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Tony Abbott’s climate policy: the science is still crap

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On Thursday, the good folk at Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s favourite think tank, the ultra conservative Institute of Public Affairs, will host a function in Brisbane to launch the latest anti-climate science book by noted denier, Bob Carter.

The title of the book, “Taxing Air: Facts & fallacies about climate change”, fits neatly into Abbott’s view about carbon trading. Last month he was out dog-whistling to climate denialists such as Carter on just that theme, when he borrowed an old phrase and said that trading carbon was a “so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.”

Is this book launch just a happy coincidence in timing, or does it amount to the launch of a new policy platform?

It is a question worth asking, because now, just days out from the election, it seems that Abbott is so convinced about the inevitability of his election victory on September 7 that he has judged it safe enough to reveal his true colours on climate policy: He still believes the science is crap.

It is hard to avoid any other conclusion, following his revelations on Monday in response to questions about his Direct Action policy at the National Press Club, and again on the ABC TV’s 7.30 Report on Monday night, that even the Coalition’s 5 per cent reduction target was no longer binding.

In an election debate where the real question on climate policy – how to reach the targets guided by the science (i.e. 25 per cent or more) – has never been raised by the mainstream parties, Abbott revealed that he was quite prepared not to even make it to first base. If the budgeted $3.2 billion proved to be insufficient to reach the 5% reduction target – as Treasury and private analysis conclude unanimously – he would not spend another dollar to ensure that it does.

In effect, on the day that it is revealed Australia has experienced a record high temperatures over the last 12 months, and just three weeks ahead of the IPCC report, Abbott is telling the world that his climate policy will end at the beginning. He simply doesn’t believe in the science.

That should not surprise anyone, because Abbott’s owes his position to the climate deniers that put him there to prevent Malcolm Turnbull agreeing to a an emissions trading scheme. And his impending election victory will owe much to a conga line of supporters who openly ridicule the science – the talk-back radio shock jocks, the Andrew Bolts, and the overwhelming majority of New Ltd columnists.

As Abbott said in a interview to The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan, in explaining his policy position: “I think they (the public) are  more conscious of the fact that the argument among the experts is not quite the one-way street that it might have seemed four or five years.”

On Monday, Abbott defended his position by stating that the Coalition would target “emissions intensity”, which is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of GDP. He says it has been falling sharply, but the point is that emissions intensity only reduces emissions from what they otherwise would be. They do not deliver an absolute cut.

The World Resources Institute, for instance, notes that in the past 15 years, China has cut its emissions intensity by 40 per cent, but absolute emissions has increased by 145 per cent. Its commitment to reducing emissions intensity by a further 45 per cent by 2020 will likely reduce emissions from “business as usual” by between 20 and 33 per cent, according to the ANU, but it will not stop another significant rise in absolute emissions.

Australia has also reduced its emissions intensity, and will continue to do so. But it won’t deliver a cut in emissions, as this graph using data from the Department of Climate Change shows.

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 8.37.01 AM

The Climate Institute noted on Tuesday that if the Coalition wanted to reach even a 5 per cent reduction target, then it would have to rely on regulation, just like Barrack Obama.

But to get some idea on the Coalition’s position on regulation, it is worth recapping Abbott’s speech to the IPA’s 70th birthday party back in April, where he sat alongside Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart, and other noted climate denialists like Bolt, Hugh Morgan, and Cardinal George Pell, and what Crikey described as a sea of “elderly Caucasian males.” He was joined by Corey Bernardi, Greg Hunt, George Brandis and Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine, Crikey reported.

Abbott’s praise was effusive: “The IPA, I want to say, has been freedom’s discerning friend. It has supported capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience. Not for the IPA, a single-minded dogmatism or opposition to all restraint; rather a sophisticated appreciation that freedom requires a social context and that much is expected from those to whom so much has been given. You’ve understood that freedom is both an end and a means; a good in itself, as well as necessary for full human flourishing. I particularly congratulate the IPA and its marvelous director, John Roskam, for your work in defence of Western civilisation.”

