Has Kevin Rudd taken “a significant step forward on climate change”?

Guest post by David Spratt. David is a Melbourne businessman, climate-policy analyst, and co-founder of Carbon Equity, which advocates personal carbon allowances as the most fair and equitable means of rapidly reducing carbon emissions. He has extensive advocacy experience in the peace movement, and in developing community-campaign communication and marketing strategies. He is co-author, with Philip Sutton, of the 2008 book ‘Climate Code Red – The Case for Emergency Action‘.

Kevin Rudd’s announced changes to the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme has again split the climate movement, and this time it’s very serious, with three large, rusted-on-to-Labor groups running cover for an appalling policy that won’t guarantee a reduction in Australian emissions for decades.

The grassroots movement, which gathered in Canberra in January with 500 people and 150 groups for the first national Climate Action Summit and unanimously opposed the CPRS legislation, appears uniformly angry. 66 climate action groups have written to the Prime Minister saying that: “We believe that you have abandoned your duty of care to protect the Australian people as well as our species and habitats from dangerous climate change.” 

The re-worked proposals for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme announced on 4 May by Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd were described by The Greens as “making the ‘worse than useless’ scheme even worse and giving another $2.2 billion to big polluters. It also fails on voluntary action” and has an “almost irrelevant green distraction of a hypothetical 25% target to undermine criticism”.

John Hepburn of Greenpeace said: “It’s clear that Rudd has been listening to the big polluters and this is another shift towards the interests of polluters rather than climate action. We’re rapidly running out of time and we’d like this scheme to go back to the drawing board until Kevin Rudd can stand up to the big polluters and take action in the interests of the Australian people.”

Friends of the Earth “criticised the raising of the government’s hypothetical target range as an exercise in “smoke and mirrors”, aimed at hiding the further windfall for polluters.”

But the three climate advocacy groups that have acquiesced or actively supported the government’s “clean coal” policies — ACF, the WWF and Climate Institute — again lined up to support Labor, together with the ACTU and ACOSS. Michelle Grattan in The Age noted that “the biggest concessions are the brown ones” and that “Kevin Rudd has stitched key groups in behind a revised emissions trading deal — both browner and greener than before — to put maximum pressure on Malcolm Turnbull”.

John Conner of the Climate Institute on behalf of the Southern Cross Climate Coalition (ACF, ACTU, ACOSS and Climate Institute) said it was now time for all parties to pass the scheme.

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Don Henry told staff:
We have achieved a significant step forward on climate change. The Government has just announced that it will take on a target of reducing Australia’s emissions by 25% by 2020 in the context of a Copenhagen agreement that has the effect of stabilising emissions at 450ppm or lower.

[That is wrong in science, of which more later.]

ACF climate campaigner Owen Pascoe added:
This is good step forward and the positives outweigh the negatives. However there’s a lot more to be done and we’ll keep pushing for our ask of 30 to 40% cuts.

For the record, the changes to the proposed scheme also:

— delay its introduction for a year to 1 July 2011 and set a nominal price of $10 a tonne with unlimited number of permits till 1 July 2012, so there will be NO effective action for another three years;

— increase the permits to the biggest polluters in the first year from 90% to 95% and from 60% to 70% (so that in the first year the biggest polluters will be effectively paying 50 cents per tonne to pollute, as Environment Victoria noted);

— keeps the provision for unlimited outsourcing of Australia’s national responsibilities by allowing the purchase of permits from overseas without limit, so that the scheme has no mechanism for ensuring that Australia’s emissions (as opposed to domestic permits) will drop by even one tonnne by 2050;

— fails to deal adequately with the question of additionality / voluntary action. As Environment Victoria notes: “The fix to recognise household and business voluntary action through GreenPower is welcome, but the mechanism is awful. By only recognizing additional GreenPower purchases above 2009 levels the Government is guaranteeing the collapse of existing GreenPower customer purchases and therefore jeopardizing the whole program. Furthermore the Rudd Government has failed to recognise the benefit of all other types of voluntary emissions reductions or additional action, which, like GreenPower, can be accounted for.”

— will not, contrary to back-slapping comments by the ACTU, produce an avalanche of “green jobs” because it is not designed to close down the brown jobs. Instead of building a clean, renewable-energy economy and technological capacity, Australia will continue to stumble at the back of the pack.

So why are some of the big climate advocacy groups so keen on this disaster? Is their public position supported by the evidence? Here’s a look at the views expressed by ACF and others, and whether it is justifiable.

ISSUE 1. Passing the CPRS is necessary for Australia to be credible at Copenhagen.

No, quite the opposite. If there were no legislation, Australia’s position would not be tied by law to Rudd’s poor target and pressure would be maintained to catch up with the leading bunch. The targets in the proposed CPRS legislation are out of whack with the major players such as the UK, US and EU, who have agreed to unconditional cut emissions of 34-46%, 20% and 20-30% from 1990 levels respectively. Let’s be honest, what happens at Copenhagen depends more than any other factor on what the G2 – the USA and China — strike by way of a climate deal, and what Australia puts in the table has little relevance to that. They are used to Australia behaving badly. 

ISSUE 2. If there is a reasonable outcome in Copenhagen, Australia will be committed to a 25% cut by 2020.

As Adam Morton reported in The Age on 5 May: “Kevin Rudd says he now has an ambitious greenhouse target on the table for 2020. And he does: cutting emissions to 25 per cent below 2000 levels will require hard work across the economy. But we know the Government also thinks this almost certainly won’t happen. Why? Because Penny Wong told us so in December. Ignore yesterday’s spin about recent progress in international climate talks. The Government believes that a new deal won’t meet the strict conditions it has put in place for Australia to sign up for a 25 per cent cut. If it is right — and there are plenty familiar with the climate talks who believe it is — Australia’s ultimate target will be in the range it was before yesterday: between 5 and 15 per cent. No change, then.”

ISSUE 3. The CPRS can reduce Australia’s emissions by 25% by 2020.

This is complete bull, regardless of what happens at Copenhagen. By allowing an unlimited number of permits to be bought from overseas, through such dubious schemes as REDD and the CDM, the CPRS cannot guarantee that even one tonne of Australian emissions (as opposed to domestic permits) will be cut. The Treasury modelling assumes no drop in Australian emissions for another 25 years (see Tim Colebatch, “One little word undoes the PM’s claims on greenhouse gases“, The Age, 23 December 2008).

