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Dr Gideon Polya
Dr Gideon Polya

Oz Environmentalist Professor Tim Flannery supports disastrous Australian Carbon Trading ETS

Tim_FlanneryAs evident from the failed G8 meeting at L’Aquila, Italy, the worst greenhouse gas polluters of the First World support cap-and –trade emissions trading scheme (ETS) approaches to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution despite contrary advice from top climate scientists and climate economists. In short, a Carbon Tax is the best way and Carbon Trading is flawed, will not work, is inequitable and will lead to a carbon pricing “bubble†and another market meltdown. Further, top climate scientists say that we must be urgently REDUCING GHG pollution rather than INCREASING it (see “300.org - return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppmâ€).

Nevertheless, environmentalists and environmentalist groups are being seduced into supporting the Carbon Trading ETS approach e.g. that of Obama that is now before the US Senate and the disastrous, proposed, pro-coal Australian ETS . The weak argument they offer is that “something is better than nothingâ€.

The pro-coal, pro-war Rudd Labor Government of Australia was elected in November 2007 with promises to the electorate that it would stop Australia’s involvement in Occupied Iraq (18 months since the election, two thirds of Australian troops are still there and there has a big boost to Australian forces in Occupied Afghanistan) and that it would take strong action on man-made climate change (but its post-election actions have been largely confined to rhetoric and propaganda while Australia’s world-leading per capita Domestic and Exported greenhouse gas pollution continues unabated).

The Rudd Labor Government did sign up Australia to the Kyoto Protocol in 2007 (a decade late) but balanced this by helping the US sabotage the Bali Climate Conference by refusing to agree to definite targets. As a ploy to avoid having to do anything concrete to decrease Australia’s world-leading Domestic and Exported greenhouse gas pollution (54 tonnes per person per year as compared to a world average per capita GHG pollution of 6.7 tonnes per person per year), the Australian Government appointed an economist Professor Ross Garnaut to research climate change for about a year and then proceeded to propose a softened version of Professor Garnaut’s final recommendations.

The Australian Government cap-and-trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) proposal was called the “Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme†(CPRS) but the reality as estimated from US Energy Information Administration data is that the Australia ETS will INCREASE Australian Domestic and Exported GHG pollution by about 80% above the 2000 value by 2050 (see “Australia’s “5% off 2000 GHG pollution by 2020†endangers Australia, Humanity and the Biosphereâ€) whereas top climate scientists are demanding that atmospheric GHG needs to be urgently REDUCED (see “Experts: Carbon Tax needed and NOT Cap-and-Trade Emission Trading Scheme (ETS)â€).

Further, top climate scientists and climate economists are increasingly blunt in their assessments that a straightforward Carbon Tax is the way to go and that the cap-and-trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) approach in general is highly flawed; will reward major polluters; has not and most likely will not deliver timely reduction in GHG pollution; and will lead to a destructive market manipulation “bubble†that will make the recent market meltdown look like a picnic (see “Experts: Carbon Tax needed and NOT Cap-and-Trade Emission Trading Scheme (ETS)â€).

Overall a very poor performance by Professor Tim Flannery who has clearly FAILED the “examination†as well as the environment.
The cap-and trade ETS of the pro-coal Australian Government is a dishonest scam that ignores top scientific and economic advice in proposing a rigged auction of GHG pollution licences in which only major polluters can participate (an auction that would be illegal in other contexts). Even worse, the receipts from the rigged auction are largely returned to the major polluters who can also keep polluting cheaply by purchasing very cheap carbon pollution offsets offshore from massively deforesting countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Politically, the Australian ETS has been a great success for spin-driven, pro-coal, pro-war, pro-US Rudd Labor because it has succeeded in fooling the public into believing that it is actually doing something against climate change – whereas the reverse is true i.e. it is doing nothing concrete to reduce GHG pollution and indeed is doing the reverse by permitting massive expansion of coal burning, gas burning and coal and LNG exports while damaging Australia’s remaining renewables industry.

While the Greens oppose the ETS as a scam and the conservative Liberal a party-National Party Coalition oppose the ETS because it is flawed and/or may harm particular business interests, an ignorant and media-brainwashed Australian electorate continues to put its faith in an ignorant, dishonest, and dangerously incompetent pro-coal Australian Labor Government.

