Top climate advisors speak out: Why we can't sign the latest Climate Change Authority report

Climate Change Authority member Professor David Karoly. Photo: Justin McManus via SMH.

In case you missed it: last week, the Climate Change Authority (CCA) published its report on how Australia should deliver on its international climate commitments.

Today, two CCA members – climate scientist Prof. David Karoly and economist Prof. Clive Hamilton – have published a minority report highlighting their disagreements with the Authority’s recommendations.

Here they explain why: in an opinion piece originally published on the Sydney Morning Herald website.


For three years, good climate change policies in Australia have been eviscerated by those who would prefer to do nothing. This is happening at a time when the urgency to act has never been greater and the rest of the world is pursuing a bolder and more determined path.

All of the evidence shows that most Australians want much stronger action from the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hasten the transition to a clean energy economy.

Which is why it's so disappointing that the latest report from the Climate Change Authority on how Australia should meet its international climate commitments seems to be responding to those who do not accept the science of climate change.

The Climate Change Authority was set up in 2012 as an independent body charged with providing the Australian Government and the Parliament with evidence-based advice on the nation's climate change policy options. Introducing the bill to establish the authority the minister said:

"The authority will be independent from government … This means that climate change policy will be directed by evidence and facts, rather than fear and political opportunism. It will take the politics out of the debate."

As we see it, last week's report from the authority is a recipe for further delay in responding to the urgent need to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change Authority member Professor Clive Hamilton says the authority's report is "untrue and dangerous". Photo: Katherine Griffiths via SMH.

That's why we are today publishing a minority report. One simple fact underlies our criticisms and our alternative recommendations.

DOWNLOAD THE MINORITY REPORT HERE

If Australia is to meet its international legal obligations and contribute its fair share to global efforts to keep warming below 2 degrees, then there is an upper limit to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we can emit into the atmosphere over coming decades. This is our "carbon budget".

As with all budgets, the more we spend in the near future the less is left for later. And Australia has been spending its carbon budget so quickly that there are not too many years left before it runs out. We have to start cutting down our spending fast.

The current government's emission reduction target (set during the Abbott years) is to reduce our emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. This is nowhere near fast enough. If that is all we do, then in 2030 we will have used up 90 per cent of our total carbon budget. To meet our international obligations – endorsed once again by Mr Turnbull at the Paris climate conference last year – we would then have to crash our emissions to zero in five years. That would be impossible. And so Australia would renege on its commitments and free ride on the efforts of the rest of the world, including poor countries. They would be carrying us.

And yet the Climate Change Authority's report accepts this manifestly inadequate target and builds its recommendations around it.

This is despite the fact that a year ago (when Bernie Fraser was still the chair) the authority itself warned the government that our budget is rapidly running out and much stronger action is needed without delay.

Yet the majority report argues that the best way forward is to build on the current Direct Action program, including a huge expansion of the flawed Emissions Reduction Fund under which the government pays polluters to reduce emissions. Apart from anything else, this would put a huge strain on the federal budget and make climate policy hostage to the battle over fiscal policy.

Carbon emissions from land clearing have been a major source of Australia's emissions. State government restrictions on land clearing have been very effective at reducing them in recent years. But now state governments are loosening those restrictions and emissions are growing.

The authority's majority report recognises that restrictions are the best policy but says that they do not enjoy "universal support". Farmers' organisations are complaining. That's enough for the authority to withdraw support for land clearing restrictions and suggest we begin looking for an "alternative". No policy ever enjoys universal support, and bad policy results when the national interest is sacrificed to sectional interests.

The unduly narrow focus of the majority report, seemingly based on a reading from a political crystal ball, has ruled out policies that have a proven capacity to respond most effectively to the nation's climate change goals.

In short, the recommendations of the majority report lack credibility. We have been members of the authority from its formation and have signed on to all of its prior reports. But we felt that in good conscience we could not put our names to this one.

We could have just resigned – and we've been strongly urged to do so! But Australia's climate future matters too much for us to just slip quietly back into our university offices.

– Professor Clive Hamilton of Charles Sturt University and Professor David Karoly of the University of Melbourne, Members of the Climate Change Authority.


DOWNLOAD THE MINORITY REPORT HERE

It's clear that a strong, independent voice for science is more important than ever. If you believe the public deserve to hear the facts, then please help fund the Climate Council’s ongoing work.

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