The IPA has, at the top of its 75 ideas for a better Australia, demanded three actions: the repeal of the carbon tax (and don’t replace it); the abolition of the Department of Climate Change; and the abolition of the Clean Energy Fund (Clean Energy Finance Corp). The remaining 72 consist of removing regulations of the type that the Climate Institute would deem necessary to meet climate targets.

As Abbott said in his speech, he is giving a “big yes” (his words) to the IPA’s wish list, and will even go further, scrapping the Climate Change Authority, and the Climate Commission, the two institutions that can give an independent assessment on the climate issues and policies. He may even oblige on the IPA’s Number 6 demand and repeal the Renewable Energy Target.

Abbott’s ability to do so will only be restricted by the opposition he faces in the Senate. The Greens will be implacable in their opposition. Greens leader Christine Milne, who revealed to Point Carbon this week that she had never had a conversation with Abbott, described the Coalition’s position as “laughable” if it wasn’t so serious. And she questioned an Abbott government’s ability, or even commitment, to try to bring the big four polluters together to negotiate a binding treaty.

“By abandoning even the meagre bipartisan 5%-25% target for emissions reduction, he has relegated Australia to global laggard as negotiations are now underway for a 2015 treaty,” Milne said. “Once a sceptic, always a sceptic is the best way to describe the would-be PM. A man who maintains that global warming is ‘crap’.”

The position of Labor, however, is still not clear. When pushed by ABC Radio National’s Fran Kelly this morning, climate change minister Mark Butler said the ALP had also decided to “repeal” the carbon tax, and replace it with an emissions trading system. He danced all around the question about giving a binding commitment to oppose Abbott’s move to do the same, instead launching an attack on the Greens.

This is not surprising. Depending on who is left within the ALP carcass next week, it is likely that the right wing faction of the party will be out for revenge for being disenfranchised by the Greens these past three years. There may be little appetite to protect the carbon price, or commit to a double dissolution.

Abbott is possibly right about that. The fact that Carter’s book will be launched by Gary Johns, a former Labor minister and prominent member of its right faction, gives some idea about where that faction sits on climate issues. The position of agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon, gives another.

So despite the fact that yet another survey – this time by ReachTel – says that 77 per cent of Australians believe it is important for the next Australian Government to deliver on the bipartisan promise to reduce carbon pollution by between 5-25 per cent by 2020, the country is in danger of kissing the carbon price goodbye, and being left with a mechanism that will give it no international credibility, and no price signal or incentive for de-carbonising the domestic economy.

And the irony of it all? Direct Action is actually a Socialist construct. Check it out here. Some of the posters are a bit of a giggle.

 

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  • Keith

    Today’s interview with Tony Abbott in The Conversation was even more revealing. He is so confident that he feels quite comfortable explicitly stating that he is a denier and using the arguments of the most looney deniers to justify his views.

    I’m astonished that this has attracted almost no press.

    Here are his words :

    Michelle Grattan: Turning to climate change, do you think Australians care less than previously about climate change?

    Tony Abbott: I think people are very passionate about the environment. I regard myself as a committed conservationist. I think people are less anxious about climate change, for three reasons.

    First, I think they’re more conscious of the fact that the argument among the experts is not quite the one-way street that it might have seemed four or five years.

    Second, the drought, which was a fairly severe drought, has well and truly broken in most of Australia anyway.

    And third, Copenhagen changed any idea that there was some international consensus on how to deal with climate change.

    http://theconversation.com/tony-abbott-interview-the-prime-minister-is-probably-a-little-more-than-first-amongst-equals-17750?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+September+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+September+2013+CID_74a3fd986dc784c5189a67f123c50c30&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Tony%20Abbott%20interview%20The%20prime%20minister%20is%20probably%20a%20little%20more%20than%20first%20amongst%20equals

    • Giles

      Thanks for the heads up. I’ve now included a quote in the story. Yes, I’m staggered the mainstream media has not tackled him on this. In the two interview i saw yesterday, there were questions on 5%, but none on 25%.

