Garnaut Climate Change Review Final Report – open thread

The long-awaited, much-anticipated Final Report of the Garnaut Climate Change Review has now been released. As per its website, the review was set up to: “…examine the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy, and recommend medium to long-term policies and policy frameworks to improve the prospects for sustainable prosperity.” It is an independent study by Professor Ross Garnaut, which was commissioned by Australia’s Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments.

A draft report was released in June, and engendered much discussion in the media, as well as a vocal response from scientists. Here is what I had to say on it at the time:

The Garnaut Draft Review is an extensive document and very much a work in progress. But the key fundamentals are already there. It rightly points out that the scientific evidence for climate change, on which hard economic decisions must ultimately hinge, is already flashing some extremely worrying warning signals: carbon emissions and the impacts of climate change are tracking at or above the top end of predictions made a decade ago, tipping elements such as the Arctic sea ice and polewards expansion of the tropical weather systems are being crossed decades ahead of schedule, and because of amplifying carbon-cycle feedbacks, were are now close to the time at which this ‘diabolical problem’ runs away from us, and which point neither mitigation nor adaptation will be sufficient for us to cope.

Our great natural assets – the Great Barrier Reef, the wetlands of Kakadu, the enormously productive agricultural basin of the Murray-Darling system – will be severely degraded or all but eliminated within the lifetimes of current generations. As Garnaut said, we should have moved on this issue years or decades earlier, when potential impacts were already reasonable well understood and yet greater uncertainty about the extent of the problem existed, compared to today.

By explicitly recognising these harsh realities, the Garnaut Report positions the economic and social arguments within the right frame of reference – one in which urgent action is required, and where forward-looking domestic action from the developed world, especially nations that are exquisitely sensitive to climate change impacts, must be the trigger for international multilateral agreements – which are ultimately the only way to solve the problem, and at the same time spawn the energy revolution of the new century – renewables, not fossil carbon.

Unlike the most up-to-date climate modelling, which has recently been detailed by the IPCC, the full economic modelling of impacts will await a supplementary draft report in August. However, some clear points have already been made in this report:

  • Scenarios that project a business-as-usual pathway towards a 700% increase in the size of the Australian economy, and a greater per capita wealth of the average Indian compared to Australians by 2100, are pure fantasy – there are not only insufficient fossil fuels available to meet the needs of this model scenario, but the multitude of damaging impacts that would be caused by the resulting catastrophic climate changes mean that societal collapse, rather than unconstrained growth, would be the order of the century, for the world economy in general and for Australia specifically.
  • Scenarios which explicitly attempt to build in the costs of climate change impacts show major disruptions to our economic, environmental and social well being, amounting to, conservatively, hundreds of billions of dollars of additional economic burden each and every year. And these stated costs are an absolute minimum: rather than try to put a dollar value on the lives of future generations, or the irreplaceable loss of millions of species and natural treasures, or on the staggering potential costs of crossing run-away tipping points such as the collapse of the polar ice sheets, these are quite deliberately left out the Garnaut Report economic modelling. After all there is a price that goes well beyond what humanity is willing to pay, or indeed able to pay, to impacts that are impossible to pay for, or to build into economically rationalist thinking.

The Garnaut Review team has also released a variety of working papers on targets and trajectories, low emissions energy technologies, emissions trading schemes, land use and forestry, managing financial risks, and the need to develop new emissions scenarios to better reflect development in the so-called ‘Platinum Age’. They are definitely worth reading.

The Final Report is a huge document – both in coverage and implications – and it will obviously take time to digest the details. I’d be very interested in considered feedback on it from Brave New Climate readers – from all perspectives. This is clearly a critically important thing to get right, because the government is yet to write its policy white paper, which will give final form to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Now has never been a better time to make your voice heard! This Open Thread is one place where you can have a chance to debate these matters.

Update: My reaction to the Final Report (for other scientist’s views, read here).

The Garnaut Climate Change Review is a landmark achievement. The depth of thought and research that Garnaut and his team have given to the impacts and implications of climate change is profound, and there are many powerful insights given into how a cooperative global agreement might be reached – and what it could look like. Those convening the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 should be grateful – much of the necessary intellectual groundwork for this key meeting has been laid out in the Final Report.

