CSIRO charts course
The outlook for 2060 is win-win or lose-lose
The CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook 2019, released today, confirms yet again that our lacklustre political debate is based on old thinking, and that there is no need to choose between a strong economy and climate action; they go hand in hand, in fact. Based on modelling of two scenarios for 2060 – pessimistic and optimistic – the CSIRO report estimates [$] that our economy would be $1.5 trillion larger if global warming were limited to 2 degrees, than if we carry on with business as usual and the planet warms by 4 degrees. The report, which warns that Australia is not well prepared for half a dozen key challenges and that action is required to avoid the pessimistic scenario of “slow decline”, has been described as a “call to arms”. But CSIRO chair David Thodey told the ABC’s RN Breakfast this morning that the likelihood of Australia drifting into decline was low, because “doing nothing really isn’t an option”.
The report, more than two years in preparation, highlights six challenges for Australia: the rise of Asia, technological change, climate change, demographics, declining trust in institutions (including government), and loss of social cohesion. If Australia fails to address these challenges, it warns, GDP will grow at 2.1 per cent per annum, real wages will be 40 per cent higher, emissions will fall by just 11 per cent based on 2016 levels, and households will spend 38 per cent less on electricity. By contrast, if Australia does act, GDP growth will hit 2.8 per cent, real wages will be 90 per cent higher, emissions will reach net zero by 2050, and electricity costs will fall by 64 per cent. CSIRO’s two scenarios, when it comes to the economy and the environment, are, in short, lose-lose or win-win.
Federal Science Minister Karen Andrews toldRN Breakfast this morning that the CSIRO’s scenarios were “not predictions”, and emphasised that the federal government had put a lot of resources into STEM education, while pooh-poohing Labor’s and the Greens’ plans to lift Australian spending on research and development to 3 per cent of GDP, which would cost $30 billion a year. Instead, she said, “Our focus will be on engaging our researchers with industry to stimulate the spend of the business sector on R&D.” In a statement, Labor’s shadow science minster Brendan O’Connor said that CSIRO’s warnings “come as no surprise under a Liberal government that has absolutely no plan, no ideas and no road map for Australia’s future”.
Party politics aside, the CSIRO report bears out what Professor Ross Garnaut has outlined in a series of lectures: that Australia could be a superpower of the post-carbon world, exporting renewable energy to Asia. Or, we can double-down on fossil fuels, the industries of the past, and drift into oblivion. The key is to plan, as Thodey said this morning: “So we manage the transition, rather than having it done to us.”
CSIRO’s climate change hub leader David Karoly toldQ&A last night that the long-term sustainable population of people on Earth under predicted warming scenarios may be as low as 1 billion people by 2100, which was “not good news”. A report by Climate Code Red co-author David Spratt’s Breakthrough think tank recently warned that, in a worst-case scenario for 2050, there was a “high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end”. The CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook 2019 report is a welcome look on the bright side, while there still is one.
“Scott Morrison has claimed a lot of the territory that was very fertile for the Australian Conservatives. He’s a man of faith, he’s a relentless campaigner. In the last month or so I have been openly thinking and canvassing what my role will be in politics … I do want to see this government succeed so I’ll think about how best I can do that.”
“Members agreed that it was more likely than not that a further easing in monetary policy would be appropriate in the period ahead … [and] that, in assessing whether further monetary easing was appropriate, developments in the labour market would be particularly important.”
“‘While I was at break, there has been a murder. The resident has murdered another resident.’ Kathryn Nobes, an aged-care worker with an unnamed employer in Sydney, is giving evidence before the royal commission into the aged-care industry. A quiet, upright middle-aged woman in a floral-print blouse, Nobes reads her prepared statement carefully into the record. She takes her time and keeps her voice even.”
“The government leaks when it suits them. It distorts intelligence briefings when it suits them, knowing it’s unlikely the [intelligence] community will publicly correct them. Department advice is weaker and weaker in terms of frank and fearless advice. The whole work of departments can be distorted by political schemes, rather than problem-solving.”
“Like many a bereaved mother, she has lost all fear of people in power. She has an unerring bullshit detector, which she applies equally to her own public persona. ‘I have to be careful,’ she said to me, with her wry grin, ‘that my little halo doesn’t slip down and strangle me.’”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
The CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook 2019, released today, confirms yet again that our lacklustre political debate is based on old thinking, and that there is no need to choose between a strong economy and climate action; they go hand in hand, in fact. Based on modelling of two scenarios for 2060 – pessimistic and optimistic – the CSIRO report estimates [$] that our economy would be $1.5 trillion larger if global warming were limited to 2 degrees, than if we carry on with business as usual and the planet warms by 4 degrees. The report, which warns that Australia is not well prepared for half a dozen key challenges and that action is required to avoid the pessimistic scenario...