This provision alone should be enough to scuttle the whole scheme. How can this be “a significant step forward on climate change” when it won’t guarantee to cut one tonne of domestic emissions? In fact, what the CPRS is doing is locking in, through legislation, for decades to come, a high-pollution economy dominated by high-pollution industries and brown jobs.

ISSUE 4. If the high-polluting nations such as Australia adopted a policy of reducing emissions to 25% below 1990 by 2020 this would likely lead to an international agreement that would stabilise emissions at 450ppm or lower. 

Here is a case of “if you say something often enough, you’ll end up believing it”. Too many climate groups and climate scientists have been saying this so long and so often, yet it is so untrue.

The 2007 IPCC report found that Kyoto Annex 1 countries would need to reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 for a 450ppm target. Note how everybody has dropped the 40% end of this formulation, as if it never existed. Australia, as the highest per capita polluter of the Annex I members, would certainly be at the 40% end of the range, but this is rarely mentioned.

But as I have noted elsewhere the target range of 25-40% by 2020 does NOT include “slow feedbacks” which increase climate sensitivity and require lower targets. Even the IPCC 2007 synthesis report noted that “emissions reductions… might be underestimated due to missing carbon cycle feedbacks” (page 67) and this may require the cumulative emissions budget for the 21st century (the total amount of GHGs than can be emitted for a stabilisation level) to be “about 27% less” than is assumed. But the 25-40/2020 target and other IPCC emission reduction scenarios do not include this consideration!

New research published last week and discussed in more detail here found that to restrict warming to 2C the total carbon budget available to the world is 190 billion tonnes of carbon emissions. Even if the world starting cutting emissions by 2% each year, that budget will run out by 2030 and we need zero emissions from 2030 on to keep to 2 degrees. 

ISSUE 5. That 450ppm would reasonably limit global warming to 2 degrees.

No, it won’t. Analysis for the 2006 Stern report (p. 195) shows that a 450ppm CO2e target has:

• A 26–78% probability of exceeding 2c relative to pre-industrial

• A 4–50% probability of exceeding 3C

• A 0–34% probability of exceeding 4C

• A 0–21% probability of exceeding 5C

450ppm has a 4 to 50% probability of exceeding 3 degrees!!!! That is not defensible and I can’t understand how any body who works professionally on climate change could ever think for one second that it is a reasonable target to utter in public. What are they thinking?

After a careful reassessment of climate sensitivity and climate history data, James Hansen and his co-authors in Target atmosphere CO2: Where should humanity aim concluded that the tipping point for the presence, or absence, of any substantial ice-sheets on Earth is around 450 ppm (plus or minus 100 ppm) of CO2. This means that the CO2 levels often associated with a 2C rise – 450ppm – may just be the tipping point for the total loss of all ice sheets on the planet and a huge sea-level rise.

If you are silly enough to want to talk about a 2C target, then to have a 2 in 3 chance of holding to 2C, atmospheric carbon needs to be held to 400ppm CO2e and that requires a global reduction is emissions of 80% by 2050 (over 1990) and negative emissions after 2070. And with high climate sensitivity, a risk-averse target for 2C is around 350ppm CO2e – just to meet a 2C target that is actually dangerous.

The big groups know privately that 350 ppm and lower should be the target. John Connor of the Climate Institute told Crikey recently that the science leads us to 350ppm, and ACF Council has adopted a 350 ppm target, but this has not yet seen the light of day in ACF’s public advocacy.

ISSUE 6. That 2 degrees is a reasonable target to avoid dangerous climate change.

No, it will ensure that climate change is dangerous. A rise of 2C over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate large climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points. Likely impacts include large-scale disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice-sheet; the extinction of an estimated 15– 40 per cent of plant and animal species; dangerous ocean acidification; increasing methane release; substantial soil and ocean carbon-cycle feedbacks; and widespread drought and desertification in Africa, Australia, Mediterranean Europe, and the western USA. If you don’t believe me, read Mark Lynas’s book, “Six Degrees”.

450 ppm is roughly the current greenhouse gas level, and in 2008 two scientists. V. Ramanathan and Y. Feng in On avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system: Formidable challenges ahead found that if greenhouse gases were fixed at their 2005 levels the inferred warming is 2.4˚C (range 1.4˚C to 4.3˚C) and that would be sufficient to result in the loss of Arctic summer sea-ice, the Himalayan–Tibetan glaciers and the Greenland ice-sheet . The loss of Greenland ice sheet produces about a 7-metre global sea-level rise. One conclusion is that advocacy of the 25-40/2020 target, for example by the ACF in its 2008 “Special Places” campaign, will result in the destruction of many of Australia’s “special places” ACF wants to protect; Kakadu, for example, will salinate with a sea-level rise of less than a metre.

NASA climate science chief James Hansen told the US Congress in testimony last year that: “We have reached a point of planetary emergency… climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a perfect storm, a global cataclysm, are assembled… the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than +2 degrees Celsius is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.” But ACF says the government announcement of “a target of reducing Australia’s emissions by 25% by 2020 in the context of a Copenhagen agreement that has the effect of stabilising emissions at 450ppm or lower” is a “significant step forward on climate change”.

Take your pick, but I’d rather go with the climate scientist. As Ken Ward, the former deputy Director of Greenpeace USA and an environmental strategist has so acutely observed, we must “stop seeking and celebrating dinky achievements” because “nothing that we are doing, nor even seriously contemplating, comes anywhere near such a massive transformation [as is necessary], yet every actor on the political stage …downplays the terrible realities and trumpet small-scale solutions wrapped in upbeat rhetoric…. We are racing toward the end of the world and have no plan of escape, but it is considered impolite to acknowledge that fact in public.”

ISSUE 7. That if this legislation is passed, it is reasonable to expect that the government will do more and go further than its own legislation.

Pull the other leg.

It appears the strategy of the groups who have endorsed the CPRS is to pretend that we don’t face a climate crisis that requires emergency action, so they endorse incremental policies and never talk about the elephant in the room. Which is this: we only get one shot at this, and a trial run (read: locking in bad policy for decades) is not an option.

