Back to Basics on Climate for The Australia Institute

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Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Richard Denniss, Chief Economist of The Australia Institute, has written a rather patronising “back to basics” attack on coal, one of Australia’s major export commodities. The only problem is, he missed some of the basics.

According to Denniss;

You can’t tackle climate change while you are increasing the amount of coal that is being burned. Read that sentence again if you need to, it’s really quite important.

After 20 years of debate about climate change, it seems ridiculous that such a statement of the bleeding obvious needs saying, but – given the statements of Mr Turnbull and Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg – it seems we need to go back to basics.

Step 1 – the more coal that gets burned, the more CO₂ enters our atmosphere and the more global warming we get. The atmosphere doesn’t care how or where the coal is burnt, and it really doesn’t care whether we tell ourselves that we could have burned even more coal if we wanted to.

Step 2 – inventing more “energy efficient” coal-fired power stations could only reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you bulldozed the old power stations and replaced them with the new ones. But, and this is important, when you build hundreds of new coal-fired power stations and you don’t bulldoze the old ones then no matter how “efficient” the new ones are, the extra coal that gets burned causes extra climate change.

Alarmingly, neither Mr Turnbull nor Mr Frydenberg seem to understand this. Maybe the following example would help them. Just as burning too much coal causes climate change, drinking too much alcohol causes drunkenness. And just as the only way to turn around climate change is to stop burning coal, the only way to sober up is to stop drinking alcohol. Are you with me?

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/back-to-basics-on-coals-role-in-climate-change-20151120-gl3q8i.html

There is no dispute that burning coal will contribute to global warming. The question is, how much, and why should we care?

Richard mentions there has been “20 years of debate”. Leaving aside whether that rather arbitrary figure is correct, for 18 of those years, a period during which 1/3 of the rise in CO2 since pre-industrial times occurred, there has not been any global warming.

Arguably there has not been a statistically robust trend over the entire length of the world’s temperature records, other than a transitory blip caused by climate’s long random walk.

In Richard’s Wikipedia entry, he is described as “a constant thorn in the side of politicians on both sides due to his habit of skewering dodgy economic justifications for policy”. It seems a shame Richard doesn’t appear to want to apply this alleged razor sharp insight to the issue of climate change. A “dodgy justification for policy” is a fair summary of the current state of the world’s climate models.

75 thoughts on “Back to Basics on Climate for The Australia Institute

  1. Thanks Eric.
    “climate change” – nonsensical term, meaningless and misleading.
    One might aswell say “time change” !
    Time (just like patterns of climate) cannot be altered by anyone.
    A better expression is simply … “climate”.
    I do hope you will agree.
    Regards,
    WL

    • Correct.
      ‘You can’t tackle climate change while you are increasing the amount of coal that is being burned.’
      Because ‘climate change’ isn’t about the environment.

      • Not only does burning more coal not cause more climate change, burning coal does not cause more carbon growth. While human emissions have increased 50% since the year 2000, the carbon growth rate has stayed essentially flat…

    • “Time (just like patterns of climate) cannot be altered by anyone.”
      I am not quite sure what you mean. Are you saying that it is not possible in principle to alter climate? If we could, say, increase CO2 by a factor of 10, that it would not affect climate?
      Or are you saying that although it is possible in principle to alter climate, we do not have the capacity to do so with the meager outputs we have?

      • I thought Einstein postulated that as you approach the speed of light, time slows down. And that human experiments have verified the effect. I.e., time is not constant – it is relative.

      • Since CO2 was 7000 in the past it may well be that 3960 would do too little to measure.
        Warmist claimed adding 270ppm would raise temps 2.2C and the first 126ppm have done likely nothing maybe no amount of CO2 increase will do anything measurable. And, of course, maybe will.

  2. The Australians are particularly gullible when it comes to Global Warming.
    Their GreenPriests are accordingly smug and patronising.

    • The same can be said for the Canadians. They have full intentions of going to Paris and signing any agreement set down before them. It’s pathetic.

