Hockey’s morality play

Joe Hockey has mightily offended Bernard Keane by making his austerity a moral issue, evoking a trenchant critique. The shorter Keane is that if you turn budgeting into a moral issue you are held to a higher standard. On this basis Hockey comes out as a prize hypocrite.

More of Keane later, first let’s wrangle some numbers.

I’ve made a table of the 15 major expenditure items identified by the National Commission of Audit as causing concern over the long term, omitting the eight years of 2015-16 to 2013-24 for convenience. The intervening data does tell some stories. For example, after growth spurts both Schools and the NDIS settle to much flatter growth in the out-years. The table was reprinted in the AFR.

Audit Report_cropped_600

To me the most important numbers are the two in the bottom right. When all is said and done total Commonwealth payments would grow by 0.2% of GDP over 10 years. In today’s dollars that’s about $3 billion dollars. Sounds a lot, but in a $400 billion budget it’s a rounding error.

Hockey is trying to achieve two main goals. (Here I’m drawing mainly from Phillip Coorey, but also Laura Tingle in the AFR.)

First, he is aiming at a small surplus in 2019-20 and a surplus of one per cent of GDP by 2023-24. Economists and others can argue about timing and quantum but this aim seems to me fair enough.

Secondly, Hockey wants to shrink expenditure as a proportion of GDP. This is ideological, not moral.

Hockey claims that if he takes his hands off the wheel expenditure will grow by 3.75% per annum, reaching 26.5% of GDP by 2023-4. From memory, I think that’s roughly where it was under Howard and Costello.

The CIA’s world Factbook has a country comparison of tax and other revenues as a proportion of GDP. Obviously they use a particular definition (probably includes GST) since Australia comes in at 33.2%. By contrast we have Canada at 37.7%, New Zealand at 38.5%, the UK at 40.4%, then follow the Europeans up to the Scandinavians at above 50%. If Australia’s share was lifted to Canada’s the government would have an extra $55 billion available.

All I’m saying here is that lifting the share by a few percentage points is not self-evidently a crime against the people, immoral or even economically foolish.

The audit commission has assumed that tax receipts must remain limited to 24% of GDP, for reasons unknown.

Before the election Hockey was saying that he would take 1% off tax receipts as a proportion of GDP. He hasn’t nominated a percentage now that I know of, but he has deemed that growth in expenditure will be limited to 1.75% per annum. That’s harsh. Tingle says Labor’s aim, not always achieved, was for a 2% limit, also austere.

Again we are told this 1.75% limit is right, responsible and moral, without any supporting argument.

Labor’s plans

Wayne Swan, I understand, reduced outlays by a couple of percentage points of GDP. His problem was that revenues were a couple of percentage points shy of outlays. Still, Labor had a long-term plan back to the black. The following graph is from the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook (PEFO) published under the charter of budget honesty before the last election. I displayed it in my ‘liars and clunkheads’ post back then.

fcccad64-03b4-11e3-9d44-7643a0300d9c_chart1_580

I understand it involved allowing bracket creep. One has to ask why Hockey’s self-imposed austerity path is supposed to be superior.


Hewson on tax concessions

One way of fixing the budget would be to allow bracket creep, ruled out by the audit commission and Hockey.

Another way, suggested by John Hewson, would be to take a look at tax concessions, especially in superannuation.

A startling fact is that the percentage of retired folk receiving at least a part pension is projected to remain at 80%. Hewson says that superannuation policy robs the poor in favour of the rich, and in amounts that matter. He calculates super tax concessions at around $44 billion, roughly the same as the aged pension but growing faster.

Tax concessions overall are around $120 billion rising to $150 billion by 2016/17. Today’s AFR identifies some of the budget sacred cows, leading with $15 billion in protecting the family home from capital gains, $13 billion in not broadening the GST. Tightening the age pension means test to include the family home would save $7 billion.

By contrast the mooted ‘deficit levy’ would only yield hundreds of millions even if implemented widely. It’s small change. Such a move must be regarded a political rather than economic.

Keane’s critique

Keane asked Hockey what he was going to tell his granchildren about what he did to prevent global warming. They will pay.

Why were Labor’s efforts to reign in middle class welfare either not commented on or termed “class warfare” or “the politics of envy”?

Why did the LNP fight tooth an nail cutting back the private healthcare rebate to high-income earners?

In November, Hockey abandoned Labor’s plan to reduce the extravagant tax concessions enjoyed by superannuants earning over $100,000 a year, costing billions. He also restored a fringe benefits tax rort, an actual rort, for novated leases, again worth billions.

