What should we do about emissions after 2020? The Government would like to know.

This essay rather follows on from my last one, about the bog we seem to be in politically and culturally, unable to fight our way out of what seems to me like a paper bag, and not an especially tough one. Our Government has asked us what we think we should be doing about greenhouse gas emissions after 2020, and says that it values our views. Having views and anxious to have them valued, I went off to the the website to read the Issues Paper.

Climate Change Prof Don AitkinIt is, I have to say, a complete disaster, both intellectually and practically. It starts like this: Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. In what sense is ‘climate change’ a global problem? There has been no significant global warming for much more than a decade, the global incidence of weather disasters is declining, and what warming has occurred seems to have assisted in greater food production and in the greening of arid areas. Yes, I know I’ve said all this before. But how can one respond to an issues paper that starts so baldly and so badly?

I press on. This review is in the context of negotiations for a new global climate agreement to be concluded at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties in Paris in late 2015 (30 November to 11 December). To be ‘concluded’? How do the authors of the paper know this, given that the event is still months away? Surely it would have been safer to have said, ‘to be proposed’ at the Conference. I am prepared to bet a small amount that there will be no agreement concluded in Paris that is not mealy-mouthed and evasive, like President Obama’s agreement about emissions concluded with the Chinese President last year.

We read on. A strong and effective global agreement, that addresses carbon leakage and delivers environmental benefit, is in Australia’s national interest. The common or garden reader will want to know just how such an agreement would be in Australia’s interest. And what, she will ask, is ‘carbon leakage’? It was a new term to me too, and I had to go and look it up, because the Issues Paper is silent here. Fortunately for seekers after truth, it is the European Union which coined this term, and it means this. Carbon leakage is the term often used to describe the situation that may occur if, for reasons of costs related to climate policies, businesses were to transfer production to other countries which have laxer constraints on greenhouse gas emissions. This could lead to an increase in their total emissions.

Got that? Letting China do things that would push up our emissions if we did them here is a form of ‘carbon leakage’, because it would lead to higher emissions in China. How the designers of the agreement are going to deal with this problem is likewise not adduced in the Issues Paper. Nor do the authors explain what ‘environmental benefit’ means. As I have explained before, even if every industry in the USA shut down tomorrow, there would be no appreciable reduction in global temperature even by 2050. What we do or don’t do in Australia is so minuscule that it is waste of energy even talking about it. It is characteristic of such a poor paper that it talks of ‘carbon leakage’ rather than of ‘carbon dioxide’ leakage.

But wait! The latest climate Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Bureau of Meteorology indicates that Australia has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910, with most of the warming since 1950. There has been a rise in sea levels of about 20 centimetres over the past century, increased ocean acidification and a shift in rainfall patterns.

As constant readers will know, there are doubts about the validity of the BoM’s claims about historical temperature trends in our country, and the Minister has set up an inquiry into it. Rise in sea-levels? Where? Fort Denison has shown the tiniest increase since 1880. Increased ocean acidification? Again minuscule, if true, and again the data are so spotty and so varied that it is doubtful that we know anything of importance about it. Yes, there seems to have been a reduction of rainfall in south west Western Australia, but again, the long-term data on the Murray-Darling system show dry periods and wet periods in cyclical patterns. Yes, I know this is old stuff, but you’d think that the authors of the Issues Paper would be able to deal with such ordinary objections to the assertions that they put forward.

I read on to be confronted with the news that we are actually doing well in reducing our emissions, and that Direct Action will solve it. I thought the second half of the paper tried to have its cake and eat it too, and was a muddle. Indeed, I felt that the Paper was  banal and useless, and wrote a short and, I am afraid, bad-tempered,  submission — but at least I know that my views will nonetheless be valued.

And at the same time the Climate Change Authority (yes, it is still there) has told the Government it has to lift its game on emissions reduction. Bernie Fraser, the Chairman of the CCA, uses headmaster phrases like ‘if that turns out to be the best Australia can do’, and ‘the adverse effects of which are becoming apparent’,  and ‘fall short of what is required’, and ‘makes it even less credible’. Plainly he thinks that the Government is a naughty boy. I don’t know whether or not the government appreciates this sort of lecturing; I would assume not. The Minister has said that the CCA ‘s suggestions would place an undue burden on Australia.