The impacts of unmitigated climate change, as modelled in the review’s ‘Platinum Age’ scenarios, are certainly frightening, both in terms of the staggering economic and environmental damage that will result. And that’s without ‘non-market costs’ being factored in. The abiding message from the review is clear – we cannot afford to go to the dark and unpleasant future that business-as-usual threatens to take us – so let’s instead work out how we best manage an alternative, low-carbon future, as soon as is physically and socially possible.

The recommendation that Australia should reduce its per capita emissions by 95% by 2050 is certainly one the government ought to openly address – do they agree with this assessment (and if not, why not?), and how are they going to meet such a target? This brings the issue back to the absolutely key question of how we achieve transformative change. That is, we could reach such ‘ambitious’ emissions reductions targets easily, because we’ve developed an entirely new and renewable energy infrastructure which delivers huge benefits to Australia and allows us to export this knowledge and huge amounts of clean energy to a worldwide market. Or we could continue to look backwards, to a Victorian Era style of coal-based energy investment, which leaves us far behind these lofty ambitions, and takes the planet to climate purgatory for bad measure.

Seems a clear enough choice to me.

Footnote: Garnaut on ‘Dissenters’… (Final Report, Introduction, pg xvii):

Scientific opinion and dissent
There is no doubt about the position of most reputed specialists in climate science, in Australia and abroad, on the risks of climate change (Chapter 2). There is no doubt about the position of the leaders of the relevant science academies in all of the major countries. The outsider to climate science has no rational choice but to accept that, on a balance of probabilities, the mainstream science is right in pointing to high risks from unmitigated climate change.

There are nevertheless large uncertainties in the science. There is debate and recognition of limits to knowledge about the times and ways in which the risk will manifest itself. Every climate scientist has views on some issues that differ from the mainstream in detail.

There are prominent dissenters on this matter, gathered under the rubric of ‘sceptic’. For the most part ‘sceptic’ is a misnomer for their position, because these dissenters hold strongly to the belief that the mainstream science is wrong. In a different category are a small number of climate scientists of professional repute who maintain that the mainstream science embodies misjudgments about quantities. These scientists, who accept the theory of the warming effects of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases, hold the view that these warming effects are relatively or even trivially small in comparison with many other causes of climate variations that are beyond the control of humans.

The dissent took a curious turn in Australia in 2008, with much prominence being given to assertions that the warming trend had ended over the last decade. This is a question that is amenable to statistical analysis, and we asked econometricians with expertise in analysis of time series to examine it. Their response—that the temperatures recorded in most of the last decade lie above the confidence level produced by any model that does not allow for a warming trend—is reported in Chapter 4 (Box 4.1).

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29 Comments

  1. Overall the final report strikes me as a thorough and honest attempt to understand the science and weigh up the expected impacts and the technical and economic challenge of responding effectively. I am still disappointed that Garnaut recommends 550ppm CO2-e as an initial target but his report certainly advances the public debate on the issues involved immensely. He has drawn out a lot of issues and policy implications of decisions that were previously silently ignored or glossed over. At least he recognises that the targets he is recommending will cause severe impacts to ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef. This was a point that has been silently ignored by the federal and State governments.

    My principal criticism of the report is that the recommended stabilisation targets produce unacceptable results. My view is that we should set policy targets that will protect our most important ecosystems, particularly the Great Barrier Reef, by aiming to stabilise greenhouse gases and aerosols at 350 ppm CO2-e. I have explained the basis for this recommendation further at http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/cel_op_mcgrath.pdf

    At a political level, Garnaut’s report gives the federal government plenty of escape hatches for its climate change policies leading up to Copenhagen next year and the next federal election.

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  2. Spot on, Chris. Clive Hamilton’s piece in Crikey (link courtesy of Larvatus Prodeo) also notes the discord between the attempt to come to grips with the science and the ultimate recommendation – that is, the inadequate target noted in your comment.

    I also agree with you regarding the escape hatches offered by the report. I think the Government may have outsourced its defeatism to Garnaut, who will be the scapegoat for a soft Australian position leading into the climate negotiations in Poland in December, and in Copenhagen in December 2009. Their defence might be ‘these were the recommendations before us’, but that just doesn’t cut it, if, as you point out, the target is manifestly inadequate to meet climate challenges we know will arise.

