Pro-Coal, Australian Garnaut Climate Review Damns Coral, Australia & World

Ross Garnaut

Ross Garnaut in Adelaide during the launch of the latest draft of the Garnaut Review. Photo by Carbon Planet.

Prominent Australian academic Economist Professor Ross Garnaut was commissioned by the right-wing, pro-Coal, State and Federal Governments of Australia to review the economic impacts on Australia of climate change; to also examine this in an international context; and to recommend policy options.

"In the U.S. Caribbean, scientists say an average of 50 percent of the coral was lost."
The Garnaut Review Draft Report was published recently and has made headlines in Australia ever since. This pro-Coal Australian Climate Change Report is of major importance because Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter and if you include the CO2 from these exports, Australia's annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution (47 tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year) is about 10 times that of China (5) and over 40 times that of India (1).

The Garnaut Report is GOOD in that it indicates (albeit inexplicitly) a serious climate change situation; the need to act now; and a "Cap and Trade" Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to encourage uptake of clean energy options.

However the Garnaut Review is fatally BAD in that it IGNORES crucial major considerations e.g. the need to cease coal mining and export; the human cost of coal burning (coal burning pollutants kill nearly 5,000 Australians annually); the "true cost" of coal-based power that is 4-5 times the "market cost"; the latest advances in low cost solar technologies; the urgent need to IMPLEMENT clean technologies; the massive ecosystem and economic damage NOW (notably to the Arctic, Antarctic, tropical forests, ocean fisheries, tropical agriculture and the ALREADY DYING coral reefs; and the urgent need to REDUCE atmospheric CO2 from the current 387 ppm to a safe and sustainable level of no more than 350 ppm as advocated by top US climate scientist Dr James Hansen and colleagues.

Unfortunately the right-wing, pro-Coal Australian Government Terms of Reference for the Garnaut Review included the following disastrous position, quote:

"The weight of scientific opinion that developed countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050 against 2000 emission levels, if global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are to be stabilised to between 450 and 550 ppm [effectively carbon dioxide, CO2] by mid-century".

However the literature cut-off for the latest (2007) IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (on which Professor Garnaut heavily relies) was 2005 and climate science is moving rapidly. Thus it has been recently reported by top coral experts in the top scientific journal Science that above about 450 ppm CO2 (26 years' time at current rates) the world's coral reefs – including Australia's Great Barrier Reef – will start dying because of ocean acidification as well as from bleaching due to photosynthetic symbiont expulsion from increased ocean temperature. Top coral scientists say the "tipping point" for world coral death is in the 450-500 ppm atmospheric CO2 zone (Sources: Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, Corals and crustaceans in distress, Exeter scientist warns: the carbon crisis is lethal for coral reefs and Australian Rudd Labor Government plans to kill Great Barrier Reef? ; see: also the latest 2007 IPCC Synthesis Report) .

The world temperature increase is discontinuous and so is the increase in ocean acidity. World coral species are ALREADY DYING at the world's current atmospheric CO2 concentration of 387 ppm. A 270-contributor Report on the world's coral from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Ocean Service (NOAA) says that nearly half of the coral reefs in areas from the Caribbean to the Pacific "are not in good condition and are continuing steadily on a long-term decline … even remote reefs are showing signs of decline" ; a major bleaching and disease event in 2005 devastated coral reefs across the Caribbean. In the U.S. Caribbean, scientists say an average of 50 percent of the coral was lost. Some areas lost 90 percent of their coral; a 1997 report in Nature estimated that the resources and economic benefits derived from coral reefs are worth $375 billion a year; and scientists who study the medical benefits of coral reefs say there are about 20 compounds in clinical trials derived from the corals themselves or the many organisms that depend on them.

"The Garnaut Review leaves one with a series of paradoxes."
Further, atmospheric CO2 concentration will reach 500 ppm in. 46 years' time at current rates assuming no acceleration of CO2 accretion in the atmosphere due to "positive feedback" effects (500-385 = 115 ppm; 115ppm/2.5ppm per year = 46 years). At 500 ppm there is huge damage to the ocean phytoplankton system (crucial for ocean food chains and for global temperature homeostasis (balance) by sequestering CO2 and for light-reflecting cloud formation through production of cloud-seeding dimethylsulphide) and the Greenland ice sheet melts with a huge attendant circa 7 meter sea level rise (see: James Lovelock "The Revenge of Gaia", Penguin, London, 2006 and Reduced mixing generates oscillations and chaos in the oceanic deep chlorophyll maximum).

