G20: Australia resists international call supporting climate change fund (The Guardian)

Exclusive: Europe and the US argue strongly that leaders should back the need for contributions to the Green Climate Fund, which helps poorer countries prepare for climate change

theguardian.com, Friday 7 November 2014 00.51 GMT

tony abbottAustralia’s original position was that the G20 meeting should focus solely on economic issues. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia is resisting a last-ditch push by the US, France and other European countries for G20 leaders at next week’s meeting in Brisbane to back contributions to the Green Climate Fund.

The prime minister has previously rejected the fund as a “Bob Brown bank on an international scale” – referring to the former leader of the Australian Greens.

The Green Climate Fund aims to help poorer countries cut their emissions and prepare for the impact of climate change, and is seen as critical to securing developing-nation support for a successful deal on reducing emissions at the United Nations meeting in Paris next year.

The US and European Union nations are also lobbying for G20 leaders to promise that post-2020 greenhouse emission reduction targets will be unveiled early, to improve the chances of a deal in Paris, but Australia is also understood to be resisting this.

As reported by Guardian Australia, Australia has reluctantly conceded the final G20 communique should include climate change as a single paragraph, acknowledging that it should be addressed by UN processes. Australia’s original position was that the meeting should focus solely on “economic issues”.

The text that has so far made it through the G20’s closed-door, consensus-driven process is very general, and reads as follows:

“We support strong and effective action to address climate change, consistent with sustainable economic growth and certainty for business and investment. We reaffirm our resolve to adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that is applicable to all parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015.”

Australia had previously insisted the G20 should discuss climate-related issues only as part of its deliberations on energy efficiency, but the energy efficiency action plan to be agreed at the meeting, revealed by Guardian Australia, does not require G20 leaders to commit to any actual action.

Instead it asks them to “consider” making promises next year to reduce the energy used by smartphones and computers and to develop tougher standards for car emissions.

But as the negotiations on the G20 communique reach their final stages, European nations and the US continue to argue strongly that leaders should back the need for contributions to the Green Climate Fund.

More than $2.8bn has been pledged to the fund so far – including $1bn by France and almost $1bn by Germany. More pledges are expected at a special conference in Berlin on 20 November. The UK has said it will make a “strong” contribution at that meeting.

It is understood the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which leads Australia’s negotiating position, is considering whether Australia should make a pledge.

Asked about the fund before last year’s UN meeting, the prime minister said “we’re not going to be making any contributions to that”. It was reported that at one of its first cabinet meetings the Abbott government decided it would make no contributions to a fund that was described as “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”.

The government also pointedly dissented from support for the fund in a communique from last November’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting – a stance backed by Canada.

Abbott told the Australian newspaper at the time; “One thing the current government will never do is say one thing at home and a different thing abroad. We are committed to dismantling the Bob Brown bank [the Clean Energy Finance Corporation] at home so it would be impossible for us to support a Bob Brown bank on an international scale.”

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Playing whack-a-mole with Australian adviser’s climate change myths (The Guardian)

Maurice Newman, business adviser to Australia’s prime minister, pops up with a litany of climate change myths and misrepresentations

Maurice Newman, the climate science denying business advisor to Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott.Maurice Newman, the climate science denying business adviser to Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott. Photograph: Daniel Munoz/Reuters

Reading opinion columns from Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s top business adviser Maurice Newman reminds me of those fairground whack-a-mole games.

You smash those cartoonish mammals over their fibreglass heads with a big rubber hammer as they emerge from little round holes, yet these little subterranean mammals never know they’re beat and just come up with the same grin somewhere else.

In this climate denialist version of whack-a-mole, the mammal is replaced with Newman’s upper torso clutching the latest truthy climate factoid he has plucked indiscriminately from the intertubes.

Just like at the fairground, when you whack-a-Maurice, he just keeps popping up with another myth.

