01 April 2011

The Talking Points Memo Julia Gillard Should Have Written

[UPDATE 3 April: The Talking points memo that the Labor party actually wrote is here in PDF.]

If Julia Gillard decided to follow the proposals in The Climate Fix for putting a price on carbon, then what would her proposed carbon tax look like and how might it be sold?

I suggest an answer to this question in an op-ed now up at ABC News Australia.  Based on the many comments on the article so far, the warning in the last paragraph seems appropriate!  Please have a look and if you have comments for me, please share here.


  1. In referrence to Dr. Flannery's comments on the radio, did you mean to say that even concerted global action on carbon would not have detectable effects on the global average measurements of climate system until the latter part of the millennium rather than the latter part of the century? These are the two quotes from his radio interview:

    “If we cut emissions today, global temperatures are not likely to drop for about a thousand years.”

    “Just let me finish and say this: If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow the average temperature of the planet is not going to drop in several hundred years, perhaps as much as a thousand years because the system is overburdened with CO2 that has to be absorbed and that only happens slowly.”

    This "admission" by Dr. Flannery in combination with the leaked talking points memo for MPs to scare people into action, has doomed Ms. Gillard I'm afraid. It is remarkable how seemingly intelligent people can make such a mess of things.

  2. -1-Papa Zu

    Thanks, but Flannery's comments were just wrong, as he sorta kinda admitted in his letter to the editor of the Weekend Australian. What he apparently meant to say was that concentrations of CO2 would not drop for 1,000 years.

    But his real mistake was accepting the premise (advanced by the Government) that the purpose of pricing carbon is to modulate the climate in the near term. This, as you say, is a losing position.

  3. -2- Roger Pielke, Jr.

    Thank you for your response. I'm not buying Dr. Flannery's revisionist "what I meant to say" spin. It is clear from both quotes above that he was specifically addressing global temperatures and not CO2 levels. There is just no possible way for a scientists involved with the climate issue as long as he has been, to conflate the two.

    I understand that in viewing the forest rather than just the tree, Dr. Flannery's ill advised comments change nothing. The fact that Dr. Flannery screwed up only makes your advice on a new approach more poignant and likely imperative if they are to salvage the policy.

  4. The ostensible goal of Gillard's carbon tax is to reduce Australian CO2 emissions by up to 25% by 2020. But even in the unlikely event that this goal could be achieved the reduction in global emissions would still be offset within three months by emissions growth in China alone. The question is therefore whether the policy is even worth salvaging, except arguably as a declaration of intent.

  5. -4-Roger

    Have a look at this analysis on the feasibility of the 25% (or for that matter 5%) reduction targets:


  6. still hung up on taxing a non problem like CO2 eh ?

    Why not tax something that would have a real impact on people's lives in a very dry continent and go after water use?

    Makes no sense wasting hundreds of billions of dollars now trying to solve a problem that won't be a problem for centuries - the world is awash in hydrocarbons, there isn't a shortage nor will there be - if the eco greenie hypocrisy movement can be moved off their high & progressive horse.

    Or we could continue to flush more money down the toilet building bat & bird cusinart machines that sometimes deliver electricity or build solar panel farms that are useless at night.

  7. It looks to me like the Gillard government is intent on punishing their own citizens with increased costs which will have little effect on global co2 emissions.

    Shouldn't the rest of the globe be contributing to the effort? As the world's largest exporter of coal they should instead institute a fee solely on coal exports and spread the pain around. They might export a little less coal, but at least they won't be burdening their citizens with all the pain.

    If importing countries object, they are signaling they don't worry about co2 emissions. If they don't worry, why should Australia?

    Frankly, I view the 'co2 is bad' basis for the whole thing as just a scam being perpetrated on the hoi polloi.

  8. Roger.

    Thanks for the link to your article. I had in fact read it before, and I remember nodding my head in agreement with what you had to say. But now we have another question. If the Australian emissions targets are so obviously unreachable, why would a (presumably) pragmatic politician like Julia Gillard act as if they aren't? Is she blinded by crusading zeal, or getting bad advice from her advisers, or both? She surely can't seriously believe that cutting Australian carbon emissions by 25% by 2020 will have any significant impact on droughts or bush fires. Or maybe she does ....

    Whenever I read about proposed emissions caps I'm constantly reminded of the fact that there is only one case where a group of countries has ever succeeded in cutting emissions by anything more than a token amount - Russia and the other East Bloc states in the 1990s. And they did it not by design, but by collapsing economically. Maybe some politicians need to be reminded of this from time to time too.