Hockey wants to cut carbon pricing and the mining tax.

Hockey is talking to us about the “moral imperative” of fiscal discipline while handing billions to large companies, wealthy retirees and tax rorters.

One minute Hockey is complaining about

a “massive increase” in defence spending beyond forward estimates and that it was a budget boobytrap, a fiscal “tsunami coming across the water” created by Labor.

The next minute he’s committing billions to F-35s which “wouldn’t cost anything” because it’s already in the budget.

Then of course there is the rolled gold parental leave scheme.

Keane reckons Hockey has cut revenue by about $15 billion. He would have increased spending by a similar amount. Then he complains about a budget mess and dresses up his austerity program as a moral crusade.

By the way here’s Labor’s Budget debt in context:

Debt_35d9ec68-d401-11e2-a269-28d841715c70_14p22bassRESIZED_cropped

I think we’ve been short of revenue since Rudd matched Howard’s tax cuts in the 2007 election campaign. There’s nothing broken about the budget that a steady hand, a mature review of priorities and a gradual return to revenue levels prevailing under the Howard government would not fix, together with a modernisation of the whole tax regime. Time to look seriously at Ken Henry’s review.

Elsewhere, Peter Martin has some tips.

Update:

In the Weekend AFR Phillip Coorey in an article The budget crunch is John Howard’s baby too reckons the budget problems date back that far. Apart from generous handouts to middle Australia in the previous years, Howard/Costello promised a $31.5 billion tax cuts in the May 2007 budget. One day into the election campaign he added a promise of $34 billions worth of further tax cuts (we’re talking four-year budget cycles). Rudd matched him, in addition to his own spending plans. The half-year budget update did find an extra $59 billion worth of revenue.

No-one foresaw the GFC and the end of the salad days.

Also Chris Bowen has an article pointing out that scrapping the low income superannuation contribution (LISC) and deferring the increase in the superannuation guarantee will take $55 billion out of our national savings pool over the next 7 years. These policies, he says, were designed to reduce the numbers of middle and low income earners requiring pension support in the future. Do this rather than lift the retirement age, he says.

Bowen’s comment received specific support from Tony Shepherd, chair of the audit commission.

See also John Davidson’s post, plus Richard Holden on why Australia does not have a debt crisis.

Update – posts on Budget 2014:

On a mission to upset everyone

Budget explainer

A crisis in trust

Shredding the fig leaf

Poll anger or a shift in the tectonic plates?

To GST or not to GST
Cap super, says Richard Denniss

Resolving the budget ‘crisis’

Hockey’s debt and deficit mess

Climate clippings 94

Climate clippings_175

1. CO2 concentrations passing 400 ppm

Each year the atmospheric concentrations measured at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii surge as spring turns into summer. We are now at the point where earlier each year they surge past 400 ppm, this year as early as March. By 2016 they will probably remain permanently above 400 ppm.

Dr Pep Canadell says crossing the 400 parts per million threshold will make it more difficult and expensive to limit climate change to two degrees.

The second part of this century we need to reduce emissions to zero and on top of it, to be removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so that by the end of 2100, we can stay stable under two degrees.

Canadell is head of the Global Carbon Project at the CSIRO.

2. Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage

Speaking of sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere, bio-CCS is the new buzz word (I’ve also seen BECCS). The Climate Institute has released a report by Jacobs SKM Moving Below Zero: Understanding Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage . Their modelling finds that

bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, or bio-CCS using food wastes, sustainable forest biomass, or crop residues, has the potential to contribute significantly to climate change efforts in Australia.

This process could remove and displace about 63 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2-e) annually by 2050, around 1.5 times current emissions from all cars in Australia. As well it would generate 12% of the country’s electricity.

Globally the process could remove up to 10 billion tonnes of pollution per year by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.

The report may be downloaded from this page (scroll down). Go here for an interview with Malte Meinshausen.

3. Are coal miners responsible for greenhouse gas emissions?

No, said the Queensland Land Court in its judgement on the giant Alpha coal mine project which would dig up about 30 million tonnes of coal a year from the state’s Galilee Basin.

That’s the central fact in Graham Readfearn’s interesting story about what’s un-Australian.

Burning Alpha coal would generate 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 over 30 years. That’s more than three times Australia’s annual emissions.

4. Abbott calls climate concerns “clutter”

In the lead up to the G20 meeting in Sydney in February, Abbott said

he didn’t want to “clutter up the G20 agenda with every worthy and important cause, because if we do, we will squander the opportunity to make a difference in the vital area of economic growth.”

