An ETS alone is inadequate

Here are just two of the many who argue that a limited goal cap-and-trade option will do little or nothing to mitigate climate change.

James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was the first to point out the perils of climate change to the US Congress. He argued that “The fraudulence of the Copenhagen approach-“goals” for emission reductions, “offsets” that render ironclad goals almost meaningless, the ineffectual “cap-and-trade” mechanism—must be exposed. This is the very approach that Australia’s Labor government is adopting.

Science reveals that climate is close to tipping points. It is a dead certainty that continued high emissions will create a chaotic dynamic situation for young people, with deteriorating climate conditions out of their control.

Science also reveals what is needed to stabilise atmospheric composition and climate. Geophysical data on the carbon amounts in oil, gas and coal show that the problem is solvable, if we phase out global coal emissions within 20 years and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands and oil shale. Such constraints on fossil fuels would cause carbon dioxide emissions to decline 60% by mid-century or even more if policies make it uneconomic to go after every last drop of oil.

Improved forestry and agricultural practices could then bring atmospheric carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm (parts per million) or less, as required for a stable climate. Governments going to Copenhagen claim to have such goals for 2050, which they will achieve with the “cap-and-trade” mechanism. They are lying through their teeth.

Unless they order Russia to leave its gas in the ground and Saudi Arabia to leave its oil in the ground (which nobody has proposed), they must phase out coal and prohibit unconventional fossil fuels. Instead, the United States signed an agreement with Canada for a pipeline to carry oil squeezed from tar sands. Australia is building port facilities for large increases in coal export. Coal-to-oil factories are being built. Coal-fired power plants are being constructed worldwide. Governments are stating emission goals that they know are lies ” or, if we want to be generous, they do not understand the geophysics and are kidding themselves.

Is it feasible to phase out coal and avoid use of unconventional fossil fuels? Yes, but only if governments face up to the truth: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, their use will continue and even increase on a global basis. Fossil fuels are cheapest because they are not made to pay for their effects on human health, the environment and future climate.

Governments must place a uniform rising price on carbon, collected at the fossil fuel source – the mine or port of entry. The fee should be given to the public in toto, as a uniform dividend, payroll tax deduction or both. Such a tax is progressive ” the dividend exceeds added energy costs for 60% of the public.
Fee and dividend stimulates the economy, providing the public with the means to adjust lifestyles and energy infrastructure.

Fee and dividend can begin with the countries now considering cap and trade. Other countries will either agree to a carbon fee or have duties placed on their products that are made with fossil fuels. As the carbon price rises, most coal, tar sands and oil shale will be left in the ground. The marketplace will determine the roles of energy efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear power in our clean energy future.

Cap and trade with offsets, in contrast, is astoundingly ineffective. Global emissions rose rapidly in response to Kyoto, as expected, because fossil fuels remained the cheapest energy. Cap and trade is an inefficient compromise, paying off numerous special interests. It must be replaced with an honest approach, raising the price of carbon emissions and leaving the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground.

Fred Pearce is an environment writer and author of The Last Generation: How nature will take her revenge for climate change. He said that Australia’s Copenhagen climate strategy was smoke and mirrors.

Australia has had a ridiculously easy ride on climate change so far. And, whatever Rudd’s domestic green credentials, he seems intent on continuing as before. For when Rudd shows up in Copenhagen in a couple of weeks, he will bring a negotiating position almost certain to ensure that, while others make cuts, Australia’s emissions remain above 1990 levels until at least 2020.

Under the Liberals and Nationals “Australia got lucky in Kyoto back in 1997. . . . But Australia has simply milked its good luck, carrying on largely as if Kyoto never happened. As a result, today it has the highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases of any major developed nation.

But since Australia is the world’s hottest and driest continent, it is potentially more vulnerable to climate change than any other. That suggests another path would be prudent. And, to be fair, Rudd is aware of that. But he has a tough task persuading his industrialists and hugely powerful coal industry (Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal.)

So what is Australia bringing to Copenhagen? Rudd will be there in person. His headline grabber is the offer of a 25% cut in emissions. Except that the “conditions” he sets the rest of the world for this are so stringent that he is unlikely to have to deliver. For instance, as the government spokesperson said, it would only be “fair” for Australia to make cuts that deep if other “advanced” countries made cuts “in the middle of the range identified by the IPCC”—that is, between 25-40%.

That’s an odd definition of fairness. It is based, according to the spokesperson, on the fact that “Australia faces higher economic costs to achieve equivalent emissions reductions than most other advanced countries.” Funny, but I don’t remember Australia offering bigger cuts in Kyoto because it was cheap and easy to end deforestation. Quite the contrary.

Otherwise, Rudd offers a range of reductions from 5-15%. That doesn’t sound too bad until you remember the deforestation discount that Australia won in Kyoto. Along with other land-use changes since then, even a 15% “cut” would still allow Australians to emit more from burning coal in power stations, running cars and industry than they did in 1990. About 1% more, according to the analysis by the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

A new beginning in Copenhagen? Rudd’s Copenhagen plan looks like a greenwashed version of the old Kyoto plan.