Monday, September 5, 2016

Dissenting view on Climate Change Action - No longer silent, but is it too little, too few, and too late?

Sou | 9:15 PM Go to the first of 14 comments. Add a comment
Two members of Australia's Climate Change Authority have published a minority report, dissenting from a new report from the Authority.

Unlike the Climate Commission, the The Climate Change Authority (CCA) wasn't shut down when Tony Abbott became Australia's Prime Minister in September 2013. Instead it was left to all but disintegrate, with budget cuts and no filling of board vacancies until Turnbull took over as Prime Minister in September 2015 (half the board seats were vacant - 5 out of 10, for most of those two years). [Update: see article by Clive Hamilton and an article on the resignation from CCA of former Reserve Bank Chair Bernie Fraser, for more on this subject. Sou 6 Sept 16] The CCA was set up as an independent statutory body, or as independent as a government body can get these days, which isn't much. It's been a toothless tiger struggling along with occasional mostly wimpy reports promoted by government when it suits them, and buried when it doesn't.

The members of the Authority (ie the board) include Clive Hamilton, John Quiggin and David Karoly who were all appointed under the Labor Government in 2012. In the past, these three people were prominent advocates for climate action, and were willing to speak out fearlessly. They've been much quieter since they were appointed to the CCA. It's now six years since Clive Hamilton's book "Requiem for a Species". (Update: It's not as bad as I thought. See comment from MikeH below to articles by Clive Hamilton. Sou 6 Sept 16)
From an outsiders perspective, letting these people stay on the CCA board was good strategy for a government that wanted to put a muzzle on people calling for action to mitigate climate change. Was this one of the strategies Clive Hamilton wrote about in his 2007 book "Silencing Dissent"?

At long last, two members of the CCA Board, Clive Hamilton and David Karoly, have produced a minority report critical of the recent Special Report from the CCA: Special Review of Australia’s climate goals and policies. Other members that were notable for not being authors of the minority report were economist Professor John Quiggin and Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel. Their views on the subject have not (yet) been made public.

I should add that from a governance perspective the matter of when or whether to speak out against a Board decision is vexed. Board members are normally expected to keep robust discussions within the board room and, once a decision is made, to not speak publicly against it. Board members are expected to "speak with one voice" in public.

On the other hand there are occasions when that line must be crossed. Board members are individually liable for Board decisions as well as being collectively responsible. There have been important instances in the past when Board members have, quite rightly, come out publicly against a decision of their Board. Had they kept quiet, they would have been held liable for wrong decisions or, as in this case, for wrong and dangerous advice to government. Board members have to decide for themselves when the good of speaking out outweighs the principle of abiding by a board decision in public.

Below is the article from the Conversation.

The Climate Change Authority report: a dissenting view

Clive Hamilton and David Karoly, University of Melbourne

As Members of the Climate Change Authority who have participated fully in the Special Review of Australia’s Climate Goals and Policies, we reached the conclusion, after much consideration, that we could not in good conscience lend our names to its report, published last week.

Rather than resign from the Authority we decided to write a minority report. Here we present edited extracts from our report, which is released today.

The basis of our disagreement with the majority report is its failure to recognise the importance of the constraint put on all future emissions-reduction targets and policies by Australia’s carbon budget. The carbon budget is the total emissions that Australia can release between now and 2050 while still contributing its fair share in holding the global temperature rise to less than 2℃ – a key goal of the Paris climate agreement negotiated last December.

The majority report should, but does not, address the relationship between its recommendations and Australia’s carbon budget, consistent with a fair and equitable national contribution to the global carbon budget.

This is all the more regrettable because the requirement to do so is embedded in the Special Review’s terms of reference and was analysed in the First Report of the Special Review released in April 2015 (before the appointment of six new Members to the Authority in October 2015).

The budget constraint

In 2014 the Authority recommended an Australian emissions budget of 10.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases for the period 2013-2050. On this basis, it advised that Australia should set an emissions-reduction trajectory for 2030 in the range of 45-65% below 2005 levels. Contrast that with the current 26-28% target set by the Abbott government.

Against the constraints of the carbon budget, the majority report accepts – explicitly in some places, implicitly in others – the government’s current target.

But accepting this less ambitious target for 2030 is consistent neither with the Authority’s own advice to government, nor with Australia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to play its role in holding warming below 2℃.

