The Emissions Trading Scheme Review committee has released the first batch of submissions it has received — those made by organisations and individuals who have already made their presentations to the committee. There are some heavy hitters in there: from New Zealand’s science and policy community there’s the Climate Change Centre (a joint venture between the University of Canterbury and Victoria University of Wellington, plus all the Crown Research Institutes – from NIWA to AgResearch), VUW’s Climate Change Research Institute, and GNS Science, and from the world of commerce, we have the Business Roundtable‘s “evidence”. Why the quote marks? Because the Roundtable’s submission is a fact-free farrago of nonsense.
The submissions from the Climate Change Centre [PDF] and VUW’s CCRI [PDF] are impressive: lengthy, comprehensive and copiously referenced to the relevant literature — both well worth reading. The Business Roundtable’s isn’t [PDF]. The CCC and CCRI submissions both contain excellent discussions of the sorts of targets that are required to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change. The Business Roundtable ignores the question of greenhouse gas targets, and argues instead that the science isn’t settled (all following quotes are from section 3 of the BR submission):
It is simply not credible to claim, as past ministers have done, that “the science is settled”. Scientific hypotheses are never settled but rather accepted until disproved. There are still enormous uncertainties about climate change science, which are likely to persist for many years.
In one sense, indubitably true — but not in the sense the Roundtable intends. There’s plenty of spirited debate about the details, but the fact of warming and its cause is not debated. Nor is there any doubt that further carbon emissions will cause more warming.
Most scientists accept the existence of a ‘greenhouse effect’ from C02 emissions and that global temperatures rose slightly (about 0.6ÂºC) last century.
Most scientists? Are there any credible scientists who doubt the existence of the greenhouse effect outside crank circles? Who on earth provides Roger Kerr with his scientific advice? (Don’t tell me, I can guess).
However, much is still unknown about natural variability due to both external factors (eg the sun) and internal factors (the climate system is never in equilibrium); feedback mechanisms (water vapour, ocean currents and thermal effects more generally); and the masking effects of aerosols. Because of these problems of attribution, the likely amount of future temperature increases associated with increased concentrations of greenhouse gases is still hotly debated, given the diminishing impact on temperature of further CO, emissions.
These are not problems of attribution (we know the cause). The likely amount of future increases is certainly a matter of uncertainty, but that is more than just scientific uncertainty — it depends to a huge extent on what emissions trajectory the global economy follows. And the Business Roundtable offers no perspective on that.
In New Zealand’s case the temperature record shows no statistically significant warming at least since 1970.
Sounds familiar. Is that a hint of Leyland I detect? New Zealand has warmed since 1970. In fact New Zealand warmed by 0.7ÂºC over the last century.
It matters greatly for the welfare of New Zealanders whether possible future increases are likely to be small and beneficial or potentially large and harmful. Moreover, New Zealand temperature increases are considered likely to be only around two thirds the level of any global increases. Official government documents acknowledge that moderate warming (say of the order of 2ÂºC) in New Zealand would have net benefits in terms of health, energy consumption, agriculture, tourism and other factors for many decades.
There are no government documents that acknowledge net benefits from two degrees of warming. At 2ÂºC warming (the 2090s on NIWA’s 2008 projections, based on the A1B scenario), severe droughts will be twice as frequent as now, more intense rainfall will have increased the frequency of damaging flood events, a cool year will hotter than the hottest year we experience now and hot years scorching, and the seas around us will have risen by at least half a metre (probably more — the CCC submission suggests “allowing for” 0.8m).
While we acknowledge the case for New Zealand to play its part in dealing with a possible global problem, it must be recognised that New Zealanders are being asked to incur costs and forgo the benefits of possible moderate warming by doing so, at least for some generations. This is not an easy political ‘sell’.
In reality, the Roundtable’s position is the hard sell because it’s nonsense. Benefits from warming for “some generations”? It would be nice to see a reference to the source of their information for making such a striking claim. But there is no reference. As far as I can determine the Business Roundtable has invented this evidence. Made it up, and pretended that it’s true. It amounts to lying to Parliament. Telling porkies to Parliamentarians is not a good look for a body that expects to have some influence on policy making.
In our view there is no point in turning a blind eye to the scientific debates: the public is aware that they exist. A recent poll in the United States found that 44 percent of US voters do not believe that global temperature trends are due to human activity. This illustrates the scale of the political problem. The proper case to be made is that a large number of scientists consider human-induced warming is occurring, and that it could be harmful for human welfare.
Allow me to correct that last sentence: “The science is clear: global warming is happening and humans have caused it. If it is allowed to continue unchecked, it will be very damaging to human welfare.”
It is reasonable for the international community to take out some ‘insurance’ to mitigate the risks of dangerous trends if paying the insurance ‘premium’ can reduce those risks (otherwise adaptation is the only effective response). Action could be ramped up over time if the evolving science confirms the likelihood of dangerous warming and lower-cost ways of reducing emissions emerge with advances in technology. Alternatively, it could be ramped down if neither occurs.
This amounts to asserting that we don’t know enough to act now: a plea for inaction, or as little action as possible. We have enough information to take meaningful action. More than enough. To imply otherwise is simply mendacious. Dangerous, reckless irresponsibility.
At the same time, it is important not to overstate the case for action. As Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, 95 percent of the emissions cuts envisaged by Kyoto have not happened, and even if it were fully implemented throughout this century it would on present evidence reduce temperatures by an insignificant 0.2ÂºC at great economic cost. It does not make sense to ask current generations to make large sacrifices in the interests of future, likely much richer, generations; nor is it in the interests of future generations for current generations to make material sacrifices of potential economic growth and bequeath them a lower capital stock for little or no discernible reduction in the global warming risk. Lomborg argues that Kyoto is a “bad deal” compared with many other economic and environmental priorities to which resources could be allocated.
Important not to overstate the case for action? No risk of that from Kerr and co. They are content with overstating (even inventing) the benefits of warming. If that weren’t risible enough, the Roundtable then move on to make a “future generations” argument that flies in the face of the facts. The issue is not whether we impoverish future generations by acting now, but that we act now in order that future generations inherit a working planet. Citing Lomborg as an authority, and his “Copenhagen Consensus” as a basis for determining climate policy is a bit like quoting Sweeney Todd as an authority on meat pies.
In summary, we think it would be counter-productive for the Committee to ignore the professional debate on the scientific issues. Legislatures around the world have held hearings on them.
Agreed. But “the professional debate” is not the bleating of cranks, it is — for instance — the excellent discussion of the uncertainties associated with limiting damaging climate change in the CCRI submission.
Voters will not be keen to pay higher energy prices and are likely to take a refusal by the Committee to hear open debate as a sign that politicians are not levelling with them. This would sell democracy in New Zealand short. For all the above reasons, we suggest that the Committee should acknowledge the existence of the significant scientific uncertainties surrounding this enormously complex issue. It would not be credible for it to assert that “the science is settled”.
What is not credible is that a business organisation should sit in judgement on the state of “the science”. In any case, uncertainty is not an argument for inaction, and as the Copenhagen climate conference concluded, inaction is now inexcusable.
I won’t bother with the rest of the Roundtable submission. The content of this short section reveals such a cavalier disregard for the facts that I am not inclined to take anything else they might have to say seriously. I trust and hope that the members of the ETS Review committee and the government will do the same.