are that we should avoid this scenario but also prepare for a lower carbon future regardless. Countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Poland and South Africa that are ramping up their coal use may be heading for a cliff.

The first fossil fuel to seriously deplete is crude oil and some are predicting 2012 as crunch time. That may drag coal demand with it. Even coal will be in short supply with China using some ten times Australia's exports. Therefore the world should wean itself off fossil fuel starting yesterday. A short term disadvantage may then become a long term advantage, the 'early mover' advantage. Somehow the free market can't see this far ahead. Example 'too big to fail' General Motors went broke. I think we should plow ahead with a tough ETS with minimal offsets and free permits but backed up by carbon tariffs. Within a decade it will seem like the right decision.
Posted by Taswegian, Monday, 18 January 2010 12:18:33 PM
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I'm afraid that this article comes into the category of 'a nice idea'. However for a number of reasons I cannot see the idea coming to pass.

Few if any countries will risk putting their industries at a comparative disadvantage; they will always tend to look after number one - and, in many cases, laugh up their sleeve at others who do not.

Some countries will benefit from rising temperaures, Russia and Canada being examples. Why would they take action that could be to their absolute (as opposed to comparative) disadvantage?

Dr Davies notwithstanding their are still vast numbers of people who simply do not accept the IPC prognostications. I am one of those people. I think it would be far more sensible to take actions to 'ruggedise' our environment, agriculture, industries and general social amenity against whatever nature (aided or not by man) throws at us in the future.

One thing is totally certain. The climate will change repeatedly in the future. Better prepare for that/those changes.
Posted by eyejaw, Monday, 18 January 2010 3:56:28 PM
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No, Mr Carmody, I do not agree with your analysis because it fails to address the fundamental issue of how any measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions are to be enforced.

As clearly demonstrated at Copenhagen, the major emitters (there are only 25) are quite unwilling to commit to reducing their emissions if that entails any risk to their economies, development plans or competitiveness in the market place.

How then do you propose to enforce any of the 9 measures outlined in your essay, particularly the 3rd?

President Obama addressed these issues shortly after coming to office by suggesting an enforcement mechanism in the form of a “Carbon Tariff” imposed on the exports of all countries, set at a level consistent with the quantum of their greenhouse gas emissions.

There is of course a perception, often promoted as fact, that the energy needs of a nation can only be provided through combustion of fossil fuels entailing unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. Without the former, serious economic damage is sustained. With the latter, we risk global warming and its much more serious economic impacts.

The French have shown this to be nonsense by producing most of their energy needs from nuclear power. The U.K. has significantly reduced its emissions by doing the same and replacing coal with gas. Their economies have not suffered as a consequence.

Australia is well positioned to emulate France or the UK until such time as it can produce its energy needs, destined to triple by 2050, from clean sources such as geothermal, wind, wave and improved solar.

We do not because the ALP clings to an outdated, irrelevant and irrational policy on nuclear energy. Rudd pursues the corrupt economic policy of supporting the use of fossil fuels, particularly coal, by providing producers and users with subsidies and offering them offsets and compensation with their CPRS.

Rather than look for ways of maintaining the status quo, we should be actively changing to a low carbon, then a no carbon economy and doing so as rapidly as possible. This is most achieved with an ETS
Posted by JonJay, Tuesday, 19 January 2010 10:40:05 AM
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In Geoff Carmody's proposal, as I understand it, a tax would be applied on the carbon content of goods and services. It would be paid by consumers, not producers, so there would be little effect on exports. Even if the revenue raised by the tax is returned to the public through the tax or welfare systems, people will be encouraged to divert more of their spending to goods and services that have less carbon content. The tax would also apply to imported goods and services, so overseas production would have no advantage. If more countries adopt this approach, then the recalcitrant countries will be hurt through their exports, even without an international agreement. His proposal would have advantages both as an insurance policy against global warming and acidification of the oceans, and for energy security as a response to peak oil and gas.

This seems like a far simpler and more sensible approach than the ETS and much less susceptible to rorting. That is probably why it was not adopted. Why not consider the hypothesis that the politicians simply want to create the illusion that something is being done, without imposing on their mates in the corporate elite in any significant way? Otherwise, why wouldn't the Rudd government go ahead with plans for nuclear power, as JonJay pointed out, or take steps to phase out coal fired power plants and coal exports? Why would it be growing the population at 2.1%, fast enough to double it in 33 years? Believe it not, total emissions don't change if we cut consumption in half and then double the population. Immigration, which provides 64% of population growth now, does not just shuffle emissions around, as they are substantially increased when people move from poor countries to rich ones.
Posted by Divergence, Friday, 22 January 2010 11:44:56 AM
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