Critiquing “Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project”

Earlier this month my friend James Brown (analyst, economist and co-author of Zero Carbon Options), drew my attention to a new report: the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project Interim Report, Australia Chapter. The project is international, and is being run with some connection to the United Nations. This all sounds rather impressive, important and right in my area of interest. However James was concerned that some of the assumptions were peculiar. He had emailed the international project head to raise his concerns.

I took a look at the report. The closer I looked, the less comfortable I felt. While the ostensible goal is one I wholeheartedly embrace, I was concerned this report would potentially send the national conversation backward, rather than forward. I brought it to the attention of a few other parties including my friend Professor Tom Wigley. He, James and I committed to drafting a critique of the report and we got to work.

Late in the piece, a strange thing happened. While approaching some other parties for their review of the critique and potential endorsement, the draft critique was leaked to the authors of the Australia Chapter. Email communication was incoming immediately. To cut a long story short, we declined an offer of personal engagement to instead finish the draft and submit the critique as planned, which was a matter of days away. Our suggestion to the authors was that the critique should be published, along with their response, in the interests of transparency and following the example set by the IPCC.

The authors would not commit to this. They instead reserved the right to respond as they saw fit.

For that reason we have decided to publish the Interim Report and our critique here at Decarbonise SA.

We note here, as in the critique, that this is only an interim version of the report that we are commenting on and more information and a final version will be forthcoming in the near future. We note also that in the main report (as opposed to the Australia Chapter) we find much to agree with in terms of the value in developing deep decarbonisation pathways as part of a decisive response to climate change. As will be apparent in the reading, we have many and serious concerns about the Australia Chapter and we think a published written critique is the correct step. We were not, and are not, seeking explanations relating to the report. Rather, we believe reports like this should not require explaining. This distinction matters a great deal.

We don’t take the decision to critique this version lightly. A great deal of effort went into it. Nor do we take lightly the decision to publish our critique.

James, Tom and I share a conviction: achieving meaningful action on decarbonisation in a politically and economically complex world demands, as a starting point, work that is balanced, fully cognizant of the many complexities and uncertainties, and of the highest quality to underpin arguments and decision-making processes. Anything less and we are destined to repeat the past: environmentalists talking to themselves while the world heats up for another generation.

This is the Australia Chapter of Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.


This is our critique.



The final version of the report has now been released. We have noted two changes.

1. Correction of the error relating to electricity making up two thirds of Australia’s emissions. This sentence has been eliminated

2. The contingency scenario with nuclear now has less nuclear. It has been lowered to 14 %.

There appears to be no other change of material significance whatsoever.

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow @BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

Corey, thank you. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have said. I’m glad I can share this very moving piece with my own audience.

frightened childI’ve written before about how we should all be substantially more concerned about the future than what we as a society appear to be. Climate disruption is society’s enemy number one, especially considering that:

  1. all this unprecedented warming is happening on a template of highly degraded land- and seascapes. Extinction synergies (more extinctions than would otherwise be predicted by the simple sum of the different pressures) mean that climate change exacerbates the extinctions to which we are already committed;
  2. we show no sign of slowing emissions rates, partly because of the world’s ridiculous refusal to embrace the only known energy technology that can safely meet emissions-reduction requirements: nuclear power;
  3. there are 7 billion hungry, greedy humans on planet Earth, and that number is growing;
  4. scientific evidence denial, plutocracy and theocracy are all on the rise, meaning that logical, evidence-based decision making is being progressively tossed out the window.


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An inspiring message from Robert Stone

Every now and then, when something is just perfectly in tune with my mission, I steal it and re-post it here at Decarbonise SA. This is one of those times!!! This is originally posted here. Thanks Robert, we owe you our support.

Director’s Note

Robert Stone, Director of Pandora’s Promise

I’ve considered myself a passionate environmentalist for about as long as I can remember.  My mother read me Silent Spring when I was nine and the specter of a Cold War nuclear holocaust was not an uncommon topic around the dinner table in my family.  So my anti-nuclear and environmental roots run very deep.  My first film was an anti-nuclear (weapons) documentary, Radio Bikini, that premiered at Sundance in 1988 and went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Feature Documentary.  My film “Earth Days”, which was Closing Night Film at Sundance in 2009, chronicles the rise of the environmental movement of my youth.  In the course of making Earth Days I began for the first time to see the deep pessimism that has infused today’s environmental movement, and to recognize the depth of its failure to address climate change.  It was initially through getting to know Stewart Brand that I was introduced to a new and more optimistic view of our environmental challenges that was pro-development and pro-technology.  From there I began to seek out and discover a small but growing cadre of people around the world who were beginning to stand up and challenge what had become the rigid orthodoxy of modern environmentalism.

It’s no easy thing for me to have come to the conclusion that the rapid deployment of nuclear power is now the greatest hope we have for saving us from an environmental catastrophe.   Yet this growing realization has led me to question many of the founding tenets of traditional environmentalism, from the belief that we can dramatically reduce our energy demand through energy efficiency to the belief that solar and wind power will one day power the planet.  The almost theological adherence to a set of unquestionable beliefs by most liberals and environmentalists has likely contributed as much or more to prolonging our addiction to fossil fuels as the equally appalling state of denial among many conservatives when it comes to climate change.  Both sides are locked into rigid, self-righteous ideological positions with potentially disastrous consequences for us all unless we begin to face the facts.