      • Our Prime Minister Zoolander could promise to use his perfectly quaffed mane of he-man hair to sequester all that nasty CO2 and his sycophants and the media (sorry for the delay) would be in ecstasy for such a dynamic and forward-thinking solution. It is 2015, after all.
        The fact that our previous Liberal government very much over-promised and incredibly much under-delivered concerning Kyoto has fallen down the memory hole.
        With this crowd it is literally the thought that counts for everything. Results? Meh, not so much. Results are for those mean conservatives, who never dream of what should happen, and are always harp(er)ing on what is actually happening. Spoilsports.

      • But… But… Klem … Prime Minister Butthead Trudeau has the support of …. 39% of the voters. Well he did on election night. Wonder what it is now?
        Whoa, I should be careful. I might get audited. Especially living in Alberta where the Premier and the CLIMATE CHANGE Minister are going to announce their policies on CLIMATE CHANGE this Sunday – along with their plan to close the coal fired power plants that supply 38% of our power (natural gas supplies 44%) as of 2015. It is rumoured they plan to help their “friends” develop “renewables” to replace all that. So long raptors. (Just change “The Rapture” to “The Raptor”. Sorry, just having fun.)
        Yeah, sure. And I am going to run my tractor by burning wood. Oh wait. We actually tried that a long time ago but horses and diesel worked better.
        I keep thinking about that book: http://deliberatedumbingdown.com/
        I reckon all our current crop of leaders must have attended “that” school.
        But it is a world wide problem as evidenced by the people we elect. I suppose we deserve the government we get as much as I dislike that thought.

        • WD
          “But it is a world wide problem as evidenced by the people we elect. I suppose we deserve the government we get as much as I dislike that thought.”
          That is the truth. +1

    • Don’t believe this.
      Most of us would gladly set the “man made climate change” crowd down on an uninhabited island ,with the only food source being each other.

    • “The Australians are particularly gullible when it comes to Global Warming”
      Not true.
      A recent poll showed more of us didn’t buy the scam than did.
      Our media, on the other hand . . .

  3. Never ceases to amaze me how people get into positions of power and influence, yet only manage to use it to show how stupid they are. Better to say less and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt.

  4. I remember a Lord Monckton v Richard Denniss debate at The National Press Club a number of years ago in front of a very partisan MSM crowd. The Lord completely slaughtered poor Richard and I’m surprised he has recovered sufficiently to again be spouting his nonsense. The Lord continued the bloodbath (with perfect British charm and etiquette) when answering the inane questions of the press. If I recall He spoke at the Notre Dame University here in Western Australia as his first appearance in Oz and there were serious attempts to ban him.

    • Read the Wikipedia entry for “petroleum” and weep. And never credit Wikipedia again. Note all the ironic “citation needed” entries, which say it all, really.
      When burned, petroleum releases carbon dioxide; a greenhouse gas. Along with the burning of coal, petroleum combustion is the largest contributor to the increase in atmospheric CO2.[citation needed] Atmospheric CO2 has risen steadily since the industrial revolution[citation needed] to current levels of over 390 ppmv, from the 180 – 300 ppmv of the prior 800 thousand years, driving global warming.[76][77][78] The unbridled use of petroleum could potentially cause a runaway greenhouse effect on Earth.[citation needed] Use of oil as an energy source has caused Earth’s temperature to increase by nearly one degree Celsius.[citation needed] This raise in temperature has reduced the Arctic ice cap to 1,100,000 sq mi (2,800,000 km2)[citation needed], smaller than ever recorded.[79] Because of this melt, more oil reserves have been revealed. It is estimated by the International Energy Agency that about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resides in the Arctic.[80]

      • A few realities of living have come to mind lately.
        People need power to live the modern life.
        The modern life isn’t going away for people who can afford it.
        People who can afford reliable power will pay for it. That backup diesel generator may become a symbol of being your “own man” in the next few years. Will you need a permit for it ? Will your neighbors be able to tap into your system ?
        Alternative and unreliable energy for everyone except those that can afford better.
        Maybe that’s where we are headed.

  5. If you want another good laugh as to what is going on in “climate science” in Australia, in particular New South Wales, have a read of this.
    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/climate-change-nsw-to-become-hotter-more-fire-danger-days-20141205-120zdp.html
    From the article;
    “Assuming greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current path, average maximum temperatures will jump by 2.1 degrees from current levels by 2070, the regional climate modelling – dubbed NARCliM – shows.”
    In an earlier copy of this article, NARCliM, used 12 models. I thought emissions of CO2 caused GLOBAL warming and thus global climate change?

