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

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. 

Nuclear India? Guest radio spot on Triple J’s Hack

“I think it is much, much better for Australia to be on the inside of this development pathway for India, doing all it can to build the institutional strength required to run a good nuclear sector, putting downward pressure on the greenhouse gas emissions of this global giant, and enhancing regional security through clean development and secure energy supplies.” 

Over breakfast I read about the findings of an internal Indian Government report into the oversight of nuclear facilities.

That day in December: the story of nuclear prohibition in Australia

Few people either in Australia or around the world realise that nuclear power is legally prohibited in Australia, despite us being the largest exporter of uranium in the world. This is how it happened.

Costs and Benefits: Final in the SACOME Series

This article concludes the series of six articles from Barry Brook and me that have had published in the SACOME journal over the last 12 months.

In a subject like nuclear power which is not easily discussed in sound bytes (presuming it is a mature, responsible discussion you are seeking that is…) it is challenging to establish a quality conversation. SACOME’s support has enabled us to do that here, staying with their readers over six issues of the magazine, covering most of the hotly contested issues with a good 800+ words to play with each time.

The articles have been widely shared and roundly appreciated. We (Barry and I) are looking forward to releasing them soon in an easily shared compendium.

My thanks to SACOME for this opportunity. That organisation is representative of a whole range of energy technology players including those that might compete with nuclear power (and those some commentators mistakenly say compete with nuclear power). So their interest in raising the quality of discussion on nuclear is to be congratulated. It indicates they have the genuine longer term best interests of South Australia at heart, through facilitating more informed choices on energy that will be of benefit to the whole state.

In our final article, we talk turkey…

It does not take long in any discussion of nuclear power before people want to talk turkey. How much does nuclear power cost?

It’s odd that when it comes to nuclear power alone, some environmentalists morph into incredibly hard-nosed economic rationalists. If the solution can’t pay its own way from the get go, bad luck.

That suggests a misunderstanding of not so much nuclear economics, but of energy economics more generally. It also hints at an ideological position if the same criteria are not applied elsewhere.

In considering nuclear at all, we are looking to replace baseload fossil fuels at 100s or over 1,000 MW at a time. Take your pick of technology, including modern fossil fuels: that is never going to be a cheap task. There is no way around the “sticker shock” of a modern power facility.

If we want new, large-scale energy generation in Australia, there is a large price tag, comfortably in the billions of dollars range. If, as we would argue, response to climate change demands that any new baseload is zero-carbon generation, then the options are (currently) restricted to the more expensive end of the range for capital costs (fuel is cheap or free for these technologies).

So, what, in that context, can low-carbon options offer in terms of up-front cost?  Let’s take some real-world examples.

Environmentalism in the mud: responding to Jim Green’s attack on Barry Brook

“This has got to stop, and it stops when people start taking a stand… The schism in environmentalism over nuclear power is now well underway. It is sad that the other side seem to have decided in their righteousness that they are allowed to play dirty and go after individuals, using the same cherry-picking abuse of science that is all to familiar in climate change denial.”

I was saddened this week to be forwarded a hatchet job on my friend and collaborator, Professor Barry Brook, authored by Jim Green of Friends of the Earth (FoE). Saddened, but not surprised. FoE has form in this department, having deployed these guerrilla tactics before against James Lovelock when he became inconveniently persuasive on the subject of nuclear power. It would seem that it is now Barry’s turn.

Jim Green, Australia's anti-nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth

I have come to know Barry very well over the last 12 months. I know him well enough to know that he is both the last person who would ask for defending, and the most deserving of defence. So I offer this response to Green’s work. I really, dearly hope it will be read outside my circle of existing readers and supporters. I have some important things to say.

Fukushima’s long-lived outrage is no nuclear accident

What is the risk from a nuclear power plant melt-down?

If you reach for the well known formula of Risk being the product of Likelihood and Consequence…then you are missing something big. That formula is going to give you some idea of hazard, as in the  potential harm that can be estimated by science.  Risk needs to capture so much more. You need to work out the hazard, then add the outrage.

Outrage is the overall negative human response to an event.  How angry are people? How afraid? How upset? How emotionally charged? How suddenly and unusually ready to blockade, write letters, make signs etc? How prepared to change behaviour, take precautions (make no mistake, outrage has its place)?

The major outcomes of Fukushima have little to do with hazard and everything to do with outrage. Consider:


“Just as Eithiopia has responsibility to its own people and the global community to take the pain of reforming its feudal and destructive land systems, we and other nations have an urgent responsibility to dismantle pointless and hypocritical impediments to nuclear power and get on with the job of deploying it to lower our emissions, fast.”

I am lucky enough to be writing this post from the position of having acquired a new home for myself and my family. After having mail delivered to 9 addresses in 11 years, it is a great feeling to finally be under a roof that will house us, for all intents and purposes, for as long as we need. So I have been thinking a lot about the concept of home; what it means and how it creates and shapes some of our most important decisions and indeed the varying natures of the societies and cultures in which we live. When we have placed our planet, the only one we have, on a trajectory of climate wipe out, it pays to reflect on the concept of home.

View from through the plum tree

Firstly, a question. What relationship does a total bastard called King John have with my simply stunning new back garden?  Let’s just take a quick tour of the garden first so you can appreciate why I have started the journey here. The back garden of my new home is an uncommon slice of paradise. It has a nice patch of good old fashioned aussie lawn, but it is characterised by a wealth of flowers, creeping roses, a vegetable patch, 6 thriving fruit trees and an impressive chicken run. The north facing orientation and slight elevation of the house provide us with the most stunning private sunlit vista. The garden has a rambling, cottage appearance to it, and looks like it has always been there. This belies the fact that it is the labour of love of the previous owner, Margie, developed over just 9 years (except the gnarled fruit trees and roses, which are probably 50 years old, as is the house).

The point of King John is that had he been somewhat less of a bastard, Margie might never have bothered to plant the garden.

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