In his Interim Climate Change Review for the Australian government Professor Ross Garnaut is looking to the world stabilising emission levels at year 2000 levels “soon after 2020”. Following this he sees a need for halving them by 2050 and reducing them to a quarter of 2000 levels by 2100.
He also considers that emissions must be based on some level of equality on a per capita basis. Realistically he recognises that there would need to be a phase to this and that population trends would need to be taken into consideration.
But, notwithstanding the cheer squad who were able to comment on detail about the report as soon as it was released, Garnaut barely scratches the surface in recognising the enormity of the task. Throw away lines like stabilisation at a uniform per capita level mask economic turmoil.
Australia’s emissions per capita are presently 16 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Largely because much of the OECD has (unlike Australia) outsourced its heavy energy intensive industries, the OECD average is 11.5 tonnes. The world average is 4.5 tonnes. Given population growth, that would have to fall to under 4 tonnes by 2030 to get to stabilisation.
In other words, to meet the level that Garnaut sees as necessary, Australia would be emitting only one quarter of its present level of CO2.
That degree of self discipline is possible only by accepting returning the economy to living standards similar to those currently experienced in the developing world. Nobody purposefully emits CO2 (though until a few years ago it was not a concern). The simple fact is that its emission is a by-product of earning income. We know of no other way to enrich ourselves and raise living standards of the poorest countries than to do so using energy and that means carboniferous sources.
As Garnaut acknowledges, easy gains in emission reductions have been made, especially with the dismantling of the command economies of the Soviet bloc and China. Those countries’ CO2 intensities have now stopped falling, in fact are rising. Indeed, China ahs already surpassed the magic 4 tonnes per capita and has only pulled a fifth of its population out of poverty. It is a pipe dream to think that Indonesia and PNG could become vast sinks to offset other countries’ emission levels. Only by foregoing the use of oil, gas and coal is it possible to reduce CO2 emissions.
For Australia this is even more difficult. Our economy is built on low cost coal based energy. Coal is also one of our most important exports. Even if we were to restructure our electricity industry so that it became fundamentally nuclear based (forget the fairies at the bottom of the garden calling for solar) we would still be twice the 4 tonnes per capita level.
And in moving to that position the corollary must be a vast jump in prices. There is no other way of ensuring the constricted use of the energy. Already in Australia with what to the environmental lobby is seen as totally inadequate measures at mitigation, prices of electricity are rising. Anticipating the measures foreshadowed the wholesale price of electricity for delivery in the first half of 2011 in Victoria and NSW is 50 per cent above present levels. And we have seen nothing yet.
Garnaut is surely correct in those of his recommendations that council gradualism and further study. He is also correct that the Kyoto agreement that all signatories including Australia have found it impossible to meet without cheating is only the start. But achieving the goal, even with the loathed nuclear future, is Mission Impossible unless some totally unexpected technical breakthrough comes along.