The Prime Minister's Task Group on Emissions Trading handed its report to the PM last week, and it is now publicly available.
I am making my way through its 233 pages, but it appears that many preliminary assessments have been spot on. Peter Hartcher writes in The Sydney Morning Herald that the cautious report "seems designed to help Howard not in dealing with the environmental threat to civilisation but in beating back the political threat to the Government." The PM has been told what he wanted to hear. Which is not surprising given the make-up of the Task Group.
One of the most interesting features of the Report is the way it downplays the seriousness of climate change, and quotes selectively from the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While the Report summarizes aspects of the IPCC's most recent work, it does so very briefly, and leaves out key conclusions in relation to climate change trends and impacts.
Crucially, the Report omits what the IPCC has to say on the massive cuts in emissions necessary to stabilise CO2 concentrations. As one of the world's highest per capita emitters, Australia will have to face up to this fact one day. But clearly this is not an issue the Task Group wanted to get into. It is therefore not surprising that the Report makes no mention of targets for Australia. To have done so would have embarrassed the PM who is critical of the ALP's plans to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 (on 2000, not 1990, levels).
The Report also has nothing to say about the economic impacts of climate change. It expresses concern about the economic costs of mitigation measures, but not the costs of inaction. The ALP has set out to fill this gaping hole in our understanding of the implications of climate change upon Australia by commissioning Professor Ross Garnaut to author an Australian version of the Stern Review.
So it seems that the Report has a high degree of unreality about it. As an academic exercise in considering economic techniques to constrain emissions it all looks very interesting. But the conclusion must be that the Report's cautious recommendation to place a modest cost on carbon are not grounded in the scientific reality that the world is warming, and something drastic and urgent needs to be done about it.