The graph below shows the carbon budget for Australia put forward by the Climate Change Authority in its earlier report. (The budget is the area under the curve.)
Keeping Australia’s current emissions targets in place would leave a huge amount of work to do after 2030. Author provided

The embedded pie chart shows the sliver of emissions that would remain to cover the 20-year period after 2030 if there is no change from the 26-28% target. More than 90% of Australia’s carbon budget to 2050 would be used up by 2030. Australia’s emissions would have to decline precipitously and reach net zero by 2035.

Such a dramatic reduction would be impossible to achieve. So the current target of 26-28% lacks credibility because it is wholly inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations. If pursued it is likely to lead to a policy crisis within a decade or less.

Political independence

In our view, the failure of the majority report to make this clear to government and the public contravenes the Authority’s legislated obligation to deliver independent advice and to recommend measures that are “environmentally effective” and based on science.

We believe that the effect of the majority report will be to sanction further delay and a slow pace of action, with serious consequences for the nation. Those consequences include either very severe and costly emissions cuts in the mid-to-late 2020s, or alternatively a repudiation of Australia’s international commitments, and free-riding on the efforts of the rest of the world.

As we see it, the recommendations of the majority report are framed to suit a particular assessment of the prevailing political circumstances. We believe it is inappropriate and often counterproductive to attempt to second-guess political negotiations, especially for a new and uncertain parliament.

The unduly narrow focus of the majority report, seemingly based on a reading from a political crystal ball, has ruled out policies, such as a strengthened renewables target and stronger land clearing restrictions, that have a proven capacity to respond most effectively to the nation’s climate change goals.

Policy recommendations

At the centre of the majority report’s recommendations is the retention of the current Direct Action policy as the basis for further action. Its two pillars are the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and its incorporated Safeguard Mechanism, which sets an upper limit on emissions from major polluters.

The report also recommends a new emissions trading scheme for electricity generation, based on an emissions-intensity baseline. Such a scheme would have lower price rises than the kind of cap-and-trade scheme favoured everywhere else in the world, and which Australia would have now if not for the Abbott government. After the rancour that engulfed the carbon price, the intensity-based scheme is presumably seen as more appealing to nervous politicians.

The majority report downplays the drawbacks of emissions-intensity schemes and the Safeguard Mechanism. There is not space to discuss them here, but we would like to comment on the flaws in the ERF because the majority report recommends that it be hugely expanded.

Flaws in the ERF

Under an expanded ERF policy, the cost to the federal budget would increase sharply, and even more so if Australia adopted tougher emissions targets in line with the science. Using the ERF in this way would be, in Professor Ross Garnaut’s words, “an immense drain on the budget”.

We believe it is unwise to make Australia’s climate policy hostage to disputes over fiscal policy.

As a rule, the replacement of the widely accepted “polluter pays” principle with the ERF’s “pay the polluter” principle is bad economics, bad ethics and bad policy. The practical drawbacks include the need for an expert bureaucracy to evaluate each prospective project and then to monitor, over several years, each successful project to ensure that the promised emissions reductions actually happen.

There are also serious and continuing concerns about the issue of “additionality”. Under the ERF, it is hard to know whether the Commonwealth is wasting money by paying for emissions reductions that would have taken place anyway – that is, projects that are not additional. Bear in mind that businesses plan energy-saving projects all the time, so why wouldn’t they try to get a subsidy if one is on offer?

Surveys show that a large majority of Australians want stronger action to reduce Australia’s emissions. The role of the Climate Change Authority is to advise on how that desire can be realised, in a way that is consistent with the best scientific and economic evidence.

The full minority report can be read here.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE) and David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Some closing comments...

As an almost final word and to partly explain my distaste for the CCA, I have personal experience with the organisation. The Climate Change Authority management took me off a short list to run a planning workshop because, after I let them know I blogged about climate, they discovered that some denier bloggers said some nasty things about me somewhere on the Internet. I was told that they wanted someone impartial on the subject of climate - meaning (and I checked this with them, not believing what I was hearing), someone who had no strong opinion on whether climate change is real or not. This from the Climate Change Authority - seriously!

As a final word, you'll notice that the current CCA Board has only two out of ten members who are women. It's an anachronism. Malcolm Turnbull should be ashamed of himself.

