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Poor want climate policies that work

23, February 2012

Insights into the fundamental policy failure of the 2009 Copenhagen Conference outlined in an article by Dr Andrew Charlton in the current issue of the Quarterly Essay provide an opportunity for the Gillard government to recast Australia's response to "the greatest moral challenge of our time." Dr Charlton, senior economic adviser to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, attended the conference as his representative.

Charlton's premise presented in the article is that climate policy parameters that conflict between economic progress and 'saving' the planet must be transformed to enable progress benefiting all nations.

Charlton draws on his economics and political backgrounds to present a compelling case that more, not less, energy generation is required to lift more than 4 billion people out of poverty and be willing partners in the technological innovation required to reduce the inevitable increase in emissions resulting from economic growth. Developing countries want and have a right to share in the progress developed countries enjoy, which is founded on plentiful and affordable energy.

This paradigm shift in policy focus needs to be embraced by the gaggle of environmental carpetbaggers, including the Greens, who collectively give environmentalism a bad name by cherry-picking Pollyanna solutions while displaying callous disregard for economic realities.

As is often the case with ideologically driven environmental activism, ambit claims (100% renewable energy, shutting down power stations now) and ideological platforms (opposition to GM crops, nuclear energy, clean coal research, hydro-electricity dams) hinder progress to good environmental outcomes.

The enviropolitical green agenda of rich countries to reduce energy consumption by raising the price of fossil fuels and forcing a false choice between progress or the planet is fatally flawed, while the consequences of efforts so far on global climate policy risk condemning the poor to continuing poverty – using food crops to produce ethanol being just one example.

Featured in the essay are the twin problems of poverty, which threatens billions alive today and environmental impacts, not only of ever-present climate change, but population, deforestation and present resource use that potentially threaten billions not yet born. As Charlton points out, these perennial global problems will not be solved by current renewable energy technologies, prematurely closing power stations, or denying developing countries their economic opportunities.

For someone previously so close to the fantasyland occupied by climate policymakers Charlton has a good grip on economic and political realities. Like Professor Bjorn Lomborg, Charlton can see many of the proposed solutions for climate mitigation will deliver outcomes more harmful than small increases in global temperature.

Charlton has adopted the same template the Australian Environment Foundation has been encouraging the broader environmental movement to utilise when confronting environmental challenges – base discussion on facts and evidence, not ideology.

The essay must have caused other environment groups in Australia to squirm uncomfortably when he dissected the tired old rhetoric they all used in opposing genetically modified crops. In this he is supported by leading U.S. environmentalist Stewart Brand who said recently "The environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we have been wrong about. We've starved people, hindered science, hurt the environment." Not to mention forgoing proven substantial emissions reduction from less tilling required of GM crops.

Charlton also points out the electorate have been hoodwinked by the Greens on renewable energy. He has done the math, as you would expect of a senior economic adviser, with his conclusion supported by others, in effect showing Hell would freeze over first (even with global warming) before Australia went anywhere near achieving its emission reduction targets using current renewable energy technology. "Mothballing cheap fossil-fuel power plants and replacing them with expensive renewable energy is by definition a negative productivity shock" says Charlton.

The facts however do not deter the Greens continuing with the falsehood that Australia can and should embrace 100 per cent renewable energy.

More facts and evidence are presented when he points out the inconvenient truth of the value of nuclear energy and the hypocrisy of the environmental movement for not only opposing this emissions free energy, but being unwilling to even countenance an informed national debate on the subject.

Jesse Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University argues that many green groups don't appreciate what extensive renewable energy use will mean. "Nuclear is green. Renewables are not green."

The irony of energy and climate policy development in recent decades is that environmental campaigning against nuclear energy and dams for hydro-electricity has driven increases in emissions from coal.

The current Australian government started their conversation with the Australian people by talking of a new paradigm. They should embrace the rational new paradigm offered by fellow traveller Andrew Charlton on climate policy, as good policy is hard to come by these days.

Published in Online Opinion February 23rd 2012

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