From the Editor

By Berg, Chris | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview

From the Editor


Berg, Chris, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


The solution to climate change - or at least the problems caused by climate change - is economic growth.

You don't need an opinion about climate science - nor any opinion about the 'need' for action on carbon dioxide emissions - to observe that political action on a national or global scale will be totally futile to achieve the ambitious decarbonisation goals that activists claim are necessary to stop the world from boiling over.

Australian greenhouse gas emissions are 1.5 per cent of the global total. Our carbon dioxide emissions less again. The distorted, costly, lumbering emissions trading scheme which the government has failed to get through the parliament twice, could only reduce emissions at an extraordinary cost. The success of an emissions trading scheme relies on governments ramping up the price of carbon incrementally, and doing so for the next half century. But are future governments going to be eager to do so once the cost of emissions reductions becomes obvious?

A serious global deal is just as unlikely. Compare the international negotiations over carbon emissions to the international negotiations over free trade. Free trade is unquestionably in each individual country's national interest, yet negotiations have dragged on for fifty years. Emissions reduction is manifestly not in any individual country's interest, at least in the absence of a consistent, globally applied and enforceable agreement.

Air pollution is either a massive or a trivial failure to allocate property rights, depending on whether you are a climate change believer or a climate change sceptic; it is a failure regardless. But - taking for a moment the worst case climate scenarios endlessly publicised by Greenpeace, Tim Flannery, and the Climate Institute - even when action is necessary, effective action is not necessarily possible.

The idea that we could get anything resembling coherent action on climate change out of self-interested horse-trading that characterises the typical treaty negotiation is as naive as Ross Garnaut's recent disappointment that the Rudd government didn't adopt the ideal emissions trading scheme he recommended in 2008. …

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