Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Real offsets cut cost of zero emissions Australia

It was good to see Adam Morton reporting yesterday on the practical plan to achieve zero emissions presented at Sunday's Transition Decade launch by the Beyond Zero Emissions people. Unfortunately, the headline, "Zero emissions possible - at $40bn a year", played up the cost, when there are numerous savings to set against it.

Against the high-end estimate of $40 billion a year to switch Australia to solar and wind energy over ten years, we need to allow many genuine "offsets" that are far more valid than the dodgy evasions of responsibility that would be allowed under the proposed emissions trading scheme.

As Beyond Zero Emissions' Mark Ogge pointed out at Sunday's launch, the cost of the renewable switch should be discounted by what we would no longer be spending on the exploitation of emissions-intensive fossil fuels. Then there's the cost-savings from not paying the big polluters, and, most important of all, the saving of human lives and suffering from avoided climate impacts.

This is entirely consistent with the positions of Sir Nicholas Stern and Professor Ross Garnaut, who have long advocated that the cost of acting early on climate is far less than the cost of later action, or none at all.

As the ANU's Professor Will Steffen also pointed out at the Transition Decade event, climate risks are being linked to progressively lower levels of global warming as knowledge accumulates.

That means that more impacts are likely to fit under the European Union's "guardrail" of 2 degrees warming over pre-industrial levels. We need to be aiming for much lower levels of warming by cutting our emissions by as much as possible, as soon as we can. That makes even $40 billion a year a bargain, and Beyond Zero Emissions should be commended for its work to transition Australia to a renewable, green economy.

See also a couple of good letters on Morton's article in today's edition of The Age ("Zero obstacles" and "See the possibilities").

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