Saturday, June 04, 2011

Australian efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are superfluous

$20 – 25 per tonne does it matter? There are several factors that will see our efforts to cool the globe become completely superfluous. What you ask? Is that why we’re doing it? Yes, we are taxing Carbon as part of an effort to cool the world by a factor of 0.00 “something” per cent by 2100. You have heard it before; that Australia emits zilch Carbon by world standards and this is true. Permit me, in non-technical language to provide reasons why that “zilch” will become even more insignificant, with the passage of time.

The economic poles are reverting back to pre industrial revolution positions, out with Europe in with China and India - the East. In 20 short years, these two nations alone will account for up to 35% of the worlds GDP and by 2050, we can only speculate. It is not directly population growth that is driving this, rather, urbanisation and industrialisation will lead to an unprecedented rise in the number of aspirational and upwardly mobile middle class citizens with lots of money to spend. Imagine just 50% of China and India’s population with standards of living approaching that of our own. The numbers are mind blowing; India’s population hit over 1.20 billion recently, a rise of over 180 million since the previous census, which is equivalent to roughly nine times Australia’s entire population between two census counts.

It is not extreme to put forward that the number of middle-class consumers in Asia could increase by more than 3 billion people by 2050. The environmental implications of such a large increase in the middle class market alone should be cause for alarm, even panic for some. Think in terms of ecosystems, think power generation requirements, and think general pollution and landfill pressures, think number of cars on the world’s roads increasing by 1.5 to 2 billion units in Asia alone. The economic activity generated by such a larger consumer base would make today’s emission levels appear diminutive; the implications are of titanic proportions.

For these reasons alone, the mind numbing debate about imposing a Carbon tax in Australia is a joke. According to climate commissioner, Will Steffen the world is going to get hotter regardless, that is, irrespective of a 5 per cent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Moreover, he would argue, even with complete decarbonisation leading up to 2050, it is still going to get 2 degrees warmer by then anyway. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that trying to keep global temperature rises down to 2 degrees would require an 80 per cent cut in global emissions by mid-century.

What do you think are the chances of actually cutting emissions down so far by 2050 given the aforementioned urbanisation and industrialisation set to sweep Asia?

We Australians can do nothing to stop or even slow what is coming. The larger world will generate our climate conditions, case in point; all predictions tell us that China alone will increase its emissions by 25 per cent by 2020. Does Julia Gillard realise what this figure alone represents when compared to present day Australian emission levels? Allow me; a 25 per cent increase in China’s emissions is equivalent to roughly 18 times our total emissions today. In addition, we have not even considered India and the rest of Asia or the developing world in this figure.

By all means let us invest in R&D to develop alternative cleaner energy sources, let us too, educate consumers to become increasingly environmentally savvy, let us protect our precious universal bubble but let us accept that the world may get hotter and stop dealing in fantasies about decarbonisation to stop it. Adaptation is the only logical response to something we cannot and will not control. The world will never commit to effectively reducing emissions while demographics continue to change. It makes no sense for Australia to be acting ahead of the rest of the world because we do not lead the world, not even close.

I reject the notion that climate change action is really about tax redistribution or, old-fashioned class war actions dressed up as environmentalism. It is not about that at all; rather the government actually wants to reduce Australian carbon emissions to stop sea levels rising and reduce global temperatures but it is not going to happen, it is dealing in pure fantasy. Passing the Carbon tax legislation is a farcically exercise that will land the government an extra $10bn per year (depending on the price per tonne set) which it will mostly pass on to families as compensation for rising costs of living and other trade exposed industries and do nothing for the environment. In the end we will be left with nothing more than a form of tax re-distribution albeit, for the wrong reasons.