Thursday, March 17, 2011

Julie Bishop and Australian Opposition parties need to do better research about climate policy

The Australian Prime Minister, who heads a minority coalition in Parliament, has proposed carbon pricing scheme that will begin in 2012. The opposition parties are lobbying hard against the scheme, or any scheme that puts a price on carbon. In her regular blog for the Sydney Morning Herald, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Julie Bishop uses an argument that will sound familiar to argues that will sound familiar to Canadians and Americans: in essence, why should "we" take action if China is not?

One of the principal arguments of the Julia Gillard - Bob Brown government to justify imposing a carbon tax on Australia is that the international effort on climate change will leave us behind and that even China is taking dramatic action to reduce its carbon emissions.

This is deeply misleading. What the government doesn't tell you is that even if the Chinese government met its stated targets of cutting carbon emissions "per unit of GDP", there will in fact be a massive increase in emissions from China for the foreseeable future.
And here is the evidence:

University of British Columbia Professor in Geography Simon Donner calculates in an article titled "China's emissions pledge depends entirely on economic growth" that the Chinese emissions "intensity" targets would still result in substantial emissions increases.He says: "If China keeps up the planned 8 per cent/year growth, emissions in 2020 will be 74-90 per cent higher than 2005 levels".

When I heard about this "citation" yesterday, I was puzzled. What article is she talking about? I'm fairly certainly I'd remember if I'd published an article about Chinese climate policy. It turns out she is referring to a brief Maribo post from two years ago in which I pointed out that the China's new emissions target is based on emissions intensity, and thus represents less of a decrease than it might sound. This brings up all sorts of interesting questions about appeals to authority, blog posts vs. published research, etc., which I'd be happy to discuss.

Now had the Deputy Leader or her staff or whomever writes the posts in her name contacted me or, say, done more than typed "china's emissions pledge" into Google (the post comes up #3, at least from here), she may have learned that many international policy experts think it is reasonable to allow nations with developing economies to set targets based on emissions intensity. I've written numerous posts arguing just that. In fact, that point was touched on in the previous paragraph in the post though only fully fleshed out in other posts:

It is, however, a reasonably fair way to bring a reluctant developing nation like China into an international emissions control framework.

The moral here is not what I wrote. The moral here is that Australians should be just horrified that by the lack of research and analysis being done by the opposition parties on the carbon tax proposal. They should not be citing a two-year old blog post written by a Canadian university professor for which the data is now out of date. I'd guess it took me about 20 minutes to do the analysis and write that post. Certainly that's not too much time to spend working on your position on a critical policy proposal.


Anonymous said...

When you start with a conclusion and work backwards, the quality/relevancy of your supporting "evidence" is incidental.

Jeffrey Rainey said...

China is a large country, and I believe they need to help with us more to save the environment.