Tag Archives: Wiseman_John

Carbon pricing: a dangerous distraction?

It is almost axiomatic to say that the mitigation necessary for 2°C limit to warming is best delivered through market-based instruments (MBIs) – where a price is placed on each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted.

Dissenter-in-chief is Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester and deputy director of the Tyndall Centre, the UK’s leading academic climate change research organisation:

I hold that such an approach is doomed to failure and is a dangerous distraction from a comprehensive regulatory and standard based framework (within which price mechanisms may play a niche role).

Crucial in making this judgement is the notion that the mitigation rates are not marginal. We don’t need to knock off just one or two percent of emissions each year. We need, says Anderson, a whopping 10% per annum.

That seems extraordinary, but I’ll repeat here three graphs I’ve used before. They all come from 2009, the last two from The Copenhagen Diagnosis.

First we have Hans Joachim Schellnhuber’s estimate of the reductions needed using the ‘budget approach’, whereby the budget of permissible emissions is divided between countries on a per capita basis, and then the stabilisation path plotted given their existing per capita emissions levels:

2C trajectories Schellnhuber

Anderson variously says the ‘we’ need to reduce emissions by 80 to 90% by 2030 and to zero soon thereafter. I think he is referring to the UK, which would have a similar stabilisation path to Germany. Note that Schellnhuber is basing these trajectories on only a 67% chance of keeping warming within the 2°C limit.

In the second graph the stabilisation path for the whole world is calculated, given different peaking dates:

Copenhagen diagnosis Fig 22 n

That shows a 9% per annum reduction required to reach zero about 2040 with peaking in 2020. In those terms Anderson’s 10% figure is in the ball park.

The third graph shows how the trajectories could be varied if countries were grouped into three categories, roughly advanced industrial countries, developing countries and in the middle newly industrialising countries. Carbon trading between them is assumed:

Budget approach with emissions trading_cropped_600

This too is a dangerous distraction. While rational it assumes that China, India and the US will commit themselves to definite reduction paths through international agreement. It’s simply not politically feasible.

I think Anderson is in the right ball park. His argument is that MBIs work fine when the reductions required are marginal. If you crank them up to get the result required a very high price will result. The rich will pay and continue to pollute while the poor will be devastated.

Anderson doesn’t discuss compensation, as was built into the Australian scheme, but pricing and compensation on the scale required is probably not politically feasible.

Anderson favours a regulatory or standards-based approach and gives these examples:

  • Strict energy/emission standards for appliances with a clear long-term market signal of the amount by which the standards would annually tighten; e.g. 100gCO2/km for all new cars commencing 2015 and reducing at 10% each year through to 2030
  • Strict energy supply standards; e.g. for electricity 350gCO2/kWh as the mean emissions level of a suppliers’ portfolio of power stations; tightened at ~10% p.a.
  • A programme of rolling out stringent energy/emission standards for industry equipment
  • Stringent minimum efficiency standards for all properties for sale or rent
  • World leading low-energy standards for all new-build houses, offices etc.
  • Moratorium on airport expansion
  • Technological and operational standards for shipping operating in UK waters
  • A suite of iterative mechanisms to counter, or at least alleviate, issues of rebound; this may include price mechanisms, progressive metering tariffs, etc.
  • Revisit the viability of Personal Carbon Trading as a mechanism for improving societal engagement in non-marginal change
  • Appoint a senior minister with the principal responsibility for maintaining an equitable transition to a low-carbon society

Taking the first two, rather than standards for appliances, I would focus on making stationary electricity supply renewable as an urgent task through direct action. Other than that all the ideas are grist to the mill, but I like John Wiseman’s approach as outlined in the post Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality which concentrates on the necessary political and institutional actions to be taken. After a priministerial announcement he recommends:

Then we would need an Australian Climate Solutions Act which set up the targets, the structures and the priority actions. Principal amongst these would be an Australian Climate Solutions Taskforce chaired by the Prime Minister and drawing from state and local governments, business, trade unions and community organisations.

Then we would need six key action plans.

First, an Australian Renewable Energy Plan to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy within 10 years.

Second, an Australian Economic Electrification Plan with initial priorities including a modal shift in passenger and freight transport from road to rail; the rapid replacement of fossil fuel based cars with electric vehicles; and the full electrification of household and industry heating and cooling.

Third, an Australian Energy Efficiency Plan that identifies the regulatory, planning, educational and financial initiatives that could achieve the overall goal of a rapid transition to a zero waste economy.

Fourth, an Australian Sustainable Consumption Strategy.

Fifth, an Australian Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry Plan designed to reduce land-based emissions and increase carbon sequestration.

Finally, state and local governments, community sector and business organisations would collaborate to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term Australian Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Plan.

I applaud the priority Wiseman gives to an Australian Renewable Energy Plan to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy within 10 years.

