Garnaut shows climate change bigger than politics

The Garnaut ReportIn April 2007 Australian States and Territories commissioned Ross Garnaut to do an economic analysis of climate change scenarios for Australia, something like the Stern Review in the UK. An interim report was published last week. The serious risks outlined have shocked many.

The report provides a platform for a range of immediate actions based on logical methods of analysis and rational argument. It sets out objectives, stabilisation plans, ways of dealing with interim carbon increases until 2012, and principles to fairly allocate new emission limits.

Garnaut has limited the scope of his review to the economics of climate change. He has little to say on the environmental or social value of Australia's ecological assets. The review draws strong links between local economic decisions and international responses to climate change, particularly those that set binding reduction targets to establish a base line for carbon trading.

However, this view seems to exaggerate both Australian dependence on international forces and the benefits of carbon trading. It underplays Australia's independent economic base as a wealthy and resource rich nation that can take immediate actions to safeguard its own future, like several European nations are doing.

Some analysts of the interim report are still trotting out the old neo-con arguments about Australia having to wait because it has to act in concert with China, USA and other major emitters of greenhouse gases. It is the same line used in the past as a delaying tactic, based on ideology, not on reason.

In fact, China and the USA are making great strides in carbon reduction at the local level. China is installing more solar hot water tanks per year than the rest of the world combined. Federal USA political backing for the fossil fuel lobby, which is restricting excellent state initiatives, will hopefully end this year.

In a sign of hope Garnaut's interim report says we should 'play to Australian strengths' — high awareness about the causes and consequences of climate change, an innovative skills base, and established management and financial service sectors. It is of note that these strengths are largely socially based, not economically based.

Along with other citizens, church people have an important role in demanding immediate and across-the-board action on climate change to make Australian awareness and skills count. The Rudd Government has opened public debate to a moral view of politics. The detail in Garnaut's judgments expands the mind to search for detailed and specific moral responses.

Past are the days of generalised moralising about future generations or our Pacific neighbours 'out there'. The moral questions are now specific and personal: about our homes, transport, education, super fund, investments, business, unions, farming practices etc. These areas raise concrete moral choices about a personal stance in the face of human-induced and rapid climate change.

Concrete moral choices are for the young as well as the old. Young people are challenged to purposely choose an education and career path that will better equip the nation to face climate change. Similar concrete choices face government departments to make ethical decisions about preferential procurements, future fund investments etc.

Hopefully the Garnaut review will convince voters that the climate challenge is bigger than any political party. Effective action would benefit from a multi-party pact offering long-term policies that provide national direction, a predictable business context and personal economic security, and which, most of all, would engender justified national pride.

In his recent book on climate change, High and Dry, Liberal insider Guy Pearce said all parties need a face-saving way forward. We have the recent and wonderful example of all political parties coming together for the apology to Aboriginal people. A multi-party agreement on the climate crisis is next.

Citizens can demand this pact with united and focused action. Send a letter to every politician — at all three levels of government, union heads, banks, superannuation investment managers, framers of laws and the like, demanding that pressure be brought to bear to form a multi-party agreement on national action to face climate change, now.

Garnaut Climate Change Review — Reports and Papers
Columban JPIC Office

Charles RueDr Charles Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society, and coordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation).



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Existing comments

"The moral choices are...personal".
How true. I am not sure that firing off demanding letters in triplicate is quite personal enough!
margaret ker | 26 February 2008

Garnaut's alarmist worst-case scenario is more a jump on the moral bandwagon and economist me-tooism than a considered response to any recognisable problem. There is no evidence at all that carbon indulgences are anything other than a mechanism through which to exercise a form of protectionism against poor countries.
Markus A. Frank | 26 February 2008

The line about China's hot water tanks needs to be put in perspective. Time magazine 28/2 puts China's real position in focus - it is real scary! Perhaps all of our resources should be concentrated on helping them clean up their act.
brian martin | 26 February 2008

We proudly have had Sorry Day and, it seems, most Australians are glad. Here is something we can all (maybe not the greedy) agree on. We need to apologise to The Land, Our Mother, that we have for over 200 years abused so sadly and catastrophically. Our Mother is now in such travail; hopefully not beyond healing. An apology with measures to restore the wonder, beauty and usefulness of Our Mother will begin a recovery which, if not begun immediately, her grandchildren will be bereft.
Francis Brown | 27 February 2008

I can't get much further than the first page of the Executive report of Garnaut submission. He talks about strong economic growth in the developing world, especially in China. Economic growh is going to continue and says 'it is neither desirable nor remotely feasible to seek to remove environmental pressures through diminution of the aspirations of the world's people for higher material standards of living.'