  6. Denniss is a classic green left apparatchik. An ecomist by education apparently and a (green – left) political insider by habit. He would not have an objective bone in his body or a comparable portion of his brain. Who gives a rats what he says?

  7. “Step 2 – inventing more “energy efficient” coal-fired power stations could only reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you bulldozed the old power stations and replaced them with the new ones. But, and this is important, when you build hundreds of new coal-fired power stations and you don’t bulldoze the old ones then no matter how “efficient” the new ones are, the extra coal that gets burned causes extra climate change.”
    If you’re going to make this statement you’re also obliged to state that population growth is a problem, therefore countries, including developing ones should hard limit population growth.
    Oh, and you also need to admit you’re an idiot for saying that Australia’s per-capita CO2 emissions ranking is the key metric, not the country’s (1.2%) percentage of total global CO2 emissions.

  8. An economist actually said this?
    Step 2 – inventing more “energy efficient” coal-fired power stations could only reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you bulldozed the old power stations and replaced them with the new ones. But, and this is important, when you build hundreds of new coal-fired power stations and you don’t bulldoze the old ones then no matter how “efficient” the new ones are, the extra coal that gets burned causes extra climate change.
    Unless we assume the replacement coal stations have higher operational cost excluding fuel, this doesn’t make any economic sense as a more efficient plant would burn less fuel which is by far the largest non-capital cost for any power plant.
    Denniss, please return your degree.

    • tomcourt – the new power stations are being made to supply new demand. If demand were constant, then new more efficient plants would supplant the older ones – if the capital costs could be recouped. But since the demand is increasing, the old ones will remain. His statement actually says when you build new ones and you don’t bulldoze the old ones.
      Of course, the new demand must be met by some new supply.

      • The old ones will remain if you create policies that dramatically increase the regulatory cos or prohibit the building of new ones. This is exactly what happened 25 years ago with sulphur emission control.
        Otherwise what happens is the newer plants are operated near their capacity while the older plants our often idled. When this happens the fixed costs of the these older plants cause them to be eventually completely shut down.
        If we were in an economic environment of high interest rates its possible the capital costs would dominate but we’re in the exact opposite situation.

    • Yes, new demand in India. Of course, some of it is substitution, replacing dung fires with electric stoves. However, most will be new demand for, by example, an electric light so the kids can study in the evening.
      Morally, I am O.K. with that tradeoff – risks, and cost of adaptation in Kiribati, versus reduced energy poverty in India. Your mileage may vary, depending on your take on climate sensitivity and so forth.

  9. The atmosphere doesn’t care how or where the coal is burnt, and it really doesn’t care whether we tell ourselves that we could have burned even more coal if we wanted to.

    And this is the reason why carbon trading is futile. No global CO2 emissions are averted by outsourcing high energy intensive businesses (steel, fertilizers, chemical, cement production etc) from one country to another.
    it is also why the developed West’s response to Climate Change and their intentions to cut their own CO2 emissions is futile. It does not matter what the developed West does, it matters what China and other developing countries will do.
    The extensive building programme in China and India of coal fired powered generators will more than off=set any CO2 reduction schemes of the developed West.
    Of course, we do not know whether CO2 at circa 360ppm and above actually warms the planet’s atmosphere, and if so, by how much, but it is obviously that the present political response of wind and solar that requires 100% back up by conventional fossil fuel powered generation, and the outsourcing of high energy industries from the developed world to the developing world does not reduce global levels of CO2 to any measurable extent.
    It is this fact (ie., that the proposed policy does not result in significant reductions in CO2) that lies behind Lomborg’s assessment that if all the Paris COP21 pledges were met, global temperature rise would at most be reduced by only 0.17degC, which on any criteria is insignificant.
    Why is the developed West seeking to commit economic suicide when it is clear that the policy response proposed does not result in the mitigation of CO2 globally, and does not avert any significant temperature rise. And that is assuming that Climate Sensitivity to CO2, if any at all, is substantial. If Climate Sensitivity to CO2 is small, then there is in any event no need to take any action to curb CO2 emissions, especially since rising CO2 has many benefits as can be seen from the greening of our planet..

