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The Senate tries its hand at climate science

By Don Aitkin - posted Monday, 31 March 2014


The ABC reported last week that a Senate Committee had found in favour of sticking to the emissions reduction targets set out by the Climate Change Authority a month ago. It didn't mention that there had been a minority report which proposed more or less the opposite. For those for whom the Senate in Australia is below the usual radar, that chamber is presently controlled by the ALP and Greens, so any Senate Committee will have a majority of Labor and Greens members until the newly elected Senate members arrive in June and some retiring ones depart.

This Committee was established in December last year to inquire 'into the Abbott Government's Direct Action Plan and the Abbott Government's failure to systematically address climate change,' including fourteen further instructions; the Committee was instructed to 'have regard to the Climate Change Authority's draft report, Reducing Australia's Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Targets and Progress Review, dated October 2013.'

Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke said not so long ago that he regarded Parliament essentially as theatre - since Parliamentary proceedings were a 'charade and a farce'. It is hard not to agree with him with respect to the Senate Committee's Report. Its title Direct Action: Paying polluters to halt global warming? is a guide to the contents, as is its objective as set out above.

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We start with bold assertions that are curiously familiar:

The evidence that the world is getting warmer is unequivocal. Over the later part of the 19th century the global mean surface temperature has increased.1 Each of the past three decades has been warmer than all the previous decades, and the decade of the 2000s has been the warmest.2 In Australia, average temperatures have increased by 0.9 C since 1950, with significant regional variations.3

I've left the footnote numbers in. The first and second are to the AR5 Summary for Policy Makers (as are footnotes 4 to 7), while the third is to a seven-year old CSIRO and BoM Technical Report. Well, there's no hesitation there. There's nothing in the Report about the recent cooling or the 17-year absence of significant warming, despite steadily increasing carbon dioxide accumulations in the atmosphere.

Indeed, the first chapter is straight out of the Warmist's Handbook, with the Climate Change Authority acting as the schoolmaster, and it finishes with this:

There is overwhelming evidence indicating that the world must act now, and act urgently, to address the catastrophic consequences of climate change. A global average temperature rise beyond 2 C will have calamitous effects for the world.

I hesitate to point out to Honourable Senators that there is a real gap in logic here. What the science says is one thing, but the policy options do not follow from the science, because, as I suggested in the last post, climate science is not in any real way 'settled' at all. Nor is it at all obvious that the warming over the last century, let alone the absence of it in the last couple of decades, can or will have 'catastrophic consequences'. And models do not provide 'evidence'.

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Chapter 3 summarises what the previous Labor governments set out to do, and proposes that it all be retained. Chapter 4 talks of the great importance of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and of the Climate Change Authority, which it sees as "an important source of transparent, independent analysis and advice on Australia's key climate change policies". Both are earmarked for abolition, while funding is to be cut for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, another institution that the Report wants to save.

Chapter 5 finally gets around to the Abbott Government's Direct Action Plan, which, you may not be surprised to discover, gets a caning. As the Report explains, "An overwhelming number of submissions and witnesses expressed doubt about whether the Direct Action Plan and the ERF could achieve Australia's existing emissions reduction targets," and Chapter 6 goes on to show that in more detail, while Chapter 7 tells us about the importance of the Renewable Energy Target, and why it must be retained. Sixteen recommendations convey the urgency of the Report.

The dissenting report of the Government Senators takes only ten pages (compared with 139 pp for the majority), defends the Government's proposals, and offers six recommendations. Each side has chosen the submissions to various enquiries that support their case. The Australian Greens provide 'Additional Comments', whose burden is that they want a low-carbon economy, and they want it as fast as possible.

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This article was first published on Don Aitkin.



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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, published in 2015, is Turning Point, the second novel in The Hogarth Trilogy.

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