In case the acronym hasn’t stuck yet, CEF means Clean Energy Future. If I’d said “carbon tax”, no problems.
In my 2009 submission to the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy I ripped into the Rudd Government for commissioning Ross Garnaut
to analyse two specific stabilisation goals: one at which greenhouse gases are stabilised at 550 ppm CO2-e (strong global mitigation) and one at which they are stabilised at 450 ppm CO2-e (ambitious global mitigation).
I then castigated Garnaut for accepting the brief:
This is sad and actually outrageous. Garnaut, had he acted responsibly at this point, would have gone back to those who commissioned the report and asked for the reference to be changed so that he could develop a strategy for a safe climate.
When the 2050 target was changed from a 60% reduction in emissions relative to 2000 to 80% I wondered whether the assumptions about the science had changed. If you go to the Treasury Report on modelling a carbon price it becomes clear that nothing has changed.
Treasury modelled two scenarios, one called “medium” and the other “ambitious”. The medium scenario is then called “core”. If adopted worldwide, it aims to stabilise greenhouse gas concentration levels at 550 parts per million. The ambitious scenario aims at 450ppm.
Treasury then blithely tell us that 450ppm will give us a 50:50 chance of keeping the average global temperature at less than 2C above pre-industrial levels, while 550ppm raises that figure to 3C. Stabilisation at 2C, they say, is the threshold for “dangerous” climate change. They then calmly tell us the likely implications of a 3C rise:
20 to 30 per cent of all species are projected to face a 50 per cent likelihood of extinction under this scenario (IPCC, 2007b), involving total realignment of ecosystems across Australia. Coastal communities, agriculture and infrastructure would all face significant risks, including frequent or permanent coastal inundation for parts of the Australian coastline, a substantial increase in extreme weather across the nation, and substantial restructuring of the rural sector (Pearman, 2008). (p41)
Martin Nicholson notes that the figures Gillard cites are actually from the core scenario. This seems to be true for the Government generally. So that’s what our ‘clean energy future’ officially looks like, folks.
My impression is that the CEF is calibrated to mesh with the global mitigation effort. We are not out in front, we’ve fallen into line and will do what we assess as our share. Certainly Treasury’s approach takes no account of the climate budget approach, where high per capita emitters would be called upon to make a larger effort in the near future.
Accessing international markets is a key feature of the scheme, as can be seen from this graph:
So we are banking on the restraint of developing countries rather than achieving cuts by our own direct efforts.
Lest you think mitigation is a waste of time, the report tells us that we will have 1500ppm of CO2 by 2100 and a temperature rise of 7C under a do-nothing scenario.
Nicholson’s piece is pushing nuclear, but he does make the point that the Treasury modelling of future energy sources includes technologies which are as yet unproven. Here is the relevant graph:
To spell out the percentages, we’ll have 7.9% black coal, 0.1% brown coal, 15.1% coal CCS, 21.9% gas and oil, 14% gas CCS and 41.1% renewables, which are further subdivided into 4.5% hydro, 13,7% wind, 3.2% solar, 1.9% biomass and 17.8% geothermal. That’s just on 47% from unproven technologies. CCS is assumed to be available from 2021.
The particular mix of renewables is not so much a worry, I think, as the reliance on CCS, which seems brave, to say the least.
It is assumed that the carbon price will rise to US$100 under the core policy, and to US$200 if we are ambitious. Curiously the 2050 target remains at 80% for both scenarios. In that case we’ll have 50.7% renewables, with 21.1% geothermal, 5.6% coal CCS and 25.5% gas and oil CCS.
Tapping into international markets is said to be a way of lessening the cost of mitigation. It also synchronises our effort with that of the rest of the world. The underlying strategy is that we will proceed as the world proceeds.
In my senate submission I spelt out at some length why stabilising at 450 or 550 ppm was inadequate. Here I’ll just mention two reasons. (Warning: scary stuff coming up.)
One is that the midpoint temperatures represent short term feedbacks only, and as conceived in the literature carry unacceptable risk on the upside. I repost here the graph from the Stern Review (2006):
The solid horizontal lines indicate the 5% to 95% range based on the IPCC 2001 report and a 2004 Hadley ensemble study. The dashed lines represent the 5% to 95% range based on 11 “recent” studies (Meinshausen, M. 2006). You’ll notice that at 450ppm and above the 95% values are off the page on the upside, meaning that even for 450ppm there is a better than 1 in 20 chance of a 6°C outcome.
That’s not just dangerous, it’s catastrophic.
We need to remember that the above is based on calculated on short term feedbacks. A recent paper by Hansen, Sato and Kharecha (see pp10-17) outline what they think happens when you take slow feedbacks into account. You need to define exactly which feedbacks are included, but the temperature implications are significantly higher.
We also need to bear in mind the possibility of dangerous tipping points, now thought by some as an issue below 2C.
The important point is that we appear to be committing the planet to a very dangerous future, especially in the second half of this century. We are not shooting for a safe climate.
The second is our commitment to sea level rise. Hansen et al remind us that the ice sheets began to form 34 million years ago, when CO2 levels were about 450 to 500ppm. In warming from where we are now you probably need to reckon on an average of 15 metres for every degree temperature rise – eventually. This is what Australia would look like when the ice is gone, from a talk given by David Spratt at the Climate Action Summit, 31 January, 2009:
Sorry, couldn’t resist!
The CEF is a better-than-nothing start which aligns us with the level of ambition of those countries taking action or making pledges on climate change mitigation. Unfortunately when seen against the real problem it remains a half-hearted and anaemic attempt.