Today at just less than 1C of global warming we are witnessing of the destruction of the Arctic ecosystem. Eight million square kilometres of sea ice is disappearing fast each summer and may be entirely gone within a few years. Already 80% by volume of summer sea-ice has been loss, and regional warming of up to 5 degrees Celsius may have already pushed the Greenland ice-sheet (eventual sea-level rise of 7 metres) past its tipping point. 

Do ACF and the Climate Institute and WWF tell the government this?

We know that the present level of greenhouse gases is enough to increase temperatures by more than 2 degrees Celsius over time. We have already gone too far, there is already too much carbon in the air. At less than 1 degrees Celsius we are on the way to triggering a multi-metre sea level rise than will devastate coastal infrastructure, delta peasant–farming communities and some of the world’s biggest cities. Our only choice is to head back to zero degrees Celsius of warming, to halt all emissions and drawdown atmospheric carbon to return the planet to a safe-climate zone.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute and Europe’s leading climate scientist, says that “we are on our way to a destabilisation of the world climate that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realise”, so “our survival would very much depend on how well we were able to draw down carbon dioxide to 280 parts per million”, compared to the present level of close to 390 parts per million.

Do ACF and the Climate Institute and WWF tell the government this?

Put starkly, we either keep warming under the range where carbon feedbacks become sufficiently pervasive as to make further human action futile, or we do not. We have a safe climate or we have a global catastrophe. There are no middle-of-the-road compromises. We must head back towards zero. At 1 degree Celsius the genie is out of the bottle, at 2 degrees Celsius the bottle is broken.

One of the great powers of the climate action movement is our capacity to withhold support from, and actively campaign against, actions of governments that are designed to fail, as the CPRS will. Presently there is political denial, even an arrogance of power that leads governments to believe that they can negotiate with the climate and the laws of physics and chemistry, a land of tradeoffs, where climate is just another issue, the politics partisan, the action slow, all embedded in a culture of compromise and failure. Monday 4 May was a great example.

It is a tragedy that some should glowingly support such failure.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

66 replies on “Has Kevin Rudd taken “a significant step forward on climate change”?”

Nice post. I’d be happier if the govt policy was to head to Copenhagen with a policy of forging an agreement that sees the planet achieve a satisfactory reduction in greenhouse emissions. Why limit or predict what our own cuts may be at the end of that, it is the global situation that counts. And why bother with act-alone targets that will do nothing… better to invest and position ourselves with the tech nouse to take advantage however many years down the track the planet reaches an agreement.

Step 1) Head to Copenhagen aiming for a strong global commitment.
Step 2) Failing an agreement, then set an act-alone course that positions ourselves for the fossil fuel crisis.

Prof Rosei’s graphs at the lecture I attended the other night look like we are probably heading for a massive slump in population regardless of AGW simply because of running out of fuel. I sometimes wonder if fossil fuel running out chaos would actually get more people on board than does the climate change agenda… Kev should pull that one out of his sleeve sometime soon.


Thankyou David for having the courage to lay it on the line so passionately and convincingly. I have also read your excellent book”Climate Code Red” and can wholeheartedly recommend it.

The problem I have is that I feel so impotent to effect any change. Labor was voted in to deal with this problem – patently they have failed but who is one to vote for? We all know the Coalition will be worse at setting targets, however, they may institute an IFR nuclear programme. The Greens, even if we could vote for them in the lower house, would go for a higher CO2 reduction target but probably would not countenance a future energy policy with nuclear in the mix. Depressing (to put it mildly) isn’t it?


Perps I’ve said it on other blogs… but my gut feeling is that the Greens will be the first political party to have a cohesive pro-nuclear policy, should IFR stand up to scruitiny.

Please note I have no real contacts or policy connections to the Greens, and it is purely a “vibe” thing:)


While I admire your optimism, I fear it is badly misplaced. The Greens under Bob Brown seem more likely to me to simultaneously push for fossil-fuel shutdown, a full-scale ‘renewable’ energy program, and a draconian efficiency drive while staunchly opposing nuclear power in all its forms.

I know that may seem illogical, but it’s not if you consider that their objectives might not be quite what the rest of the country’s are. They may well consider the population crash which will come wih the abandonment of practical industrial technology a desirable thing. If this is true, they will never embrace nuclear power.

If it’s not true, you may well be right, but they’re dragging their feet if that’s the direction they want to go in.


Well I base it on “greens” like me recognising that IFR looks the goods, and actually achieves two greens goals – end of coal industry – and pretty much end of nuclear waste… and make it three goals – a blow to the nuclear industry as the plants are so damn efficient. (my pet theory as to why IFR was sidelined – why develop a tech that uses your product so efficiently you don’t need to mine much of it – this is “Who Killed The Electric Car” type scenario).

I’m at a Greens fundraiser brekkie for the Freo By election tomorrow morning (just as a paid guest I really don’t want to give the impression I’m some sort of greens insider) and Bob Brown is talking about energy futures – so I’ll endeavour to sow some seeds:) A former colleague in sustainable transport is the Director of the WA COnservation Council and I heard him on the radio yesterday dismissing nuclear… but I doubt he knows of IFR – it ticks all the boxes for at least a strong policy platform on nuclear.

Trouble is that for now there are plenty of scientists who say, rightly or wrongly, that we CAN provide the power needs without nuclear based solely on renewables… but I for one am no longer convinced. They are a 20%er and very good at that. You never know there may be a breakthrough that changes that situation, but why rule out all your avenues.

The graph on the other page is where most greens are at… why would you change to a technology that produces a big pile of waste we don;t know what to do with when there is only enough for 40 years supply. Or at least why would you when it is not the last possible option.



Looks like I will have to rejoin the WA Greens to explain the shortcomings of the IFR and nuclear in general if this is going to be the case. I left the Greens because of their drug policies and joined Labor when I thought Mr Rudd and Mr Garrett actually cared about the environment, however I was duped completely along with everyone else.

If you start talking IFR with the WA Greens I will be there as well. The only nuclear technology that I will be supporting is the LFTR and that only to dispose of the current nuclear waste when uranium nuclear power is gotten rid of once and for all.