  10. Rrichardd Ddennnisss was an advisor to the Greens (the Oz Greens being the only ones left of the U.K. Greens). As an indication, they found nothing in the background of Lee Rhiannon that would stand in the way of her preselection for the Senate.
    Just assume whatever the Iinstittutte says, the exact opposite is good policy.

  11. “Just as burning too much coal causes climate change, drinking too much alcohol causes drunkenness. And just as the only way to turn around climate change is to stop burning coal, the only way to sober up is to stop drinking alcohol.”
    I love this science by homespun analogy. VERY convincing!

    • The very example of the relationship between human mental and moral impairment and the level of alcohol in the body is a great one to compare to (coal burning => CO2 levels) because both are NON-LINEAR and include other non-stated and even unknown factors such as body mass, drug-alcohol interaction, genetic heritage, age and race.

    • Yes, you could spin this hyperbole any way you want depending on your doctrine. See my example below.
      “Just as burning coal has released mankind from energy poverty, eating too little food causes starvation. And just as the only way to turn around third world poverty is to burn more coal, the only way to prevent starvation is to eat more food.”

  12. “There is no dispute that burning coal will contribute to global warming.”
    Given how high CO2 was in the distant past and given how many times the very spot where I write this was covered by a thousand feet of solid ice, it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to accept this statement. We just do not know enough at this point to say otherwise.

  13. “There is no (proof) that burning coal will contribute to global warming”
    There. Fixed it for Richie D.
    Further, there is emerging less and less correlation as well.

  14. “There is no dispute that burning coal will contribute to global warming. …”
    I am afraid there is dispute on weather burning coal contributes to “global warming”. Several schools of thought dispute that contention.
    Some would point out that CO2 on net cools the planet rather than warms it. Still others would say that there was no burning of coal (or very little) during the much hotter warm periods during this inter-glacial period we are in called the Holocene. The Holocene Climate Optimum comes to mind. Where were the big coal burning plants back 9,000 to 5,000 years before the present time?
    ~ Mark

    • Mark: First off, let me say that I am not a scientist here. But are we not, not some extent here, talking about the climate’s response to the GHG effect of CO2 being logarithmic rather than linear? At 400 ppm, hasn’t most of the GHG effect of CO2 already happened? Isn’t the CO2 in the atmosphere mostly saturated by now?
      If this is true, than what I am largely getting from Mr. Denniss’ piece is his failure to understand this. He doesn’t understand that even a doubling of CO2 will not produce a degree of warming that is necessarily worrisome because of the logarithmic effect.
      Correct?

      • Yes, the warming response is logaristhmic. That is why they talk about a doubling of CO2, because each doubling will give about the same warming response. But a doubling from now would take us to 800ppm.
        And then you have to factor in how much warming we will get from this doubling. They say 3 degrees (including H2O responses), but based upon the current response I reckon the true value is more like 0.5 to 1.0 degrees.

    • “Where were the big coal burning plants back 9,000 to 5,000 years before the present time?”
      Well if you must know Mark, today’s archeologists have not dug deep enough in Egypy, Syria and other areas of the ME. Mark my words, there were coal fired power plants back then, we just know it and one of these days we will find one and then, trust me.

  15. “There is no dispute that burning coal will contribute to global warming. The question is, how much, and why should we care?”
    This is a truthful statement – sort of – but misleading. Yes, burning coal releases heat, thus it can contribute to global warming. I won’t deny that. Coal is not a refrigerant.
    There isn’t even any question as to how much it could as we know exactly what the caloric content of coal is, though we can’t be certain of the efficiency of the burn. We can just assume that the maximum calories will be released and we can then calculate the exact amount of global warming coal could contribute.
    As to why should we care, well, silly, if you release ALL of coals heat energy to global warming, you aren’t getting any other value from it, thus we need to burn the coal in the most efficient manners, be it for heating homes to keep people from freezing or dying from hypothermia, or converting it to electricity for a million useful reasons..
    Some times it amazes me how stupid some people can be, but don’t we always say there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid people asking them?.

  16. “There is no dispute that burning coal will contribute to global warming.”
    There is no dispute that I am pushing the earth away from me when I jump into the air.

