David Karoly (left) and Clive Hamilton

Two Climate Change Authority members who publicly distanced themselves from a report into how Australia’s climate policies can meet the Paris Agreement have released their dissenting report, which includes a recommendation to raise National Construction Code standards to “world-best practice”.

Ethics professor Clive Hamilton and climate scientist David Karoly said the CCA Special Review report released last week did not respond adequately to the terms of reference and had not followed the principles set out in the Climate Change Authority Act, labelling the report a “recipe for further delay”.

“The basis of our disagreement with the majority report is its failure to recognise the importance of the constraint put on all future emission reduction targets and policies by Australia’s carbon budget,” the report says.

The report says committing to keeping global warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels” – agreed to in Paris – involved setting an upper limit to what can be emitted – a carbon budget.

The CCA report, however, fails to acknowledge that the current target of a 26-28 per cent reduction on 2005 emissions levels by 2030 is inadequate in meeting the Paris goals.

“Accepting the 26-28 per cent 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°C.”

If we stick to the current goal, staying within the suggested carbon budget of 10.1Gt CO2-e for the period 2013-2050 would be “impossible”.

“To meet the budget constraint, Australia’s emissions would have to decline precipitously and reach net zero by 2035. Such a dramatic reduction would be impossible to achieve. It is therefore apparent that the current government’s target of 26-28 per cent, one endorsed by the majority report, lacks credibility because it is wholly inconsistent with Australia’s international obligations.”

The consequences of further delay on serious emissions reduction would have “serious consequences” for the nation, including the necessity of severe and costly reductions down the track.

The majority report has been seen as influenced by a difficult political environment, with recommendations that would have the best chance of bipartisan agreement, however the minority report sees this pragmatic approach as “inappropriate” for an independent authority.

“In our view, the recommendations of the majority report are framed to suit a particular assessment of the political circumstances prevailing in the current parliament. We believe that it is inappropriate and often counter-productive to attempt to second-guess political negotiations, especially for a new and uncertain parliament.

“Doing so can unduly narrow the focus of an authority’s advice and risks miscalculation. In our view, attempts to craft ‘politically realistic’ policies risk being seen as partisan and damage the Authority’s reputation for independence.”

Some of the minority report suggestions include:

  • supporting regular updates to the National Construction Code, but strengthening to world-best practice
  • formally adopting a carbon budget, and having an emissions reduction target consistent with it
  • a cap-and-trade scheme for the electricity sector
  • increasing the Renewable Energy Target to 65 per cent by 2030 and possibly extending it to 2035
  • Closing down selected brown coal plants over the next few years through a bidding process for closure payment, funded by a mandatory charge on other generators
  • a cap-and-trade emissions trading system on emissions from the direct combustion, industrial processes and fugitive emissions sectors
  • Abolition of the Emissions Reduction Fund, while supporting the Carbon Farming Initiative

Minister Hunt questions author’s background

The minority report has not been taken to kindly by the government, with Professor Hamilton’s previous stint running as a federal candidate for the Greens jumped on by industry, innovation and science minister Greg Hunt, who told the ABC he’d be “very surprised” if a former Greens candidate were to agree with the government.

Mr Hunt also denied the CCA board had been stacked with Coalition members, saying it had “two of the most eminent environmental economists in Australia and perhaps in Australian history”.

Scientists come to dissenters’ defence

Scientists today came to the defence of the dissenting professors.

Monash Sustainability Institute senior research fellow Dr Paul Read said the dissenting view had been supported by the majority of scientists for years.

“By maintaining a soft rate now in favour of a steeper rate from 2030 onwards does one thing – it shunts the entire problem, with far greater pain, into the future.”

He also said the level of mass denial among some Australians had become “staggering”.

Associate professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics & Policy at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, said the dissenting report showed how wide the “informed views” on climate policy were.

“It also begs the question of what the role of independent statutory bodies should be in this debate. Should the CCA give advice that is calibrated to political circumstance, or advice that is predominantly guided by science and economic fundamentals?”

He noted that the report failed to have a vision for a longer-term policy framework and framed action as a cost rather than an economic opportunity.

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