Climate Change and The Sensible Centre

The science on climate change is clear – the planet is warming. The IPCC has forecast global temperatures to rise between 2.5 and 10 degrees (C) by the end of the 21st century from pre-industrial levels, with the World Bank’s projection of a 4 degree (C) rise by 2100 accepted widely as a plausible working scenario. [1] This 4 degree increase would likely lead to a global sea-level rise of 0.5 to 1 metre by 2100.

What isn’t clear is how best to respond to this warming. Most measures proposed by governments and climate change activists alike won’t reduce the warming significantly, nor will they deliver the innovation in energy, transport and agriculture that might limit emissions substantially.

It is true that China, India, Russia and the USA have a greater impact on warming than Australia has. But this doesn’t mean, as the deniers claim, that what we do in Australia doesn’t matter. We all have an obligation to contribute.

What is very clear to us in The Sensible Centre is that the civil war on climate change between deniers and alarmists doesn’t help anyone. The uncertainty isn’t good for investors, or for users of energy, but more importantly, it isn’t good for the community. Many young people are very anxious about the future – some would say this has become an exaggerated fear, but it is real nonetheless.

So what do we stand for in The Sensible Centre? Here are 10 starting points for discussion:

1. We accept the science on climate change. We are not interested in arguing about the science. The planet is warming, and our focus is on mitigating the warming process and enabling human communities and ecological systems to adapt with minimal adverse effects.

2. Climate change is real. But it need not be catastrophic. We can limit the adverse effects if we respond creatively.

3. Australia has a history of innovation with a CAN-DO mentality. We want to bring this mentality to the climate change challenge, so that fear and anxiety in the community, especially among young people, is displaced by creativity and collaboration. In the 19th century, Australians invented refrigeration and devised large-scale uses of wind energy. We can innovate again in the 21st century.

4. Technological innovation in energy, transport and agriculture to reduce use of fossil fuels and limit emissions is the most significant factor likely to limit rates of warming. Personal options available to individuals and households – such as non-use of air travel, non-use of petrol-fuelled cars, minimal use of electricity and gas in our homes and businesses, elimination of meat-eating – will make very little impact on the rate of warming over the next century.

5. Technological innovation, however, cannot be controlled by government. Mandating targets for substitution of fossil fuels with other energy sources or reductions in emissions is a futile exercise for governments, since they have no control over the forms and pace of innovation. Government subsidies for particular kinds of technology or energy that are unrelated to their cost or capacity is also unwise.

Though well-intentioned, subsidies for renewables before they are cost and capacity competitive has simply transferred public money into the pockets of corporates with little impact on warming.

6. For technological innovation in energy, transport and agriculture to succeed in reducing costs and limiting emissions, we must have a free and open market so that new technologies and new companies can move quickly into the market. All barriers to entry should be removed. Existing energy suppliers should not be permitted to annex or buy-up new players. The Big Three utilities in Australia (AGL, Origin and Energy Australia) should not be permitted to operate in both generation and retailing.

7. Households, farmers, community organisations and small businesses should be allowed to generate energy and sell it to the grid without restriction. These players are significant innovators and should not be impeded. Co-operatives of consumers can have a significant impact in reducing costs to consumers, and should not be impeded from operating in any part of the energy and transport markets.

8. The role of government in minimising rates of global warming is primarily to ensure that new technologies in energy and transport can reach consumers and businesses as quickly as possible, without distortions in price. It is not the role of government to build power plants, or to favour any one technology or energy source over another. It is the role of government to ensure that energy distribution grids and transport infrastructure remain open to new technologies, new businesses and consumer-driven innovations.

International attempts to introduce a carbon market have proven to be ineffective. No mechanism has yet been found to assign a price to carbon that allows genuine free market trading to take place, without political manipulation.

9. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal. Global emissions will not be reduced if we stop exporting coal to China and India; other suppliers of (often dirtier) coal will fill the gap in the market. This will continue until the cost and reliability of non-fossil fuel-derived energy makes coal uncompetitive.

10. Large-scale tree planting can be a signficant contributor to minimising rates of warming. In Australia, there are many ecological reasons why large-scale tree planting should be undertaken in addition to its impact on planetary warming (water retention and management, soil aridity prevention, native species protection). A scheme to plant one billion trees annually is not beyond the capacity of Australians and will contribute towards warming mitigation.

[1] The Turn Down the Heat reports, 2012 – 2014, prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, provide snapshots of the latest climate science and its implications.