The post, correctly, I think, sees Abbott as rolling back environmental and climate initiatives as hostile to economic growth, relying for economic impetus on the fossil fuel industry.

Heather Zichal, until recently President Obama’s lead climate and energy adviser, thinks otherwise:

Zichal suggests that focusing on economic productivity could be the sweet spot that Australia could use to balance climate concerns and economic growth goals. Reducing pollution and emissions from power plants and imposing strong energy efficiency measures on transport and infrastructure can boost energy productivity, save money, create jobs, and reduce emissions. “Ultimately, across all economic sectors, energy productivity is the most reliable, cleanest, and cheapest resource,” Zichal said.

Countries have to front up with their revised mitigation plans by April next year ahead of the Paris UNFCCC conference in December, hence leaving climate off the G20 agenda is simply not an option. Abbott has been told, by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and other powerful players.

One wonders what we will front up with next April. I predict nothing that would make a difference. We’ll see what others are doing and then do as little as possible.

5. Direst Action is a figleaf

Clive Palmer has spotted the figleaf and plans to pluck it away, says Ben Eltham. The Direct Action funding may be part of the budget, which Labor will not vote down. The Government needs no further legislation to enable expenditure, but Abbott can’t get rid of the dreaded carbon ‘tax’ without legislation. When he comes to negotiate that with PUP Direct Action will be on the table.

Eltham is right on the demographics:

While this [having no climate policy in place] may not unduly trouble the climate sceptics on the Coalition backbench, it also removes the chief utility of Direct Action, which is political, rather than environmental. Direct Action has always been used by the Coalition as a handy tool to deflect unwelcome scrutiny of its profoundly anti-environment attitudes. Without it, the Government will find it increasingly difficult to defend itself against charges of destroying the planet.

In the last Nielsen poll the 55+ group was the only one where Abbott had a clear lead, with LNP/Labor/Green at 49/33/10. This should be causing concern for the future of the conservative parties. For the young it was 32/36/26.

6. Direct Action is not scalable

Lenore Taylor points out that while Direct Action may or may not achieve 5% reductions in emissions by 2020, (most experts say, no) the policy is not scalable when the world gets a bit more serious about climate change mitigation.

according to the available modelling, even if Australia spent $88bn from 2014 to 2050 on Direct Action-type policies, emissions would still rise by around 45%. Most economists conclude that big emissions reductions under Direct Action are just not possible.

7. Green groups to use legal strategies

Given the above and the LNP’s farcical attitude to the Renewal Energy Target Review, green groups see lobbying as a waste of time and are increasingly planning legal challenges.

The Australian Conservation Foundation will be targeting voters in marginal electorates to encourage MPs to take climate change seriously. The aim is to change the current race to the bottom to a race to the top.

Reminder: Use this thread as an open thread on climate change.

Friday salon: Anzac Day weekend

voltaire_230

An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Bill Shorten gets serious, or does he?

Bill Shorten’s plans to reform the ALP were greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm by Mark Latham, a remarkable event in itself. Others have some reservations or are not so sure.

Laura Tingle pointed out (paywalled) that he actually proposes nothing about senate candidate selection, it’s a matter for the states. He asked the national ALP secretary to work with the National Executive and the WA state secretary “to recommend the best way of giving local party members a meaningful say in the selection of Senate candidates.”

Our work in Western Australia will be used to inform our other State branches in allowing local members to contribute to Senate pre-selection nationally.

Farr said that there would have been discussion within the ALP before Shorten went to press. Shorten is reasonably confident of his reforms getting up, he says. Farr described it as a “well-planned offensive”. Apparently NSW in July are going to consider the union membership link and introduce one-click joining facilities via the internet.

Count me confused. Here in Queensland last year before the election my wife, who is not currently a union member, went on the internet and had no difficulty in joining with one click for the princely sum of five dollars. (She has since made a more substantial donation.)

After the current publicity she rang the Qld office asking if her membership was OK. She had been a union member for years, acted as union rep etc, but is currently not a member. “You’re fine” she was told. Could she vote in a leadership ballot if Shorto gave up? “Certainly.”

Malcolm Farr pointed out on RN Drive that achieving rank and file input to senate selection would be the real prize. At present it can be a sinecure for party and union officials, a privilege they might be expected to relinquish reluctantly.

Shorten is recommending a 70:30 membership/central panel split in selecting candidates. He’s also recommending more primary-style selections, as successfully trialled in Western Sydney.

Shorten wants broader input in a review of Labor’s entire policy platform prior to the 2015 national conference.

