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Today’s media is rather confused as to how to present Labor’s decision to oppose the repeal of the carbon tax.  According to the heading in The Age report on page 4 this sends an “ultimatum”, but it does not identify the recipient. The Australian Financial Review gave the decision a front page lead under the heading “Business alarm over Carbon Tax” but its web manager must have gone  off early to the Derby and could not get it online. The Australian gives a more factual presentation on the decision although there is no consideration of a possible double dissolution, perhaps because it seems highly unlikely.  My perception is that it provides the Abbott government with ammunition to attack Labor on any opposition to changes in other policies (“negativity”),  to blame it for high electricity prices, and to exploit opposition to the tax from the  business community. It might also provide an opportunity to hold an independent inquiry centred on showing that Australia is being forced by Labor to continue with a policy that is reducing its international competitiveness while having virtually no effect on the world rate of fossil fuel emissions. Such an inquiry would be better than a Senate inquiry centred on the repeal legislation, as predicted by Shorten according to The Age.

The press coverage on climate change includes an(other) article in The Australian by Bjorn Lomborg in which he argues there is no established link between current fire frequency and climate change. It is surprising that The Australian has called on a Danish scientist to write about Australian bushfires when local climate and historical analysts might be given a run. And the more so given that Lomborg has adopted the modelling phobia by predicting increased “fire activity” after 2025 and global warming as likely to  cease being a net benefit after 2050.

The Age also reports that Environment Minister Hunt launched a report by the Great Barrier Reef  Marine Authority which, according to  Age reporter, says “much of the Great Barrier Reef is continuing to degrade, especially in the inner areas where a slew of new port developments are proposed and waiting approval from the federal government”. It is to be hoped that the forthcoming federal decision on these ports will be taken by Cabinet not by Minister Hunt.

Relevant articles (except for the missing AFR one) are below.

Des Moore

Labor offers ultimatum over carbon tax
(Article by Mark Kenny, Chief political correspondent published in The Age, 2 November 2013.)

Labor will be 'consistent' on carbon

'Climate change didn't end on September 7th,' says Anthony Albanese, underlining party leader Bill Shorten's insistence that Labor will only back carbon tax repeal if an emissions trading scheme replaces it.

Australian businesses and households face months of uncertainty over energy pricing after the Labor opposition resolved on Friday to stick with the unpopular carbon tax unless the government adopts its policy of an emissions trading scheme.

In a move that guarantees Labor and the Greens will be able to frustrate the new government's policy to scrap the carbon tax until the new Senate sits in the second half of next year, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has announced that Labor wants to dump the tax but will agree to its repeal only if the government ditches its Direct Action policy in favour of Labor's ETS.

''If our amendments are not successful, we will oppose the government's repeal legislation in line with our long-held principle position to act on climate change,'' he said in Canberra, fresh from his first dedicated shadow cabinet meeting since becoming leader.

Opposition climate change spokesman Mark Butler (left) and leader Bill Shorten announce Labor's stance yesterday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The decision locks the ALP into a potentially debilitating nine-month standoff with the government and could prompt Prime Minister Tony Abbott to seek a double-dissolution election, although that remains unlikely given Coalition hopes of a more compliant Senate after July 2014.

It will also put Labor at odds with ordinary voters who, just two months ago, voted decisively in favour of the Coalition in an election dominated by the carbon price and its perceived impact on electricity prices.

Mr Shorten said Labor was sticking to the policy it took to the election, predicting that the Senate would go through its review processes and probably send the government's repeal bills to an inquiry.

''Labor will never be a rubber stamp for Tony Abbott.

''We accept the science of climate change. Tony Abbott doesn't … I won't be bullied by Tony Abbott merely because he doesn't accept the science of climate change.''

Some in Labor believe the party should find a way of allowing the fixed carbon price to die a quick death due to its toxic impact on Australian politics.

They say Labor must ensure it is not ''boxed in'' to another election fight on the same ground on which it was defeated last time.

But others argue that the party risks standing for nothing if it walks away from emissions trading as an automatic consequence of dumping the fixed-price period.

After years of policy confusion that has led to investment uncertainty, business leaders say they want the matter resolved.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott called on Labor to ''respect the outcome of the election and not get in the way of what is a clear and fundamental Coalition government policy''.

''The last thing business and the economy needs is for actions by the Parliament to lead to one of the world's highest carbon prices remaining in place for an extended and uncertain period,'' she said.

If no ETS, carbon tax stays: Bill Shorten
(Article by Sid Maher published in The Australian, 2 November 2013.)