A recent estimate was that about 25% of Australians opposed the Carbon Trading ETS, with half opposing because it won’t work and half opposing because they are climate sceptics or are otherwise pro-coal and think it may work.

The great political success of Rudd Labor has been to also split the environmentalist movement. While the over 140 Climate Action Groups who met at the Canberra Climate Action Summit in January 2009 oppose the Government’s ETS and want REDUCTION of atmospheric CO2 from the current 390 ppm to 300 ppm, other environmentalists have been persuaded to come out in support of the highly flawed Government ETS that will commit Australia to INCREASING its world-leading GHG pollution.

The pro-ETS environmental groups include the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Climate Institute have now, sadly, been joined by leading Australian environmentalist Professor Tim Flannery. The essential argument appears to be “something is better than nothing†or as stated by Professor Flannery “I personally think they [the Greens] should vote for the CPRS and get it through. Because a first step is better than nothing.â€

Below is a critique of an interview by ABC Lateline presenter Tony Jones with well-known Australian environmentalist Professor Tim Flannery (see ABC TV Lateline 29 June 2009). I have treated this as a kind of “student’s oral examination†and have inserted below correcting comments with appropriate references as required in bold in square brackets. Flannery has failed the Examination in key technical areas (it is no excuse that he was originally a Humanities Bachelor of Arts graduate from Melbourne’s Humanities-eminent La Trobe University before embarking on an eminent scientific career) and has also failed the Environment by supporting the pro-coal Australian Government’s highly flawed, cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme (ETS) that is misleadingly and paradoxically called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).

In short, the Australian CPRS (that Professor Flannery now supports) involves rigged auctions of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution licences for major GHG polluters with the receipts being largely returned to the major GHG polluters. It is estimated that this CPRS policy means that Australia, one of the World’s worst per capita GHG polluters, will INCREASE its Domestic and Exported GHG pollution to 80% above the 2000 level by 2050 (see “Australia’s “5% off 2000 GHG pollution by 2020†endangers Australia, Humanity and the Biosphereâ€).

Parts of the transcript of the ABC Lateline interview with Professor Flannery are given below  [my comments are in bold in square brackets].

QUOTE: “Tim Flannery, adjunct professor for Environmental and Life Sciences at Macquarie University and chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council joins Lateline to discuss the latest summit.

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Joining us now in the studio is Professor Tim Flannery, well-known environmental expert, a former Australian of the Year and also chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council.

Thanks for being here, Tim Flannery.


TONY JONES: Let's start with the US energy bill, and how much does this new bill Obama has pushed through his Lower House at the very least, how much has it changed the game globally on climate change?

TIM FLANNERY: Well, look, it's a very significant development. You know, that bill seeks to reduce emissions [
annual i.e.
per annum?
] beyond a 2005 baseline by about 17 per cent [
by when?
]. And what that means is that for the first time ever, really, US emissions of greenhouse gases will peak about five years from now, and that's a fantastic achievement if we can do that and then have a slow reduction. Now, of course, we'd all like it to be more ambitious, but you've got to live with what's actually achievable in a place like the US.

… [
discussion about the US Obama Administration Waxman-Markey energy, climate change and Carbon Trading ETS bill that is now before the US Senate
] …

TONY JONES: Well, no response yet from China or India on this [proposed US carbon-related tariffs] and I suspect partly because it seems to have slipped under the bar. It's now only being reported in fact in the 'New York Times' and the 'Washington Post'. So, it happened in the middle of the night. A lot of people didn't notice for the whole weekend and now they ...

TIM FLANNERY: Including me.

TONY JONES: Well, now they've noticed. And so what response do you expect there will be from China and India? Because it does look like a threat: get on board or we'll put tariffs on your goods.