Carbon pricing similar to the Australian scheme may be one of a suite of actions to send a message and raise funds, but climate action on the scale now required compels us to address the issues much more directly. Overall my aim for the planet would be to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm by 2050, for a safe climate. Well, as safe as it ever gets.

Turn down the heat : confronting the new climate normal

Turn down the heat : confronting the new climate normal is a massive 320 page report prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, and hence highly authoritative. Continue reading Turn down the heat : confronting the new climate normal

Adding to the muddle? The IPCC climate change mitigation report

Gareth at Hot Topic has a neat summary of the key points of the IPCC Working Party 3 report: Climate change mitigation report, which I’ve numbered:

    1. Annual greenhouse gas emissions have risen 10 GtCO2eq between 2000 and 2010, and half of all emissions since 1750 have occurred in the last 40 years
    2. If no further actions are taken to reduce emissions global mean surface temperature in 2100 will increase by 3.7 to 4.8°C compared to pre‐industrial levels
    3. To have a reasonable chance of staying under 2ºC of warming in 2100 means restricting greenhouse gases to 450 ppm CO2eq
    4. Hitting 450 ppm CO2eq will mean “substantial cuts in anthropogenic GHG emissions by mid‐century through large‐scale changes in energy systems and potentially land use”
    5. Typical 450 ppm CO2eq scenarios include overshooting the target and then removal of CO2 by bionenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), though “carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies and methods are uncertain and CDR technologies and methods are, to varying degrees, associated with challenges and risks”
    6. The Cancun pledges are not consistent with cost-effective efforts to hit 2ºC, and are more likely to commit the world to 3ºC of warming
    7. The sooner we act, the cheaper overall mitigation will be – as little as 0.06% of annual GDP growth to hit 450 ppm CO2eq.

The “substantial cuts” in point 4 are in fact 41 to 72% by 2050.

In point 5 the cuts required by 2100 are 78 to 118%. That is, the upper bound requires greenhouse gases to be removed from the atmosphere. This will give a “likely” chance of staying below a 2°C increase in temperature over pre-industrial. In IPCC parlance, likely means a 67% or better chance.

This is not “reasonable” as suggested in point 3, it’s reckless.

I’m surprised at the lack of urgency in the report and the modesty of the targets. A 67% or better chance, considering the risks associated with a 2°C increase, amounts to miserable odds. Moreover, as the CSIRO/BOM State of the Climate 2014 report indicated, we are already at 480 CO2eq ppm:


To make matters worse, the chances of staying under 3°C and 4°C are also only rated in the report as “likely”.

Our current situation demands the ambition and urgency called for by Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne:

He concludes that we need more ambition and urgency, both at the national and international levels. The achievement of emission reductions at the necessary scale and speed will require transformational rather than incremental change.

Wiseman goes for a three-phase emissions reduction target regime.

First, a 50% reduction target by 2020.

Second, zero net emissions by 2040.

Third, a carbon draw-down phase to get concentrations below 350 CO2e ppm.

Again, my view:

I applaud his ambition, but, personally, would change the date of the second to 2030 and put a date of 2050 on the third. That is, we should aim for 350 CO2e ppm by 2050.

Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre thinks policy makers are in a muddle about the 2°C target. I’m not sure this IPCC mitigation report helps all that much. Furthermore, I think it misleads rather than promoting a safe climate.

The WG1 science report identified the remaining carbon budget we have to work with to stay below 2°C. Rather than elaborate the carbon budget approach, which I described in the second part of this post, the mitigation report lays out a range of scenarios which involve both overshooting and the use of carbon dioxide reduction (CDR) technologies.

In my view policy makers who concentrate on a less than 95% chance of remaining under the 2°C threshold (I’d prefer 1.5°C) should be immediately sacked and replaced by others more fit to purpose. Scientists writing this report have left the real challenge to the politicians, but by normalising scenarios that lack urgency I fear policy makers will descend into a bigger muddle than ever.

This graph from Malte Meinshausen displayed in the Climate Change Authority report on targets is salutary, considering we are at 480 CO2e ppm:

Stabilisation probabilities_cropped_600

For a safe climate, the line on the graph should be drawn where 2°C intersects with 95%. That would call for greenhouse gas concentrtions of less than 350 ppm. Back in 2008 David Spratt and Philip Sutton in the book Climate Code Red nominated 320 ppm as the target for a safe climate. They called the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC “dangerously conservative”. Not much has changed.

Remember James Hansen nominated 350 ppm not as an end target, rather as an interim goal, whereupon we could decide the next necessary move.

The sad fact is that scientists are not looking at scenarios of 430 ppm or below by 2100. There are too few in existence for the IPCC to summarise.

In describing stabilisation pathways the IPCC collated 900 individual scenarios with target CO2 concentrations (for 2100) of 430 to 720 ppm. They then summarised the scenarios in seven categories (see table SPM1 on page 13 of the Summary for Policy Makers). It’s too large to reproduce here.