He looks forward to a membership of 100,000. I believe it is 40,000 at present.

David Lockwood at New Matilda thinks the union link should remain, indeed should be strengthened and “democratised”.

Union delegates to ALP conferences should be elected by ordinary union members, not appointed by national secretaries. Furthermore, the selection of parliamentary candidates should be in the hands of rank-and-file members of the party and the affiliated unions…

Break the link with unions and the Labor Party

ceases to be an authentic voice for working people, it will lose its core meaning and become nothing more than a pale imitation of the conservative parties.

Lockwood sees Labor as representing working people, not Australians generally. He says there are 1.8 million union members, roughly 18% of the workforce. This has been stable for three years. He sees anti-union laws as an inhibitor of greater membership. This should change, he says.

Shorten said Abbott did not put Labor in Opposition, the Australian people did. It’s hard to see the Australian people handing over the government of the country to an overtly union-based party, however democratised.

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Monash University, assembles a catalogue of negativity about the Shorten proposals. The Party is a victim of its own success. Nothing left to fight for, apparently.

Labor has addressed some of the worst excesses of societal disadvantage and inequality when in government. In doing so, it has transformed both the life opportunities but also the political and social expectations of Labor’s former working-class base.

This has left Labor bifurcated and fractured between a progressive and traditional cohort. Increased membership “is unlikely to bridge the policy and cultural divide that separates these voting segments.”

As to a faction-free Labor Party, the bigger it grows the more power aggregates around cliques.

With that sort of negativity we may as well hand over the game to our natural rulers, the Tories.

Most of my working life was spent inside government. I’m not a natural joiner. Now I work as a sole trader providing direct services to capitalists, pensioners, professionals and self-funded retirees. I can’t see a role for a union.

Shorten has a bit of the anti-politician about him. I might go look for that one-click entry portal.

Lower living standards


On the most recent comparable data from the final three months of last year, living standards have gone backward.

While consumer prices increased by 0.7 of 1 per cent during that quarter, household incomes only went up 0.1 of 1 per cent.

That’s what we were told on Radio National yesterday.

Ben Phillips from Canberra University’s National Institute for Social and Economic Modelling says there’s a shift under way in our standard of living. Export prices are lower than they have been, the cost of services such as school education, electricity, and gas are going up. Incomes are not keeping pace.

Household debt is an issue.

Professor David Peetz of Griffith University says that the Bureau of Statistics’ wage price index, a key measure of household income, fell to its lowest level on record in the December quarter. He points out that the labour market is largely non-unionised and hence vulnerable with unemployment increasing.

The question is whether this is a temporary blip or the beginning of a longer trend. Given the commentary from the experts it’s looking like the latter.

In this context it looks as though interest rates will be on hold, given also that the CPI came in lower than expected. That was courtesy of falls in the price of furniture, clothing, footwear and car repairs, not big on my shopping list.

Given that the age of entitlement has ended, Treasurer Hockey is now looking at the Audit Commission big picture.

Fiscal stimulation seems very far from his mind. Hockey says “nothing is free” and warns that spending people have come to take for granted will be wound back. Co-payments and means tests are on the agenda.

I’m in favour of means tests, in moderation, but I fear Hockey’s ‘vision’ is to shrink Australia.

Climate sceptic heads RET review

The law says that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) should be reviewed every two years, so a 2014 review is mandatory.

The law also says that the review should be undertaken by the Climate Change Authority (CCA), which still exists courtesy of the senate. The CCA in a draft report on the emissions target suggested the current 5% emissions reduction target was not enough if we are to pull our weight in the world. In the text they appeared to favour a 25% target, but recommended at least 15% pointing out also the an additional 4% could be added courtesy of Kyoto credits.

I believe the RET has been one of the more successful factors in restraining emissions.

Giles Parkinson reported two months ago now that the RET Review will be headed by Dick Warburton, a climate change “denier”. Warburton told RN’s AM program that the science was not settled.

I am not a denier, nor a sceptic actually, of climate change per se. What I am sceptical is the claims that man-made carbon dioxide is the major cause of global warming. I’m not a denier of that, but I am sceptical of that claim.

When asked whether he believed renewable energy had its role to play in Australia’s energy mix Warburton replied:

Yes it does. Renewable energy does have a place to play. The review is asking us to look to see whether it is an efficient and effective way of doing it as we’re doing it at the moment.

warburton_250I understand he did overtly oppose carbon pricing.