The latest version of whack-a-Maurice comes in his new opinion column in The Australian newspaper, headlined “Inconvenient truths ignored by the climate propaganda machine”.

In the article, Newman attacks renewable energy, the IPCC, Australian Greens leader Christine Milne and climate science in general while telling us that coal is cheap and reliable and that we should put our self-interest in selling that coal above all else.

Newman misrepresents the latest IPCC study, misquotes experts, pushes debunked studies, claims the Scottish Government commissioned a report that it likely never actually commissioned and rounds off by putting his faith in an internet poll that was gamed by climate sceptics.

So join me for a game of Whack-a-Maurice®.

Whack time

In the article, Newman starts with three statements about energy prices and how renewable energy projects apparently “destroy jobs” and have been terribly bad news for places that have embraced progressive policies to encourage renewable energy.

Newman writes:

Clearly [Greens Leader Christine] Milne is unaware of the cost to California, Europe and Britain of their ultra green embrace.

The Golden State’s energy prices are 40 per cent above the US national average, plunging its manufacturing and agricultural regions into depression, with one in five living in poverty.

OK. While it’s true that Californians do have comparatively expensive electricity costs, they actually have among the lowest average electricity bills across the whole of the United States.

This appears due to a combination of the state’s mild climate and its aggressive energy efficiency scheme.

California does have a renewable energy target – recently expanded to push the state to get 33 per cent of its power from renewables by 2020.

The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in the US has studied the impact of renewable target schemes (known there as Renewable Portfolio Standards) in place across the US.

The 2007 Berkeley study (carried out before California upped its target) found these RPS schemes added an average of about 38c per month (about one quarter the cost of one take away coffee) to electricity bills. California’s scheme was among those having the lowest impact on bills.

In 2012, Californian’s had an electricity bill of about $87 per month.

Apparently, in Newman’s razor sharp climate policy mind, it is imposts like a 38c per month rise in electricity prices that is “plunging” the state’s agriculture industry into depression, rather than, say, one of California’s worst droughts in living memory.

El whack

So now to Spain. Newman writes:

Researchers at Spain’s King Juan Carlos University have found renewable energy programs destroyed 2.2 jobs for every green one created.

Newman is referring to a report titled: “Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources” that was published in 2009 and written by Gabriel Calzada Alvarez.

Alvarez is an associate professor at King Juan Carlos University, but Newman doesn’t mention that the study was actually co-commissioned by the “libertarian” think tank The Instituto Juan de Maria that Alvarez founded.

Alvarez has also presented at a Heartland Institute climate conference for “sceptics” and his institute has been a sponsor of one of those conferences.

Who were the other commissioning group?

This was the Institute for Energy Research, a US-based thinktank with strong links to the US Koch brothers, whose foundations have given about $175,000 to the think tank and funnelled millions into anti-climate action projects at similar think tanks. The IER recently claimed Alvarez’s study as its own.

But was the study any good?

The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratorytook a studied look at it and, to put it mildly, tore the thing to bits. Here’s some of the choice parts of their critique

The analysis by the authors from King Juan Carlos University represents a significant divergence from traditional methodologies used to estimate employment impacts from renewable energy. In fact, the methodology does not reflect an employment impact analysis. Accordingly, the primary conclusion made by the authors – policy support of renewable energy results in net jobs losses – is not supported by their work …

Additionally, this analysis has oversimplifications and assumptions that lead to questions regarding its quantitative results. Finally, the authors fail to justify their implication that because of the jobs comparison, subsidies for renewables are not worthwhile. This ignores an array of benefits besides employment creation that flow from government investment in renewable energy technologies.

The Alvarez study came in for similar harsh criticism in Spain, as noted here on a blog from the US Natural Resources Defense Council.

Scots whack

And so now to whack-a-Maurice in Scotland. Newman writes:

A study by Verso Economics commissioned by the Scottish government concluded that for every job in the wind industry, 3.7 jobs were lost elsewhere.