Bill Shorten: 'We believe the best, most cost-effective way to deal with carbon pollution is an emissions trading scheme.' Source: News Limited

TONY Abbott's repeal of the carbon tax faces being delayed until at least July after Labor announced it would insist on it being replaced by an emissions trading scheme or it would oppose axing the tax.

The move outraged big business, with Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott calling on the opposition to "respect the outcome of the election and not get in the way of what is a clear and fundamental Coalition government policy".

The political row erupted as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the $10 billion investment arm of the Gillard government's carbon package, said it would continue to progress investment plans despite the Coalition ordering it not to do so.

CEFC chief operating officer Meg McDonald, in revealing the CEFC had made $536 million in investments since it began operation on July 1, said the organisation was required to act in accordance with legislation until it was repealed.

Bill Shorten said the shadow cabinet had "unanimously" decided to maintain the policy it took to the election. The termination of the carbon tax would be linked with moving to an emissions trading scheme.

The decision makes a confrontation with the government inevitable as the Prime Minister's repeal bills effectively scrap the carbon pricing architecture laid down by Labor.

"We believe the best, most cost-effective way to deal with carbon pollution is an emissions trading scheme," the Opposition Leader said.

"So the opposition will move amendments consistent with our pre-election commitments, to terminate the carbon tax on the basis of moving to an effective emissions trading scheme.

"However, if our amendments are not successful we will oppose the government's repeal legislation in line with our long-held principled position to act on climate change to build a modern economy."

Under the existing scheme there is a fixed price on carbon of $24.15 a tonne. But at the election Labor wanted to move to a floating emissions trading scheme, linked to the European scheme, which would see the price fall significantly based on current international prices.

Labor and the Greens will be able to block the repeal legislation until at least July, when the new Senate, with more pro-repeal senators, is sworn in.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Mr Shorten was "voting to keep the carbon tax but he doesn't have the courage to say so".

"Under Mr Shorten's carbon tax, the price will go up by 50 per cent over the next five years, according to modelling released just this week."

Mr Hunt said "Electricity Bill is living up to his name. Mr Shorten will be responsible for Australians paying higher electricity prices."

Business attacked Labor's decision. Ms Westacott said the priority had to be working to ensure the detail of the Coalition's direct action policy was right so that Australia could reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least cost and in a way that did not harm industry competitiveness.

A Minerals Council of Australia spokesman said: "The minerals industry has consistently maintained that the parliament should respect the authority the electorate has given the government to repeal the carbon tax."

Burnout is no cause for alarm
(Article by Bjorn Lomborg published in the The Australian, 2 November 2013.)

The fire season opened early and dramatically with blazes across NSW's Blue Mountains over past weeks, but links to climate change are tentative at best. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: TheAustralian

LAST week in this newspaper I pointed out that global warming is actually a net benefit for the world and for Australia, at least until 2050. This is because the benefits of agricultural CO2 fertilisation are much bigger than the costs of increased water stress, and because fewer cold deaths outweigh extra heat deaths. This is documented in the latest and most comprehensive, peer-reviewed article, collecting all published estimates showing an overwhelming likelihood that global warming below 2C is beneficial.

This does not imply that global warming is not a long-run problem. Moreover, cost-effective solutions are still warranted for the adverse effects by the year 2100 and beyond.

But it shows we need less scaremongering in the climate debate.

To many, the information was genuinely new in a debate entirely focused on one-sided negatives. To others, the information was genuinely outrageous. Environment Victoria's campaign director suggested I was "shameless" for making my case while "NSW is burning". But while the bushfires are definitely detrimental, they simply do not cancel out everything else. Yet in the past weeks they have been used as the latest cudgel to showcase the dangers of global warming and argue for strong carbon cuts.

UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres told CNN that global warming and bushfires were "absolutely" connected, and former US vice-president Al Gore made it even clearer on the ABC: "When the temperature goes up and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous. That's not me saying it, that's what the scientific community says."

The problem is, that is simply not what the science says. The latest peer-reviewed study on global fire, run with a record 16 climate models, tells us that sometimes heat and dryness lead to more fire, but sometimes lead to less fire. This is because with less precipitation the biomass burns more easily, but with less precipitation there is also less growth and hence less biomass to burn.

For Mediterranean-type ecosystems, such as southwest and south Australia, it turns out that more than half the time, future drying means less fire. Gore's generalisation is simply wrong.

For now, the models give strongly contradictory results about climate impacts on future fire across the world, some finding more fire in the tropics and less in boreal areas, others the exact opposite. Even within a single fire model, the large discrepancies in precipitation from different climate models means we are unsure if there will be more or less fire on more than half the planet's surface. This is also why there is no established scientific link (a so-called climate attribution) between current fire frequency and climate change.