    The political possibility of outsourcing defeatism, and Garnaut’s effective pre-emption of Australia’s position ahead of international talks remain key objections to his inclusion of a political analysis in his review. Give us the economics, cite the science, but let the Government be accountable for its role in securing an international agreement.

    Now Penny Wong says we have to wait until the end of the year until an interim target is set. Now Garnaut’s report is in, let’s hope there is an open and robust debate leading through the White Paper process to the final outcome.

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  3. Oh, I forgot to add that I wasn’t very impressed by the excerpt from the report about scientific opinion and dissent. Sure, he acknowledges that there is consensus that global warming is real, but in my view the passage quoted gives too much scope for scientific wriggle-room that could be leveraged to argue against strong targets. What are your views on that, Barry?

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  4. Media reporting (e.g. http://www.crikey.com.au) is still confusing ppm and ppm-e. Even Garnaut himself seems to conflate the two (e.g. compare the chapters 9 and 22 sections of the synopsis). The difference is pretty important – 550 ppm CO2 does seem like a pretty soft target option, whereas a 550 ppm CO2-e target is rather more challenging. That tutorial on this subject is badly needed.

    I’m also concerned that Garnaut has completely missed the albedo issue in his canvassing of biosequestration options (chapter 22).

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  5. I have just read Chapter 22 (Transforming rural land use). It is definitely worth reading and makes a very important contribution to the biosequestration debate. Table 22.2 suggests that the potential for biologically sequestering carbon in Australia is huge. This includes 143 Mt CO2/yr from “environmental carbon plantings” and 136 Mt CO2/yr from avoiding native forest logging (based on the Green Carbon report).

    Garnaut notes that there are serious problems with Kyoto protocol accounting related to land use:

    To date, the focus of Australia’s biosequestration efforts has been on plantation forests, encouraged, and distorted, by transportation of the limited Kyoto rules into various Australian arrangements. However, Australia enjoys a potential international comparative advantage in carbon trading through its large areas of
    marginal pastoral country. (p. 557)

    and

    The accounting framework for Australia’s emissions under the Kyoto Protocol is not comprehensive. The dampening effect this has on the take-up of biosequestration was evident in the Review’s modelling results, which assumed continuation of existing emissions accounting rules. (p. 558)

    It is good that Prof Garnaut recognises the limits of Kyoto accounting — at the moment logging of native forests is not accounted for under the Kyoto protocol, because provided some sort of forest starts growing back, it does not count as “land use change”.

    It is very good that Garnaut recognises the importance of other externalities, such as biodiversity.

    I do have a criticism of this chapter, it does not recognise that there are alternative ways to apply a carbon price apart from inclusion in an ETS. This is important because difficulties in measurement lead to some significant barriers to inclusion in an ETS. Garnaut notes this:

    More reliable and cost-effective ways to measure or estimate net emissions are needed in the land use sector. Without reliable estimation, it is difficult to include the sector in an emissions trading scheme (p. 558).

    and also notes

    Accounting should be as broad as possible in the land use sector, particularly if it is included in an emissions trading scheme. This would minimise the likelihood of perverse incentives (p. 558).

    It seems obvious to me that this implies we should consider other forms of carbon price apart from inclusion in an ETS. We do not have to have trading between the biological sector and the main ETS. A carbon tax (which can be negative) in biological sectors would be a much better option. It may also be worth thinking of ways to “pay rents for carbon stores”.

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  6. Darren @3: regarding Garnaut on dissenters, it is a fairly honest assessment of how one should view uncertainty. There is potential for greater, or lesser impacts, than the mainstream view would predict, but a precautionary approach to risk management we need to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Especially as things are tracking in the upper end of predictions at present. He makes this point later in the report, and breaks costs into 4 types (which includes low probability high impact events) so the statement reprinted in the blog post was just a lead in.

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  7. Thanks, Barry. I suppose these things must be read in their full context, though I can imagine the denialists playing up the uncertainties in the excerpt. PM Rudd recently made a comment to the effect that his experience was that scientists differ on their positions regarding global warming, and such a generic response needs always to be held to account in case it comes to be broadly interpreted as ‘maybe global warming is happening, maybe it isn’t’.