  17. I think it is an offense to say Australians or Canadians, etc., are gullible. It is first world self-hating neo-socialists that are gullible and it really doesn’t matter where you find them. A quick survey will show this is self-evident. Old school communists and socialists are clever enough to use this as a tool to gain ground on these self-loathing stooges, and third world nations are looking for compensation for being left behind by the more advanced societies which is pretty much what can be expected from multi-generational recipients of global welfare.

  18. The atmosphere doesn’t care how or where the coal is burnt

    The atmosphere does not care, because it is not something capable of caring about anything, okay. But we do.
    And it’s not even about “energy efficient” coal-fired power stations with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but ones with efficient filters, so no actual toxic pollution (sulfur, dust, black carbon, heavy metals &. radioactive stuff) gets emitted, only harmless substances like water vapor and carbon dioxide.
    That’s the point. And that’s how “clean coal” is defined in a sane world.
    By hijacking the term to include fatuous requirements like carbon (read: carbon dioxide) sequestration, with no benefits whatsoever to people living nearby, on outrageous costs, they are diverting resources to fight nightmares instead of threats, and make attaining a clean environment impossible.

  19. I remember when housing prices were supposed to go up forevah. Don’t you ?
    I also remember when alternative energy was supposed to lead the NEW economy.
    There is a tacit agreement in place … an understanding. Decision makers know CAGW isn’t real, but they have thrown down their bets on the new frontier. Goldman Sachs just significantly increased that bet.
    http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2015/11/02/goldman-bets-on-being-green/
    I’m not rich, but not poor and I wonder if these investments are the seeds for the next big bubble.
    How can you invest globs of money in an investment that has an underlying flaw. The underlying flaw is that alt energy can’t meet the needs of the world. That underlying flaw will eventually make itself known in a poor rate of return as the needs will drive a return to more reliable energy sources.
    Ya gotta have reliable energy.
    Just ain’t no way around it.
    Am I missing something ?

    • Only the fact that we may be entering a period of protracted cooling. That is one BIG flaw that needs careful consideration IMHO. GK

      • GK
        Hmmm, big companies that rely on power to make a buck are not stupid. I think they pay attention to the very type of variables that you point out. They hate uncertainty and will likely create a cottage industry for stand alone substations powered by their own version of available energy. Wind, solar, biodiesel, oil, coal, employees on bikes will become more of the norm as we move forward into whatever climate is coming.
        I also think the rich will do the same in their fancy little gated communities.

  20. I really appreciated the Youtube video of the founder of Greenpeace, where he explained the long view of carbon on the earth.
    A tiny fraction of earth’s carbon is in the atmosphere as CO2. A small fraction is dissolved in the world’s oceans. A massive amount has been fixed by cocolithophores into carbonaceous rocks.
    Once the carbon is fixed into rock, it doesn’t return to the world’s carbon cycle unless volcanoes release it or humans use it to produce cement. If not for human intervention, the amount of carbon available for life processes will continue its inevitable decline until atmospheric CO2 levels fall below the level capable of sustaining plant life, which will doom most life on the plant, humans included.
    So hooray for humans, the only life form on earth capable of intervening and delaying this mass extinction due to carbon asphyxiation.

    • “So hooray for humans, the only life form on earth capable of intervening and delaying this mass extinction due to carbon asphyxiation.”
      But don’t all other animals deserve some credit too? We are all helping in our own way to keep carbon liberated for our friends the plants. Termites for example, if not for them and other cellulose digesting organisms I doubt life would exist as we know it because all the carbon from CO2 would have been sucked out of the air long ago and sitting on the ground permanently sequestered in dead wood.

    • The very point I’ve been making for years. The likely purpose of humanity’s success as a species is to return balance to the Earth. We are the only hope for breaking the death grip of the current ice age. All of life, plant, animal, etc., yearns for a return of Greenhouse Earth conditions. It may take centuries, probably will. It may take all the technical wizardry mankind is capable of. Expect vast expenditures of resources for we must redirect ocean currents, melt continents of ice and relocate cities. Left to itself temperature will continue its long 55 million year decline. Life will be all but extinct, hopefully hanging on in the occasional refugium.