In my opinion Warburton is a denier. Given the degree of certainty in the science you either accept the science or deny it. There’s no room left for fence sitting. That being said, Warburton had a fine reputation as a businessman leading Dupont’s Australian operations, was used by the Keating government in industry renewal, has been a member of the Reserve Bank board and has had various company board roles.

It has emerged that Warburton has been the subject of an investigation into his role as a former director of a firm involved in Australia’s worst foreign bribery scandal. I would suggest that Abbott has done his due diligence and found him in the clear.

Both Abbott and Macfarlane have been emphasising their concern over renewables contributing to the cost of electricity. A second panelist is Matt Zema, the CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator. As such he was responsible for a study recently

that found 100 per cent renewables would be possible in Australia, and concluded that the cost of electricity would be little different to business as usual, although AEMO declined to do a full cost analysis.

Greg Hunt parrots his boss’s concerns:

“We are a government that is unashamedly doing our best to take pressure off manufacturing and households through anything that can lower electricity prices,” he said in a theme frequently repeated by the conservative government.

If they are concerned about the future cost of electricity they could begin by looking at the policy of privatisation, found to be “a dismal failure” by Professor Quiggin.

A third panel member, Shirley In’t Veld, is the former head of WA government owned generation company Verve Energy which

has had a history of snubbing renewable energy and chose instead to invest in the refurbishment of the ageing Muja coal-fired generator. The refurbishment has proved to be a financial disaster, with the WA government admitting that nearly $300 million had gone down the drain.

The fourth member is Dr Brian Fisher, the former long-term head of ABARE until he left for private enterprise in 2006 to head up a fossil fuel lobby group, Concept Economics. At ABARE he gained notoriety for his positions on climate policies and is a noted free-market hardliner. Under Fisher:

ABARE was responsible for the infamous “MEGABARE” model that made Australia a laughing stock in connection to the Kyoto negotiations.

Sounds like a merry crew, Abbott’s idea of ‘balance’, and bound to add to the climate recalcitrance now so common in the Anglo-Saxon world.

There is a question as to whether the LNP deliberately lied and misled the public prior to the election. The SMH cites specific bi-partisanship as late as July 2013. Labor’s view:

“At every possible point, they tried to assure the community that there was a bipartisan consensus around the RET, and therefore the growth of renewables,” Labor climate change spokesman Mark Butler says. “What’s clear now is that it was just an utter falsehood.”

Albo:

“They made it very clear; Greg Hunt staked his reputation on the maintenance of the renewable energy target,” he told said in the island state of Tasmania.

“It’s important for jobs. It’s important in terms of positioning Australia as a clean energy economy into the future.

“We’ll wait and see what they do but we’ll be holding them to account,” Mr Albanese said.

Update: Giles Parkinson tells how the Warburton Review is getting down to business today by looking at what the RET of 20% means. Presently it is a number – “41,000GWh of large-scale developments and an uncapped amount of small-scale generation”. It seems that more than half of that number can be made to disappear by changing definitions.

Climate Change Authority review

In late February the Climate Change Authority published a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review.

The full draft report (all 265 pages) is downloadable from the first link above. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all of it. Clive Hamilton at The Conversation has written an excellent overview.

Report summary

I’ve reproduced below the summary from the Executive Summary provided by the Authority, with some slight enhancements.

This Review can inform upcoming decisions on international commitments, guide long-term investment decision-making and inform the design of the Government’s Direct Action Plan.

The Authority’s views are grounded in science which says the world needs a long-term limit on emissions to stay below 2 degrees of warming and reduce risks of dangerous climate change. Australia also needs to take a long term view of emissions and set a 2050 emissions budget.

The Authority has also considered international action on climate change which shows a clear trend towards more ambitious action, although all countries need to do more.

The Authority has considered the economic implications of stronger targets and has concluded that it is possible to move to stronger targets at relatively small cost to the economy. The Authority’s draft recommendations seek to balance short term clarity and stability with longer term flexibility by recommending a single 2020 target and a trajectory range to 2030.

The Authority considers a 5 per cent target for 2020 to be inadequate because the Government’s [own] conditions [for moving beyond 5 per cent appear to have been met] and the pace of international action justifies us going further. [It] is inconsistent with action towards the 2 degrees goal and more ambitious targets might now be easier to achieve than earlier thought.

The Authority presents two targets for 2020 – 15 per cent and 25 per cent, with different trajectory ranges to 2030 [35 to 50 per cent and 40 to 50 per cent respectively].

Compared with 25 per cent, 15 per cent would require faster reductions later, and would use up more of the [carbon] budget sooner. [It] would place us in the middle of the pack on climate change action and would cost slightly less in the short term.

