A re-look at climate change – The Garnaut Review 2011

Professor Ross Garnaut was commissioned by the Australian Government to conduct an independent study of the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy. The Review’s Final Report was released on 30 September 2008. The Report analysed the science of climate change, expected impacts, global action and proposed policy frameworks to meet the challenge in Australia.
Professor Garnaut has now been commissioned again by the Government to provide an update to his 2008 Climate Change Review for the Australian community. The Review is being released through a series of papers in early 2011 addressing developments across a range of subjects including climate change science and impacts, emissions trends, carbon pricing, technology, land and the electricity sector. A final report is to be presented to the Government by 31 May 2011.


Below is a summary of the key findings of the first 3 papers released so far. What is so interesting about the findings of the Review is that Professor Garnaut is not an environmentalist or “greeny”. He is an economist, ex ambassador and political advisor and Chairman of major Australian and international companies including Lihir Gold. He presents a balanced, non partisan analysis of the key climate change issues that face Australia with particular emphasis on the cost-benefit ratio of action versus inaction.


Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action

Key points:
Australia has a lot to gain by the global community addressing climate change and a lot to lose if we don’t. That should be our focus and to do that, we need do our fair share

Australia has a greater interest in a strong mitigation outcome than any other developed country. It is in Australia’s national interest for effective global action on climate change and Australia must play its proportionate part to stabilise global greenhouse gas concentrations at 450 parts per million (ppm) carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO2e) or less (with the aim of reducing temperature rise to 2°C).
The costs of addressing climate change are outweighed by the benefits

The Review undertook some of the most detailed and long-dated modelling ever undertaken in Australian policy analysis. In the 21st century the accrued benefits were almost as large as the costs. GNP is higher with mitigation than without mitigation at the end of the twenty-first, going into the twenty-second century. The Review drew the strong conclusion that there was substantial value in taking early mitigation actions.
Uncertainty in climate change outcomes is MORE of a reason to take action now, rather than an excuse to “wait and see”

There is a stronger case for mitigation when outcomes are uncertain than there would be if the same expected (or ‘average’) outcome was certain. And yet in some of the Australian public discussion, it has been common to assert that the presence of uncertainty makes it appropriate to adopt weaker approaches to mitigation.
If we don’t act, it’s unlikely other countries will act which is critical to mitigation efforts

Perhaps the most frequently articulated concern with the recommendations of the Review was that it was wasteful for Australia to do anything because Australia represented such a small proportion of global emissions, or that the recommendations involved Australia “doing more than its share”. The first of these concerns had its origin in a false premise: that what the rest of the world was prepared to do in reducing emissions was independent of Australia’s own actions. This is simply wrong. While Australian action could not guarantee effective global action, the absence of Australian action would go a long way towards ensuring that there would be no effective global action.

Progress towards effective global action on climate change

Key points:
International negotiations at Copenhagen and Cancun have been protracted and messy but there have been positive results

Most developed countries—members of the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and now Korea—are reasonably well placed to make full contributions to achieving strong global mitigation goals. While previously major developing countries had proved the sticking point in large reduction efforts that’s not necessarily the case and China in particular is making large cuts in carbon emissions below business as usual.
Highest per capita emitters are the slowest to act

The three countries which have been the largest drags on the global carbon reduction effort are the three highest per capita emitters amongst the developed countries—Australia, Canada and the United States.
A carbon price in Australia can have many benefits globally

If Australia introduced a carbon price that was equal to carbon prices in other countries, it would cease to be a drag on international mitigation and show global leadership without making unrealistic demands on community support for action. This would also assist the United States and Canada to introduce policies to reduce emissions helping to spur more equitable global emissions cuts.

Global emissions trends

Key points:
Greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise around the world

If we don’t take action global emissions will double between 2005 and 2030 with developing countries being responsible for 70 per cent by then. China and India are growing strongly, and other developing countries are also experiencing an acceleration of growth that began in the early twenty first century which is leading to a rise in carbon emissions.
Australia’s emissions are set to grow considerably

This growth is unique among developed countries and is due mainly to growth in the resources sector. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency estimates that Australia‘s emissions are projected to rise by 24 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020, under current policies (which are below ‘business as usual’).
Developing counties need to take stronger action but developed countries must lead the way

Higher income developing countries will need to commit to reduction targets that are stronger and earlier than previously thought. This is only likely to be successful if developed countries accelerate their reduction efforts.
For a summary of the remaining 5 update papers visit:
Future updates schedule:

  • Transforming rural land use – 1 March 2011
  • The science of climate change – 10 March 2011
  • Carbon pricing and reducing Australia’s emissions – 17 March 2011
  • Low emissions technology and the innovation challenge – 23 March 2011
  • Transforming the electricity sector – 29 March 2011


The full update papers are available on the Garnaut Review website here:

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