  9. As great as your book is, I still do not get it.
    Why should we tax something that works pretty well to support something that works very poorly?
    Now that you agree temperature does not justify the tax, what does?

  10. You continue with your (no doubt useful to you) ambiguity as to whether your carbon tax is on fossil fuel burned (and therefore really about seeking to develop alternate energy supplies) or on carbon dioxide emitted (and therefore really about "climate").

    The test is, of course, your attitude to CCS. Would coal fired power stations with CCS pay your carbon tax or not?

  11. -8-Roger

    I would guess that most politicians don't actually understand the scale of challenge of decarbonization or the relationship of the policies that they are advocating to that scale. This is not their fault, they have a a lot to deal with. I blame their expert advisors.


    See Chapter 9 of TCF, and/or The Hartwell Paper


    I favr and "upstream" carbon tax, one where fossil fuels are mined or extracted, so yes, coal used in CCS plants would face that levy. But since the goal is to raise funds for building an "energy bridge" then there are other mechanisms that would world, like a petrol tax. I discuss both in TCF.


  12. Let's see if I understand this. There is a need to fund research into new energy production methods. So we're going to put a tax on carbon (if global warming doesn't matter, then why tax carbon? Never mind). But the tax is going to be revenue neutral (in other words, we'll give it all back to you).

    If the whole point is to raise money for energy research, why are you rebating it as soon as you collect it? But you're not giving it all back, because you need it for research.


    If you need money to fund energy research, why not just raise the income tax? That's a rhetorical question. You tax carbon (just a little) now, so that you can ratchet up the increase later. Right? But I though this had nothing to do with global warming?

    For someone so insistent on balancing the books when it comes to energy production and de-carbonization, your carbon tax logic leaves a lot to be desired. Just sayin.'

  13. -12-Mark B.

    I think you can do a bit better ;-)

    First, you gotta keep your arguments straight -- e.g., Julia Gillard wants to give all the money back, I don't. (She is the one with red hair).

    Global warming does matter, so too does a whole host of other things, like energy access, security, cost and reliability (to name several).

    I'd rather tax carbon than income, but if you have a viable plan for achieving energy policy goals based on raising income taxes, lets hear it -- I'll listen.


  14. CCS, oh puhleeze.

    Sulfur scrubbing reduced the efficiency of coal fired power plants by ~5% absolute. CCS would dwarf that.

  15. -13- Roger Pielke, Jr.,

    Personally, I'd probably toss "Energy Policy" out altogether. However, I suspect that the least distasteful option might be to perhaps raise the royalties on oil, while at the same time, actually allowing, you know, drilling.

    Personally, I'd open up ANWR and other off shore drilling. There are many who would probably find this all as unacceptable as a carbon tax is to me.

    Of course, that's a US proposal, not Australian, though I suppose they could do something similar with all of their coal.

  16. Roger Pielke, Jr. said... 13

    I'd rather tax carbon than income

    The problem with energy taxes at the Federal level in the US is they are disproportionate. Hence, they rarely get enough bites to get thru the US Senate.

    The people who live in North Dakota are no more or less concerned about wasteful energy use then the people in California. The people in California have a nice moderating breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean that keeps their heating and cooling needs to a minimum.

    I live in Western Washington, my cell phone, cable and internet cost more then my gas and electric bills. I heat to 70 in the winter and have no need for air conditioning.

    My parents live in New England, they heat to 60 in the winter and cool to 90 in the summer. Their house has triple pane windows, they have a foot of insulation in the ceiling. They unplug the microwave when they are not using it to save however much electricity the LED clock uses. Their gas and electric bills are triple mine.

    Any sort of broad based carbon or energy tax is going to disproportionately fall on my parents.

    Their Senator, whose job is to vigorously fight for policies that benefit his/her constituents is going to fight a policy that is proportionate impacts my parents.

    My Senator is going to support 'tax and refund' or some other such broad based policy, as it really won't impact the bulk of the citizens of Washington and may end up being a net financial benefit. Taxing people who live in places with really hot summers and really cold winters and refunding it to people who have neither sounds good to me!!!!

    I'm all for a bit of R&D to find cheaper, cleaner forms of energy. Unfortunately, I doubt a broad based energy tax or carbon tax will ever make it through the US Senate because it's impact will be disproportionate.