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The G8: Rudd’s self-fulfilling climate prophecy

By Andrew Glikson
Created 14/07/2009 - 23:45

The G8: Rudd’s self-fulfilling climate prophecy
by Andrew Glikson [0]

With no intermediate targets defined, no clean energy technology assistance given to developing countries, come 2050, a magic wand will be waved, carbon emissions will be cut by 80 percent, mean temperatures limited below 2 degrees C, and pigs will fly.

The G8 made no firm commitment [1] to help developing countries financially cope with the effects of rising seas, increased droughts and floods, or provide the technology to make their carbon-heavy economies more climate- friendly.” Nor did the G8 decide of a shorter-term target, despite warnings from a UN panel that they must cut emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020, to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C.

Having committed Australia to a failure standard of 5 percent CO2 emission cut by 2020 relative to 2000 [2], should no global agreement be reached in Copenhagen, Rudd’s “pessimism” regarding an agreement [3] reminds of a lagging runner shouting at those in front “I told you so”.

If Howard’s earlier rejection [4] of the Kyoto Protocol can be attributed to ignorance, there can be little excuse for Rudd’s virtual inaction in view of his insight “At the end of the day, the atmosphere doesn't sit around [5] and neutrally observe grand political agreements.”. In telling the Danish PM “negotiations for an agreement were not on track [6] and that he was quite worried about it", little mention is made that Australia, a rich coal exporter and one of the highest per-capita carbon emitter, has committed itself to standards that are virtually guaranteed to make no difference to runaway climate change.

Nor are CCS schemes likely to eventuate on a scale sufficient to mitigate emissions in time [7]. While at a cost of US$0.50–8.00 per sequestration of a tonne of CO2, translated to about 15 to 240 $billion for sequestration of one year’s emissions of about 30 billion tons CO2, is only a fraction of what the world spends on wars [8], the reluctance of the G8 to extend clean energy technology to developing countries [9] does not bode well in this regard. Likely a similar fate awaits the CCS as Australia's earlier SYNROC [10] project, designed by Professor Ted Ringwood to store RADWASTE in radiation-proof cylinders placed in drill holes, but which was never applied on a commercial scale, due to high cost. Instead, radioactive waste is stored in leaking drums, dumped into the oceans, and in part buried in salt mines.

Even if the above effort is made, current levels of near 450 ppm CO2-equivalent (which includes methane) requires fast tracked development and application [11] of CO2 down-draw techniques aimed at reducing levels to below 350 ppm. At current emission rates of about 2 ppm CO2/year, by 2050 CO2-equivalent levels will exceed the 500 ppm level at which the Antarctic ice sheet formed 34 million years ago [12], including likely tipping points [13] out of human control.

NGOs are trying to make the difference, including Al Gore’s inspired new think tank (Safe Climate Australia [14] - SCA), launched at an event to be attended by almost 1000 business leaders. SCA is modeled on a similar project, Repower America, which Mr Gore co-ordinates in the US. It will produce a blueprint for Australia's transition to net zero carbon that will cover all major sectors of the Australian economy.

Rudd must know he was given a stark choice. He can continue to appease the big polluters or, alternatively, he could assume a Churchill-like leadership regarding what he has described as the “Greatest moral challenged of our generation [15]”.

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