Australia can use international emissions reductions to help meet its target. While we have many domestic opportunities to reduce emissions, allowing international emissions reductions to be part of the mix can help lower costs. The Government should consider allowing the use of international emissions reductions to go beyond 5 per cent.

The Authority seeks feedback on this Draft report to inform its deliberations on final recommendations.(Emphasis added)

Clearly the Abbott Government will take no notice of the Review. In fact they have specifically reneged on the extended 5 to 25% range which had been bipartisan policy since 2009.

Emissions targets

In fact we may achieve better than 5% without too much government effort. In the Executive Summary (page 4 on the counter) we are told that during the 2008-2012 period we accrued 91MT CO2-e in credits under the Kyoto Protocol which can be carried forward. Then this:

Official projections made in 2012 indicated that 754 Mt CO2-e of emissions reductions were required in the period to 2020 to deliver the 5 per cent reduction target. On current estimates, the same level of emissions reductions would be equivalent to an 11 per cent reduction. Taking into account the Kyoto ‘carry over’ equivalent to 91 Mt CO2-e, this would imply a 14 per cent reduction by 2020.

The Authority appears to favour the 25% option, which yields a smoother path. It costs only $2.7 billion pa more (0.16% of GDP). With 15% you need accelerated effort after 2020.

My impression of the report is very favourable. Scientifically it appears sound. Economically they appear to have covered all bases, including trade implications.

The progress made to date has been because of changes in the balance within the economy from heavy manufacturing to services, a diminution in land clearing, and the impact of renewables and other factors in the electricity sector. Since 1990 our GDP has doubled while emissions have remained pretty much the same.

Stabilisation scenarios

The authority understands that there is considerable risk inherent in the 2% target stabilisation scenario and contemplated moving to 1.5°C. They stayed with 2°C because that is where the action is internationally. On page 42 they published this wondrous graph:

Stabilisation probabilities_croppedb_580

The source has Malte Meinshausen’s name on it, so it’s got to be OK.

The y axis gives stabilisation targets in terms of CO2 equivalent stabilisation. The x axis shows the matching probability of staying below any particular temperature rise. For inexplicable reasons the line is drawn at 415. In terms of CO2 equivalents we are now at 480. This gives us less than 33% chance of staying below 2°C and about a 10% chance of exceeding a civilisation threatening 4°C.

Moreover the climate sensitivity model used to create this graph is almost certainly conservative on the low side. Recent research indicates that the climate may be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought. As it stands the yellow band represents, I think, the extent of the compromise between rational science and science that makes concessions to politics.

To me the graph confirms the merits of the 350.org campaign, which gives an almost 95% chance of staying below 2°C. The Authority is aware that net negative emissions will probably be necessary later in this century.

International comparisons

Abbott and company are becoming quite annoying in suggesting that there is no action internationally. The Authority noted that there were 99 countries with ‘Copenhagen’ commitments covering over 80% of the planet’s emissions. This map shows the extent:

Countries_cropped

Then this graph shows how our targets fit with those of some of a selection of relevant countries.

2020 targets_cropped_580

Sorry I can’t get a clearer image. It’s on page 65 of the report. The y axis shows annual per capita CO2 equivalent emissions. The dots show the per capita emissions at 2005 levels. Notice that both China and India will increase per capita emissions. We are the clear outliers historically and in terms of where our targets will get us. Even at 25% we are only thereabouts with the US and Canada and well behind the pack.

The carbon budget approach

Especially pleasing was the Authority’s use of the carbon budget approach. They determined Australia’s budget as 10,100 MT CO2e for the period 2013 to 2150. A 15% target would use 4,324 MT by 2020, leaving only 5776 MT for the following 30 years. If we were really serious we would be going for 45 to 50% by 2020.

The review will have two values beyond the academic, in my view. Firstly, it should provide guidance for Labor and the Greens, looking forward to the time when the adults are back in charge. Secondly, I think other countries could look at the Authority’s use of the carbon budget approach. Its methodology is good although its level of ambition is still ordinary. Certainly it could stimulate other countries’ thinking about how to plan stabilisation of emissions.

Missed opportunity

Ben Eltham at New Matilda tells us that the LNP have responded with a press release from Greg Hunt containing a pack of lies. The could have used the report to

axe the carbon price, keep Direct Action, triple our emissions reductions and change the carbon debate forever.

How would it do so? By buying carbon reductions on global markets. Because of the collapse of the European carbon market, credible carbon reductions are now for sale on international markets for as little 50 cents a tonne. The report thinks that Australia could buy the roughly 427 million tonnes of carbon reductions necessary to raise the target to 15 per cent for “between $210 and $850 million.”