      • Keith

        Most surprising is Tony Abbott sagely saying how responsible he intends to be regarding expenditure, while at the same time deliberately demolishing the means to cope with international obligations which will arise from concerns about trying to keep temperature rise to 2C.

        As you note there are now several reports that indicate the cost to achieve 5% reductions are dramatically more expensive than the Liberal projections… what hope 25%?

        Malcolm Turnbull on 702 this morning was disingenuous, repeatedly sheeting home to Greg Hunt that the 5% target will be achieved with the cash they have set aside.

        What however might indicate the beginning of a battle within the coalition is that Malcolm Turnbull was very explicit that the Direct Action program is NOT a long term solution, but merely a stopgap while they work out what to do going forwards. I’m not sure that Tony Abbott would be happy about that as he clearly thinks the climate issue is going to be wished away.

      • Warwick

        So Giles if the LNP’s 5% “unconditional” cut in emissions is a “non-core promise” does that make 25% “aspirational”?

  • Damien

    Think you are being a little harsh on Labor Giles. Check out Mark Butler’s twitter feed today. It is quite pro ETS, calling it a “core part of its national platform” And Rudd during a press conference today in Tas said below;

    Q: Is carbon pricing an article of faith come what may?

    Rudd: Our policy is clear. We believe in global warming. Our opponents do not. Our policy is to support carbon pricing through emissions trading into the future. We want to be on the right side of history.

    Question for you though; In the case of an LNP victory, will the CCA be around to release the recommendation increase to 25% early next year, or can Abbott close it down beforehand. Does he need senate approval to demolish CCA and CEFC?

    • Giles

      Oh, Butler said he was pro-ETS, but when asked by RN if he would support repeal of carbon tax, he said: Well, that’s what we plan to do. So what u might see is ALP supporting that, but not maybe supporting direct action when the Libs finally decide what it is. It’s not as if the ALP haven’t jumped positions before. Abbott needs to pass demolition of CCA and CEFC through parliament, it will be fascinating to see how they operate in interim.

  • Peter Grant

    Such Hubris, and he has not even won yet. Perhaps this will be the seed of his governments defeat even before it has begun.

    For me that he considers it a non issue so much as to back away from any pre-election commitment, is more than illustrative his personal ideological fixations, it demonstrates a naivete towards the real politic of Australia’s place in the world. In addition to our politico security dependence on the US we are deeply trade exposed to China and Japan – all of whom are now moving in the opposite direction than Abbot is advocating.

    Whereas Howard could pull off this kind of stunt as part of the neo-denialist US cheer squad at the time, Obama is unlikely to provide Abbott such cover. God forbid that the US administration might even find Abbott annoying on this issue! Given the division his position is likely to cause with a good portion of his own constituency and backbench it will be wonderful to watch Abbott spending political capital zipping up his big mouth and back tracking to accommodate our big buddies wishes.

  • patrickg

    It’s genuinely immoral, and very sad for our futures. And if he thinks Labor will cave on it, he’s kidding himself. The updated IPCC will give them and anyone else all the cover they need. It’s interesting to see how out of touch with the science AND the community they are on this one. It will cost them more and more – and I wouldn’t be too cocky about the drought, either. I think we may be in for another El Nino soonish.

  • johnnewton

    Let us not forget that it was Labor – and Rudd who got us here. By bending over for Turnbull and ending up with a CPRS which was, arguably, even worse than Direct Action (and that’s why the Greens didn’t vote for it) then faltering altogether just before being flicked the first time – he took away the people’s confidence in the science. Then it was hideous Minchin and the IPA thugs who moved in. But yes, even the (relatively) sane Fairfax press has been quiet on this

    I’m afraid, ladies and gentlemen, this time, Hanrahan is right

  • ozonator

    Denier geologist Bob Carter is like so many enslaved by the EssoKochs who claim to predict all temperatures back to the Big Bang and free lunches but are unable to predict 1 earthquake.

