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Global Warming Debate in Australia

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Science featured prominently in the discussions. For the first time in Australia, Australia's leading advocates of the Kyoto model were required to publicly defend the "official" UN science supporting Kyoto to their peers. They were not successful. Doubts about the UN science are increasing in Australia.

Last week the post-Kyoto future was debated in Australia during three conferences. The British Government and the US-based Pew Centre supported conferences urging extension of the Kyoto model to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy companies backed the third conference which contrasted the strategy of development of low emission technologies favored by the Bush Administration and the Howard Government in Australia with the Kyoto-style model.

Science featured prominently in the discussions. For the first time in Australia, Australia's leading advocates of the Kyoto model were required to publicly defend the "official" UN science supporting Kyoto to their peers. They were not successful.

Doubts about the UN science are increasing in Australia.


Meanwhile, the Kyoto Protocol is moribund. This was crystal clear at the UN climate change conference in Argentina last November. The US, Italy, China and developing countries decided Kyoto would not extend beyond 2012. Overtures by the EU to extend it were rejected.


Most greens pretend this did not occur. They also ignore something else. Most governments around the world are not persuaded by the claims that global warming presents a cataclysmic threat. It they were, they would not have walked away from the Kyoto Protocol.


The Australian conferences all focused on one question: What climate change strategies should we adopt in the future? Two options have emerged. Replace the fractured Kyoto model with another model using regulations to reduce greenhouse gases; or change tack and foster technologies that reduce emissions.


The green solution is to propose something even more draconian than Kyoto. They propose a national system to regulate and trade emissions and targets to make deeper cuts in emissions than those proposed in the Kyoto Protocol, specifically to halve by 2050 today's emissions.


The preferred international approach now is the US strategy to develop low emission technologies. It is the only realistic global strategy. Kyoto stalled because the threat to growth it presented was unacceptable to developing countries. The more radical alternative is even more unacceptable.


Undeterred, pro-Kyoto advocates reverted at the conference in Melbourne to threats of cataclysm from global warming. The British aired a report which the Hadley Centre, an arm of the official British meteorology bureau, released recently arguing that we now face "dangerous" climate change. The argument is similar to the claims made by the World Wildlife Fund a few months earlier that "trigger points" are emerging where small increases of CO2 in the atmosphere will "trigger" major shifts in the climate. There is little scientific about either concept, except that scientists signed off the Hadley report. And for that conference yet another Pacific Island Leader was produced who warned that global warming will deluge their territories.


The debate at the Canberra conference was far more significant. Three of Australia's most prominent supporters of Kyoto-style regulation made the case in front of peers. No room for cataclysmic pronouncements here. It revealed serious doubts about the "official" science.


Dr. John Zillman, former head of Australia's meteorology bureau and Australia's leading scientific member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argued its processes were as good as you would get and its science sound. Ross McKitrick from the University of Guelph, Ontario, took the conference through the detail of research which demonstrated as unsupportable the analysis which produced the famous "hockey stick" chart. This chart demonstrated the twentieth century is the hottest on record. It was endorsed by the IPCC which headlined it to support the case that human activity was causing global warming. McKitrick's analysis that the modeling was fundamentally flawed and the data unrepresentative is now regarded as correct. The work behind the chart was not checked before the IPCC endorsed and headlined it.


The case made by IPCC also depends on results from several climate models. Professor Garth Paltridge from the University of Tasmania argued the models were skewed to show warming. They depended on artificially constructed inputs which would just as easily produce a negative result. Another former official of the meteorology bureau, Bill Kininmonth, pointed out the models disregarded the transfer of energy between the poles, a major determinant of climate change, and focused solely on radiation in and out of the atmosphere.


Dr. Roger Beale, the former head of the Australian federal environment department, conceded the IPCC numbers for possible increases in global temperature (the notorious range of 1.4 C degrees to 5.8 C degrees by 2100) were numbers from scenarios, not predictions. He contended that a "probabilist" projection of temperature increase was 2 C degrees. He drew this conclusion from a couple of studies. Dr. Brian Flannery, ExxonMobil's chief environment and safety advisor observed in passing that there was little basis for probabilist numbers and observed that there was a great deal more we needed to know about the science. He cited several leading US institutions as sharing that view.


Professor Bob Carter, a geologist from the University of Townsville, then put the discussion over the IPCC climate change science into an Earth science framework. He considered it suspicious that the IPCC work only used the last 1000 years as the frame of reference. He demonstrated that in a million year timescale we were in one of the few interglacial warming periods and the next expected long term development in climate should be a cooling possibly leading to an ice age. He also produced analysis which showed that the historical pattern is that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere rise after temperature increases, not the other way around, as is supposed in the "official" science of greenhouse warming which presumes increases in carbon dioxide are causing global warming. In passing he debunked the conventional claim that most scientists are agreed on the "official" science.


The debate on science is just starting in Australia. There has never been an independent assessment in Australia of the science of global warming or the implications for Australia. Most focus has been on the economic effects. This was a result of an unspoken decision by government officials and big business over a decade ago not to contest the science. The result is that most Australian officials in government agencies who work on climate change policy are uninformed about the science. This is true in most countries.


The science is important. Until we have a good idea of what is happening, we cannot reasonably assess the impact or decide what action to take. The modest program set out in the Kyoto Protocol will reduce growth and, if applied in developing countries, would seriously restrain growth. If we saw from better science that cataclysm is not in prospect, we could approach climate change policy with greater confidence that the costs of implementing any climate change policies were fully justified.


Alan Oxley is Chair of the APEC Study Centre at Monash which hosted the Canberra conference. Papers are available on

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-05-20 07:24 AM

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