Updates:

Firstly, Labor climate change spokesman Mark Butler has supported increasing the targets, has supported the CCA and it appears that Labor is willing to go to the 2016 election supporting a price on carbon.

Secondly, (actually from last year) research by the Climate Institute finds that emissions cuts of 11 to 19% will be achieved if the current laws are not changed.

The Qld Government’s People’s Budget Planner

I have just completed and submitted my views re what should be done about the Qld budget in the People’s Budget Planner.
The planner allows you to play with various ways of reducing the state budget using a mix of various tax increases, service cuts and asset sales alternatives.   If you get below the debt budget target it also allows you to spend the interest savings amongst a range of spending alternatives.
The government obviously hopes that playing with the budget planner will encourage people to support asset sales as a better way to bring the budget back to a sustainable level compared with cutting services or, shock horror, tax increases.
The planner does have some serious limitations.  For example, what you get when you click on more details is fairly skimpy.  For example, in the case of selling the ports business there is no indication of how much revenue will be lost and/or what effect this will have on costs to port users.  The details are a slightly extended explanation, what the sale will yield and a few examples of where this has already been done in Australia.
When it came to spending the interest saving there was nothing to give a feel for how much was already being spent in an area.  For example, if you allocated 10% of the total interest saving to improving bike infrastructure you may have been choosing a doubling of the existing budget or something that was barely worth the effort.
Despite its limitations, the planner is useful for helping people understand some of the budget choices and as a mechanism for allowing people to state their preferences.
The interesting thing from my point of view was that the planner showed that the budget could be balanced by simply increasing a range of taxes and charges while doing nothing else.   The planner is worth filling in and submitting if, like me, you think that taxes should be set at levels that allow governments to do their job properly. 

What Business Spectator thinks of our refugee policy

On Maundy Thursday, the Business Spectator lead story was this telling article on the Rudd/Abbott refugee policy by Rob Burgess.  The article starts with:

As many Australians prepare for a holiday marking the most important Christian festival of year, it’s worth remembering that Jesus of Nazareth began life as a refugee, taken to Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of male infants.  

The refugee family eventually went home, so there was no need to transfer the infant to an offshore detention facility – I mean, who’d even think of doing that?”

 And ends with:

While the nation spends a long weekend celebrating the life of the world’s most famous refugee, political leaders might take time to sniff the wind again and realise we’re standing out in our region for all the wrong reasons.

As Fraser sums it up: “Whatever else our refugee policy is, it isn’t Christian.”

In the middle there was a well argued article with useful supporting data that included:

“In years to come, people will look back at the Abbott Government’s practice of locking innocent children up on remote Pacific islands and shake their heads with disbelief,” said Hanson-Young on Wednesday.

It may not take years. Other nations, including key trading partners, are already shaking their heads at Australia’s offshore processing regime…….

” At this year’s human rights dialogue between China and Australia, vice-minister of foreign affairs Li Baodong said China had concerns “especially on the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, the right of the children of refugees in education and other rights … We have also asked about whether these refugees will be illegally repatriated to other countries….”

While the Greens have long used moral arguments to condemn Labor’s and the Coalition’s policy, economic and strategic concerns give added weight to opprobrium from our trading partners.

Recent history shows how quickly a latent dislike of Australia can become manifest – the fury on the streets of Indonesia during the recent phone-tapping scandal was fed by negative stereotypes of Australians that stretch back through the 20th century.

Not only are we remembered as the lucky country that ran the white Australia policy, but our political leaders of the past have (often unfairly) been seen as colonialists seeking to impose a Western order on peoples who, from their own domestic perspective, were throwing off the shackles of a colonial past.

Whatever the roots of our negative image within the region, Australia’s national interest lies in the paring away of stereotypes, not augmenting them with stories of babies flown to Pacific Island prisons.”

Think about how those who used to be excluded by the White Australia policy must see us now:  Here is a country getting all agitated about 18,111 protection visa applications from boat people in 2012/13 despite having a strong economy and an estimated 2013 net immigration of 234,000.  A country that claims to be all about a fair go but thinks its OK to send refugee children to concentration camps in breach of a refugee convention that Australia signed.  A country where both Abbott and Rudd are very public, white Christians being nasty to refugees who mostly aren’t Christian and who would have been blocked from entry under the white Australia policy.

Having an Attorney general who has stated that it is “OK to be a bigot” doesn’t help either.

