Monday, July 21, 2014

Costs of Climate Change

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where a "Costs of Climate Change" colloquium is being held. This features Dr Frank Jotzo, Director of the Centre of Climate Economics and Policy, ANU, Dr Mark Stafford-Smith, Chair of the Future Earth Science Committee and Mr Howard Bamsey, Adjunct Professor at the ANU. A recording of the event is available.

A cynic might say that the political cost of Climate Change in Australia is clear: loss of office. ;-)

More seriously, I suggest that the priority for Australian research in this field must change to focus on  how to communicate the seriousness of the situation to the public and to politicians. If researchers continue to fail to communicate their findings effectively they will be in part responsible for the resulting human misery as well as economic loss from global warming.

Dr Frank Jotzo provided a graph explaining the trade-offs between the cost of action now and consequences later. He then provided a carefully worded explanation of the issues which was easy to understand for the academic audience. However, this explanation appear to have had no effect on the public debate (or may well have had a negative effect, with the public becoming suspicious of researchers) . In terms of providing practical measures for dealing with climate change we have enough "facts" and need better marketing.

Dr Mark Stafford-Smith, Chair of the Future Earth Science Committee, discussed the likely increased deaths in Australia due to global warming. But more likely to influence government and industry are effects on infrastructure, such as roads, railways, water supplies and the mining industry. However, the time over these costs will be incurred are outside the planning horizon of industry and government and are not decided centrally.

The last speaker, Mr Howard Bamsey, Adjunct Professor at the ANU, was the only one to address the issue from the point of view of policy making.He pointed out that costs are not as important for matters of vital national interest, such as going to war. He suggested that the previous government appealing to individual's current well-being, pointing out they would be compensated for carbon pricing, was the wrong one and it would have been better to describe it as a sacrifice necessary for the future. Mr Bamsey also pointed out that models for estimating costs are very sensitive to initial assumptions and warned that numbers have a misleading fascination for policy makers.

I suggest that research into policy makers decision making on climate change would be a worthwhile area for increased research into, with reduced funding for research on the physical and economic aspects of climate change (which are unlikely to produce any useful outcomes).

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