According to top US climate scientist Dr James Hansen (Head, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, member of the prestigious US National Academy of Science) and 8 UK, French and US colleagues:

"Paleoclimate data show that climate sensitivity is ~3 deg-C for doubled CO2, including only fast feedback processes. Equilibrium sensitivity, including slower surface albedo feedbacks, is ~6 deg-C for doubled CO2 for the range of climate states between glacial conditions and ice-free Antarctica. Decreasing CO2 was the main cause of a cooling trend that began 50 million years ago, large scale glaciation occurring when CO2 fell to 450 +/- 100 ppm, a level that will be exceeded within decades, barring prompt policy changes. If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that
. The largest uncertainty in the target arises from possible changes of non-CO2 forcings. An initial 350 ppm CO2 target may be achievable by phasing out coal use except where CO2 is captured and adopting agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon. If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects."

The Garnaut Review recognized "risks" to economies and to peoples and biodiversity:

"The weight of scientific evidence tells us that Australians are facing risks of damaging climate change. The risks can be substantially reduced by strong and early action by all major economies ... We will delude ourselves if we think that scientific uncertainties are cause for delay. Delaying now will eliminate attractive lower-cost options. Delaying now is not postponing a decision. To delay is to deliberately choose to avoid effective steps to reduce the risks of climate change to acceptable levels."

Professor Garnaut reviewed the science, the economics and then came up with a "Cap and Trade" Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to commence in an initial form in 2010. The ETS involves selling CO2 polluters tradeable licences, thus making pollution more expensive and favouring non-polluting alternatives (geothermal and ultimately solar-dependent renewables such as solar, wind, wave and tide power). However his scheme (Cap uncertain) involves returning 50% of the licence fees to domestic consumers and 30% to business in an extraordinary subsidy of "dirty" power. The remaining 20% will be spent on Research and Development for "new" alternative technologies, notably the "coal-burning with carbon capture and storage (CCS)" favoured by Professor Garnaut.

"If the world were to follow this course then the Planet biosphere is doomed."
The Garnaut Review leaves one with a series of paradoxes. The "Cap" is set at a CO2 level that will kill off the Great Barrier Reef at best (at 450 ppm CO2), devastate the planet at worst (550 ppm CO2) and, in between these posited extremes, kill off the phytoplankton system and hence ocean life as well as irreversibly melting the Greenland ice sheet with huge attendant sea level rise (500 ppm CO2). While Professor Garnaut follows Sir Nicholas Stern in decrying climate change as "the greatest market failure ever seen", he insists on an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) "market mechanism" (albeit subverted with gigantic State subsidies) to fix the problem and rejects any State implementation or State subsidy of renewable energy.

The Garnaut Review also FAILS to take seriously the impact of factors such as from human values (altruism, responsibility, respect for the irreplaceable ecosystems and species, respect for human life) to purely selfish considerations of peak oil. Thus a 2008 CSIRO report "Fuel for Thought" says that supply/demand problems due to "peak oil" may see petrol prices increase in 10 years to $8/L from the present $1.70/L whereas even an ETS carbon price of $40-$100/tonne would only add 10-25 cents/L to the price of petrol.

The Garnaut Climate Change Review is a highly flawed Report that IGNORES major realities – it does not merely ignore an Elephant in the Room, it IGNORES a HERD of Elephants in the Room. The most important reality it completely IGNORES in its prescription of CONTINUED fossil fuel-based pollution of the atmosphere is that at 387 ppm atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) the Earth has ALREADY passed "tipping points" for major ecosystem devastation, notably the complete loss of Arctic sea ice and the death of the world coral reefs that support 25% of ocean organisms and are economically worth $375 billion annually.

If the world were to follow this course then the Planet biosphere is doomed.

Well, you might say, it is all very well to criticize but would the reviewer of the Garnaut Review do?

Here is a succinct science- and needs-based Alternative Plan. The Garnaut Review (514 pages) indicates that a favoured (but long-term, expensive, undeveloped, only partially effective at best and uncertain) Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology yields power at about the same price (6 c/kWh) as EXISTING wind power technology. To replace Australia's 92% fossil fuel-based, 50GW (50 billion Watt) electricity-generating capacity with wind power at $2 per Watt would cost 50 billion W x $2/W = $100 billion. However the existing "capacity factor" (reflecting ACTUAL electricity generation in practice) is about 50% (50 W capacity generating only about 250 TWH/year rather than the 500 TWh expected if there was 100% capacity) and if we assume a much lower 20% "capacity factor" for wind power then the realistic actual replacement cost would be $100 billion x 50/20 = $250 billion.

Of course that scenario is merely one "boundary condition" (one extreme in the range of the possible) and the actual "mix" and rapid uptake path could involve a combination of the following (Garnaut Review 2006 estimates of cents/kWh in parentheses): geothermal (9), wind (6) and concentrated solar (20) as alternatives to brown or black coal (3) or the uncertain, HYPOTHETICAL proposition of brown or black coal with combined Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) and Carbon Capture and Storage CCS (6-7) PLUS the latest, very low cost Solar Thermal and Photovoltaic technologies already being implemented around the world.