    News Radio had an interesting interview with Garnaut this morning, when the Government response was framed as whether it would be brave enough to follow Garnaut’s advice, when I think the question is whether the Government will be brave enough to go harder, with a commitment leading into negotiations that might stand some sort of chance against dangerous climate change.

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  8. Wrong, David Benson @ 7, it is far from certain that planting millions of trees everywhere will help. In some cases quite the opposite, in fact. This is what I was getting at with my allusion to albedo @ 4.

    The mooted conversion of marginal pastoral country to mulga could prove to be a colossal waste of resources unless biochar proves capable of sustained net CO2 sequestration on a massive scale, and said mulga (and any other afforestation in southern Australia) becomes an input to that process.

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  9. Millions of trees everywhere… Hm. Several issues come to mind, but the first is, which trees?

    Even were we to make a conscious decision to stop everything this minute and convert all land use back to original ecosystems, based on the delayed impact of emissions we are already committed to a minimum 2-degree increase. With this in mind, the question becomes, can – indeed should – prior ecosystems be reinstated?

    I refer here to Hughes, Cawsey, and Westoby’s research paper: ‘Climatic Range Sizes of Eucalyptus Species in Relation to Future Climate Change’ Global Ecology and Biogeography Letters, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan., 1996), pp. 23-29

    In this, they report that of the 819 species of Eucalyptus, 41% have a temperature tolerance range of less than 2 degrees C, 25% less than 1 degree C, and 23% can tolerate less than a 20% variation in rainfall.

    I have not followed up on this to research the tolerance levels of other natives but a back-of-the-envelope extrapolation would indicate that restoration may be utterly wasted. This is an ugly negative-feedback problem and one that needs full-bodied debate. I suspect there will be no time for flora to naturally migrate to more amenable latitudes and altitudes and mature into CO2 sinks.

    So, do we reinstate ecosystems (plant more trees) and create CO2 sinks destined to fail and become CO2 sources, or do we replace ‘dead ecosystems walking’ with those likely to function in warmer, dryer regimes?

    Of course the problem diverges into, which replacement ecosystems should be used when their tolerance levels may be equally narrow?

    I’m not suggesting we landscape Australia based on what regimes we think may be coming. I’m merely stating the problem while offering no solution, and hoping someone has one.

    Sonny

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  10. There is an interesting discussion of Peak Oil’s interaction with the Garnaut Report over at The Oil Drum – ANZ

    Phil Hart’s nice writeup is a much more detailed and Oz-specific discussion of issues I’ve been raising for a while, as in this guest post at John Quiggin.

    The basic problem is that economic models of climate change *must* include reasonable models of Peak Oil to make much sense. Having just gotten back from an ASPO Peak Oil conference last week, I’m as concerned as ever that people aren’t moving *fast enough* to rework infrastructure and transport for sustainability, i.e., even the most aggressive measures for dealing with AGW may not be fast enough to deal with the economic issues.

    For anyone interested, there were many good talks:

    Conference: http://www.aspo-usa.org/aspousa4/
    Most of the presentations have been posted under Proceedings.

    Note that California uses almost no coal, and is trying very hard to expand its solar+wind+geothermal supplies, raise gas mileage, and get to PHEV and BEV cars as fast as we can, and get charging stations around to enable BEVs. We know oil will be running out [recall that CA is an oil state.]

    Some of this is for air-pollution reasons, and some for climate, but some of it is to be try to enter the 22nd century with a 22nd-century infrastructure & economy [~zero fossil fuels], not a broken-1900s one littered with useless stranded assets that consumed much resource to build.

    Like CA, OZ at least has the solar and wind resources to do this…

    The real scare is if people get hit by Peak Oil and then Peak Gas, without having prepared the infrastructure and vehicle fleets, the pressure to burn more coal and expand CTL will be enormous…

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  11. Just a minor correction to John’s comment above – the TOD ANZ article is by Stuart McCarthy, not Phil Hart (who was the editor).

    But I couldn’t agree more about the risk of people turning to CTL to replace oil for liquid fuels if we don’t make the switch to an electric transport infrastructure powered by solar / wind / geothermal / wave / tidal / biogas power (its already happening in fact – http://peakenergy.blogspot.com/2008/04/coal-to-liquids-in-australia.html).

    Unfortunately countries like Australia are mostly waiting for other places to lead the way, so we all seem to be relying on California (along with Germany and Japan) to create the technologies needed to solve the problem.