Well I can confirm that the greens definitely have a 100% nuclear policy… of course with that nuclear reactor being 150 million km away:) it was a great brekkie Bob Brown is a great speaker. I actually kept my mouth shut as I’d have just looked like a nutter and a campaign brekkie for a winnable seat on 16th May is a place for giving the candidate a boost not for “radical” policy discussion and looking like a nutter:) (I leave that to the sustainable population folks who normally surface at such events).

For certain the Greens are strongly in the belief that solar can provide baseload and can do it today no worries. I’m not convinced of that, but I’m not ruling out that it may well not be the case in the near future if investment is aimed that way.

I’m not about an IFR/LFTR debate – I’m about making sure that all options are given a good chance to develop in to the best solution. Chances diminish for each option that is taken off the table at the R&D stage.

To me the major sticking point is the “short term” gen III whatever reactors – I don;t see that ever getting traction with the Greens, and I can’t say I support it either… “Oh dear IFR and LFTR didn’t work after all, but at least we have a massively expanded conventional nuclear energy program.” will be the kind of scenario I’d guess the Greens would not be to keen on seeing eventuate. A bit Democrats and GST…


Hi MattB,

I was surprised to see GenIII raised in this blog recently. The case has been made by Blees and Brook for IFR and the like. But not Gen III. Finland’s Gen III is currently way over budget(time and $) and it doesn’t meet the laboratory safety standards, nor high level radioactive waste claims that IFR does. It feels like a trogen horse, with as you say, the potential to to stripe funds away from doable renewables.

(I’m one of those who believe it can be done with renewables, and believe the assumptions to get there with renwables (even Green Peaces’ highly conservative “Energy Blue Print” gets us close, without allowing for non-linear progress once coal is priced out of the market) are not as heroic as the assumptions in the IFR scenario(energy aparthide combined with growing conflict in a warming world).


The Greenpeace plan has half the global 2050 energy coming from renewables and half from fossil fuels. Thats not close.


The Energy Blue Print shows we can cut CO2 64% by 2050 by limiting ourselves to renewables that are“cost effective”based on a carbon price that rises to $50/tonne CO2e by 2050.

Based on more recent estimates of the CO2 cuts needed, I’d suggest that we raise the carbon price either faster or higher than $50 by 2050.


…they [The Green] may well consider the population crash which will come wih the abandonment of practical industrial technology a desirable thing.

What a baseless load of rot!

Finrod is showing a real closed mind with this comment. From previous post I gather Finrod’s solution to equity is mass nuclear power. Pitty he has not addressed to political, social and economic factors that create a barrier to this solution for the most vulnerable amongst the the global population.


Even though I think this was a bit of a straw man from Finrod, in fairness, variants of this point of view have in fact been expressed by some commentators over on Geoff Russell’s ABC Unleashed thread.


What a baseless load of rot!

If only it were so. Unfortunately, I’ve heard exactly such sentiments expressed by otherwise reasonable people when they consider environmental issues. I’ve been hearing them for most of my life from people who like to demonstrate how earnest they are about saving the planet. Time and again in conversations with people who identify themselves with what they call ‘environmentalism’, I have witnessed that they will, in the last extremity of trying to hold on to some of the more fantastic notions of Green ideology, revert to precisely that position. Is it really such a stretch to suspect that just perhaps, some elements of this Club of Rome type thinking informs the ideology of the Greens?

Finrod is showing a real closed mind with this comment. From previous post I gather Finrod’s solution to equity is mass nuclear power.

I’m not as closed-minded as you imply. I intend the pro-nuclear advocacy group I’m attempting to put together to be a broad church, and I’m sure that not everyone who joins with me (assuming anyone actually does) is going to agree with all my positions.

Pitty he has not addressed to political, social and economic factors that create a barrier to this solution for the most vulnerable amongst the the global population.

Give me time. I’m just… er… (Finrod counts self) ONE person, after all. I can’t do everything in one hit, you know.


Finrod says “They may well consider the population crash which will come wih the abandonment of practical industrial technology a desirable thing” – to say such sentiments don’t exist amongst some “greens” (whatever that really means) would be wrong but to insist it’s more than minority thinking amongst them would be wronger. Whilst I expect strong anti-nuke sentiment to continue I don’t believe most greens want to impose poverty and mass die off of humanity on the world. It’s not a case of imposing extreme frugality of energy use through the imposition of punitive taxation on dirty energy in order to promote radical dehumanising of the world – the cost impositions are no more than what’s needed and are less than what the real costs dirty energy actually leave in the wake of their excessive use. In any case it’s only when policies Greens promote make it into the mainstream that they are of real consequence, and then the more radical Greens lose any real say in favour of those mainstream views.

Looking at the policies of various Australian political parties I think Greens are more closely tied to actual science than any of them. In that context many of their policies are reasonable. Yes, they want massive reductions in fossil fuel use and renewables probably can’t be rolled out quickly enough to produce a pain free, low cost, (inconvenience free?) transition but is it even possible to do enough be done and still be pain free? I think the main arguments against ultimate reliance on renewables isn’t that it can’t be done but that it won’t be cheap and easy.


Perhaps MattB your gut feeling is right and that is perhaps why over in Maroshay land she is running those increasingly desperate blogs accusing the greens of being anti nuclear by pretending to ‘define them’.


Wedge politics at its finest. I can’t believe TCI, WWF and ACF have
been so stupid. Clearly missing a few little grey cells!


I think MattB may have seen the elephant in the room, the pending liquid fuels crisis circa 2012-2015 which may slow everything including coal. If I recall Rudd’s two ‘big’ election promises were repeal of Work Choices and Kyoto. Reneging on a rock solid promise should be grounds for resignation.

A saving grace is that the next lot of bad news either economic or climate related can’t be blamed on the ETS. In reality the sale of $20 dollar permits no exceptions would be relatively painless, say 5c/L on petrol and 2c/kwh on black coal fired electricity. That easy money would have raised $10bn for ‘green’ subsidies and jobs. Now the budget is so hard pressed I suspect income/sales tax increases are on the cards. This is going to backfire big time when it becomes clearer that ‘going green’ is the way ahead.