TIM FLANNERY: It does. I think it's gonna be much, much tougher for India than China, this sorta stuff. And - which is a pity, because with the Congress win in the last election in India there's been a softening of the Indian position, and with the right signals, I think India may come on board. This may make it more difficult for India to deal with … [
In actuality,
India’s annual per capita GHG pollution of 2.2 tonnes CO2-e per person per year is about one third of the world average and 25 times lower than Australia’s annual per capita Domestic and Exported GHG pollution of 54; Indian PM Manmohan Singh has actually PLEDGED that India’s annual per capita will never exceed the average for Developed countries, this already being much lower than the World average and vastly lower than that of the US, Europe and Australia:

China's different. China's been playing tough all along. They've been saying, you know, "Unless you guys reduce by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020, we're not gonna be part of the deal." Now that's probably a negotiating position; we're yet to see. But this again will make it somewhat harder, but I don't think it makes it impossible for China.

Flannery ignores the reality that Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter and a world leading greenhouse gas (GHG) polluter. Thus Australia’s domestic and exported “annual per capita GHG pollution†is 54 tonnes CO
-equivalent per person per year –  2 times that of the US, 10 times that of China, 25 times that of India and 60 times that of Bangladesh; for details and documentation see

TIM FLANNERY: Well, look, offsets will be allowed - industrial offsets, right? So, if you produce a given amount of pollution, you can offset some of it by sequestering carbon in soils on farmland, which can be done through better agricultural practices and so forth, through charcoal making, another interesting technology, through reforestation, better rangelands management, better management of cattle and so forth. So there's a number of different ways of this occurring. It's yet to be seen specifically how the offsets will be made, but it definitely represents a real advantage to rural America and a very genuine set of offsets too. This actually helps with the climate problem. We know that this is such an overwhelmingly large problem that about half of the avoided emissions that we've gotta make over the next decade will come from sequestration in agriculture and forests.

TONY JONES: It is extraordinary when you think about that level of potential sequestration, but how does it actually work? I mean, biochar, for example, will - which Malcolm Turnbull has talked about quite a bit; you haven't heard much from the Government on this issue. Will biochar be available to US farmers to offset carbon emissions?

TIM FLANNERY: Look, the specific technologies, I think, are yet to be debated, but I would be surprised if biochar weren't included in there. I mean, the precise nature of the offsets, I should say, are still being worked out, but I'm sure that charcoal is one of the obvious ones. And just to let you know how that works, you know, just imagine a coal-fired power plant burns a ton of coal, you get 3.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide because the little carbon atoms join with bigger oxygen atoms to make them a CO2 molecule [
you actually get much LESS because not all coal is carbon and not all the carbon, C, gets burned or fully oxidized to CO2
]. That floats around in the air, a plant gets hold of it, strips the oxygen off again [
NO, just some of the oxygen O is stripped off
] and just keeps the carbon in its own tissue, so you've got that 3.7 going back to a single ton again 'cause there's carbon in the plant structure itself [
NOT SO; the photosynthesis equation is actually : CO2 + H2O -> CH2O + O2 i.e. carbohydrate (CH2O)n is generated, not carbon, C
]. You then combust that, make charcoal out of it and then store the charcoal, which is almost pure carbon, in the soil.

TONY JONES: So, how does this work for a farmer? I mean, you're talking about part of their crop is used obviously for export; the rest of it, the waste then becomes turned into charcoal and therefore somehow holds the carbon that's in that waste. Is that what you're talking about?

TIM FLANNERY: That's absolutely right. If you look at a tree, it's basically just congealed carbon [
NO,  it is actually carbohydrate, mainly cellulose,
, you know, that's what it is, effectively. And there's people overseas developing some very ingenious ways of permanently capturing that carbon as charcoal. One of the best plans I've seen is out of Sweden where an agronomist is developing a thing called a "charvestor". And a charvestor would simply go along and harvest a crop, but also harvest a crop waste. It'll put the crop waste into a charcoal making machine and it'll bin the synthetic gas you get out of that machine, which is a valuable protect, and the crude oil substitute'll go into another bin, and the charcoal'll get spat out the back and be put back into the field and give you a better crop yield next year.

TONY JONES: But how do you do it? I mean, it seems to require some kind of furnace that burns without oxygen or without using very much oxygen. How does that work?