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  12. A target of 450 ppm is dangerous, being the atmospheric greenhouse gas level at which the ice sheets began to form in the late Eocene some 34 million years ago. A target of 550 ppm CO2 is a recipe for disaster.

    There is little evidence in the Final Report as to what a world of 550 ppm CO2 with temperatures of 2 to 3 degrees C higher than pre-industrial levels would be like to live in.

    The Report appears to assume as if, once 550 ppm CO2 concentration is reached, manipulating some magic levers global temperature dials can be reversed down to 450 ppm or any other level. This is not the case. Unless CO2 draw-down technology is developed, as required by Hansen et al.(2008), It would take time scales in the order of centuries to millennia for natural CO2 sequestration to reduce the greenhouse effect to acceptable levels.

    Garnaut’s Final Report states, among other: “Achievement of a comprehensive agreement around a 550 ppm objective would be a step forward of historic dimension.” and “It would bring the next step to 450 closer to reach.” However, the Report also states “The difference in environmental outcome between successful achievement of a 550 ppm objective and of a 450 ppm objective is substantial for Australia, as demonstrated in chapters 6 and 11 in particular. But it is small compared with the difference between 550 ppm and the complete failure of mitigation” (p. 595-6).

    But the Garnaut Report acknowledges: “Large positive climate–carbon feedbacks could result from the release of carbon from long-term sinks such as methane stored deep in ocean sediments and in frozen soils as temperatures increase (IPCC 2007a: 642). There is a high level of uncertainty about how the carbon cycle will respond to climate change”.(Section 2 page 37)

    The report admits feedbacks are difficult to quantify, stating: “This causal chain does not explicitly include the feedbacks and non-linearities in the climate system that are important in its response to human forcings.” (page 30). However, a major conclusion arising from the study of the recent history of the atmosphere is that carbon cycle feedbacks coupled with ice melt/water feedbacks constitute major amplifying mechanisms of initial relatively minor solar and greenhouse triggers (forcings). This observation is central to the view of the acceptability, or otherwise, of a 550 ppm CO2 atmosphere, for the following reasons:

    (1) Based on a climate sensitivity of 3 degrees for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels, at 550 ppm CO2 which is twice the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm CO2, mean global temperatures will rise to about 3 degrees Celsius. (2) A rise of global temperature of 3 degrees Celsius implies sea level rise of about 25 metres +/- 12 metres, as recorded from the mid-Pliocene (3 million years ago) and consistent with sea level rise/temperature relations during glacial terminations. (3) Temperature rises to 3 degrees Celsius imply widespread desertification of mid-latitudes – the agricultural centres of the world. (4) Natural sequestration of greenhouse gases occurs over time frames of centuries to millennia and no atmospheric mechanism is known which will “stabilize” CO2 levels over shorter periods. (5) In terms of the longevity of civilization, allowing CO2 levels to rise further than they already are (387 ppm) would prove to be a unidirectional process.

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  13. Andrew – I think surely the outcome would be that if we can agree to go to 550, then in 5-10 years as progress is made there can be another attempt to negotiate the kind of cuts required to get to 450ppm, since everyone heading to 550ppm has seen that the wheels have not fallen off just yet, and the science will have stood up to all the criticism unjustly thrown its way.

    My personal hope is that the changes required to get to 550pm will be enough to make 450ppm seem like common sense, and in fact tthe economy of the world will change to such an extent that we will get to lower without even trying.

    You guys talk about tipping points all the time… surely there has to be an economic “tipping point” past which economics will actually dictate CO2 reduction, rather than feel constrained because of it…

    Possibly too naive of me.

    They key to me is that Australia fight tooth and nail for 450ppm targets, and only accept 550 as a compromise we totally oppose and lobby continually to change.

    One does wonder why it is that the possible targets are 100 apart and located in between 0 and 100.

    If we can;t get 450 how about we go for 490??

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  14. Mark Duffett & Sonny Whitelaw — Yes, perhaps high latitudes is not a good place to palnt trees. However, the idea is to grow trees to turn in biochar (charcoal); better coal than fossil coal. Then bury the biochar deep underground, sorta like a coal seam. Will last for millions of years there, just like fossil coal.

    So grow whatever grows best in each region; the trees will soon be cut under this plan.

