Balancing economics with all our environmental concerns

The Rudd Government’s credibility on environmental (and perhaps, by association) economic issues is likely to depend to a significant extent on the eventual outcomes of the Garnaut Climate Change Review, and of course the government’s reaction to the report’s findings. Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol so soon after being elected ensured that the new government got off to an excellent start from a symbolic perspective, although its stance on emission cuts was left somewhat undefined at the UNCCC meeting in Bali last December. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong nevertheless articulated Australia’s position quite clearly; namely that the Rudd Government would, having announced the Garnaut Review prior to the election, await the review findings and recommendations before setting any interim targets. It obviously wasn’t quite as forthright a position as the environmental lobby would have liked, but in process terms the position made eminent sense.

Since then there have been some pre-emptive ad hominem attacks on the “green” credentials of Professor Ross Garnaut, mostly centred on the fact that he is an economist, and therefore that he is likely to focus on the economic impacts of emissions cuts, rather than the disastrous consequences if emissions cuts are not adopted, according to the climate change science. Considering these attacks, it is quite interesting to observe Garnaut’s recent comments from a conference in Adelaide yesterday (as reported by Penelope Debelle in the SMH):

On the eve of the release today of his interim report on climate change, Professor Garnaut told a conference in Adelaide yesterday that without intervention before 2020, it would be impossible to avoid a high risk of dangerous climate change. “The show will be over,” he said.

The Government’s existing target is to cut greenhouse emissions by 60% by 2050. Professor Garnaut said Australia would need to go “considerably further” as part of a global agreement, with full participation by developing countries, to keep climate change at acceptable levels.

These are strong words in a “green” sense for someone who has been typecast in some quarters as the stereotypical “grey” economist. I look forward to the outcomes of the Garnaut Review, and I certainly have a strong level of confidence that Garnaut will get the balance right between the economic aspects the nation will need to deal with and the potential environment repercussions. The man’s economic credentials are unquestionable. These recent statements reinforce the fact that he is cogniscent of and ready to accept the implications of the science. The early indications are that this appointment, made in Opposition by Federal Labor, was an excellent one.

UPDATE: Details of how you can make a submission to the Garnaut Review if you are so inclined can be found here.