I think MattB may have seen the elephant in the room, the pending liquid fuels crisis circa 2012-2015 which may slow everything including coal. If I recall Rudd’s two ‘big’ election promises were repeal of Work Choices and Kyoto. Reneging on a rock solid promise should be grounds for resignation.

If the liquid fuel crisis of which you speak starts getting too drastic, there is a path to follow:

It certainly won’t be a carbon-neutral path, but it will be spun as one somehow, and the majority will buy into it… because they have to.

You see, this is why we need nuclear power and carbon-neutral synfuels. Because if we don’t have them, stuff like Fischer-Tropsch will happen.

Doesn’t South Australia have some coal-to-liquid scheme under development?


That’s a corker if you are referring to Linc Energy and the Arckaringa Basin north of Olympic Dam. It is thought the coal contains uranium which will be spewed out of exhaust pipes.

Some synfuel processes allied to Fischer Tropsch could be helped with nuclear hydrogen. If they use biocarbon not coal the CO2 is recycled. My prediction is a huge swing to compressed natural gas as a diesel substitute the same time it is needed to balance windpower under the 2020 mandatory renewable target. Whatever path is taken Rudd hasn’t looked that far ahead.


Solar Thermal already provides Firming power for Wind. We don’t need nuclear or Coal for a grid — there yesterday’s technology.

Here is what the US Federal Energy Regulation Chairman Says about it.

The difference between solar thermal with storage + wind = secure electricity supply and fantasy land nuclear.. Is that the Wind + Solar Thermal with storage is simple technology — Concrete Steel and Glass — it’s only people with an ideological bent that would go down the path of ridiculous complication that is IFR / Nuclear power.

(From the son of a Nuclear physicist)



If it was only a matter of cost, perhaps solar at $6,000/kWh peak, would be preferable to nuclear at $7,000/kWh, however, pumped hydro can use a lot of the off-peak nuclear.

All sorts of arguments about what is cheaper miss the point that we need every thing that can be built ASAP to replace coal, including NG, nuclear wind and solar( and geothermal). The limitations of manufacturing capacity are different for all of these, so we should start on everything, and when 95% of coal is replaced, start on replacing NG firstly by using only for peak power and then retiring older less efficient power stations( those converted from oil).
Once we get 10-20% of each;nuclear, wind and solar we can work out costs to optimize the final mix.


Keep on repeating this ideological stuff if you like Matt, but I reckon most sensible people — including people with the power to influence energy futures in the real world — are no longer listening (if they ever were).

Seems from your website that you also an Amory Lovins fan — so I’m not surprised by your anti-nuclear stance. Anyway, I have absolutely no interest in trying to convince you to open your mind — I know a lost cause when I see one.


The question I’ve been pondering for a while now is, what is the best forum for lobbying for a nuclear programme, and IFR deployment? I hope Matt is right and both Greens and greens surprise us with a rapid turnaround on IFRs once they consider the facts in context and objectively. Are there any green organizations that presently support nuclear? Are there any that are close? Are there any with the potential for political influence? Right now I feel I can usefully talk to people (I’ve been doing some heavy lifting at ABC Unleashed as “john”), but the need to translate the viewpoints and ideas being canvassed here on Barry’s blog into the political arena is rapidly becoming apparent. How best to do it?


John, See Finrod’s post above for how to make Greens think that nuclear proponents are nuts. Reign in his type and you’ll be closer to sensible dialogue.


John, See Finrod’s post above for how to make Greens think that nuclear proponents are nuts. Reign in his type and you’ll be closer to sensible dialogue.

It seems I’ve touched a bit of a raw nerve here. “His type”, eh?

There are a lot more people about who care about the future than those who make a career out of it, and we have been watching the career environmentalists for some time now. We see more than you think we do.



“His type” would be those who say this type of thing: “They [greens] May Well Consider The Population Crash Which Will Come Wih The Abandonment Of Practical Industrial Technology A Desirable Thing.”

Which would go down a treat with the Lavoisier group, or the IPA or Andrew Bolt’s fans, or in a dozen other Murdoch columns. Its also a fine thing to say if you want people with a green streak to think you are fruity.

But I think John may have been interested in serious dialogue. If you paid attention to what people like MattB, Geoff and the like were saying(and where they come from) you might see the value in that approach.

Of course your approach is up to you, and what ever your goals are.


And remain open to the possibility that IFR may not knock down solution that is currently thought. As yet the scrutiny has been by a narrow population – and every negative report on IFR has been dismissed as a political hatched job. Currently I accept Barry’s confidence in the technology and in Tom Blees to believe this is a distinct possibility.

Yet even Blees in concerned about proliferation risks, and protection against this currently depend on human agreements.

So in dialogue with greens, you may have a two way discussion on your hands rather than a one way, which is as you’d prefer it I’m sure.


Yes indeed, Mark. I’ve changed my mind on nuclear power before, and can do so again.

I don’t think the IFR is a magic bullet, but apears to offer considerable potential, and to the extent that the energy supply problem is deeply coupled to many other sustainability problems (food, water, climate, etc.), if nuclear power can loosen that coupling the other problems may become more tractable.


As far as I know, at this stage the grassroots Greens (I’m a fairly new member) are still opposed to nuclear in any form, and appear more receptive to clean coal & Fischer-Tropsch. I’ve only started reading more about IFR recently myself since I came to this blog- there really isn’t a lot of information out there.


Hi Barry,
GREAT post, will cross-post to my blog, though I think it above the average snowboarders’ ability to comprehend. Thanks for doing some heavy lifting on this subject.

Tim Marsh


Snowboarders will get it when there’s no more snow. I live 10km from a rope tow area (Mt Mawson 1250m, Tas) that looks like it may never operate again.


John: it will be too late. It already is – I’m doing an article/research on snow decline (Snowy Hydro data) – it will be good to let Barry run his mathematical mind across it (I’ve forgotten 2nd year uni Engineering stochastics etc) – but the data is frightening.

The max snow depths in the 1960s are huge – 300cm + in October (!) – I highly doubt we’ll have a natural snow snow season in 20-30 years.



Hydro also works where precipitation is only as rain not snow,its a storage issue, some of the dams in the snowy hold several years supply.