  21. The Shape of the Earth libration orbitprecession depends on the albedo of the planet, and not from the albedo depends on the person climat.Climate Change is a measure of the Speed and one of the flags Katastrofy.
    Monumental Earth Canges.
    1.Change Shape of the Earth.This Changes Everything.Growth of core deforms the crust inside.
    Een acute aanval Van ontlastingsdrang die “ERNSTIG EN NAKEND” is. http://www.davidhanauer.com/buckscounty/ringingrocs
    Однобокий рост внутреннего ядра http://go.nature.com/w6iks3
    Карстовые воронки,что происходит с Земной корой http:shar.es/lnJxx0
    lnexplicable Giant Sinkholes Opening Worldwide http://wp.me/P2HHA2-P4
    2.Change gravity.
    Изменение гравитации предупреждающий сигнал http://news.discovery.com/earth/global-warming/earth's-gravity-dips-from-antarctic-ice-loss-141001.htm
    3.Change precession.
    Earth Matters:Earth’s tilt brings big changes during Seasons of the year-AlttoonaMirror.com-Altoon,PA/News,Sports,Jobs,Comunity information-The Altoona Miror http://shar.es/1fFoSQ
    4.Change orbit.
    http://wp.me/p7y41-vDW http://www.alpagalileo.org/View/tem.aspx?/tem/d=149399&CultureCode=en
    “Earth has Shifted” http://www.newspaper.indianlife.org/story/2015/01/05/news/earth-has-shifted-inuit-elders-issue-warming-to-nasa-and-the-world1582.html

  22. “What is silly, is the straw man arguments and high school debating tricks being used to prevent Australia from having an honest conversation about coal …”.
    ===============================
    Denniss’s arguments are just that as can be seen during his debate with Lord Monckton at the press club in 2011 where his childish arguments were figuratively eviscerated (available on YouTube) viz. CO2 emissions + precautionary principle = pollution = tobacco smoke = consensus of so-called experts = cancer = global warming (very bad).
    In this article he relies on more puerile analogies: “Just as you don’t sober up by drinking less beer than you could have, you don’t tackle climate change by burning less coal than you could have”.
    However he does point out Turnbull’s cognitive dissonance.

  23. Thanks, FTOP_T November 20, 2015 at 5:24 am
    “There is no proof that burning coal will contribute to global warming” However there is increasing proof that voters become very angry when the power goes off because ‘renewables’ are supplying no electricity and they then become a severe danger to politicians who support CAGW theory.

  24. “There is no dispute that burning coal will contribute to global warming. The question is, how much, and why should we care?”
    Actually no! There is a dispute. If surface temperatures can be better explained by atmospheric mass and gravity (which they can by a country mile!!) then burning coal does nothing to cause global warming. Zero. Zip.

  25. “The atmosphere doesn’t care how or where the coal is burnt, and it really doesn’t care whether we tell ourselves that we could have burned even more coal if we wanted to.”
    I once tried to tell some Australian greenies that Australia can double its CO2 output or cut it to zero and it won’t make a detectable difference to global mean temperatures even using high ECS guestimates because Australia’s contribution is less than 2% of total global CO2 output and the margin of error on ∆GMT measurements is larger than 2%. They tried to convince me that the atmosphere and physics care that Australians’ per capita output is high compared to other countries.

  26. This is the same guy who was given a ‘beating’, in a live broadcast Australian Press Club debate, by Lord Christopher Moncton, a few years ago.
    I can say that Denniss talks utter nonsense when it comes to the climate. I just don’t know about his knowledge of economics.

  27. He started the article perfectly… but wrote too much. “You can’t tackle climate change.” End of story. The next fart from Gaia (Pinatubo, Novarupta, Vesuvius) will overwhelm any influence of atmospheric carbon with sulphur. Same as it ever was.

  28. ”… the only way to sober up is to stop drinking alcohol. Are you with me?”
    If he can admit to his alcohol problem, maybe he can admit to his climate alarmist problem too. He should let us know when he is sober of both issues.
    Eamon.

  29. ‘Back to Basics’ in UK politics means ‘a load of extra-marital affairs by politicians’……
    Hopefully the 10,000 mile distance from the UK will inure the Australians from such practices, especially when so much of it will be going on at COP21…..

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