I said above that the Issues Paper was a practical disaster as well as an intellectual one. I can’t see how anyone could design a decent policy on the basis of such a muddle, unless clarity comes from views like mine, which as we know are to be valued. But perhaps that is the whole point of it. No Green adherent could complain about the general tenor of the opening paragraph, but he or she might cavil at references to Direct Action, or the claims that Australia is doing really well in emissions reduction. Bernie Fraser wouldn’t agree. But there you go: there’s something in the muddle for everyone.

In this domain the Government seems to be playing a game where you keep on saying the right things (or saying nothing) but don’t walk the talk. If that is the case, then the logic is that people want to be reassured that we are doing the right thing, whatever that is, whether or not we actually are. That seems an intellectually degenerate position for a country like ours to be in. And the reiteration of alarm and scary stuff, and the throbbing media importance of ‘success’ at Paris make me wonder whether or not the Government won’t just cave in, at the end.

After all, it decided that it would not give any money to the Green Climate Fund, and then decided after all that $200 million would be about right. That was a waste of money, and so is all this Issues Paper stuff. In my view, ‘climate change’ is a global non-problem that could only get a global non-solution.

[Update: time for submission seems to have been extended. A correspondent reports that ‘In response to requests by stakeholders, submissions on Australia’s post-2020 emissions reduction target *received before 3pm AEST Friday 1 May 2015* will be considered. *Any submissions received after 1 May will be included at the discretion of the UNFCCC Taskforce.’]

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Join the discussion 39 Comments

  • PeterE says:

    Oh dear! Sounds like the kind of bureaucrat-ese I’m all too familiar with. ‘What did we say last time? OK put that in.’ and so on. Greg Hunt appeared on Bolt and made some good points. Looks like his policies will do less harm than was the case previously but getting anywhere in this debate is like wading through treacle.

  • Dasher says:

    Its depressing, we seem to be captured by this, the quality of thinking and action is appalling, we are not prepared to say “hang on” what’s really happening here before we spend massive amounts on abatement initiatives that do nothing in practice…barking mad? The recent kerfuffle on Bjorn Lomborg in WA is a metaphor for the barren thinking…we can listen to any number of “acceptable” views …Flannery??…but when someone such as Lomborg who is hardly a nutter appears on the scene the usual suspects run around with their hands over their ears screaming na na na na na na in case they hear something that might challenge their rusted on views.

  • David says:


    I think I have asked you think before. I don’t really understand why you fret so much about the issue. If you are right, Australia will waste some money on carbon taxes and or Direct Action. Following of period of cooling people like me will be embarrassed and we will all go back to burning coal.

    Where is the down side for you?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      I have worked both within research and science and within government. I cannot think of another example of poor intellectual work that has cost such a lot of money, caused such unnecessary anxiety, and corrupted otherwise upright bodies — and it still goes on! I guess the whole thing offends me, as an academic, as a citizen and as a taxpayer. I would love to be able to let it slide, best of all, if the orthodox side stopped defending its central hypothesis and moved on to other work. But there is no sign of that happening.

      • David says:

        So how much do you feel this “poor intellectual work ” has cost the nation? The Abbott govt is spending $3 billion on Direct Action, and the ALP wants to reintroduce a carbon tax that raises $10 billion per year. We raise about $400 billion a year taxes. Its hardly catastrophic.

        And according to you a prolonged period of cooling is just around the corner. The whole event will be self limiting.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          David, I have only said that a cooling period is ‘possible’.

          How much has it cost? Heaven knows. You’d have to add in all the subsidies for renewable energy, the net cost of carbon tax to everyone, the additional workforce assembled to monitor all this, and what has been spent on Direct Action — for no return at all in terms of reducing temperature, which was the explicit reason for all this activity, We would not see any return almost indefinitely. Ergo, it has to be a waste of money, and one those responsible simply don’t want to understand.

          • David says:


            At the risk of coming across as a total pedant you actually wrote,

            “as seems entirely possible.”,

            which to me conveys a much stronger likelihood than “possible”.

            See, this is the problem you run into when you insist on constructing an entire scientific argument comprised of solely verbs and adverbs without a statistic insight 🙂

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Statistics won’t help, alas. The solar people who are predicting a cool period are doing so on the basis of extrapolation from data about the past. It seems sensible to me, but there’s nothing statistical about it. Nor does it mean that they are right. If you combine their projections with the clear failure of global temperature to rise in harmony with CO2 over the last decade or so, it is reasonable to posit a cooling period.

