January 2010


In a new low for the Australian media, today’s Syndey Morning Herald Online describes climate change skeptic/denier Christopher Monckton as a British Scientist. Christopher Monckton, also known as ‘Lord Monckton’ or ‘3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley’  does not have any science qualifications, nor has he published in peer reviewed scientific journals. He is, however, British, one thing the SMH subeditors did get right.

As well as not believing climate change science, he also told a US audience that at Copenhagen the US government will sign a treaty (which he has read) that will create a world government and “at last the communists who piled out of the Berlin Wall and into the environmental movement and took over Greenpeace so my friends who founded it left within a year, because they’d captured it; now the apotheosis is at hand. They are about to impose a communist world government on the world.”

While this makes for entertaining prose, this does not further anyone’s understanding of the climate debate, except to illustrate the lunacy of some of the opponents of action on climate change.

Monkton, who would be a nobody if he wasn’t such a lunatic, is getting a huge amount of media attention in the Australian media. At the same time, people who have expertise on climate change and its mitigation do not get a mention in the media. For example, Ross Garnaut, who put together a comprehensive report on climate policy for the Australian Government in 2008, gave a speech today. In it he made recommendations on what target the Australian Government should submit as part of the Copenhagen Accord, commented on the role of the UNFCCC, and described the proposal from the Greens for an interim carbon tax as a “politically practical way forward”. None of this has yet been mentioned in the Australian media, except for Carbon + Environment Daily, which is only available to people who pay $729 for an annual subscription.

Update: To its credit, The Sydney Morning Herald has since published Garnaut’s speech in its Tuesday edition. It has also updated the AAP article on Monckton with a more accurate headline (that no longer describes him as a scientist).

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The Greens have proposed an interim carbon tax for Australia. The basic idea is that there would be a carbon tax of $20 for two years, and in that time, policy decisions on an ETS would be made. The details are here. Professor Garnaut made a similar proposal in the Garnaut Review.

This is a very sensible idea. A big issue with carbon pricing policy is that before a carbon price is introduced, there is a very strong incentive for polluters to act like the sky will fall in. This is because they know that would lead to weaker policy, or more compensation, or both. This creates a very bad environment for a government to make decisions about targets, especially about targets for the next ten years or longer. Introducing a carbon price first is a much wiser way to go about things.

This would probably be a good idea in the US as well. Getting climate legislation through the US Senate is very difficult, and will become more difficult now that the Republicans have an extra senator. It may be easier to introduce a low carbon tax now (possibly equal to the price floor in the proposed US legislation), and then introduce a cap on emissions later. Australian policy could show the way forward for US policy.

Good climate policy provides certainty for investors in low emission technology. When a cap is introduced, it could be possible to maintain the current price as a floor in carbon price.

Update: This architecture has been adopted for Australia’s proposed carbon price mechanism.

In climate negotiations, issues of accountability and transparency are very important. If the leader of a country pledges to reduce their emissions by a certain amount by a certain year, then they should be held accountable to that pledge, and judged accordingly. If a country pledges to increase their emission reduction if other countries emission reductions add up to a certain amount, then they should be accountable for that, and there needs to be a transparant mechanism for tallying and adding up different countries emission reduction commitments.

But accountability and transparency are not just about emission reduction commitments. These issues are also important for the negotiations themselves. If in negotiations, a country waters down the strength of the agreement, or obstructs progress, then the rest of the world will judge that country, and arrive at their own conclusions about whether they were negotiating in good faith or not. The fact that the plenaries are televised online, and some contact groups are open to observers, helps to facilitate transparency on this issue.

In the interests of transparency, I will list below some of the things that happened during the negotiations that countries perhaps should be held accountable for. These include:

  • Russia’s on-again off-again emission reduction target;
  • Saudi Arabia, China, India, Venezuela, Algeria, Kuwait, Oman, Nigeria, and Ecuador blocking discussion on proposals for a legally binding agreement from Tuvalu, Australia, Japan, the United States and Costa-Rica.
  • Japan (supported by Russia and Canada) putting into question whether there would be a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol;
  • the talks being suspended for 5-6 hours on Monday Dec 14 (when there was a lot of work to do);
  • the United States watering down the nature of commitments from developed countries at the final AWG-LCA plenary;
  • in the COP plenary that occured after the final AWG-LCA plenary, India proposed to delete collective emission reduction commitments by 2050 from the LCA text, as well as proposals to periodically review progress;
  • the (admittedly weak) Copenhagen Accord could only be ‘noted’ by the Conference of Parties, for the COP to do anything stronger (like adopt it) was blocked by Sudan, Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua – this was a highly acrimonius meeting;
  • a proposal from Tuvalu to discuss a legally binding treaty at COP 16 next year was blocked by China, India, and Saudi Arabia.