The Economic Case For Climate Action Is Strong

Sydney Morning Herald - Editorial

If you do not trust the International Panel on Climate Change you should probably not trust the Nobel Prize for economics.
Yale economist William Nordhaus has just won the highest honour in his profession partly for his work on the economics of climate change.
His modelling calculated the costs of investing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and then compared them to the social and economic costs of doing nothing and just allowing temperatures to rise. The bottom line was that investment in emissions reduction was a lot better value.
By coincidence, Professor Nordhaus' work provided the economic foundation for the International Panel on Climate Change report also released on Monday which urged the world to take more "rapid and far reaching" measures to cut emissions.
The IPCC report found that it still worth taking the fairly drastic action required to limit the increase in global temperatures to a rise of 1.5 degrees by 2050 as a result of global warming as compared to going slow and allowing for a bigger rise in temperature.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C would reduce challenging impacts on
ecosystems, human health and wellbeing," the IPCC report found.
The obvious big cost for Australia is that if the rise in global temperatures can be kept to below 1.5 degrees as much as a third of the Great Barrier Reef could still be alive in 2100 but if it rises by 2 degrees the reef will die.
So when Prime Minister Scott Morrison claims to be arguing from a  hard-headed economics perspective in dismissing the IPCC, the Nobel committee respectfully disagrees.
Yale University Professor William Nordhaus. Credit: AP
Mr Morrison's response to the IPCC report confirms that the next election will pose one of the clearest choices on climate change policy in over a decade.
This will be the first election since 2004 where one of the major parties  will campaign without even the skimpiest fig leaf of a policy on climate change.
Mr Morrison has responded by repeating his nonsense claim that Australia will meet targets for cutting emissions under the Paris treaty "at a canter" despite data from his own Ministry of Environment that emissions are rising and not falling as the government has promised.
While he is wary of the science, Mr Morrison appears to believe in magic. It is unclear why he thinks emissions would fall without any policy to do so. The government has ditched the National Energy Guarantee, its only emissions control policy.
The ALP's policy is for cuts in emissions which are at least in the ball park for the rapid and far-reaching target advocated by the IPCC. If they were serious, they would follow Professor Nordhaus' prescription of putting a price on carbon.
Government ministers responded to the IPCC by deploying the straw-man argument that Australia cannot survive without coal. True. It is is impossible to do it tomorrow. But that choice is false. Australia's old coal-fired electricity generators will inevitably give up the ghost over the next few decades. The issue is how fast they drop out of operation and what they are replaced with. With a time horizon of a couple of decades drastically reducing coal emissions is very possible.
Unfortunately, because Australia and the world have been slow to act, greenhouse gases have built up and it has become more expensive to stop global temperature rising at a dangerous pace. But the costs of doing nothing are ever more onerous. The smartest economist in the world says so.


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