References and Further Reading

The Climate Change Authority’s Special Review on Australia’s Climate Goals and Policies: Towards a Climate Policy Toolkit  - Minority Report - by Clive Hamilton and David Karoly, 5 September 2016

Towards a climate policy toolkit: Special Review of Australia’s climate goals and policies - Report from the Climate Change Authority, 31 August 2016

WUWT Policy Violation by a Clueless Female Eco-Nut - HotWhopper article, June 2013


  1. It's worth noting that the operation of the CCA has a tumultuous history, with Chairman Bernie Fraser resigning this time last year after mounting tensions with the then responsible minister Greg Hunt. And it suffered attrition of membership prior to that, which the conservative LNP government had baulked at addressing, in no small part because they had seen the opportunity to stymie the Authority's work through lack of sufficient advice and a slender grasp on quorum.

    Even now one wonders at a couple of the choices of board members who were eventually selected for the current board - their expertise and backgrounds would seem to not mesh quite that well with the understanding and sophistication of policy development that a climate change authority would be expected to have...


  2. It's going to become very obvious that the posturing everyone is doing on both side of the fence is irrelevant in the end. If the goal was to waste time and money, both sides have accomplished this. But there are no "sides" in reality, it's just us ignorant humans and the millions of other life forms trying to live on this planet.

    Government, business and industry are often thought of as the problem to climate change inaction, but it goes much deeper then this. Our civilization is the problem, right down to the individual (you and me). It is intractable and immutable as long as it exists.

    Everything will be done to protect civilization and our so-called "way of life". Nothing will be done to change any of this. Every individual is responsible. Every scientist, every doctor, every mother, every father, every sister, every brother. Both by virtue of our very existence, and by our silence and by our individual obligation to a habitable future.

    Silencing dissent is just one of a million tactics that will be tried to protect civilization; and so will keeping silent to preserve one's "job". It's always, ALWAYS about self-preservation in the end.

    I've come to expect nothing at all from anyone because self-preservation is always the driving reason for human stupidity and indifference. To the guy who wants to keep his job while he helps destroy the planet, you're just as guilty as I am, who seeks to simply stay alive by participating in this civilization.

    Walking away is an almost an impossible option. I tried and failed. Can't do it alone. Can't extract myself far enough. So I tried the exact opposite, as many others have. I tried to change perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, awareness. I failed here too. Civilization has a terrifying hold upon us all, its death-grip is unshakable.

    We're going to all go down with the ship, there really isn't any arguing that. And I've come to believe that we should. We are major screw-ups as a species, natures rejects and mistakes. It's not unusual, it's happened before. We use consciousness and awareness and invented what should not be. Civilization. And now we are discovering that this direction was a disaster but we can't go back either because our consciousness won't let us.

    We're nowhere near as smart as we perceive ourselves to be. We imagine that we can change, but we can't. We find ourselves in hypocrisy in every proposal, every effort because we insist on ever more civilization. We're very good a self-deception and hiding from reality, but we're incredibly unsuited for anything else. See, it all comes down to self-preservation in the end. That's why we go silent or "join the crowd". We want to survive, but ultimately know that we won't. Nobody is asking the obvious. Should we?

    We are a horror show to everything else, even each other. We offer nothing but destruction and death to everything else. Our consciousness deceives us. Imagining ourselves important and valuable, we continue in this nothingness. For as long as we can, which we are certain to do right to the very end. (continued)

  3. (Part II)

    It's all about self-preservation. It always has been. But our survival isn't what matters anymore. Not when an entire biosphere is dying. We're too arrogant to admit that if this dies, we die too, so we continue in our nothingness, ensuring that death follows us in everything that we do. That's our self-deception, our consciousness again deceiving us, insisting how important and necessary we are, and how our civilization must be preserved. It's pathetic how feeble our minds can really be.

    This is why we will fail. We cannot see any of this, the futility of it all or the source of that futility. We can't even talk about it or admit to its clear existence. So we will continue to do what we have always done. Ensure the death of every other living thing. It is our "act of self-preservation" that convinces our minds of this essential necessity until we can't do this anymore and then we will be gone, as it should be.

    By then, there will also be nothing else left alive except some few lower lifeforms who will meekly inherit a newly created hellish Earth, picking their way through the rubble of our “once-great” civilization. We will all be forgotten and with good riddance if such a thought ever becomes possible again. The ruins of our self-destruction and the near-total absence of biological diversity will be the mute testimony for millennia of what we were. And the judgement will be the same then as as it is now, the horror will be finally gone.