            ‘entirely possible’ means (to me, anyway), that ‘nothing stands in the way of its becoming so’. It doesn’t mean that it is probable. I don’t see any reason to say that.

    • Barry of Nambucca says:

      Every decade continues to be warmer than the previous decade. Thirteen of the fourteen warmest years on record have been this century.
      If you could publish the source for the supposed cooling.

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        Hi Barry

        Are you aware that should we restrict ourselves simply to the records post-1910, we had a significant warming until the early 1940s that was as steep a rise as between the early 1970s and around 2000, but that we had a cooling from the intervening 1940s to the 1970s? Each decade has in fact not been warmer than the previous decade over that short period “on record”.

        Are you also aware that despite claims that “thirteen of the fourteen warmest years on record have been this century”, the record concerned goes back only as far as 1910. It is not the only record we have. The Medieval, Roman and Minoan periods were warmer than now.

        In addition, while the rise of carbon dioxide has been rising at the same rate for decades now, we are now in a period of approximately level temperatures. That is one reason for the change of language about this inconvenient pause, to “13 of the 14 warmest . . . ”

        Concerning possible cooling, you may care to have a look at this site, one of a number I found using Google: http://www.cfact.org/2014/08/25/sunspot-trends-suggest-global-cooling-ahead/ . I suggest you browse more than I have, but I do attach significance to the solar cycles, of which there are several more than the 11 year one. (Sunspots emit greater amounts of ultra-violet light, which has about then times the heating effect of ordinary sunlight – that’s why ultra-violet has been used for sun-tanning under lights.)

        Should you have the patience and interest, you may care to have a look at this lecture by Murry Salby, which examines the role and behaviour of carbon dioxide rather carefully. I have received a different opinion from a notable scientist about the residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Salby suggests 20 years. The IPCC has said 200 years. My scientist correspondent has this to say:

        ” Some recent research estimates residence time is as little as 12 months. Graphs of the CO2 data cited and relied upon by the UN IPCC show that at some times of the year it’s less than 6 months. Christopher Monckton compiled a collection of papers showing/estimating residence time from 2 to 18 years with most estimating 5-7 years.”

        • Barry of Nambucca says:

          You almost had me. Why would anyone involved in a discussion on global warming/climate change, mention Christopher Monckton?
          Quoting from Skeptical Science, “Firstly, evidence suggests that the Medieval Warm Period may have been warmer than today in many parts of the globe such as in the North Atlantic. This warming thereby allowed Vikings to travel further north than had been previously possible because of reductions in sea ice and land ice in the Arctic. However, evidence also suggests that some places were very much cooler than today including the tropical pacific. All in all, when the warm places are averaged out with the cool places, it becomes clear that the overall warmth was likely similar to early to mid 20th century warming.”
          Globally temperatures are warmer than they have been during the last 2,000 years.
          The causes of Medieval warming are not the same as those causing warming in the late 20th and early 21st century.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            And why would anyone discussing global warming, mention skepticalscience?

            Barry, I set aside authorship in hte first instance, instead looking at the data and the argument. So what were the causes of the earlier warming, and the data to support that conclusion, please? And the claim that the temperatures are warmer now than over the last 2000 years, is wrong.

          • dlb says:

            Barry, I agree about treating Monckton with caution, same with Salby, some of his ideas are quite radical. As for SKS,Pfft! (spits out seeds), nothing but picked cherries there.

            I don’t know enough to say whether the Medieval warm period was global, will have to research that one further. But I do know the geological record shows sea levels were 1m higher along the east coast of Australia 6000 years ago and CO2 didn’t cause that.

          • David says:

            Don’t let them scare you off.

        • David says:

          So to summarize, we have had warming, slight cooling, fast warming and now slow warming. The net effect is warming.

          What cycle is going to explain that? You must have a pretty bent wheel.:)

          This expectation that the temperature increase will be uniform is silly. Anyone who has ever been on a diet will know that they do not loose the same amount of weight every day. But the science clear. Weight gain is a function of food intake and exercise.

