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Is this the last gasp from the Climate Change Authority?

By Don Aitkin - posted Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Climate Change Authority (CCA) was established by the Gillard Government a couple of years ago, and it has submitted what it calls the Final Report of its Targets and Progress Reviews. You can get to it here, and fossick around its other publications at the same site. It is required by law, the CCA says, to report on the progress Australia is making towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But there is no doubt that the beginning of the executive summary has a strangely old-fashioned air about it:

Climate change science indicates the world is warming and human activities are the dominant cause. Global action to limit warming to below 2 degrees will benefit Australia. Climate change science is clear - the world is warming and human activities are the dominant cause.

Climate change poses major risks for Australia's people, economy and environment. A warmer climate is predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of weather extremes, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods and bushfires, and to cause rises in sea levels. Australia is likely to better adapt to projected impacts if global warming is limited to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. With larger increases, adaptation can be expected to become increasingly costly and challenging.

The international community has made a commitment to keeping global warming below 2 degrees. To meet this shared goal, Australia and other countries need to strengthen their emissions reduction efforts. Australia stands to benefit from stronger global action, but it must also be prepared to do its part to meet the global goal. In this Review, the Authority outlines its views on what a reasonable contribution from Australia would be.


Now Minister Hunt has already said that Australia will decide about emissions once the Paris 2015 COP has concluded and we know what if anything the 'world' will do. No matter, the CCA knows what is right, and proposes an elevated level of emissions-reduction, based on a carbon tax of some kind. Unsurprisingly, the Government has taken little notice, and in fact you won't find a reference to the report on the Department of Environment website - or, indeed, any reference to the CCA itself. But the Department's website does show that the abolition of the carbon tax was the first item of legislation introduced by the Abbott Government.

No matter, the ABC gave the report a good airing, and called forth both the crowd-funded Climate Council and the Greens to say what a good thing the Report is. Oddly enough, the ABC, in its quest for balance, didn't seem to have asked anyone remotely sceptical to comment. Perhaps they were all too busy, and unavailable for comment, though the ABC didn't say so.

But the ordinary reader will surely wonder what the CCA has been reading, to produce such a stilted and inaccurate statement. Is the world warming? Well, it was, but the warming has levelled out over the last decade or so. There are signs that the world might be cooling. Are human activities 'the dominant cause' of the warming? Well, if they were, something else has suppressed them, and if it has, then whatever it was might have been associated with the earlier warming, too.

My last paragraph is based on what is presently known, and hardly disputed - but such material doesn't get a mention in the Final Report. Surely it should have been at least mentioned, if only to argue against it. "Climate change poses major risks for us", says the summary, but all these projections are based on climate-change models that have not been verified, and have poor capacity to define what will happen in regions. No mention of their weaknesses? Pity. Why must warming be bad for us? Oh, the models say so.

"The international community has made a commitment to keeping global warming below 2 degrees." Really? Which countries have done anything about it? Not many. Any? The 2 per cent figure was drawn down by skyhooks as a figure that was achievable, perhaps, and has been elevated into a real barrier THAT WE MUST NOT CROSS. That sort of commandment is for the religious.

Australia will apparently benefit from what other countries do (which countries are they?), "but it must also be prepared to do its part to meet the global goal". But we won't know until 2015 whether or not there will be any agreed-upon global goal and the present likelihood is really small. And in any case the probability that Australia will go down the carbon-tax road is really very small. Why propose such a strategy? And what impact would it have, even if we followed the CCA's advice? Zilch.


The answer to the Why? has to do with 'belief', and with keeping the flag flying. Here is part of what the Chief Scientist, a member of the CCA, said at the launch, according the The Guardian, which reported it all in the fashion of the ABC:

Climate science is one of the most heavily scrutinised areas of science I have ever experienced … The overwhelming bulk of it has stood the test of that scrutiny … I find a lot of the science compelling … As a scientist I would always put in the caveat we are dealing with probabilities … but we are seeing changes and if you don't believe it you have to impugn the messenger, you've got to say it is groupthink or some stupid expression like that. Scientists are human beings and sometimes they will make mistakes, but … no reputable scientist disputes the main theses in this area, it has been so closely scrutinised … so it would be really silly to say [greenhouse emissions] have no effect or that it is a delusion.

What can I say about such vague and hand-wavy stuff? Well, I would say this: we don't know nearly as much about global climate, let alone Australia's climate, as all the CCA would have us believe - and the evidence that we don't know is really compelling - ask the IPCC! I think it's time for the Climate Change Authority to pack its bags, and go.

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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, Hugh Flavus, Knight was published in 2020.

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