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  15. Regarding the viability (or lack thereof) of CCS:

    http://www.energybulletin.net/node/46737

    Published Sep 30 2008 by Post Carbon Institute

    Delay and Fail
    by Richard Heinberg

    Last week, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, Al Gore suggested that young people should engage in civil disobedience to stop the building of new coal power plants “that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.”

    I sympathize with Gore’s intent. Coal is the most polluting of the fossil fuels, and if we burn more of it there is little hope of averting catastrophic climate change.

    But is carbon capture and storage (CCS) a solution? The technology exists only in the sense that its components have been demonstrated on a small scale. Deploying it broadly would require the development of an infrastructure that would require trillions of dollars of investment and decades of work. According to Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, in a recent letter to Nature, we would need to handle a volume of CO2 twice as large as the world’s crude oil flows just to sequester one quarter of carbon dioxide emitted in 2005 by large stationary sources.

    CCS is essentially a “delay and fail” strategy by the coal industry. By selling the idea of “clean coal,” the industry delays an energy transition away from fossil fuels, while setting itself up for an eventual failure of the entire CCS project. By the time that the failure is clear and obvious, there will be no alternative: the coal plants will have been built, the money invested. We’ll burn more coal, and to hell with the climate.

    Mr. Gore would do well not to play along with this industry ploy by touting CCS as a solution.

    The aspect of Mr. Gore’s statement that generated more public controversy was of course his advocacy of civil disobedience in shutting down new coal plant construction. Presumably he envisions young people sitting in front of bulldozers and other construction equipment, thus paralyzing the coal plant builders.

    Unfortunately, with regard to direct action we are moving into a new era:
    high-tech surveillance technologies, anti-activist police tactics, and “sub-lethal” crowd control weapons ensure that the kinds of efforts that worked in the 1950s, ’60, and ’70s against segregation and the Vietnam War will be far more difficult to mount in the future, and far more costly to the lives and health of protesters. If Mr. Gore is going to encourage young people in this direction, I would expect to see him at the front of the barricades.

    Realistically, solving the climate crisis will require international cooperation to phase out all fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Protests might speed the process somewhat in some countries, but until world leaders really understand the dead end that fossil fuels represent from both an environmental AND AN ECONOMIC perspective, little headway is likely to be made.

    The economic argument for leaving fossil fuels behind is of course tied to the phenomena of depletion, dependency, and supply vulnerability. Once these are understood, alternatives to fossil fuels begin to appear far more attractive and practical even to policy makers who have no care whatever for the fate of future generations.

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  16. Deploying it broadly would require the development of an infrastructure that would require trillions of dollars of investment and decades of work.

    And rolling out any of the CCS alternatives (hundreds of thousands of wind turbines, thousands of hectares of solar arrays, re-engineered national transmission grids, energy storage technology, hundreds of 4km-deep drillholes, etc., etc.) won’t?

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  17. No, they will cost plenty. Building energy infrastructure costs big $$ whether it is for fossil fuels or renewables.

    But renewables, unlike CCS, are not dependent on a finite feedstock (coal) that is rising steeply in price as demand increases and is prone to supply bottlenecks (as well as causing climate change). i.e. spending the equivalent trillions on renewables = building an energy infrastructure to last, not one to suit a fuel that will peak in supply around the time all the necessary infrastructure is in place.

    The point Heinberg is making is that nobody should kid themselves that pursuing CCS will be cheaper than pursuing large-scale renewables. Yet one is limited by finite resources (coal) whereas the other is not (solar).

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  18. David,

    Agrichar/biochar does not need to be buried deeply – that would be a waste of an excellent fertiliser. A good explanation of its use can be seen here
    http://www.abc.net.au/science/broadband/catalyst/asx/Agrichar_hi.asx

    See also: A handful of carbon by Johannes Lehmann1can Nature 447, 143-144, 10 May 2007, doi:10.1038/447143a)

    Biochar/agrichar could easily be viewed as the ‘magic bullet, however, I have deep concerns of a knee jerk reaction similar to the use of food crops and deforestation that has and continues to occur as a direct consequence of ethanol. Slow growing forests will not produce biochar at the same rate as fast-growing crops.