I'm sorry but I believe that climate change should encourage us to take a closer look at our growth mentality and start thinking of controlling our consumerism, starting in the Western world. This was the message of Pope John Paul II's encyclical 'Redemptor Hominis' in 1979 and his subsequent social encyclicals tried to push this message with considerable passion. In doing so we should move towards more egalitarian societies, eliminating poverty and, as John Paul II recommended, not through more economic growth.
When will we ever learn?
Ken Thomas Bundoora Victoria
Ken Thomas | 28 February 2008

Memo Markus Frank: Garnaut's "alarmist worst-case scenario" a rather timid and pale imitation of the changes that climate scientists are observing. Garnaut, like Stern, is an economist; neither of them are climate scientists. The IPCC is pressured to present its best-case scenarios as worst-case scenarios by its political masters.

Death is Nature's way of telling you to slow down. Extinction is Nature's way of telling you to stop.

David Arthur | 01 March 2008

Memo David Arthur: 1. Read up on IPCC scientists' qualifications. 2. Read up on philosophy of science and science by consensus. 3. Read up on science of global warming. 4. Work out why anyone would take seriously computer generated scenarios about global warming by people who can't manage to accurately predict the weather for next Tuesday. 5. Do the mathematics on CO2 saturation and possible temperature increases.
Markus A. Frank | 26 March 2008

G'day Markus Frank.
1. IPCC scientists are far more qualified than either of us. However, their (consensus) draft report was severely watered down before being publicly released. This process is described by David Wasdell in his Meridian Project report “Political Corruption of the IPCC Report?”. It’s available at, also search New Scientist on “IPCC Report watered down".
2. Not relevant.
3. Done.
4. “Can’t predict the weather, therefore can’t predict the climate” is a furphy, espoused by fiction writer Michael Crichton in “Climate of Fear”. Day by day weather is the result of chaotic fluctuations (highly coupled, highly non-linear, equations) about the climatic mean (predictable using simple physical chemistry, refer Svante Arrhenius).
5. CO2 is a gas. Air is a mixture of gases. Gases are infinitely miscible. There is no such thing as a saturation level of one gas in a mixture, therefore there is no such thing as mathematics on CO2 saturation.
David Arthur | 18 April 2008

G'Day David Arthur. Apologies for this late reply. I moved house.

You say that climate scientists are better qualified than we are: I agree. The IPCC, however, isn't made up of "scientists" as is commonly stated.

Take a look at the qualifications of the 380 contributors to the IPCC WGII’s fourth report.

Of the 51 UK contributors, there were 5 economists, 3 epidemiologists, 5 who were either zoologists, entomologists, or biologists. 5 worked in civil engineering or risk management / insurance. 7 had specialisms in physical geography, and just 10 specialists in geophysics, climate science or modelling, or hydrology. But there were 15 who could only be described as social scientists. If we take the view that economics is a social science, that makes 20 social scientists.

Of the 70 US contributors, there were 7 economists, 13 social scientists, 3 epidemiologists, 10 biologists/ecologists, 5 engineers, 2 modellers/statisticians, 1 full-time activist (and 1 part time), 5 were in public health and policy, and 4 were unknowns. 17 worked in earth/atmospheric sciences.

It is simply outrageous that we are asked to accept these people as climate experts.

The hypothesis sates that increasing CO2 raises temperature. Fact: Co2 up, temp steady. Hypothesis falsified.
Markus Frank | 19 September 2008

In his comment of 19 September 2008, Markus Frank points out that the areas of IPCC Working Group 2 is not in climate science. Adding that it '... is simply outrageous that we are asked to accept these people as climate experts'.

I can assure Mr Frank that I do not accept the majority of these people as climate experts, and I doubt that they would think of themselves as such. You see, the job of IPCC WGII is to consider what the response to climate change should be. IPCC has three working groups.

o Working Group I: The Science of Climate Change

o Working Group II: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability
o Working Group III: Mitigation of climate change
o and a Task Force on Greenhouse Gas Inventories


Mr Markus claims that despite Co2 up, temperature [has remained] steady, and that the hypothesis is falsified. In fact, temperatures have continued to rise, and with changes in air flow and ocean currents, the distribution of those temperature rise has varied. Mr Frank’s cloud may be no warmer, but I can assure him that mine is.
Working Group I are the climate experts, muzzled as they may be, and I commend their work to Mr Frank. Indeed, with the qualification that IPCC-WGI’s work has been severely watered down by their politico-diplomatic supervisors (ref Meridian Project report “Political Corruption of the IPCC Report?”, also search New Scientist on “IPCC Report watered down"), I recommend IPCC-WGI’s 4th Assessment Report to all persons who may be interested in the future of their world.
David Arthur | 26 January 2009

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