19 August 2009

The CPRS aftermath

CPRS emissions will be higher than baseline till 2035

Since the CPRS was defeated in the Senate last week, there has been a vigorous debate amongst activists and on a number of grassroots climate e-lists about this event, what it means, whether the decision of the climate action movement to oppose the CPRS as presented was wise, whether we will now get an "even worse" scheme with Liberal support, and whether a better scheme was possible with Green-Labor negotiations.

[On the last point, Senator Milne's office has indicated that the government has been totally unwilling, on numerous occasions, to seriously discuss the Greens' proposals to improve the CPRS.]

So would the CPRS, even in its current appalling form, be something we should support because at least in moves Australia "in the right direction" (one of ACF's Don Henry's favourite phrases) and start to reduce emissions?

The evidence is clearly to the contrary.
The attached chart is drawn from the published summary of Treasury modelling for the CPRS (page 26). I have added the red line which is the 1990 level of Australian emissions (also roughly 2000 level due to drop in land clearing emissions).

The green line is the theoretical drop in Australian emissions, but when we look at the purchase of (cheap, scam) permits from overseas (light blue), we see that actual emissions (mid-blue) are above the 1990 baseline till after 2035!!! And the government has said that if the target is increased to 15 or 25%, then the number of permits imported will be increased, even to the point of the government buying them out of the federal budget to protect the big polluters (in addition to the windfall profits those big polluters are currently gaining from the allocation of free permits).So almost 30 years from now under the CPRS, emissions will be as high as the 1990 baseline!!!!

And would a "slightly better" CPRS means anything other than purchasing even more credits from rainforests not chopped down or some other equally dubious "emissions reduction" scam?

Compare this outcome to the work by Malte Meinshausen from Potsdam Institute for limiting warming to 2C (yes, 2C is a stupid target because it means no Arctic sea-ice, probably Greenland and Himalayas past their tipping points, a third of the Amazon gone, multi-metre sea-levels rises, a global water and food crisis, etc etc) published as: Meinshausen et al. "Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2C" in Nature 458:1158-62. In a supplementary Q&A, he says:
Having a good chance of staying below 2C requires limiting our overall CO2 emissions. Our study indicates that we have an emission budget of a trillion tonnes CO2 during the first 50 years of this century. Of that budget, we already used up a third in the first nine years (234 GtCO2 up to 2006 and more than 36 GtCO2/yr since then). At present rates of emissions, we will use up the remaining two-thirds in another 20 years, by around 2030. We will consume this 2000 to 2050 budget even earlier, if emissions continue to increase according to the "business-as-usual" scenarios.
In that context, the CPRS locks in an emissions trajectory for Australia that ensures by 2030 emissions as high as they are today, when even for a too-high target of 2C they need to be zero!

We are all frustrated, I suspect because the debate in Australia and elsewhere is deeply delusional and getting worse. As the evidence becomes more overwhelming that we are heading for a climate apocalypse if we go on as we are for even another 5 years, the level of cognitive dissonance increases in proportion. Sometimes it drives us crazy too.

The political elite hang even more neurotically to the view that their current policies (clean coal, CPRS, appease the big polluters etc) can solve the problem when in fact they ensure catastrophic failure. They will cling even more stubbornly to these delusions because the other choice -- actually solving the problem -- frightens the crap out of them because it requires a great over-turning of political and economic priorities, transformative leadership, and the re-allocation on at least 5% of global GDP (IMHO, perhaps much more) for decades.

That is the message that we have to hammer. Incremental improvements and "broad but shallow" advocacy that has dominated the climate scene for the past 10 years will not get us there. Yes, we have to drop an "awe and thunder" climate bomb on the political elite (as we tried to do with Climate Code Red) and talk about what really needs to be done and how to get here.
The climate movement can't expect politicians and 'the system' in general to break out of failure-inducing incrementalism for as long as we in the movement are locked into the same model. The only way we can break out is to commit to pursuing goals that would actually produce a safe climate in time and then we work like crazy to figure out ways to make these goals bite politically. We can only find these solutions by doggedly and creatively pursuing non-watered down goals.

Part of what we must do is launch psychological warfare on the power elite (because it is also an illusion that they will respond to well-considered rational argument, as we have seen), make in personal and tell them their grandkids and great grandkids will (metaphorically) burn in a climate hell, that even bags of money won't buy oneself a safe place to hide in a world at 3 or 4 or 5 degrees, that now is the hour to make moral choices, and that not to do so will condemn the rest of their careers to irrelevancy and their souls to pergatory.

Of course that is not all we need to do, but it is important. Copenhagen will be awful and we must plan through (and not just up to) COP15 and into next year. We have a chance in the election lead-up to hit some MPs and candidates hard with the full message, to cause sitting members real political pain and get commitments that are less delusionary that the present policy debate. That means carefully selecting the target seats and candidates, coordinating our actions and making sure there is real capacity to make it happen, re-allocating and raising funds to put organisers on the ground in key areas. To some extent, the larger eNGOs have a choice as to whether they will allocate their resources to campaigns and actions that will badge and promote their brands, or whether resources (and mailing lists in particular electorates, etc etc) will be pooled and shared so there is real and effective local organisation and capacity.

The NGOs gathered around the Southern Cross Climate Coalition (ACF, ACOSS, ACTU and Climate Institute) will undoubtedly run cover for Labor. The CI CEO John Connor has said that CI's role is to act as a "minesweeper" (i.e. clearing obstacles) for Labor, and when you put CI in a coalition with Labor luminaries such as the ACTU's Sharon Burrows and ACOSS CEO Clare Martin (former Labour chief minister in the NT) you can only expect pro-Labor twaddle. How ACF will survive being squeezed again by this mob of Labor heavy hitters (as they were on the CPRS, and it cost them very dearly) is another issue.

But we can be certain that cheer-leading for Labor won't help. Adrian Whitehead says politicians generally don't listen until you inflict real political pain on them first. He's basically right, and election year gives us that opportunity. To me, that's more important than tearing our hair out over a CPRS than locks in utter failure.