02 August 2009

All That Matters are Targets

I doubt that Yvo de Boer, head of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, read my essay on magical solutions. But if so, he was kind enough to provide a great example of the dynamics that I describe in the piece when last week he discussed the details of Australian climate policies. Mr.de Boer explained that the details of Australian climate policies do not really matter, it is the commitment to a target that matters:

THE international community will care little if Australia skips its target date for finalising an emissions trading scheme (ETS), the head of the UN's climate change office Yvo de Boer says.

Asked whether it mattered if Australia arrived in Copenhagen for climate change talks in December with an ETS in place - a key hope of the federal government - Mr de Boer replied: "Quite honestly, no".

"What people care about in the international negotiations is the commitment that a government makes to take on a certain target," he told ABC radio.

The Rudd government wants to go to the Danish capital with the details of its ETS locked in.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said Australia's negotiating position would be weakened if the ETS was not passed before Copenhagen.

But Mr de Boer said what mattered to the international community was the targets set, not the domestic policies implemented to meet them. Domestic policies remained domestic issues, he said.

An Australian academic explained that the Australian policies being debated domestically won't succeed without, you guessed it, magic.

The government has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent from 2000 levels by the year 2020, while also committing to a global deal to hold atmospheric warming to within two degrees Celsius by 2050.

However, Australian National University scientist Andrew Macintosh, who spent months modelling 45 different climate change scenarios, said the two targets were not compatible.

Even if a 20 per cent cut was achieved by 2020, emissions would have to fall by an additional five per cent per year in order to reach the next target, he said.

"That's just extremely unrealistic (unless) we find some magic technology," he said.

It is a good thing that the only thing that matters is the setting of targets, because if meeting them actually mattered, then people might realize that climate policy is a complete mess.