Even Figueres accepts that. "The World Meteorological Organisation has not established the direct link between this wildfire and climate change," she said, though she optimistically added a prophesying "yet" to her sentence. Instead she emphasised that we would see increasing heat waves (correct), and somehow looked satisfied, as if that were sufficient to link it to Australia's bushfires. However, it is likely that, in the long run, global warming will lead to more fire. Sixty per cent of the planet's surface will see a higher probability of fire by the end of the century, though more than one-fifth will see lower fire probability, including Mexico, most of South America, almost all of Africa below the Sahara, Southeast Asia, India and about half of Australia.

Moreover, global fire activity is estimated to have declined 10 per cent from its maximum around 1950. For the past 60 years we have seen less global fire activity, despite rising temperatures.

Even with global warming, the fire activity decline will likely continue until about 2025 and only then start going up.

It will still not reach current levels again before the second half of this century, and only later, possibly into the 22nd century, go above 1950s levels.

But Figueres argues that the Australian fires support the argument for substantial CO2 cuts. Somewhat undermining her argument with a "maybe", she insists that the pictures of bushfires are "an example of what we may be looking at unless we take actual vigorous action". Yet dramatic CO2 cuts would likely be one of the least effective ways to help fire. If we could get the entire rich world to cut emissions to the extent the EU has already promised for 2020, the cost would be at least $500 billion annually. Yet, towards the end of the century we would have spent more than $30 trillion, and reduced temperatures by only an immeasurable 0.1C. It would have virtually no impact on fire, even in 100 years.

Phil Cheney, a former head of CSIRO Bushfire Research, points out the main problem is the increasing fuel loads that dramatically increase fire danger. The obvious solution is "to increase the amount of prescribed burning and fuel management".

Such simple, smart and cost-effective solutions to bushfires don't negate the need to tackle global warming. But they underline how alarmist rhetoric often leads to bad policies. Bushfires are very poor arguments for climate policies, and strong, immediate carbon cuts are costly ways to achieve tiny temperature reductions.

Smart climate policies need to focus on the most cost-effective solutions because green policies will be sustainable only if they are economical. We need to focus on R&D to create innovations that will bring down the price of green energy so it can eventually outcompete fossil fuels.

It is not shameless to correctly point out that global warming will likely be a net benefit till after 2050. Hopefully that fact can cool the climate conversation, so we can choose the better solutions.

Bjorn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, directs the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

Poor report card on reef's health
(Article by Tom Allard published in the The Age, 2 November 2013)

Under strain: An assessment of the Great Barrier Reef confirmed it was facing some difficulties.

Much of the Great Barrier Reef is continuing to degrade, especially in the inner areas where a slew of new port developments are proposed and waiting approval from the federal government.

The latest strategic assessment into the reef confirmed that, while there are pockets of good news, hard coral had declined by half since 1986 in the bottom two-thirds of the reef, south of Cooktown.

As well, the report found there had been increased turbidity in the inshore areas of the reef, the result of rising sedimentation caused by run-off and development.

''The Great Barrier Reef is in decline in a significant way,'' said Russell Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority.

Launching the report, Environment Minister Greg Hunt had a more optimistic assessment of ''the jewel in Australia's environmental crown''.

''This great reef is in good condition but with challenges in different parts. It can be better,'' he said.

The report comes as major ports are planned along the Queensland coast adjacent to the reef, including at Mackay, Rockhampton and the world's biggest coal terminal at Abbot Point, north of Bowen.

Mr Hunt will rule on Abbot Point before the end of the year.

Environmentalists opposed to the port developments said the report reaffirmed that they should not proceed.

''This report appears to give no room to approve dredging and dumping in the inshore waters of the reef, given the scientific assessment of these sensitive areas tells us they are in either poor or very poor condition,'' said Nick Heath from the World Wildlife Fund.

Mr Hunt said the report's recommendation that the negative impact of development and other factors on the reef had to be assessed for their ''cumulative impact'' had been accepted and would mean tougher standards.

But he declined to rule out approving the port.

''Any future development proposal will be assessed against the standards here and assessed against the science,'' he said.

UNESCO, the body that oversees the world heritage status of the reef has already flagged concerns that the port developments may put the area on its ''endangered'' list.

Mr Hunt said he was encouraged by ''new science'' that could prove more effective in combating the crown-of-thorns starfish infestations that are killing coral. New programs to stop run-off from farms would also make a difference, he said.

Crown-of-thorns are responsible for 42 per cent of the coral damage. Storms account for 48 per cent of the degradation, while bleaching accounts for the remainder.

The assessment also found seagrass meadows have been significantly affected, hurting populations of dugongs and turtles.

It noted the reef generates $6 billion in annual income and supports 69,000 jobs, much of it through tourism.

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