Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The truth about Rudd's carbon pollution target

Below, Tim Colebatch in today's Age looks at the numbers more diligently than anyone else will own up to doing.

He opens with Rudd's key quote from Monday:

"AUSTRALIA'S medium-term targets for reducing carbon pollution compare favourably with those of … the European Union.

"The EU's 20 per cent target announced over the weekend is equal to a 24 per cent reduction in emissions for each European from 1990 to 2020. Our 5 per cent unconditional target is equal to a 27 per cent reduction in carbon pollution for each Australian from 2000 to 2020 — and a 34 per cent reduction for each Australian from 1990.

"This is because Europe's population is not projected to grow between 1990 and 2020. By contrast, Australia's population is projected to grow by 45 per cent. If the Europeans were to adopt the same per capita effort as Australia is proposing, their cuts would be around 30 per cent by 2020."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Monday

It's the Rudd Government's favourite line against critics of its 5 per cent target for emissions cuts: in per capita terms, we're doing more than Europe is. The PM, Penny Wong and Wayne Swan use it every time.

But there are two things wrong with it. The smaller error is that their numbers are wrong — all of them!

The larger error is that they tell only a small part of the story, and the part they don't tell matters more.

First, the numbers. On the Bureau of Statistics' median estimate, Australia's population is on track to grow by 48 per cent between 1990 and 2020, not 45 — from 17.1 million back then to 25.3 million.

But Europe's population growth has also accelerated as migrants flood in...

Last year it added almost as many people as Australia has in the past decade. Its population is already 6 per cent bigger than in 1990. Eurostat projects 9 per cent growth by 2020, but that now looks conservative.

Europe's target in fact implies a cut in per capita emissions of 27 per cent or more.

That's still less than Australia. But PM, you know something? Australians now emit 2½ times as much greenhouse gas per capita as Europeans. So it's much easier to cut some of our fat.

In 2006, United Nations figures show, Australians emitted 26.1 tonnes per head of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, etc. Europeans emitted 10.4 million tonnes each — two tonnes for every five we emit.

If both achieve their lower 2020 targets, we will still emit almost twice as much gas per head as Europeans: 16.1 tonnes compared with 8.8 tonnes.

And if we kept on at that rate, by 2050 our emissions per head would be 10.6 tonnes — back where Europe was in 2005.

Take off that halo, PM: it doesn't fit.


Anonymous said...

That's a good article. The slogan should be 'new lack of leadership'.


Stuart French said...

Thankyou. Thankyou for posting something with facts instead of emotional rhetoric. This I can get right behind. Brilliant.

Marek said...

I find all the numbers in the climate debate hard to believe. For example Mongolia's per capita emissions are higher than the UK's and Luxembergs has more than twice the average emissions than the rest of europe. There is such fuzzy statistics behind all of the numbers

IF said...

The Europeans are rather more enthusiastic about 'the peaceful use of the atom,' which does wonders for their emissions profile.

Darren Lewin-Hill said...

Tim Colebatch gives the lie to the climate snake-oil that prime minister Rudd would have us swallow. However, in Rudd's empty defence of Australia's inadequate 2020 emissions reduction target, fudging the projected population increases of Australia compared to Europe and ignoring our actual per capita emissions are not the only concerns. In an unsurprising alignment of spin, the tactic of using projections to place reductions targets in the most severe light is similar to that used by the Australian Industry Group back in September.

Rudd argues that a 2020 target will place a fixed limit on our emissions that will mean a smaller per capita share as our population rises, and therefore an increasingly bigger percentage drop to the adopted limit from our current obscenely high per capita levels. Likewise, the AIG presented a percentage drop from the total emissions projected for 2020 - based on continuing high-emitting behaviour - down to the levels recommended by Garnaut in his report. Rudd's 5% 2020 cut therefore comes out as a 27% per capita reduction; Garnaut's 5-10% 2020 cut became, through the AIG's spin filter, 'a reduction of between 20 and 25 per cent compared to current directions'.

In both cases, the percentage drop is better considered not on 2020 projections, which are hardly unchangeable prophecies, but on the cuts from current levels needed to achieve those science tells us are necessary to avert dangerous climate change - that is, 25-40% on a 1990 baseline. In other words, we should compare where are now to where we need to be. In that light, strong cuts appear much more achievable and the Government's position looks inconveniently pathetic. Rudd makes no apologies for his 2020 target, but our prime ministerial snake-oil salesman beware: the climate bites.

(Also posted at the Larvatus Prodeo discussion of the same article).

t_g_m_ebay said...

The real answer is do-it-yourself.

80% of Australia's electricity is generated from coal. Switch to green energy - many companies provide this as an option.

Drive a smaller car - and drive it less often. Switch to LPG.

Buy low km, organic, unprocessed food.

In general - just buy less stuff - EVERYTIME you go to buy something - ask yourself 'Do I really need this?'

Make it your own personal goal to cut emmissions - why wait for weak politicians with vested interests to do it for you

Marek said...

80% of Australia's electricity is generated from coal. Switch to green energy - many companies provide this as an option

While this seems like a great idea unfortunately we are for the foreseeable future going to require large scale electrical production and in Australia's case coal is far and away the cheapest.

However that shouldn't stop use from being more efficient in our electrical usage

Buy low km, organic, unprocessed food
I try and do this already but that food is more expensive and while i can afford to pay a premium what of the people who can't? Besides I'm not convinced about the environmental benefits, but it normally tastes better!

Anonymous said...

I whole-heartedly agree with Darren's comment. T_g_m_ebay makes some good points although it is not always as easy as it sounds. It would certainly help if the Rudd Government removed that prohibitive means-test on the solar panel rebate.


Stuart French said...

Yes, I was seriously considering the solar option until Mr Rudd decided our area is full of rich people and removed $500k of funding from our kids school. Now I'm busy juts preparing for next years school fee hike.

Oh, and tell me again why we are so against the "peaceful use of the atom" (great phrase!).

Anonymous said...

Hey – the green option for many electricity providers is usually only pocket change more a week than coal, if not for yours change companies (jackgreen are good). Heck I can afford it whilst studying, with 15 mo son and wife looking for full time work.

Stuart - do I detect a shift towards “emotional rhetoric” in your last post? +Rudd bad he steals money from children – hehehe+ No offence but you can’t make comments like your first post followed by an emotive excuse for not going solar.

Anywho, in response to peaceful use of atom thing, found this via google:

"The enrichment of uranium fuel for nuclear power uses 93 percent of the refrigerant chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gas made annually in the United States . The global production of CFC is banned under the Montreal Protocol because it is a potent destroyer of ozone in the stratosphere, which protects us from the carcinogenic effects of solar ultraviolet light. The ozone layer is now so thin that the population in Australia is currently experiencing one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world.

CFC compounds are also potent global warming agents 10,000 to 20,000 times more efficient heat trappers than carbon dioxide, which itself is responsible for 50 percent of the global warming phenomenon.

But nuclear power also contributes significantly to global carbon dioxide production. Huge quantities of fossil fuel are expended for the "front end" of the nuclear fuel cycle -- to mine, mill and enrich the uranium fuel and to construct the massive nuclear reactor buildings and their cooling towers." (

I had been made aware of the “CFC used a lot in nuclear and much worse than CO2” thing in a chemistry lecture a couple of years ago - though don’t remember the radiative effects being so high. Had also read about energy usage in making right isotopes for nuclear was huge as well as mining and transport costs. Not sure about the figures, but do know there is some validity to this side of the anti-nuclear power thing.

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