Progress is being made whenever an important, Murdoch owned business blog is saying, in effect, that our refugee policy is not only non-Christian but also bad for business and our relationship with our neighbours.

Enjoy your Easter.

Appendix:  Refugee Council of Australia’s data on Australia’s refugee performance compared with the 10 best countries:

Graph for Australian self-interest through Asian eyes

Friday Salon: Easter edition

voltaire_230

An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Follow that and you should be fine.

Climate clippings 93

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1.Three reports

First, the Climate Change Authority released a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review.

I have a draft post in the bin, which I’ll publish after Easter. Labor are likely to adopt the enhanced targets it recommends, whereas the LNP have confirmed they won’t go beyond 5% by 2020.

Second, I’m working on a post on the IPCC’s second report in the current series, released on 31 March Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. To get a head start you can follow the links from the report website.

I should be able to finalise the post for the week after Easter.

Third, the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC’s third report Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change was released on Monday. I hope to tackle it over Easter, aiming for publication the second week after Easter. The ABC has comment: politicians and Frank Jotzo and John Connor. The Carbon Brief has a lot of useful material.

2. The cost of mitigation

The IPCC mitigation report puts the cost of action at 0.06% of GDP, but calculating the cost is complex, especially when looking at the damage caused by doing nothing.

Researchers Rosen and Guenther find that the economic modelling is not possible, there are too many variables and too many unknowns.

Yet crisis trumps uncertainty, we have no real choice but to act.

3. Trouble in the vineyards

Early ripening is becoming a huge problem for growers and wineries.

growers say they’re having trouble processing their crop because it’s ripening too quickly.

Researchers are blaming climate change, with warmer conditions and drier soils accelerating the ripening process.

4. Microbes cause Permian–Triassic extinction?

The Permian–Triassic extinction event, commonly known as the Great Dying, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90% of all life on Earth.

According to new research at MIT the event may have been caused by microbes.

The team’s research indicates that the catastrophic event was in fact triggered by the tiniest of organisms, a methane-releasing microbe called Methanosarcina. New evidence suggests that at the time of the extinction, the microbes appeared in massive numbers across the world’s oceans, spreading vast clouds of the carbon-heavy gas methane into the atmosphere. This had the effect of altering the planet’s climate in a way that made it inhospitable to most other forms of life inhabiting Earth at that time.

5. Land clearing returns to Qld

According to The Wilderness Society the Queensland Government has approved the clearing of 30,000 hectares at Strathmore Station in the Gilbert River catchment in the Gulf country, which will add the equivalent of 4.2-6.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the same as running up to another 2.6 million cars on our roads.

Strathmore wants to clear another 70,000 hectares. Together with another proposed Gilbert River project, IFED’s so-called Etheridge mega farm, the two schemes would clear and flood 200,000 hectares of land.

That would be like bulldozing a 10km wide strip for 200km.

6. Instruments of persuasion

Dr Rod Lamberts of the Australian Centre for Public Awareness of Science at the ANU says it’s time to dump science and facts as instruments of persuasion in favour of advertising and marketing. He says we need to appeal to people’s emotions, which will

have a stronger effect than trying to appeal to their brains via some kind of, you know, fact channel.

But please note, the facts are needed to support the campaign:

If the goal is to affect change, then I believe we need to step more into the realms of advertising and marketing and so on, in terms of delivering messages that are supported by what the science is telling us, but don’t have the science in those messages. (Emphasis added)

Jane Caro agrees on the need for a different approach:

Facts have never changed anyone’s mind about anything, sadly. It’s very hard for scientists to understand this, because they’re highly rational people, but in actual fact, no-one has ever been rationalised out of a belief.

There are only two things that change people’s attitudes and behaviour, particularly their behaviour, and they’re two emotions, and they’re hope and fear.

Again, facts and the science are surely needed to rationalise a changed belief. Beliefs need reason to support them.

Who mounts and pays for an advertising and marketing campaign? We look to governments, but in Australia they are the actual problem.

7. Direct Action less popular than the price on carbon

Meanwhile Essential Media Communications have done a survey of opinion that shows Direct Action distinctly less popular than the price on carbon. In terms of age, there is a tipping point beyond which the doubters predominate and it’s age 55. Abbott’s climate policy may come back to bite.

as the flat-earthers take control of the Federal Government, more Australians than ever have come to the conclusion that the Earth is in fact round.

Changing our policymakers seems the best way home but then Labor needs to offer more than tokenism. In my opinion Labor politicians should be the prime target group. The current mob won’t change without a spell in opposition and transformational ideological renewal.

Reminder

Use this as an open thread for climate topics.