Bounding the Future: Essential Thinking on Population

“It’s not politics. It’s not racism. It’s not green or neo-liberal ideology that is leading us to this bounded population future. It’s maths.”

I have been doing sustainability for what I think officially counts as a “long time”. Twelve years of near-constantly thinking, assessing, measuring, analysing, and researching sustainability.

It’s hard. It’s madly holistic. It’s complex. Being a good sustainability thinker means leaving little knowledge completely untouched. It covers multiple disciplines of physical and social science, technology, economics and finance. Local planning decisions matter, and so does global trade. To make matters worse, the world is not standing still for one damn second in any of these areas.

Sustainability can, quite frankly, do your bloody head in. If you let it, it will burn you out and leave you jaded and ineffectual. But one of the best defences against the burn out, which by extension makes for more effective sustainability thinking, is to do a little bit of what I call “bounding the future”.

Recently I wrote of an excellent explanation of scientific uncertainty: it does not mean we do not know what the truth is, it means we are putting some bounds around the truth. Now, I am on the record saying that the future is something we have to create. I stand by it. But the fact is there are some parameters we need to work within to ensure we are not delusional in that work. Bounding the future helps set these parameters. It lets us off the hook for just a bit of the challenge, all the better to focus our energy where it can do some good. Just a little bit of bounding gives a lot of freedom and power. Probably the most important area where our collective sustainability thinking requires bounding is in human population.

Q: When is modern coal cleaner than modern nuclear?

A: In the weird world of international carbon markets.

This year, new Clean Development Mechanism rules were approved that allow “more efficient supercritical and ultra supercritical coal plants built in developing countries to obtain carbon credits. So theoretically, a coal-fired power plant in Europe could be “offset” by carbon credits not through renewable energy, but through another carbon-burning coal power plant in India”. (with thanks to Think Progress blog for that passage)

Meanwhile, from Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator:

Pandora’s Promise: Pro-nuclear environmentalism on film

I am very pleased and excited to bring you some advance notice of the upcoming feature length documentary Pandora’s Promise, from acclaimed, Academy nominated film-maker Robert Stone. This film will bring to global audiences many of the issues, arguments and discussions that have been passionately raised here at Decarbonise SA and among other pro-nuclear environmentalists.

Click on the image to visit the Pandora’s Promise page

PANDORA’S PROMISE is a feature-length documentary that explores how and why mankind’s most feared and controversial technological discovery is now passionately embraced by many of those who once led the charge against it. The film is anchored around the personal narratives of a growing number of leading former anti-nuclear activists and pioneering scientists who, in the face of considerable controversy, are directly challenging the anti-nuclear orthodoxy that is a founding tenet of the mainstream environmental movement.

While in the US recently, I had the great pleasure to meet and get to know Robert just a little bit, and what a terrific, passionate man he is.

When uncertainty binds us and blinds us

Spending two days surrounded by scientists was not all I expected…

I have just spent a very stimulating two days at the Australian Frontiers of Science conference Science in a Green Economy in Sydney. My thanks go to the organisers for their invitation and hospitality.

I learned about some amazing work by lots of amazing people, like a genetically modified rice strain that holds enough iron and zinc to become a far more nutritious food for the billions depending on it as a staple. Punchline? No genes from other organisms, just using science to leave a natural rice gene running. The kicker? Early field trials indicate yields are increased.

I learned even more about just how badly we have dropped the ball in terms of our rampant, unfettered use of nitrogen fertiliser. I learned about efforts to control this while maintaining and increasing yields from cereal crops.

I learned that an Australian outfit  is now able to accurately predict and measure the carbon held in biochar produced from a range of different feedstocks. That’s big news for a climate geek like me. I learned that much aquaculture comes at a serious ecological penalty of fish that are sacrificed as an input, but that this is improving fast.

I also learned a little more about uncertainty.

As I heard in the opening speech of the conference, uncertainty in science does not mean we do not know where the truth lies. It is the way of putting some bounds around the truth. It is in the uncertainty that scientists like to spend their time, because that it where the interesting debate and work lies. But it is in the truth that they want the decision-makers to focus.

So you could say I have found the mixed response to my presentation to be very, very interesting.

I’m grateful to Robert Wilson for this simple, incisive post examining a decidedly strange policy direction from France. Read more from Robert at

Carbon Counter

The current French government supposedly have plans to go from 75% to 50% nuclear by 2025. The fact that the reduction is 25% should instantly raise a skeptical eyebrow. Such things are almost always driven by politics, and not solid economics (a fine example is the EU’s 2020 target of 20% renewables, 20% emissions cuts, and 20% energy efficiency all by 2020, well pilloried by Dieter Helm in The Carbon Crunch.)

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BraveNewClimate puts out the challenge: Support Zero Carbon Options

There have been occasions where those I admire have said positive things about my work. Each time, I feel humbled. Professor Barry Brook has been one of the most influential figures in my nuclear journey. As the author of one of the world’s premier sites for nuclear news, information and discussion, Barry (both as an individual and through BraveNewClimate) has maintained a crucial and powerful independent voice and fostered amazing discussions. He has given much, and asked for nothing. 

As you will read, for the first time he is asking for something, and he has done it on behalf of the Zero Carbon Options report. Please read on to this cross-post from BNC (originally published here) for Barry’s request, and an original article from me. 

Zero Carbon Options – Support the Report

“I am very pleased to announce today the upcoming launch of the report Zero Carbon Options – Seeking an economic mix for an environmental outcome. The report will be launched in Adelaide on December 5, and I need your help.”

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