Verso Economics? Commissioned by the Scottish government? Sounds impressive.

Indeed, when the report was published in March 2011, it was given extensive coverage in Scotland. And what did the Scottish government make of the study? A BBC report tells us the government’s view.

This report is misleading.

Does it seem odd that the Scottish government should condemn it’s own report?

Perhaps one reason is that there appears to be no evidence that the Scottish government actually commissioned the report that Maurice Newman says it commissioned (I have asked the author, an economist called Richard Marsh, for clarification, but the report itself makes no mention of a commission from the Government and, when Marsh gave evidence to a Scottish parliamentary committee the following year in relation to the report, he didn’t mention a government commission then either).

Verso Economics appears to have been a very small firm with only two employees, Marsh being one of them. This doesn’t necessarily make the arguments wrong, but it is curious that Newman would choose to use the name of a tiny consultancy once based in Kirkaldy that no loner exists (Marsh is now at another firm).

Where’s the next mole?

Whacking scientists

Newman has a crack at former Australian chief scientist Penny Sackett who, according to Newman, had said in 2009 we had only five years to avoid “dangerous global warming”.

Plainly if you read Sackett’s words from 2009, she was talking about a time frame to start radically reducing emissions to prevent “dangerous global warming” down the track and not, as Newman implies, a time by which we should all be frying in our own juices.

Equally, Newman brings up the bête noire of all Australian climate science denialists, Tim Flannery. Newman writes:

When climate commissioner Tim Flannery said that “even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and river systems”, it was sobering, but soon we were donating to flood victims and -suspected he’d dreamt it up to scare us.

Again, Newman ignores the fact that Flannery was not talking about the present, but referring to a time decades into the future if emissions remained on their current path.

Whack. Next mole?

Whacking the IPCC

Newman claims that “temperatures have gone nowhere for 18 years” while ignoring that in those 18 years the world has experienced the hottest decade on record. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000.

If Newman thinks warming has stopped, why is it that between 2002 and 2011, the two main ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland were melting at a rate of about 362 billion tonnes of ice a year – an almost six-fold increase in the rate for the previous decade?

Newman keeps popping up like our proverbial mole with a litany of myths.

He says the recent IPCC Synthesis Report “fails to mention” that the extent of Antarctic sea ice is the highest since records began.

The reason it fails to mention this, is that the record was broken well after the underlying reports were finished.

But yet, the Synthesis Report does mention the increase in Antarctic sea ice extent (read my post What’s going on with global warming and Antarctica’s growing sea ice? for more on this).


Bleak whacking

Newman writes:

In painting the bleakest picture they can, IPCC authors have projected CO2 levels reaching 1000 parts per million in 2100, largely through coal combustion…

Newman wants us to think that the IPCC authors are a bunch of doom merchants, and so ignores the fact that the IPCC report makes a range of projections for the future concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As well as the admittedly “bleak” scenario of CO2 levels reaching 1000 parts per million in the atmosphere by the end of this century (delivering something like 4C of global warming), the report also projects CO2 levels at 720ppm, 580ppm, 530ppm and 480ppm.

Newman would have struggled to have missed this, given they all appear on the same chart.

We could go on an on whacking Maurice Newman’s climate denialist moles, and his column has several others, but at some point we have to stop.

Sciencey internet polls

But not before we dwell on Newman’s closing argument that 91 per cent of people think the IPCC is wrong that we’re heading for 4C of global warming.

I think you’ll agree that Newman’s source for this is beyond reproach. It’s one of those really sciencey internet polls carried out by the ABC.

So sciencey was the survey, that climate science denialist groups from Australia to the US were telling supporters to visit the poll.

This is when we have to remind ourselves that Maurice Newman is the chairman of prime minister Tony Abbott’s Business Advisory Council, handpicked by Abbott himself.

As Maurice Newman himself concluded, “Enough said”.