    If biochar starts making a bucket of money then it would be naive to believe that forests (particularly in 3rd world countries) which are slow growing, are safe from being bulldozed and planted with fast growing crops destined to be burned into the new ‘black gold’.

    Aside from the loss of forests, as with above posts, it does not force us to confront the inevitability of peak oil.

    This is certainly something that needs further discussion as I admit, agrichar/biochar appears to be such an elegant solution to a multitude of problems.

    Sonny

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  19. re: #21

    Barry notes that fuel will peak in supply, but it’s worse than that, because not only do individual coal mines get used up, so do sequestration sinks:

    To do coal with CCS, one has:
    M = mine
    P = power plant, with power line to grid.
    S = sequestration sink, location chosen carefully
    === rail/shipping
    — pipelines

    and M and S are fairly constrained in their locations.

    One can have several configurations:

    MPS: everything co-located at minemouth.
    This only works as long as *both* fuel and sequestration sink last, not just the fuel. I’m not sure how many sites are like this.

    MP—S: minemouth powerplant, pipeline to sink.

    M===PS: railroads & energy to move coal, then powerplant sitting on good sink, but as soon as that sink is filled, we get to:

    M===P—S: railroads & energy to move coal, pipelines to take CO2 away. If sink fills, need to do more pipelines. My guess this is what one must do with most existing powerplants.

    Barry & I went off into scifi land a while ago, but we don’t have to go so far. Fossil fuels (and uranium) are capital, not income. At some point within at most a few hundred years, almost all power must come from renewable sources, and that’s how will it be for the remainder of human civilization.

    But that point can be reached with:

    a) A fairly low level of energy/person, with the landscape littered with stranded assets that consumed (energy) capital to build, and whose EROI wasn’t that good.

    b) Or, a much higher level of energy/person, with much energy capital invested in assets that produce energy income.

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  20. Folks, any chance of an answer to what could sound like a stupid question… (some of you may wonder why I don;t say that in front of all my postings…)

    With the set up of a carbon market cap and trade system as currently envisaged by the govt… well once the govt has set the level of the cap, and the initial allocation of permits to users… why does it not just give them those permits free, instead of charging for them… The market would still set the same price for carbon (willingnes to pay for a unit of carbon)…

    Why does the govt need to make $5 billion or whatever out of it. TO me it removes many many political objections… 1 that it is just a tax grab, and two that it is to prop up an ailing financial system (depending on how keen on conspiracy theories you are).

    For the life of me I can;t see how it would change the market rate for carbon… there would still be the identical incentive to sell a unit of carbon to someone who can make more money out of it than you, while charging more than the profit you yourself could make with that carbon… and the total emissions are still controlled under the cap…

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  21. Sonny Whitelaw (22) — I have no way to watch movies, but it does not matter; I am quite familiar with the advantages of biochar as a soil amendment. However, about half of the buried carbon re-enters the active carbon cycle within a few decades; nobody knows, precisely, how long the remainder will last:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar

    I am after a solution which removes the excess carbon from the active carbon cycle for millions of years; deep burial will accomplish that.

    One can pyrolysise any dry biomass but the big advantage of using trees is that the nitrogen is primarily in the leaves or needles; leaving those in the woods means little N fertilization is required, just some PK. Other souces would require continued applcation of NPK.

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  22. MattB Says:
    2 October 2008 at 22.42

    MattB says: “well once the govt has set the level of the cap, and the initial allocation of permits to users… why does it not just give them those permits free, instead of charging for them…”

    Not a stupid question, but a good one.

    Under an ETS, emissions permits will have value resulting from their scarcity. Giving them free to current emitters (or anyone else for that matter), would give them a windfall gain because they would still charge their customers a higher price to reflect that scarcity value whether or not they paid for the permits.

    In other words, the end user would still pay a higher price but the emitter would be the beneficiary rather than the taxpayers (via the government).

    As Garnaut says in section 14.3 of his latest report “How permits are released into the market will have distributional consequences with respect to the dissipation of their economic rent value.” (Economic rent can be seen as profits above the normal rate due to the ownership of something in short supply or the ability to exclude competitors from a market).

    Equally pithy, from later in the same section: “Free permits are not free. Although they may be allocated freely, their cost is borne elsewhere in the economy—typically, by those who cannot pass on the cost to others (most notably, households).”

    That’s us in those parentheses, Matt!

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