No worries: Climate change debate goes nowhere fast

editor's insight

Nevil Gibson

Did you stop worrying about climate change when the credit crunch and global recession got serious? Then listen up, things have changed for the better.

In the past year or so since you last worried about it, the climate change debate has moved on. In fact, it is in danger of extinction as the scientific “consensus” disappears and international agencies and governments backpedal on draconian measures to stamp out use of carbon.

In New Zealand and Australia, the political climate has turned decidedly frosty against moves to impose heavy costs on business or consumers.

A carbon emissions trading system is stymied in the Australian Parliament and in New Zealand the government has announced it will embark on a programme of public consultation before going any further.

In the US, the House of Representatives has narrowly passed President Obama’s climate change bill, adopting a “cap and trade” system for carbon emissions. But it must still get through the Senate, an unlikely event without major changes, according to most observers.

The bill sets reductions in carbon emissions –17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050 – that have been described as inadequate by environmentalists.

The original target was 25% by 2020 and compares with demands by Greenpeace that a 40% reduction by 2020 is the minimum for a country such as New Zealand.

Strong opposition has been voiced outside the US about trade tariff provisions that have even disturbed President Obama. < < > These allow imposts on goods from countries that don't match US emission control standards.

Elsewhere, the climate change advocates are on the backfoot. In a roundup of the recent debate, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel says the number of scientific sceptics is swelling:

• Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the UN – 13 times the number who authored the UN's 2007 climate summary for policymakers.

• Joanne Simpson, the world's first woman to receive a PhD in meteorology, expressed relief on her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak "frankly" of her nonbelief.

• Dr Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a UN climate report, dubs man-made warming "the worst scientific scandal in history."

• Norway's Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the "new religion."

• A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton's Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled.

In Europe, the Polish Academy of Sciences has published a document challenging man-made global warming; in the Czech Republic, President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading sceptic; and in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre, a former believer in man-made climate change, to lead the country's new ministry of industry and innovation.

Ms Strassel adds,

Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.

Ms Strassel also describes why independent senator Steve Fielding will vote against the Australian bill:

[He] was so alarmed by the renewed science debate that he made a fact-finding trip to the US, attending the Heartland Institute's annual conference for climate skeptics. He also visited with Joseph Aldy, President Obama's special assistant on energy and the environment, where he challenged the Obama team to address his doubts. They apparently didn't.

Back home, economic consultancy Castalia has challenged an NZIER/Infometrics report on the impact of New Zealand emissions trading scheme.

The report urges an ETS should be introduced with free allocation to competitiveness at risk sectors. Agriculture should be excluded if measurement of its emissions is prohibitively expensive, but included once measurement becomes economic.

But in a damning conclusion, Castalia says,

,,,it appears that the recommendation bears no relationship to the analysis. Indeed, the recommendation seems to be derived from two observations made in passing on page 45, which are expressions of opinion, rather than results of the analysis:

While a “Government pays” model is the least cost in the short-run, there are benefits from giving firms clear and consistent signals around carbon pricing. New Zealand would lose credibility in international negotiations if it did not introduce carbon pricing.

The issue is not whether these observations are right or wrong, or whether we agree or disagree with them. The key point is that there is nothing in the report on which to base these observations. Hence, the conclusions do not flow from the results of the analysis.

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