In recent times the biggest pivot in climate change action has undoubtedly been the election of Joe Biden and President of the United States, whose vision and plans have been described as ‘breathtaking’. More of that later.
However, here in Oz a number of things changed within a 24 hour period.
- There was a seeming capitulation by Labor to the demands of Joel Fitzgibbon to get rid of Mark Butler in the climate change portfolio,
- An ad hoc group including John Hewson and Will Steffen, the Climate Targets Panel, released a report that took a look at what Australia’s fair contribution to the Paris Agreement should be,
- The National Party issued a report arguing the necessity of building coal-fired power stations, inter alia,
- and Dr Andrew Forrest AO delivered the first Boyer Lecture 2020 on Rebooting Australia — How ethical entrepreneurs can help shape a better future.
Seriously, Forrest’s lecture was amazing, and the Dr is not honorary, he actually completed a PhD in marine ecology last year.
In this post I’ll look at the Climate Targets Panel report.
Climate Targets Panel report
In 2014 the Climate Change Authority acting according to its charter prepared a 401-page report advising the Australian Government what target Australia needed to follow to help limit global warming to less than 2°C in preparation for the Paris Climate Agreement.
The CCA recommended that Australia’s fair share would be a reduction of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels, which translates to approximately 45 to 65 per cent below 2005 levels.
The Abbott Government ignored this advice, opting for 26-28%.
The intention of the Paris Agreement was that countries would ratchet up their ambition every five years, hence there was a definite expectation of increased country efforts in conjunction with the 2020 UN Conference of Parties, COP 26 in Glasgow, which has been rescheduled to 1-12 November 2021 due to COVID-19.
The Australian Government has ignored this injunction, thinking a promise not to cheat by using carry-over credits from the Kyoto Agreement would suffice.
The Climate Targets Panel, a self-appointed group, decided to contribute to the discussion as to what Australia’s contribution should be. The report was published linked to a media release Australia’s Paris Agreement Pathways on the site of Melbourne University’s Climate Energy College. Here’s a direct link to the report.
I shall ignore their calculations in relation to 2°C, because it’s a distraction, the main game is 1.5°C. The group worked within the IPCC notion that there was a permissible budget of burnable carbon compatible with keeping warming to within 1.5°C.
The group found:
- a ‘straight line’ trajectory from 2020 to net-zero in 2050 would consume the Australia’s entire 1.5°C budget by 2029.
- To be consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target must be 74% below 2005 levels, with net-zero emissions reached by 2035.
For consistency The Panel used the same methodology as the CCA did in 2014, and followed their use of 0.97% as Australia’s share of global emissions.
The following graph has been adapted from the Guardian article on the report:
It shows the Government’s meandering effort, but I’ve erased the 2°C line, so as not to be distracted.
The Panel point out that the CCA in 2014 did not consider 1.5°C, because 1.5°C only came into play as a surprise result of the Paris Agreement. However, the Panel’s consideration was framed by the 2018 IPCC Report on 1.5°C, so:
Given already-measured severe warming of 1.1°C, drastic urgent action is required to remain below 1.5°C. Recognising the challenge, the published 1.5°C carbon budgets relied upon in this analysis have presumed only a 50% (not 67%) probability of limiting global warming to below 1.5°C.
One of the reasons for failure is that “the possibility of carbon cycle feedbacks. This refers to self-reinforcing changes in nature that contribute to global warming.” These feedback reactions may become unstoppable, in other words tipping points, making further warming beyond human capacity to limit.
As it happens the Australian Greens policy includes:
- 18. A nationwide, systematic response is required to drastically reduce emissions from all sectors, draw down greenhouse gases, and be greenhouse gas neutral or negative by 2035.
If zero emissions by 2035 only gives us an even chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, then we do indeed have a crisis on our hands, and should be responding accordingly.
The Greens also say they believe:
A safer climate will require a return to an atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases equivalent to 350 parts per million of CO2, or lower.
Their quantative target will not in itself produce a safe climate.
Angus Taylor rubbished the report saying it was of poor quality.
The report was authored by:
- John Hewson AM, who is substantively Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, and inter alia Chair, Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia, Chair and BioEnergy Australia.
- Will Steffen, Emeritus Professor, Fenner School of Environment & Society at the Australian National University and the Inaugural Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, from 2008-2012. Steffen was a member of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee advising the Gillard Government on the ‘Clean Energy Future’ package. He also worked with Johan Rockström to produce a paper A safe operating space for humanity, published in Nature in 2009. The paper had 27 other co-authors, including James Hansen and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, and many other senior climate scientists. The paper established the concept of ‘planetary boundaries’, with 350ppm seen as the limit for a safe climate.
- Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Integrity & Development) at Macquarie University. Hughes has been a lead author of IPCC reports, and a member of the Wentworth Group.
- Associate Professor Malte Meinshausen who was founding Director of the Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne and Co-Director of the Energy Transition Hub. Before coming to The University of Melbourne, he was a senior researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). He has been contributing author in IPCC reports, and is a lead author in the current one.
It’s a very capable group. Meinshausen’s name appears on this wondrous graph showing the risk and temperature outcomes implied by GHG levels:
I found it on page 48 of the Climate Change Authority review of February 2014. As I explained in my long-read post Climate emergency – ecological sustainability within planetary boundaries, and a safe climate, the graph was graduated in CO2e, which at the time stood at 493.
I don’t think the CCA members understood what they were looking at. I’m sure Meinshausen does.
Labor has said that its climate policies will follow the science. They will need courage to follow this particular report. It would be easier to simply follow the crowd internationally.
The IPCC report schedule has been affected by COVID. The best I can find is the the Working Group 1 AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis will not be approved until late July.
Given an election is possible from August, and thought likely about October, ‘following the science’ is not a straight-forward exercise in 2021.