The political fight over climate change policies continues to rage in our parliament, with the shadow minister for Climate Action apparently threatening a double dissolution of parliament if that is what it would take to repeal the current policies. The deeper question for analysts in the background is whether emission policies are a political feasibility, not just at the world level but even within Australia.
Some public commentators believe that reducing carbon emissions is possible and that we are on the right way with the current policies. Others, like me, see carbon emission policies as a political dead end and advocate geo-engineering and adaption. Hope versus realism one might say. Endless debates full of emotions and hot air ensue, yet how can an outsider tell who is right?
In the best of Aussie traditions, I propose a set of gentlemen’s wagers. For each one, the stake is 1000 AUS to a favoured charity (mine is Amnesty International). The propositions which I offer to any Australian scientist active in the climate change debate are:
- Australia will not meet its 2020 Kopenhagen emission commitments in that domestic emissions in 2020 will not be at least 5% lower than they were in 2000.
- World emissions of CO2 (measured by the EIA) in 2020 will be higher than they were in either 2000 or 2010. And there will be no global Emission Trading Scheme in 2020 of which the participating countries cover at least 80% of world GDP (measured in PPPs).
- Both Australian and world coal production will be higher in 2020 than in 2010.
Conditions: first come, first served; names are made public; scientists active in the debate only; I win if and only if, measured in 2021, the proposition holds; disputes to be settled by ESA peers; offers close end of October 2011.
Proposition one should appeal to Labor politicians who write flowery speeches about how the government’s emissions policies are good policies that are going to work. I am calling those policies symbolic wastes of time that are not going to achieve anything substantial, like delivering our promises. The bet is on domestic emissions because there is some chance we will pay other countries to pretend they are reducing their emissions, which should not count.
Proposition two is a judgment on world developments and is a challenge to anyone who believes serious international cooperation to reduce emissions is going to happen. Note that there are various non-political events that could deliver the outcome: a major world recession or a technological breakthrough could also tilt emissions down, so one gets several bites at the cherry.
Proposition 3 is a direct challenge to those who believe Australia is serious or will become serious about carbon emission reductions: the whole point of emission trading schemes is to get to a situation where we stop digging up our fossil fuels and leave them unburnt in the ground. The wager is that neither Australia nor the world is going to actually do this.
Why am I offering these wagers? Because I have found that scientists often dodge the question of whether their policies are politically feasible. They debate on the basis of the policies they want to see succeed rather than on the basis of what could succeed. The arguments are thus emotional, involving the intricacies of climate science, or how we owe it to the next generation to do something. Yet, precisely when you truly believe the doomsday scenarios and our inter-generational obligations, you need a calm look at what is politically feasible in this world: whoever thinks carbon emissions policies are not going to work given the political realities of this world, owes it to the next generation to say so and move on to advocating things that might work. If those emotionally defending current policies believe their own words, they should be brave enough to take up the offered wagers.
I would advocate more bets on this debate and others debates in which the number of participants is too small to sustain a commercial betting market. Bets are an open signal to the public as to where the balance of probabilities lies on complex questions. They are a quick way to force scientists to stop posturing and have a calm look at the political realities of the world, which in turn should help to focus the policy debate on what is workable.
Besides, Australia is the betting capital of the world and we should make that national trait work to our benefit.