          • David says:

            And I went and had a look at the Sun
            Spot link you provided. Why do I bother? According to Google Scholar Dr. Fritz Vahrenholt and Dr Sebastian Luning do not have a single cited article between
            them. Zero credibility I am afraid 🙂

          • Maureen Hanisch says:

            If credibility is the sole criterion used to judge an article, the path to ‘consensus science’ begins.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Slow down! Inasmuch as the data can be relied upon, they do show that rise and fall. And yes, the net effect is warming. But the rises started before CO2 is thought to have been important, so CO2 can’t explain all of the net warming. What does? We don’t know. I accept that CO2 increases will have an effect, but on the evidence so far, there are other forces having effects too, especially in the period since 1998.

            Analogies only go so far. I certainly know people who have exercised hard and controlled their diet over a period of years (and even had surgery) but the weight refuses to go away. Weight gain is therefore primarily, perhaps, a function of food intake and exercise. The science isn’t settled there, either.

          • David says:

            Even Judith Curry, who is your best credentials skeptic is reduced to summoning “possible unknown unknowns.” to explain the “slow down”.

            CO2 remains by far and away the best correlate. I’m a skeptic don’t you know. I am not going to dismiss 40 years of scientific evidence for some augment that asks me to consider the causal effect of “possible (or entirely possible 🙂 ) unknown unknown”


          • Don Aitkin says:

            It’s not me who has the problem, David. It is your job to explain how it is that there has been no appreciable warming for nearly twenty years, while CO2 has gone steadily upwards. Santer and others said that a 15 year pause would be hard to explain. The ‘pause’ is now 18 years on RSS. There is no scientific explanation for this, and the models (all but two of them) utterly failed to predict it. Something is wrong with the models, and the whole AGW edifice depends on them.

            If you don’t think so, please explain why. And what 40 years of scientific evidence are you pointing to? There is nothing that actually shows that humans have caused what warming has occurred. It is conjectural, and the evidence is inconclusive. If you don’t think so, what is the really powerful piece of evidence, in your view?

          • David says:

            We can continue to tyre kick AGW as we have both have for a good while now. But if JC or anyone else wants to attribute global warming to a possible unknown unknown, I am happy hear the argument. But there is a limit to these “the dog ate my funding” excuses.

            The responsibility to convince and explain cuts both ways. There has been a correlation between CO2 and temperature that has been pumping along now for over 100 years. There is a credible causal mechanism with strong statistical corroboration. The same fundamental climate science that predicts AGW, also got is right with CFC’s and the ozone layer. So the Science has runs on the board.

          • dlb says:

            There is also a limit to the dog ate my warming and other insipid theories like trade winds for the pause. What’s wrong with we just don’t know? Some people seem to need an explanation from authority, or is it they just accept theories that conform to their political or world view?
            Ozone hole? as far as I am aware its still there as big as it was when the Montreal protocol came in nearly 30 years ago.

          • David says:

            Models; Some have better results than others. But what we can say is that models, which include CO2 as an explanatory variable out perform those that don’t.

            Show me a model that does not have CO2 or a variable correlated with CO2 that outperforms models that do use CO2 to predict temperature.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            As far as I know, they all have CO2 as a control variable, at various levels of control. None of them perform well, in that they all predict much higher temperatures than have actually been observed.

          • David says:

            Exactly! They ALL use CO2!! 🙂 Not sunspots or volcano smoke or the orbits of the moons of Jupiter.

            Any model with CO2 out performs the comparable model without CO2.

            When you come up with a better one, publish it. 🙂

          • Don Aitkin says:

            But they all over-estimate the level of warming, David! CO2 isn’t as powerful as the orthodoxy says it is.

          • David says:

            This refutes your claim that “they all over-estimate the level of warming”


            …and ALL the CO2 models have all performed better than any model that has predicted “entirely possible cooling” for example.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            The Marotzke and Forster paper did cause a bit of a buzz when it came out earlier this year. The Carbon Brief account of it you cite actually points out that there has been a substantial pause and that the models didn’t forecast it. M&F argue that that the heat continued and is in the ocean. The trouble with that is that there is no evidence to support it, given that the Argo data don’t show warming in the top 2000- meters. Nic Lewis extensively criticised M&F at ClimateAudit and M&F wrote a response (http://www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/2015/marotzke-forster-response/). The response doesn’t really deal with the criticisms, in my opinion, especially those that deal with the poor quality of the paper’s statistics (mentioned by other critics as well). I am not competent to judge, but the disappearance of the M&F paper from contemporary discussions suggests to me that the criticisms are sound.

            I think there is a Russian model that does accurately track what has happened, and it has low climate sensitivity and a smaller role for CO2. If I can find a reference to it I’ll mention it here.

