"You've got this ridiculous situation where the Greens are advocating an 80 per cent cut by 2050, the Labor Party is only slightly less radical at 60 per cent by 2050," Mr Howard told ABC radio.The target is based on the scientific reality (or at least our best current understanding of it) that 60% is the absolute minimum emission reduction required by 2050 in order to stabilise the concentration of carbon dioxide at a level which minimises the risk of severe climate impacts:
"Neither the Greens or the Labor Party has any idea of what that will do to jobs. I think it is crazy and irresponsible of any political party in this country to commit to a target when you don't know the impact of the target."
Although the pursuit of emissions reductions of 60% or more cannot be translated directly into a specific stabilisation target, this emissions target does have its origins in the analysis of different stabilisation pathways, particularly the 550 ppmv stabilisation target which… is roughly the upper limit for atmospheric GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations that avoid DAI [dangerous adverse impacts]…(CSIRO, pdf here [see pages 17-18], my emphasis).
Despite the precedence for the use of 550 ppmv as benchmark for estimating GHG emission reductions necessary to avoid DAI, it is clear from the range of proposed thresholds… that even this threshold is considered too high by some experts. Carbon dioxide and CO2e concentration thresholds well below 550 ppmv frequently have been recommended…
…the goal of Annex I [developed country] emissions reductions of 60% by 2050 may be considered a minimum estimate of the effort needed to achieve stabilisation to avoid DAI.
And it’s not dissimilar to the target suggested by the federal government’s own Chief Scientist three years ago:
Fresh from defending himself against allegations of a conflict of interest [over his dual roles as Australia’s Chief Scientist and chief technologist for mining company Rio Tinto], the Chief Scientist, Robin Batterham, said Australia must halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.Of course, it's not true that we have no idea of the economic impact of these proposed targets (more on that tomorrow). But the more important point is this: any target has costs and benefits. The costs are obvious and are what the government has focussed on: higher energy prices and resulting lower profits and job losses in fossil fuel industries. The benefits are more dispersed: jobs and earnings in renewable energy, indirect benefits of policies to reduce energy waste (better energy efficiency, more economically efficient transport, and reduced air pollution), credibility in the global debate on climate change and, the biggie, reduced risk and severity of adverse climate change.
Talk of such a target by the Federal Government's most senior scientific authority is in stark contrast to the recently released white paper on energy policy which broadly supported Australia's continuing use of fossil fuels, a major source of man-made greenhouse gases.
Dr Batterham said he supported the Federal Government's decision not to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change because the reductions it set were not high enough.
"I'm talking about enormous reductions - 80 per cent by the end of the century," Dr Batterham said. "Fifty per cent by 2050, I think, is realistic."
If you don’t set a formal target, you’re simply setting a target by default: a target of emissions increases. This unstated target has costs as much as a stated target does. If setting a target based on an incomplete knowledge of all the costs and benefits – a ‘best guess’ target – is irresponsible, how much more irresponsible is not setting a target at all – just letting whatever may happen happen? Is that any way to decide policy?