    However, Thanks to the extreme GOP’s global warming (AGW), no money or other things of great value that the extreme GOP say that I should be up to my toxic eyes balls in, and a $10 calculator, I currently have correct AGW predictions from 8/25 – 31/13 for planet-hitting filament producing CMEs, sunspot number, -Bz, fireball, and 7 significant (Ecuador, South Sandwich Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Honshu, Hokkaido, and Kurils) of 19 AGW quake predictions.

    in the comments section of the excellent article:
    Keystone XL foe uses solar panels to put heat on Obama
    By Ben Geman – 08/15/13 04:08 PM ET
    http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/317297-keystone-xl-foes-use-solar-panels-to-put-heat-on-obama#disqus_thread
    .

    • Alan Baird

      There will be no change in mainstream political action on climate change until parties (such as Labor) aren’t dependent on the lobbying industry, aren’t willing to treat with media outlets such as Murdoch or Macquarie, are willing to deprive the fossil fuel industries (and electricity generators) of blatant fiscal free-kicks and are willing to completely overhaul the ludicrous energy billing system that “been allowed to evolve” (read “fostered”). Going out in the streets with signs will do nothing. Post election the Labor Party will do another examination of the chook’s entrails and address nothing of the above points because they are hopelessly wedded to BAU and its, um, well, corruption. Labor (despite wild headlines from News (Very) Limited is just another right wing party. This political situation has been going on in Oz, USA etc with much the same cast of characters and nothing is about to change except the climate.

      • ozonator

        If what you are saying is true, it will get worse. When the tipping point is reached, the collapse of the planetary ecosystem and economy will be orders of magnitude worse than the loss of the world associated with the Minoans.

  • jaerae

    Is this the same Rhodes Scholar that believes that mankind started with Adam & Eve and that dinosaurs never existed?

  • Gus

    Your point about majority views being ignored is I think the most important one. Abbott is claiming that if the Libs win a majority it means he has a mandate for his policy position on climate change. It shouldn’t be left to the Senate to dispute this claim; its time for mass rallies across the nation.

  • Kevin O’Dea

    The climate worldwide is evolving regardless of human arguments, Artic ice is melting far more quickly than predicted, Australians are enjoying balmy temperatures in early spring, Adelaide is hitting 30C in early September, for God’s sake!! We can all look forward to a very fiery bushfire season this summer. IF Tony Abbott is Prime Minister, I do think the realities of these factors and his responsibility to provide leadership to the nation will force a change of mindset, even in a thick conservative mind like this man.

  • Name

    The Linfox data used by Abbott in the ABC 730 report was emissions intensity data – they claim to have reduced their emissions intensity by 40% and Abbott cites that as an example of how direct action will work. But the National Greenhouse and Energy data on the Clean Energy Regulator site (www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au) provided by Linfox for 2008-09 to 2011-12 shows an increase in total emissions of 11.1%!! As your article indicates reduced intensities don’t mean reduced emissions. Just as well the bipartisan target for 2020 is a 5% reduction in TOTAL emissions not intensity – but that might be news to Abbott, the electorate and the ABC 730 report. This election is about trust Mr Abbott – what can we trust you to deliver – $3.2 billion of direct action and a 5% reduction in emissions intensity???
    David Rossiter
    Retired Greenhouse and Energy Data Officer for NGER Act

  • Chris Kelly

    Abbott is not a sceptic he is a science denialist. Sceptics examine evidence.

    • Di Pearton

      Abbott is a political opportunist. He will believe anything that he thinks will get him votes. He is telling the Australian people that they don’t have to eat their vegies, and that’s what they want to hear.

  • willowbel .

    If you want to put your faith in computer models that’s fine but if you can’t put the facts together that global temps have fallen and carbon emissions are still high then you really do live In a world of denial!

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