          • David says:

            Yes quite a good challenge. I will then take your model and data and add CO2 to it and re-estimate it. We can then run a test to determine if the R squared has increased. 🙂

          • dlb says:

            Wrong, weight gain is also a function of metabolism. Most people will level off at a certain weight regardless of how much they eat or their lack of exercise.
            I wouldn’t be surprised if the atmosphere behaves in a similar manner. In fact the temperature of the wet tropics never gets above the low 30s due to the influence of the oceans and water vapour.

          • David says:

            For a healthy individual their “metabolism” over the course of a diet can be assumed to be is a constant over time. So the variables which will determine weight loss are calories and exercise.

            And it is obviously incorrect to argue

            “Most people will level off at a certain weight regardless of how much they eat or their lack of exercise.”

            If someone stopped eating completely they would loose weight. Or if they started eating a lot they would gain weight.

            I would have thought a fairly uncontroversial statement

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Hi David
            Sorry for the slow reply – have been busy on other things. You might find it interesting to read Varenholt and Luning’s “The Neglected Sun”. I had learned only last year that we have as well as the approx 11 year cycle, one of 22, another of 60+ (my recollection may be faulty- may be 80+), another around 225 years, the Eddy cycle of 1000 years and then one of 2300 years. Yes, it is a bent wheel – a great analogy, thanks!

            Yes, the net effect during the last century appears to be one of warming, depending on the reliabilty of our records. But we should also take note of what people wrote about the climate in earlier years, as well as note the temperatures they recorded. I understand the issues concerning the weight we attach to those – not so much the accuracy of record-keeping, but of thermometer placement and accuracy.

            And as I’ve said in previous comment, we need to look at the much longer historical record, as well as the proxy measures we have made of climate over the ages. I think to develop a position based largely on a rising temperature from 1970s to 2000, apparently correlated with rising carbon dioxide levels, is really untenable. The rate of rise in temperatures over that period, matches the rate of rise from 1910s to 1940s, when carbon dioxide levels were not increasing at anywhere near the same rate as later.

        • David says:

          “Sunspots emit greater amounts of ultra-violet light, which has about then times the heating effect of ordinary sunlight – that’s why ultra-violet has been used for sun-tanning under lights.”


          A. UV light, is high frequency radiation which can induce skin cancers because of the damage it does to the electrons in DNA, but it is not particularly good producer of heat. It is the lower frequency electromagnetic radiation,
          infrared and micro waves, which produce heat. Natural light has a frequency, which is just above infrared Most UV light is blocked by Ozone

          B. And most UV light is blocked by ozone, anyway.

          The reason why people tan with fluorescent lights is that they can get the UV light they want, WITHOUT the heat.

          • dlb says:

            Not all UV is blocked by ozone, as any fair skinned person in Australia can attest to. Professor Google says 3 to 5 precent of solar energy reaching the earth’s surface is UV from the sun. This energy once absorbed by the surface will ultimately end up as heat, unless there is some sort of chemical reaction.
            In the ocean the UV penetrates below 10m, unlike IR radiation (heat) which barely penetrates the ocean surface. I will need to do the maths but it wouldn’t surprise me if small changes in UV could influence oceanic temperatures. Then of course there is the influence of UV heating the upper atmosphere, this may have impacts on the overall climate.

          • David says:

            Agree, this may be true.

      • David says:

        I don’t think there will be cooling. 🙂 I am just making the point that cooling suits Don’s argument yesterday, but not today.

        If you browse my previous posts on this site you will get a “sense” of my views on AGW 🙂

    • Peter Kemmis says:

      Huge amounts of money have been spent on the AGW scare. Worldwide, billions of dollars in research and data gathering, in promotion of the need to act, in mitigation strategies. Some of the research and all of the data gathering has been valuable, but there is a very long gravy train, from Rio to Paris. Some of your tax dollars have gone to this enterprise, when they could have been put to far better use in developing adaptation strategies, detailed plans, and implementation.

      That’s one downside. The other is the suborning of science, good policy, and intellectual discourse in society.

    • dlb says:

      Very realistic models, unlike the computer ones.

      Could we also have one of men and women wearing green tee-shirts and sipping lattes by candle light during earth hour as Mother Gaia wreaks havoc in Nepal. Sorry Alan G. for typing some stereotyping 🙂

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