TIM FLANNERY: Well, charcoal making's a really ancient technology. And all you do is basically heat up any biomass - wood or crop mass or whatever - in the absence of oxygen and that basically cooks it. And so you get a gas given off which you can capture, you get a gooey, oil-like substance given off, and that's a crude oil substitute, and at the bottom of the machine is all of the charcoal which is the carbon-dense part, it's almost all the carbon in the plant, which is then in a mineralised form so it won't rot away
[NO, it is simply in the form of carbon, C, which will not “rot away and escape back into the air†unless it catches fire and burns: C + O2 -> CO2
], and that's the key to it. Because crop waste, normally, if it's just put back on a field, tends to rot away and escape back to the air as carbon dioxide [
NO, much ends up as
methane, CH4, depending upon the conditions and organisms involved, noting that CH4 has 21 times the greenhouse gas efficacy of CO2 on a 100 year time scale
], whereas if it's turned into charcoal it'll stay in that field for many thousands of years. So it's locked away permanently out of the system.


TONY JONES: You've been watching very closely the progress towards the negotiations, or the progress of the negotiations towards December where there's hope for an agreement. Is there any chance at all that what many scientists want will happen, that is, an agreement to keep temperature rises globally to under two degrees Celsius?

TIM FLANNERY: Tony, we've gotta see this as a step in a process, right? And we're starting very late. There is enough greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to push us perilously close to that two degrees of warming over time, right? We can't see how this is gonna play out in the longer term because things like charcoal making may pull us back from the brink a bit faster than we previously thought. But I see this Copenhagen meeting as a very important step in the process. It may not of itself limit us - limit greenhouse gas emissions to the point where we'll be under two degrees, but it is a very important step [
not good enough; Europe has set a limit of 2 degrees C warming over 1900 temperature; 90% of respondents from participants at the March 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference thought that we would exceed 2 degrees C:
]. We've gotta get emissions to peak first before we can start that reduction [
what reduction? We can start reducing net CO2 and net GHG pollution right now


TONY JONES: It's not only industry, it's certain key politicians. Senator Steve Fielding had a very important potential vote in the Senate, is now being described by the 'Wall Street Journal' as something like a prophet, which is quite unusual to see, and beyond that, there's a view that Australia is emerging as a sort of epicentre of the new scientific scepticism.

TIM FLANNERY: Australia's climate dinosaurs are a lot bigger and uglier than the climate dinosaurs elsewhere, that's for sure. And it is depressing, because it's just so counter-productive. And, you know, the amount of time industry will waste disputing the science and not getting on with the job of adjusting to the future and a new energy economy in this country is just dismaying.

TONY JONES: What about the other side of the coin - the Greens in Australia? You referred earlier to the pragmatism of the American vote. The Greens, of course, have chosen not to be pragmatic at all, to vote against the carbon pollution reduction scheme [
CPRS; Australia’s proposed cap-and-trade emission trading scheme (ETS)
], and potentially vote it down, although there are other votes obviously. Do you admire their role, or should they have been, as the American Congressmen were, more pragmatic?

TIM FLANNERY: I think The Greens have been fairly pragmatic throughout the year. I personally think they should vote for the CPRS and get it through. Because a first step is better than nothing. We need to start this journey, you know? And, yes, it's not entirely adequate for the task, it won't limit emissions as much as we want, but we've gotta start somewhere. Unless we take the first step, we're not going anywhere [
NO; leading scientists and economists argue strongly for a Carbon Tax rather than market-manipulatable Carbon Trading and are saying that cap-and-trade emissions trading schemes (ETSs) are flawed, risky and unlikely to deliver the requisite decrease in GHG pollution; see “
] .


Overall  a very  poor performance by Professor Tim Flannery who has clearly FAILED the “examination†as well as the environment.

Contrast Professor Flannery’s weak pro-ETS  argument that “a first step is better than nothing†with the conclusions of the following top climate scientists and climate economists about Emission Trading Schemes (for references and expanded quotes see “Experts: Carbon Tax needed and NOT Cap-and-Trade Emission Trading Scheme (ETS)â€).

Professor James Hansen (top US climate scientist; Columbia University; Head, NASA GISS): “The worst thing about cap-and-trade [ETS], from a climate standpoint, is that it will surely be inadequate to achieve the sharp reduction of emissions that is needed. Thus cap-and-trade would practically guarantee disastrous climate change for our children and grandchildrenâ€.