One thing which must be borne in mind in trying to understand the politics of this issue is that the ALP has never, collectively, had a coherent and unified position on environmental policy in general or on the political salience of environmental issues.

There are undoubtedly some individual ALP figures who have a strong understanding of and commitment to the sustainability agenda, who understand that the public thinks environmental issues are important and understand why this is so, or who understand all of these things. Geoff Gallop, Rod Welford, Bob Carr, Jim Soorley, Joan Kirner, Lindsay Tanner, Graham Richardson (in his way), Peter Beattie (in his way) all spring to mind. When their counsels have prevailed Labor has made good environmental policy and reaped a political reward for so doing.

[David Miliband and Al Gore can be regarded as international examples of this kind of centre-left politician.]

Then there are others who are dismissive of environmental issues and deeply hostile to environmentalists. They need not be named, but suffice it to say that they are not without influence.

Finally, there is perhaps the most numerous group of all (at least at the parliamentarian and cadre level), namely those for whom neither the sustainability agenda nor opposition to it is a central concern or a major motive for their being involved in politics. Such people are generally by no means hostile to the sustainability agenda, if anything they are sympathetic to it in an untutored kind of way, but when it looms as large as it does in the current debate about the CPRS, it does so for these people as a confusing and somewhat frustrating complicating factor snarling their more conventional social, economic and industrial policy concerns. They struggle to “get” why the sustainability agenda should be a central ccncern for Labor governments, they struggle to “get” why so many voters get so transported by environmental issues, and they struggle to “get” why the traditional Labor political “balance” fix of giving a bit to both sides of a policy argument is inadequate, both in policy terms and politically, when it comes to climate policy. I would contend that Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Penny Wong and Greg Combet all fall into this category, as I think does Anna Bligh.

The shorter version of what I have just written is that if the Rudd government has looked all over the ship on the climate change issue, this is probably because it really is all over the ship on the issue.


For those of you that do not read the Oil Drum here is an interesting article on wind from an industry insider:

Some interesting quotes:

” * wind power has a strongly positive effect for consumers, by driving prices down for them during the day.
* it is difficult for wind power generators to make money under market mechanisms unless wind penetration remains very low; this means that if wind is seen as a desirable, ways need to be found to ensure that the revenues that wind generators actually get for electricity are not driven by the market prices that they make possible.

“A traditional argument against wind (its availability is variable, and cannot be counted upon to fulfill demand), which people may be surprised to find listed here as an externality – but that’s what it is. In a market, you are not obliged to sell; the fact that the electricity grid requires demand to be provided at all times is a separate service, which is not the same thing as supplying electricity – it’s continuity of supply. But while wind is criticized for its intermittency, I never hear coal or nuclear blasted because the reserve requirements of the system need to be sized to be at least as big as the largest plant around, should that plant (which is inevitably a multi-GW coal or nuclear plant) happen to drop off. The market for MWh and the market for “spare MWh on short notice” are quite different animals, and the Germans actually treat them separately:”

“So wind power has value as a low-emissions, home-grown, fixed cost supplier. It also tends to create significant numbers of largely non-offshoreable jobs, which may be an argument in today’s context. It also has, in a market pricing mechanism, the effect of lowering prices for consumers thanks to its zero-marginal cost. Its drawbacks, i.e. mainly intermittency, can be priced and taken into account by the system. (Birds/bat are not a serious issue, despite the hype; esthetics are a very subjective issue which can usually be sidestepped by avoiding certain locations – the US is big enough, and Europe has the North Sea)”

Worth a read.


Interesting, thanks for this. I agree that market mechanisms need to include +ve discrimination to allow greater roll out of wind. I have no problem with this being the case, as long as there is equally no objection to +ve discrimination for nukes too. Of course a carbon tax is one (incomplete) was to provide this discrimination to all sustainable energy sources (nuclear, geothermal, technosolar, etc).

“Birds/bat are not a serious issue, despite the hype”

Absolutely, and if people block wind for this reason, they’ve got rocks in their head. A picture says 1000 words:


Your support for wind is only conditional on counter support for nuclear — this is belief based stuff Barry.

Solar Thermal with Storage + Wind = Energy Supply Security delivering power when and where we need it.

Nuclear is costly and expensive and it is ridiculous (apart from the big $$$ mining operation in SA) that in one of the world’s sunniest states with an awesome wind resource you are running this ridiculous nuclear line.


You used the word “ridiculous” twice and redundantly said “costly and expensive”. Sounds like the frustrated words of someone who’s put a lot of time and effort into developing an all renewables plan and is now unable to accept the notion, under any circumstances, that our energy mix is going to have to be broader than this.


Just to put my greens comment in to context. We’ve just had how ever many years of the Howard Government that had a bit of a review but really did not have the balls to commit to nuclear. NOw there is a landside victory to a currently very popular Rudd Government that has “committed” to tackling climate change but is clearly in the clean-coal basket… so to me both majors know that nuclear is politically suicidal, and both would only take it on with conventional as similarly under the influence of the Uranium sector.

So to me there is only one party that can clear the way anytime soon, and that is a party that is the only one taking a science based approach to global warming, and that is the greens. But it will not happen overnight in case anyone was expecting I had the inside run on some breakout policy:)


I really hope you are right about the possible conversion, of the Greens, to IFR nuclear being the main answer to phasing out coal for electricity generation. However, even if this is the case, there would need to be a lot more candidates stand at the next election, and, essentially in the Lower House, to effect any policy change. I would love to be able to vote for a Greens politician, but there isn’t the option (except in the Senate). So I can only suggest that we lobby the major parties to bring the possibilities of IFR nuclear to the electorate. How can this be done, on a large scale?


If the greens went for it both majors would snap it up as they would have no fear of losing the valuable green vote.


just updating this as when posting this I forgot about our friend the coal industry… I should say both parties would consider it and have to weigh up the coal industry and find a politically suitable way of shutting it down.