Crucial matters (not considered in the Garnaut Review) are the human cost of fossil fuel- or coal-based power generation (5,400 and 4,900 annual deaths, respectively, at a cost at $5 million person i.e. of $27 billion and $25 billion, respectively, per annum); the morbidity costs (6 times greater); and the "true cost" of coal-based electricity (estimated to be 4-5 times the "market cost") (see: Yarra Valley Climate Action Group, Ontario Study Identifies Social Costs of Coal-Fired Power Plants and Pollutants from coal-based electricity generation kill 170,000 people annually). Further, major reductions in costs of Concentrated Solar (Solar Thermal) Compact Linear Fresnel (CLFR) technology developed by Ausra mean that this could supply 90% of the US grid and auto fleet energy needs with cost estimates competitive with the "market price" gas-fired power plants and as low as 8c/kWh (see: Ausra study: Solar Thermal Can Give Us Energy Independence, Ausra moves to mass-produce solar thermal and First U.S. Solar Thermal Power Manufacturing Plant Lands in Nevada). Other current renewable technologies already approaching the "market price" of coal-based power include US balloon-based solar collector for PV cells and the latest dye-based and CIGS non-silicon thin films (See: Cheap solar power poised to undercut oil and gas by half, How the Numbers Stack Up and Ausra Building First U.S. Production Facility for Thermal Solar).

The only "non-market support" that pro-renewable energy "PURE free marketeers" need from Government is (a) legal and legislative action over fossil fuel-burners who are killing an estimated 5,400 Australians annually from the effects of fossil fuel burning pollutants i.e. recognition of the 4-5 times greater "true cost" of coal-based power generation and (B) gross production feed-in tariffs for renewable producers as in Germany and Spain and recommended as "more accurate" by Professor Garnaut who concludes (p437) : "A feed-in tariff based on gross metering is thus a more accurate means of pricing these benefits [as compared to "net metering"]."

Of course those "NON-free-marketeers" who believe in use of taxes for the common good (as in hospitals, schools, emergency services etc) would like to see major Government intervention for urgent provision of low-cost, non-polluting, non-homicidal renewable energy options consonant with the prescription by top US climate scientist Dr Hansen and his colleagues of REDUCING atmospheric CO2 from a dangerous current concentration of 387 ppm to a safe level of no more than 350 ppm.

IN SUMMARY, the pro-Coal Garnaut Climate Change Review Draft Report is seriously flawed through grievous and extraordinary omissions. The Garnaut Review is fatally bad in that it IGNORES crucial major considerations e.g. the need to cease coal mining and export; the human cost of coal burning (coal burning pollutants kill nearly 5,000 Australians and 170,000 world-wide annually); the "true cost" of coal-based power that is 4-5 times the "market cost"; the latest advances in low cost solar technologies; the urgent need to IMPLEMENT clean technologies; the massive ecosystem and economic damage NOW (notably to the Arctic, Antarctic, tropical forests, ocean fisheries, tropical agriculture and the ALREADY DYING coral reefs and the urgent need to REDUCE atmospheric CO2 from the current 387 ppm to a safe and sustainable level of no more than 350 ppm as advocated by top US climate scientist Dr James Hansen and colleagues. Even the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is seriously flawed by the absence of a non-biocidal "Cap" and the use of most of the licence fees to support business and domestic use of "dirty" energy.

The realistic and economic solutions to the Climate Emergency facing the world are urgent implementation of a NON-carbon energy economy using the cheap, advanced solar, wind and geothermal technologies already being implemented worldwide – and coupled with re-afforestation and biochar addition to the soil to return the atmospheric CO2 concentration to a safe and sustainable level of no more than 350 ppm.

Dr Gideon Polya published some 130 works in a 4 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003). He has just published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950†(G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://mwcnews.net and http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com);

see also his contribution “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality†in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics†(edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007). He is currently preparing a revised and updated version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History†as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a possibly 100-fold greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the "forgotten" World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others).


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Dr Gideon Polya
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Guest Anom is Here!

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What if Australia decided to ban the sales of coal? If they did, how much would the global coal price reach then? And could a ban like that slow down the coal market and the construction of new coal plants?

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Guest Coal Portal

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The use of sophisticated software systems for coal mining that is mostly burnt for power generation and steel production and adds to the greenhouse effect is valid for western countries who may allocate resources and funds to alternative and more greener sources of power. Some of the alternatives may be "safer" than the traditional mines. Unfortunately, coal publications show developing economies are more likely to increase their use of thermal coal & metallurgical coal in coming years because of its affordability and to meet increasing demands for electricity and steel. Whether they will embrace and utilise sophisticated software systems that no doubt add to the cost of production is yet to be seen. Cherry of www.coalportal.com

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