Professor William Nordhaus (Sterling Professor of Economics, Yale University, USA): “To bet the world’s climate system and global environment on an untested [ETS] approach with such clear structural flaws would appear a reckless gamble …The international community should move quickly to replace the current cap-and-trade structure with one in which the central economic mechanism is a tax on greenhouse-gas emissionsâ€.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade (Director of the European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, marine biologist and Professor of Environmental Informatics in the Department of Mathematics at University College London, UK): "His [Nordhaus’] idea is very sensible. We need to move the burden of taxation away from labour to resources — and tax not just on carbon but other resources such as water to tackle the far wider environmental and resource problems we face

Professor Daniel M. Kammen (Energy and Resources Group and Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley):  “a price on greenhouse gas emissions is essentialâ€.

Professor Barry Brook (Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia): “A cap and trade mechanism is by its nature, an all consuming policy instrument that extinguishes the effectiveness of voluntary actions, harming rather than enhancing the evolution of a low carbon economy ...  the cap and trade mechanism is the wrong approach and we should instead focus on a carbon taxâ€.

Dr Robert J. Shapiro (Chair, U.S. Climate Task Force and finance consultancy firm Sonecon; undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs in the Clinton Administration): â€Despite its advocates’ good intentions, cap-and-trade could put America at risk of another meltdown — one originally created and financed by the government itself. None of these painful and difficult issues arise with a carbon tax-shift. Rather, it could enable us to effectively do our part in addressing climate change, while protecting or even enhancing our economic prospects. That’s a deal Congress cannot afford to pass upâ€.

Stephen Lendman (leading liberal US analyst and commentator): “Contributing $4,452,585 to Democrats in 2008 (around $1 million to Obama) was mere pocket change for what it can reap from scams like cap and trade disguised as an environmental plan. The scheme [the Obama ETS and energy bill] was devised. GS [Goldman Sachs] helped write it. The House passed it and sent it to the Senate. Unless stopped, it will transfer more of our wealth to corporate polluters and Wall Street on top of all they've stolen so far from derivatives fraud and the imploded housing and other bubblesâ€.

Kenneth Davidson (respected economics columnist for “The Age†newspaper, Melbourne; co-editor of “Dissentâ€):â€There isn't one cap-and-trade scheme in the world that has resulted in a reduction in carbon emissions. Instead, such schemes have made money for the biggest polluters and created a new branch of the derivatives industry that creates new wealth opportunities for brokers and financiers. Rudd's cap and trade scheme benefits the worst polluters. But the Australian scheme is special. It has been rorted at the planning stage … The carbon scheme is not simply weak. It is fraudulentâ€.

Professor Joseph Stiglitz (Columbia University; 2001 Economics Nobel Laureate; former Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank), December 2007: “The only principle that has some ethical basis is equal emission rights per capita (with some adjustments - for instance, the US has already used up its share of the global atmosphere, so it should have fewer emission allowances). But adopting this principle would entail such huge payments from developed countries to developing countries, that, regrettably, the former are unlikely to accept it ... Of course, polluting industries like the cap-and-trade system. While it provides them an incentive not to pollute, emission allowances offset much of what they would have to pay under a [Carbon] tax systemâ€.

Photo credit: Mark Coulson, 5th World Conference of Science Journalists

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The problem with the "something is better than nothing" idea is that Cap and Trade will create a whole new complex, confusing and expensive political and bureaucratic infrastructure that will be impossible to dismantle once we have learned what a bad program it is, as we will.

Australia, Canada and the US will shove Cap and Trade through, with the majority of the people affected having little or no say. Big oil, big coal and big banking will make obsene profits. Then it will get hotter and stay hot, and it will be too late. The folks making billions of dollars from this shell game will buy land in Canada and New Zealand and let the rest of the world burn up.

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One thing is certain amongst the all the confusion around the ETS - the responsible management of sustainability must now be an integral component of any business strategy. The transition to a low emissions economy has already started. Carbon equals dollars so it is time to stop ignoring it.

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One thing is certain amongst the all the confusion around the ETS - the responsible management of sustainability must now be an integral component of any business strategy. The transition to a low emissions economy has already started. Carbon equals dollars so it is time to stop ignoring it.

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