Good thought Matt – so let’s lobby the Greens hard! Another problem I see, particularly with IFR is that the Uranium Mining Industry would also need to be shut down. How are the big capitalists going to generate wealth? It is going to be a hard sell by any party with the money and power invested in these industries.


when the coal industry knows it is heading down the gurgler, I think they will back in anything that shafts nuclear;) Plus there will still need to be a lot of plant built and ant like. Big change always hurts someone.


perps, I’d reckon If IFR is as good as it promises to be, there will be a revolution of new investment opportunity for the extra energy.

If it works out the energy could be used to temporarily overcome a bunch of impending limits to growth. (Should I say impending forces to reverse growth).


Getting back to the CPRS. There are two parts to this debate. First there is the science, which is calling for reductions in greenhouse emissions of 25% or more by 2020. Then there is the politics. Get that wrong, and there is the likelihood of a public backlash that could set back the start of any CPRS for years. Committing Australia to cut of 25% as the Greens are, without knowing what will come out of Copenhagen is politically untenable. We are in the middle of a recession. Give the government a little slack. See what comes out of Copenhagen, then up the ante and start applying the pressure if Australia’s proposed contribution falls short. Any action by Australia can only be judged when looked at in a global context. Only global action can save the Barrier Reef and Kakadu. Unilateral action by Australia cannot.


I think the climate movement should press hard on three issues:
1. Wait until Copenhagen before legislating the CPRS;
2. Stronger conditional target – 100% if possible, but at least 50%; and
3. Stabilise our population at current levels until our per capital emissions fall.

Australia has shown the world we are willing to enact an ETS. So Labor’s argument that we need to pass their CPRS (or any CPRS) this year to support a strong decision in Copenhagen is bunkum.

Also Rudd could make a strong start on climate action this year building critical zero emission infrastructure, for example by committing with the states to major solar thermal and/or wind power installations, upgrading the electricity grid ready for renewables, or electrifying inter-urban railways.

So there’s no need to sign a CPRS into law before Copenhagen.

But I think Rudd’s 25% conditional target is probably a good thing, because it is moving in the right direction.

Setting aside the moral argument about doing the Right Thing because we know its right, and the economic argument about the benefits of investing in sustainability, let’s assume we accept the approach of having two targets, one conditional, one not.

Then which is the more important? Perhaps the conditional one, because it helps focus the world on achieving the goal of a strong agreement more than the unconditional one could? And a strong global agreement is what we want, right?

Obviously the stronger the target the better, and Rudd’s 25% needs to be a lot stronger still to match the global action needed to return to a safe climate. Perhaps we should press specifically for a higher conditional target?

In which case it matters exactly what “conditional” means. Specifically, it matters whether Rudd’s conditions are those absolutely necessary for commensurate global action. Whether strong global action could be achieved some other way, allowing Rudd to claim the conditional target does not apply. Actually Labor’s conditions look pretty good to me. Others have said they are unlikely to be met, but the real question is whether they give Rudd room to wriggle out of the conditional target even in the event of a strong global agreement. This could happen if the conditions are too specific, and exclude other ways to achieve the same strong global outcome. But I can’t see that in the conditions. Can you?

One more point. How can 25% cuts in Australia (one of the highest per capital emitters in the world) be commensurate with a 25-40% cut across the developed countries as a whole? Labor claims (along with Garnaut) that their targets are a lot tougher per capita than they seem, because our population will double before 2050.

Hello? When did Australians decide to double our numbers? That’s another point we should push hard on – to reject that assumption, and instead stabilise our population in the low twenty millions by reducing business immigration (while maintaining our relatively small humanitarian intake) and removing incentives for large families. At least until Australia’s per capita emissions fall to levels comparable with those in our immigrants’ countries of origin.


Because atmospheric CO2, with residence time on the scale of centuries, is CUMULATIVE, the entire discussion re-CPRS has become increasingly detached from natural and science-based realities, i.e. the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere.

Currently 387 ppm CO2 (440 ppm CO2-e including methane]) rising at about 2 ppm/year is tracking toward the top of the glacial era of about 500 ppm CO2. Even reduced emissions by 40 percent or more will not be able to prevent CO2 from reaching critical levels + the inevitable feedbacks from the carbon cycle (not least methane release) and from ice/water interaction.

What governments need to be thinking about is how to REDUCE atmospheric CO2 levels to 350 ppm or below, as indicated in Hansen et al. 2008 “Target CO2 paper.” (

It is a question of TIME. This experiment by “sapiens” with nature is an original one (we have the IP…), with little certainty as to prcise dates, namely when irreversible tipping points will kick in, or whether such are already occurring as manifested by extreme weather events around the Earth.

A tipping point may even be associated with transient regional cooling lasting decades?) due to cooling of the North Atlantic and the Southern Oceans by ice melt water, as happened at 8500 years-ago and 12,900 – 11,700 years ago (the ‘Youngest dryas’).

In the race between climate change, scientific understanding, the public and politicians, climate is fastest and polluticians (ooops …) the last, spending their time as they do discussing the economic side of the question and CPRS schemes no longer consistent with the magnitude of the problem.

Governments are dominated by economists, lawyers and politicians, negotiating with/conceding to vested interests, with little understanding the can not NEGOTIATE WITH THE ATMOSPHERE.



Andrew – “Governments are dominated by economists, lawyers and politicians, negotiating with/conceding to vested interests, with little understanding the can not NEGOTIATE WITH THE ATMOSPHERE.”

The technique used is the “after I am dead” theory. Which for anyone alive presently, if the problem will or might occur after my reasonable lifetime then it does not matter and can be termed “somebody else’s problem”

We can ignore the atmosphere quite successfully and make lots of money right up until the time we can’t. However as long as that time is comfortably far away then we can ignore it or make token efforts to keep the greenies, who of course want to destroy western civilisation as we know it, at bay for a few more years.

Gallows humour I know, however terrifyingly close to reality.


When Barry, Peter Singer and I put in a submission to the Garnaut review we
figured there wasn’t much future in attacking the ETS concept itself, it
was the only game in town. But it seems that the CPRS is an ETS in
name and name only, any pretence of actually intending to reduce emissions
has been abandoned in favour of business as usual via compensatory payments,
permits and the like.