The first category, the best we are offered, has the following story line.

To achieve CO2e concentrations of 450 ppm (range 430-480) cumulative emissions from 2011 to 2050 must be in the range of 550 to 1300 GtCO2. By 2100 cumulative emissions must be in the range of 630 to 1180 GTCO2. Please note that the upper bound for 2100 is less than for 2050. This will require a reduction of emissions compared to 2011 of 41 to 72% by 2050 and 78 to 118% by 2100. The resulting temperature change will be 1.5 to 1.7 (1.0 to 2.8) relative to pre-industrial. This will give only a 50% plus chance of staying below 1.5°C and a better than 66% chance of staying below 2°C. There is up to a 33% chance that the temperature will go above 3°C and indeed 4°C.

The temperatures in brackets indicate the uncertainties of how the models relate to reality. In fact at section in the main report we are told that the report’s “probabilistic temperature statements should be regarded as indicative.”

The second category uses a target of 500 ppm (480-530), which only yields a “more likely than not” chance of staying below 2°C, that is >50%. Each category summarises a proportion of the 900 scenarios modelled. Each individual scenario is different depending on whether cuts in emissions are made early or late.

From there it obviously gets worse.

Scientists may be dealing with expected reality, but they have left the real challenge of dealing with the climate to the politicians. Moreover, the action required for a safe climate, as outlined by Wiseman, lies outside the frame of the stabilisation pathways outlined in this report. Approaches such as the International Energy Association’s (IEA) World energy Outlook 2011 highlighting an energy crunch for fossil fuel power generation by 2017 probably has more effect.

Key posts

These are the key earlier posts linked above:

Additional reading

Here I’d highlight the article at The Conversation by David Stern on concerns that the IPCC report was censored. This is a misunderstanding of the process. The main report includes a Technical Summary which is prepared by scientists. The Summary for Policy Makers is about a third the length and results from a political filter applied at the end. The material left out, according to Stern, relates to sensitivities and bargaining positions in the current round of UNFCCC talks aimed at striking an international agreement in December 2015 in Paris.

There’s more on the report at Climate Institute, at at Climate Central, at The New Scientist here and here, and at the BBC.

Carbon Brief went wild, producing a dozen posts which I’ve listed here for the record. I’d recommend the first two by Robin Webster for a quick overview, but Ros Donald on fracking and Mat Hope on acronyms may be of particular interest.

13/4 What’s mitigation? A short and straightforward summary of the IPCC’s latest report Carbon Brief staff

13/4 Not just another climate report: main messages from the UN report on tackling emissions Robin Webster

13/4 The what, when and where of global greenhouse gas emissions: A visual summary of the IPCC’s climate mitigation report Mat Hope

13/4 From RCP to WG3: A climate change acronym cheat sheet Mat Hope

14/4 Does the IPCC endorse fracking? Ros Donald

14/4 Climate fixes and Plan Bs: The IPCC’s guide to staying below two degrees of global warming Roz Pidcock

14/4 Media reaction: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s big climate mitigation report Ros Donald

Daily Briefing | IPCC: There’s still time to take climate action, if countries cooperate
Carbon Brief staff

15/5 Degrees of change: the IPCC’s projections for future temperature rise Robin Webster

16/4 Tackling global warming could slow global growth – by 0.06 per cent, IPCC predicts Mat Hope

17/4 IPCC review of farming and forests leaves key questions about effect on climate change “unresolved” Robin Webster

17/4 Climate change is a political animal Paul Tobin

Independent Australia also looks at fracking and gas.

Developing countries are unhappy.

Please contribute other useful links in comments.

Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality

After the rally on Sunday 17 November Ben Eltham took a look at climate activism in the digital age and nominated climate policy as “the central battleground of 21st century politics.” Sooner or later, somehow or other, climate activism has to be turned into real politics. As one of the ten themes in the Centre for Policy Development’s Pushing our Luck: ideas for Australian progress Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne looked at the shape of climate policy for the future.

You can find his whole piece at page 142 on the pdf counter, but I’ll attempt to give a brief outline here.

First he surveys the science, our prospects and the risks. The risk of a 4C future is unacceptably high. He quotes the World Bank’s report Turn Down the Heat:

    ‘Even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented there is roughly a 20 per cent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s.’

What does 4°C mean?

    Professor John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, provides a stark assessment of the difference between a rise of two and four degrees. ‘The difference,’ he says, ‘is human civilisation. A 4°C temperature increase probably means a global [population] carrying capacity below 1 billion people’.

He then looks at the climate budget approach and posts a version of this now familiar graph:

Copenhagen diagnosis Fig 22 n

He concludes that we need more ambition and urgency, both at the national and international levels. The achievement of emission reductions at the necessary scale and speed will require transformational rather than incremental change. Continue reading Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality