Wednesday, April 30, 2014

First Invited Paper Published in Energies Special Issue

I am the editor of a special issue of the open access journal Energies. The special issue is on energy transitions and economic change. I'm happy to announce that the first paper that I invited for the special issue has now already been published. It is by Steve Sorrell and is on the rebound effect.
The first contributed paper has also been published. Others are still in the peer review process and a few we also already rejected.

The model for these special issues is that the editor invites a number of people to contribute papers and there is also a general call for contributions. The journal is publishing papers as they are ready but you can still submit papers up to the 15th July deadline.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Natural Resources and Economic Growth

Carlo Carraro, Marianne Fay, and Marzio Galeotti call for mainstream macroeconomics textbooks to talk about the role of natural resources in economic growth and development. This is something that ecological economists have been calling for 25 years plus. But it is good to see more people getting on board. I wonder though how much consensus there is on what we should teach students about this.

Summary by Policymakers

Robert Stavins comments on his blog that given the outcome of the IPCC SPM approval meeting in Berlin the report should be called the "Summary by Policymakers" rather than the "Summary for Policymakers". For more commentary on the process see my article in The Conversation and this commentary in Science.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

New Article in The Conversation

Michael Hopkins, an editor at The Conversation, suggested I follow up my blogpost on the IPCC 'censorship' controversy with a piece in The Conversation. That article is out today. The censorship story has also been picked up on by Science magazine.

If you are wondering whether to contribute to sites like The Conversation, I think it is well worth it, though it is a bit more work than I usually put into a blogpost. My blogpost last Thursday on the censorship issue has received 210 hits so far according to Google. People who just navigated to my home page rather than selecting the article title aren't counted, but probably don't amount to a huge number of additional views. Our 13th April article in The Conversation has got 4720 hits so far and my previous two articles there have gotten 1681 and 1859 hits each. Three of my blogposts have exceeded those numbers (11-13000 hits) and they are all about PLoS ONE and impact factors. My next best blogpost is this one with 1666 hits. Typical numbers are in the low hundreds if I'm lucky. So, I can get much more reach on a site like The Conversation than a typical post on my blog about my own research achieves. Of course, not all stories are going to be suitable for sites like these, but it's worth thinking about what might be suitable.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More Debate on the Little Ice Age

Back in 2010, I discussed a paper by Kelly and O Grada on the Little Ice Age. Or rather, on the lack of a Little Ice Age. Commenters on the thread including O Grada have pointed out that that debate has made some progress in the last few years. The authors published a paper in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, which was part of a special issue on the topic. Now, they have followed up with a response to their critics' articles from the special issue.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chapter 5 and the Summary for Policy Makers

Chapter 5 was one of the main chapters of the Working Group III 5th Assessment Report at the centre of the controversy this week on so-called censorship of the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM). The SPM is an executive summary of the report for the IPCC member governments. Those member governments get to dictate what points from the underlying report get included in this summary and how they are "spun". However, there is also a Technical Summary that is written entirely by the researchers responsible for the main report. The material from Chapter 5 that was in the draft SPM but eliminated in the plenary meeting in Berlin referred to emissions from specific groups of countries. This blogpost provides a quick overview of the deleted figures, some of which are still in  the Technical Summary.

The first graph breaks down emissions by broad global regions:

The developed countries are represented by the members of the OECD as it stood in 1990 (since then Mexico, Korea, Czech Republic etc. have joined). Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are designated "Economies in Transition" and the developing world is broken down into Asia (importantly including China and India), Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa. The left-hand panel shows emissions year by year since the Industrial Revolution and also breaks them down into energy and industrial and land use related emissions. The former continue to increase but the latter appear to have peaked. Since the 1970s, the majority of growth in energy and industrial emissions has come from developing countries and particularly Asia. In an attempt to better represent the historical responsibilities of each group of countries the right-hand panel shows the cumulative historical emissions of greenhouse gases by region.* China and particularly India have campaigned to get historical contributions to global warming better-acknowledged. But the results of our analysis show that less than half of the cumulative emissions now come from the developed countries as a whole (more when only energy and industrial emissions are considered). This, presumably, isn't the message that developing country delegates wanted to see.

The next controversial figure breaks down total and per capita greenhouse gas emissions by country income groups:

The leftmost panel shows total emissions which increased everywhere due to population growth. But they particularly increased in upper middle income countries (which includes China). The total emissions from this group are now almost equal to that from the high income countries. On a per capita basis, emissions were flat in the developed world and declining in the poorest countries (as emissions from land use declined). They rose in the middle income countries. The figure does, however, also show that in all developing country groups per capita emissions remain much below those in the developed countries.

The final deleted figure deals with emissions embodied in trade:

Looking at the emissions generated in producing imports and exports, the developed countries and economies in transition ("Annex B") import more "embodied" emissions than they export. The opposite is true of the developing countries ("Non Annex B"). Emissions that include the net emissions embodied in trade are termed "consumption emissions" in contrast to the "production emissions" that are the total emissions emitted within a country and are the usual way of calculating emissions.** These numbers are derived using input-output modelling. The results are often used to argue that developed countries have reduced their emissions by offshoring production to developing countries, which is a controversial question. But properly answering this question is more complicated than this. They are also used to claim that developed countries are responsible for their consumption emissions rather than their production emissions. But both importers and exporters gain from this trade. Because of these controversies I can understand the decision to drop the discussion and figure from the SPM.

* These do not directly correspond to the amounts of gases in the atmosphere. A large fraction of annual carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the ocean, vegetation etc. and methane only survives for an average of 11 years in the atmosphere before being oxidised to carbon dioxide and water. So, I am not very enthusiastic about treating cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases as an indicator of historical responsibility.

** Economists would usually use the term "production emissions" to refer to emissions from production activities  and "consumption emissions" to refer to emissions by consumers. This initially caused some communication problems among researchers from different disciplines in our chapter team.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

774 ABC Melbourne

I was just interviewed on 774 ABC Melbourne radio. They wanted to know about the IPCC Report being "censored". So, I explained that the governments get to edit their own executive summary - the Summary for Policy Makers - from a draft provided by the scientists but they can't touch the underlying report or the Technical Summary, which is a second executive summary. Also the SPM has to be fully referenced to the underlying report so it is a question of picking and choosing what to emphasize rather than censoring. The main changes in the SPM are a downplaying of "international cooperation" in favour of an emphasis on "sustainability, justice, and equity" in the framing statements and the deletion of graphs and discussion of how emissions break down on a regional or development level basis in any way. This apparently reduces the onus on development countries to take actions equivalent to those of the developed world and focuses more on the distributional issues rather than contributions to the total problem. Though emissions per capita are much lower in developing countries they now emit the majority of total emissions and are catching up in terms of their contribution to the accumulated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Monday, April 14, 2014

IPCC Media Update

I was on ABC News 24 at 12:10 today. Clip doesn't seem available yet. Went over to parliament house studio for the interview. Just me in the room with the cameraman and questions coming from the news team in Sydney. JJJ piece was cancelled in favour of another story after they recorded the interview with me. I may be Sky News or Radio National (7:05-7:15) tonight, details to come. Our story is now up on the Crawford website. There is also a story on an interview I did with the Guardian.

Key Messages from the IPCC Working Group III Report

Here are some of the emerging key messages from the IPCC WG III report. You can download the Summary for Policymakers. The full report should be available tomorrow.
  • Emissions grew faster than ever since 2000.

  • Most of the growth is coming from middle income countries like China and India. Per capita emissions are still low in most developing countries, meaning a lot more growth in emissions can be expected under business as usual.

  • We need a broad portfolio of solutions to solve the problem including renewables, carbon capture and storage, carbon dioxide removal, and energy efficiency. There is no silver bullet.

  • Already delay is meaning that it is getting harder to stay within the 2 degree limit.

  • Estimated costs of meeting this goal are still relatively low GDP would be 2-6% by 2050 than it otherwise would be. Because GDP per capita would likely double globally by 2050 this means the doubling is delayed by 1-3 years or growth is 0.005% to 0.017% lower per year than it would otherwise be in the interim.

  • On the other hand, the lower estimates of costs depend on untested technologies at realistic scales to capture carbon from burning fossil fuels or to remove it directly from the atmosphere.

  • There is an increased recognition of the problems of integrating renewables into energy supply systems. Costs of energy storage or backup will be crucial.

  • Countries such as China are focusing heavily on the co-benefits of reducing emissions, including reducing local air pollution and improving energy security.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

IPCC WGIII AR5 Report Media

Working Group III's contribution to the IPCC 5th Assessment Report was released this evening. We have a story on the Crawford School website and an article in The Conversation. I will be interviewed tomorrow morning for TripleJ's Hack program. Live interview with Radio National that I mentioned in an earlier version of this post is now off - they found someone to report from Potsdam instead.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Port Macquarie Conference Paper Now on the Web

Our paper from the Port Macquarie AARES Conference is now on the web. We plan to have an updated and extended version of the paper on the web as a formal working paper in the next week or so. I'll write up a discussion about the paper then.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

John List to Take Up Fractional Appointment at Monash

A coup for Monash University -  John List to take up fractional appointment at Monash!

One motivation for this move would be the ERA. But the census date for ERA 2015 is 31 March 2014. Staff need to be affiliated at that date for their prior publications to be counted. Also the ARC is cracking down on institutions claiming the publications of affiliates. For those employed in less than a 0.4 fractional position, at least one publication must list the institution as an affiliation on the publication. As a reviewer for ERA 2012, I think some institutions really abused the system with their claims of affiliates' publications in ERA 2012. So, this move by Monash is either a long term plan, or has nothing to do with the ERA.

The Motorcycle Kuznets Curve

My colleague Paul Burke has a new paper with the intriguing title "The Motorcycle Kuznets Curve". Motorcycle usage peaks in middle income countries. Population density helps increase motorcycle usage. I guess country fixed effects deal with the climate.

This is What Market Dis-Equilibrium Looks Like

Caption in the accompanying Sydney Morning Herald article: "High rents driving retailers away: 89 shops on Oxford street are vacant, for lease or closing."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Climate Change and the World Economy

The blurb for our forthcoming book is below. Thanks to those who suggested papers that we included in the book! Previous posts on this project.

Climate Change and the World Economy

Edited by David I. Stern, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University, Frank Jotzo, Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University and Leo Dobes, Adjunct Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University, Australia.

World economic activity is a cause of climate change and climate change has an impact on economic activity. Adaptation to climate change can occur locally, but action on climate change requires global cooperation or at least coordination.

Covering all aspects of the problem, this collection contains both classic and recent key published articles on this burning issue. The first section explores global trends in emissions and their drivers as well as the most important forecasts of global greenhouse gas emissions. The second section covers mitigation policy at the international level reviewing costs, benefits, and analysis of policy instruments. The final section focuses on adaptation and the roles of risk and uncertainty in responses to climate change.

The extensive, authoritative introduction provided by the editors puts these contributions into context. This volume will be of interest and value to researchers and policy professionals in the areas of climate policy and environmental economics.

40 articles, dating from 1956 to 2012

Contributors include: N.P. Gleditsch; R. Mendelsohn; N. Nakicenovic; W. Nordhaus; G. Peters; B. Smit; S. Smith; N.Stern; R. Tol; M. Weitzman

May 2014 c 752 pp

Hardback ISBN 978 1 78100 918 5

Price c £250.00


I've spent the last couple of days trying to replicate results in RATS that Chunbo produced using STATA. In the process we found a lot of bugs in our data-processing and computer codes but now we can replicate each others results. We are estimating a translog cost share system together with the cost function. Previously, I have used the RATS command SUR to estimate a system of seemingly unrelated regressions and then the command RESTRICT(replace) to impose the restrictions and SUR(CREATE) to produce the restricted SUR estimates. This did not reproduce the same results as STATA at all. Instead using NLSYSTEM in RATS (despite the fact that the system is linear), I managed to reproduce the same results as STATA. This now seems to be the recommended way to do this type of analysis according to the RATS User Guide. So, I really don't know what the estimates produced by RESTRICT in RATS represent and I strongly recommend not to use them. This shows yet again that it is very important to know what the computer code you are using is actually doing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

IPCC Working Group III 5th Assessment Report Launch

The IPCC Working Group III 5th Assessment Report will be launched with a press conference on Sunday 13 April at 11am Berlin time. This will already be Sunday evening in Australia, so Wednesday 14th April is the effective release date here. The governments are already meeting at the final plenary in Berlin starting today to approve the report. So, we are beginning to prepare our media release here at ANU and writing an article to appear on The Conversation. I imagine that there will be quite a bit of confusion about the difference between this report and the WG II report launched only a week ago, so maybe that's something we should explain. Also, I see the Sydney Morning Herald has a "sneak preview". Anyway, expect more blogging on this coming up!

Friday, April 4, 2014

EROI Goes Mainstream

Back in 1990-91 when I started my PhD I was introduced to esoteric ideas like Energy Return on Investment and Peak Oil in classes given by Cutler Cleveland and Robert Kaufmann. Nowadays, these ideas are showing up in humorous videos on YouTube.