    1. Excellent post Anonymous. The only disagreement one has is on biological diversity. When we've finally destroyed our biodome, the one humans need to survive, and rid the planet of our creature there will still be much biological diversity left. And the beauty / horror of existence of life here will explode once again, as it always has, with the full diversity of creatures a microbe in the universe always creates. Only in a different direction.

    2. I bumped into this thread again whilst looking to see if anyone had ever provided a link to the Quiggin exchange that I mentioned below, and I realised that I'd previously omitted to acknowledge that I was the anonymous poster above.

      Mea culpa.

  4. Clive Hamilton has continued to write articles on climate during his time as a member of the CCA incuding here.


    1. Thanks, Mike. Apologies to Clive Hamilton.

      The Conversation is so jam-packed these days it's like spotting a needle in a haystack. Google should have helped but all I got was some 3+ year old articles at Crikey.

    2. This may explain John Quiggin's relative silence.


      Richard Denniss makes some good points but he is wrong on the key issue. I think it was critical that Karoly & Hamilton highlighted the weakness of the carbon target in the CCA recommendations.

  5. I'm surprised about John Q's apparent endorsement of what is an untenable 'mainstream' position; 'I’m not commenting on the CCA at present. I may have a statement to make later.' Having read his blog for years this seems both inconsistent with all he's written on the subject and a lot like not stepping up to the plate when it counts!

    As for wanting someone with 'no strong opinion' on whether reality is real to run workshops - AKA 'unworldly idiots' - is anyone else reminded of the old CIA manual on stuffing up NGOs / activist groups by undermining them at the process level at every turn?

    1. I have the utmost respect for most of John Quiggin's work, but I fear that he is overly optimistic about the capacity of planetary systems to cope with the cumulative impacts of human economic endeavour. A number of months ago I made a comment on his blog about how economic growth cannot continue indefinitely on a finitely-resourced planet, and John's response was that growth can be infinite because much of our economy will become "virtual." This ignores the fact that even the virtual economy is reflected in additional resource use, but at that time I didn't see any comment of John's to address this.

      Frustratingly I can't locate the thread where this exchange between us occurred (a link would be gratefully received!), so I can't determine what John's final word was, but I do wonder if his tendency to thermodynamic optimism might be colouring his participation in the CCA.

  6. Bill - don't take the fact that John Quiggin hasn't said anything (yet) to be any form of endorsement. Each board member has to decide for themselves if (and when) they make public any disagreement they may have (if they have one) with a decision made by the Board. (I "do" governance as part of my real life job. It's a big decision to speak out publicly against a Board decision. One that is very rare, cannot be taken lightly and, in most cases, is not without consequence.)

    I've added to the article: Mike's link as well as a link to a slightly more detailed description of the sad state of the CCA at the hand of Tony Abbott, by Clive Hamilton, and Bernard J's link about the resignation from the CCA of former Reserve Bank Chair, Bernie Fraser.

  7. Gotta say the whole "26% of the number you first thought of" has always struck me as an inadequate target and the ERF as the wrong lever to provoke change in emissions.

    We all know time's a wastin' - if Hamilton and Karoly see fit to point that out then good on them. I note your comment on speaking out against a board decisions, but if I'm not mistaken that's generally seen as a good thing when it's in the interest of the shareholders?

    Unfortunately I'm sure politics will catch them up at some point; still plenty of dinosaurs lurking in the shadows of the Turnbull government (eg: Craig Kelly)

  8. In more news re the CCA, it is moving to Canberra (from Melbourne). From the Guardian:

    A spokesperson for the Department of Environment has confirmed the move in “mid-September” to Guardian Australia, and said it was being done “in order to improve its operating efficiency”.

    Guardian Australia understands none of the authority’s staff, besides the chief executive, will stay with it after the move, which has been known about in relevant circles for some time.


    As well as gutting the board, now all the staff (except one) are being replaced? Well done Malcolm!

  9. John Quiggin has now made a statement (h/t Griff at HW Chat) about the recent report. I don't agree with much of it, however I do think that it's a great move for him to speak out. (I don't think John Quiggin has ever said much about the ACCA in the past, so this would be a big step for him.)


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