Andrew’s point is absolutely clear, and I think has been made by
James Hansen in his trace gases paper and also in recent work described
in New Scientist (Myles Allen et al, May 2, page 4). The critical decision
isn’t about what level of emissions to allow/reduce by when, the critical
decision is how much coal to leave in the ground. Once you know
the answer to that (Allen says we must leave 75% of known coal in the ground),
then it matters not too much when you burn the coal. I haven’t
read (or obtained) the full Allen paper yet so I don’t know how they
modelled methane/land clearing and the like … you can of course trade
off deforestation and cattle for more coal.


duty of care

This is a phrase that needs to be brought into national consciousness. At what point do we admit that industry’s influence on the legislature fosters dereliction of this duty? At what point is the science of climate change solid enough to take to the courts and start talking about injunctions against further pollution and class action lawsuits for the damage already done and the profits gained from gleefully ignoring duty of care?


Wallace Breocker was accurate referring to continuing carbon emisisons as “Russian Roulette”. So was James Lovelock regarding the synergy of cc feedbacks, as is John Holdren with his analogy of a car driving toward a cliff in the fog.

We don’t know when the synergy of cc going to reach a tipping point, in what has been described by Hansen as the “perfect storm”. Scientists are repeatedly asked to define this point in time (as if they have a crystal ball) but all that can be said is it is too near.

It is possible the “tipping point” is right around us at present in the form of ice melt, severe droughts, hurricanes and floods,though the world may not be convinced by anything less than abrupt sea level rises?

Every time an extreme weather event occurs the deniars will say “it all happened before”, or there is a tansient cooling in some part of Earth.

Australia is leader in terms of coal mining, consumption and export, which explains why there is such a concerted attack on climate science in the conservative media, basically impervious to responses by climate scientists.

When a patient is sick, for example with pneumonia, medical science prescribes a suitable dose of antibiotic, to be taken at the right time, or else. To date none of the world’s governments is even near the response needed with regard to climate change.


Is it possible to pin down a particular event and say climate change was at work here. For example, take the drought currently gripping South Eastern Australia, is their enough evidence to say something like “the length and intensity of this drought can be directly attributed to climate change”? Would anyone qualified to do so, be able to stand up in court and say this?


Only in terms of bounded probabilities, and that’s not likely to be enough for a court. That’s why you always hear climate scientists saying “this is consistent with the sort of effects we’d expect to increase in frequency and/or severity as the planet warms”


On Greens and nuclear, I doubt we’ll see much of a shift from their core membership, but mainstream voters with green sentiment might well change. The Greens were built around anti-nuke sentiment, made mainstream in Australia during the French weapons testing and helped along by the inadequate disposal methods used, like relatively shallow burial and ocean dumping in containers, which, if used at all, wouldn’t last. The interelationship between civilian nuclear and weapons, the former a seeming essential precursor to the latter, along with Two Mile Island and Chernobyl has hardened that sentiment. But in the end it’s mainstream sentiment that sets the agenda and the radicals lose the power to set it as soon as the mainstream takes up their concerns.

Whilst I have some serious reservations about massive commitment to currently uncertified nuclear technology I’m not ideologically opposed – and I would count myself as small ‘g’ green – I don’t see that Greens own this debate. If mainstream Australia says yes to nuclear, Green policies are largely irrelevant, and if IFR can be promoted as a means of nuclear waste disposal a lot of greens could change their minds. The automatic opposition built into fundamental Green policy might change too, but waiting on that in order to get public support for new generation nuclear seems futile.

So far the LibNats and Labour are not leading the way, not in any sense, not on funding clean energy R&D, not on clean energy projects whether nuclear or renewable. They still don’t count Australia’s coal exports as Australian contributions to the problem, they don’t have any real plan let alone intention to phase out coal. Quite the contrary – coal export capacity is being massively increased as we bicker. Green policies might have serious problems but to date they are the only political voices that propose more than greenwash.


Australia’s coal export are not relevant, as there is no shortage of coal in the world, just cheap and slightly less cheap, or worse importing countries using local brown coal or peat.
A $10 or $50 per tonne increase is not going to stop coal being burnt, a $100/tonne CO2 cost will allow alternatives to be built and eventually stop coal mining by stopping demand.
Oil is a different matter, but no country halting oil exports is going to be applauded by any other country except OPEC members.


I don’t see anyone from the ‘sensible’ LibNats or Labour proposing anything like $100 a ton (they won’t) and I still think that, like opium exports, stopping the production of stuff that’s got serious negative consequences should begin at their source. Including Australian coal. That those who care nil for the future climate will try and buy elsewhere is irrelevant if we are serious about climate.


If you have a true CAP the price will rise until the CO2 production drops below the CAP. Free permits don’t increase the CAP, they just delay those industries reducing emissions.


Solar Thermal with Storage makes the nuclear option redundant.

In Spain there will be 233MW of capacity online by the end of this year and more than 750MW by the end of next year.

There are now 14,000MW of Solar Thermal with Storage projects in various stages of planning or being built in Spain.

For a look at some recent 50% capacity factor ones that have just been built

Click to access Rainer%20Aringhoff.pdf

Also the later plant is actually 10% Spanish Goverment owned


“Solar Thermal with Storage makes the nuclear option redundant.”

No sensible person is certain of this, and many clever people think this is extreme hyperbole. You’re a real risk taker, Matt.


Hey Matthew, I want you to be right but..
I and other here are trying to plot the way to get zero emission by 2050 with renewables like you. The key thing I’ve learned here is I was operating under some false assumptions. It’s going to be very tough and getting there with renewables is going to cost the environment is lots of ways (Three Gorges Dam etc.).
My erroneous assumptions came down to the basic error of taking my nuclear sources from predominately one side of the argument. You might have seen how siege mentality people to the barricades? You may not have made the same errors as me. But I think you’ll find Barry is valuable resource if you give him a chance.

Please keep bringing your information that shows how we can get there with renewables; but I think Barry is fed up with some of the same old pronouncements that he’s dealt with in this site. In other words, bring data and developed logic. People can be very good at gleaning the implications from that.

I think we should be able make it to 100% renewables, but it may not be the least cost way for the environment. Perhaps we are prepared to pay the extra cost, perhaps not?

But remember if humans with power start to suffer from the pain of limits to growth, I don’t think any anti-nuclear arguments we have today will stop them using any means possible to fend off or delay a collapse.


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