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Abbott called out on global stage over climate obstructionism

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Abbott government is looking increasingly isolated on international stage over its climate policies, and has been labelled a “climate villain”. This, as the fossil fuel civil war moves to Australia, with the gas industry ridiculing the environmental claims of “clean coal”.

The international pressure on the Abbott government over its climate policies is increasing, with Australia coming under unprecedented scrutiny from its major trading partners at an international conference, and a former UN chief labeling Australia as one of the world’s major “climate villains”.

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In quite extraordinary circumstances in Bonn last night, Australia’s climate ambassador Peter Woolcott was forced to field questions on the floor of the UN conference in Bonn, trying to defend the Abbott government’s hodge-podge of policies.

The other countries – including international heavyweights China, the US, Brazil and the UK – wanted explanations about why Australia had only offered a 5 per cent cut out to 2020; its new policies since abandoning the carbon price and replacing it with the controversial emissions reduction fund, and how that mechanism could possibly be scaled up; and on its cuts to the renewable energy target.

The scrutiny highlights to what extent international political momentum is surpassing Australia and how astonished the international community is by its efforts to become the first country to ditch a carbon price, and the first to slash its renewable energy target.

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general now working with the Africa Progress Panel, labelled Australia – along with Canada and Japan – one of three climate villains and a “free-rider” on carbon emissions.

As political pressure mounts, so too does business pressure. The civil war that has broken out in the fossil fuel industry between Big Oil and Big Coal moved to Australia this week, with thermal coal – Abbott’s favourite commodity – being ridiculed by the gas industry for being exactly the opposite of what Abbott claims it is, good for humanity.

“Give me a break – who coined ‘clean coal’ and why did we let that happen,” said Peter Coleman, the head of Australian oil and gas giant Woodside Petroleum. “Natural gas should and must play a key role in addressing climate change and we must step up.”

This came just days after six European oil majors called for a substantial carbon price to be imposed to phase out coal production so it could be replaced with more expensive gas.

In Germany, a similar rift has emerged among the big four utilities, with EnBW calling for additional levies on coal-fired generation, to accelerate the phase-out of coal – brown coal in particular. Unlike the other big three, EnBW does not operate brown coal plants, although Vattenfall is trying to find a buyer for its assets, and E.ON is putting its into a different company.

This is hugely significant for the Abbott government, and its economy. The whole Abbott strategy has been to boost coal, and pull down the legacy of the Greens, as Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane explained to a business meeting last year, in justifying his attacks on renewable energy.

This approach – in the context of climate policy, and the declaration of war on Big Coal by Big Oil – is looking foolhardy. Economist Ross Garnaut pointed out that the cost of Australia investing in what will be stranded assets may already exceed what would have been the cost of concerted climate action out to 2050.

The Abbot government, creating a $5 billion fund that could invest in coal power plants and supporting infrastructure in the far north, has been openly encouraging Townsville to push for a coal-fired generator.

Back in Bonn, the US kicked off its questioning of Australia’s representative, Peter Woolcott, by demanding to know how Australia’s emissions reduction fund could be scaleable to meet any higher post-2020 targets Australia might table.

Of course, it isn’t. The UK queried the credibility of the fund, and its “additionality” – in other words, whether it was just handing over taxpayers’ money to projects that existed already.

Australia was also pursued about cuts to the RET, with Woolcott refusing to acknowledge there had been a cut (from 41,000GWh to 33,000GWh) and insisting, instead, that the target had been “lifted” from 20 per cent to 23 per cent.

Australia was also queried on the fairness of its targets. South Africa, in particular, demanded to know how Australia justified its targets being conditional on other similar countries doing more. After Australia repeatedly said they were reviewing their 2020 targets, the US asked if it could outline the process they were undertaking. But it couldn’t give details, or elaborate on the timing.

Erwin Jackson, the deputy head of the Climate Institute, said it was clear that the international community was highly sceptical about Australia’s policy framework.

“Australia failed to clarify why it should do less than other countries like the US, and why it is not focused on increasing its currently inadequate 2020 pollution targets in line with the actions of other countries.”

There is clear concern that Australia is not lifting its weight to help limit global warming and the government’s actions don’t match their words,” said Kellie Caught, WWF Australia’s national manager of climate change.  

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  • Presentlyfuture

    From this article it seems that “everyone” is pointing the finger and not themselves doing anything realistic about “climate change”. India building 1 coal fired plant every month for the next five years, America determined to drill in the arctic,Japan with Fukashima disaster,Natural Gas is as bad as Coal,its about the dollar $ and business as usual.With current technology,would need an impossible massive shift asap to renewables to save this planet of overpopulation and overconsumption.

    • lin

      This may result in some countries being even more desperate to find a scapegoat to make themselves look better, and Australia is currently the most likely villain for the world to make an example of, thanks to Tony and his mob of incoherent fools.

  • JeffJL

    Anybody know how many questions Canada had to answer?

  • Colin

    How sweet it is.

    You really do reap what you sow.

    Go the Good Guys and Gals!

  • Ricardo_62

    Well, I suppose if Tony wants to build a coal-fired power station in Townsville, it will be a buyers market! Just hope he doesn’t use our money. #strandedassetts

    • lin

      There is one thing you can be sure of, and it is that he will use our money.

  • Alastair Leith

    ‘Give me a break – who coined ‘clean coal’ ‘clean natural gas’ and why did we let that happen’?

    • Jacob

      For one LNG does not cause miners to die in Turkey and China.

      • wideEyedPupil

        think you missed the point dude. the comment is about GHG emissions and the blatant hypocrisy of oil and gas pointing the finger at coal. but let them rip each other to shreds if they so wish.

        • Jacob

          Coal is the worst.

          Very sooty and lots of men die in coal mines every year.

          There is no such thing as an LNG mine.

          • lin

            CSG and fracking are not great either – poisoning people in their vicinity from flared and unflared emissions, contaminating aquifers, streams, rivers and poisoning good agricultural land, causing earthquakes. It is like asking if you would prefer smallpox or the plague.

          • Jacob

            Fracking is a recent phenomenon.

            Most of the world’s natural gas is from conventional sources.

            Earthquakes happen anyway. Buildings should come with an earthquake rating.

            If someone wants to invent a machine that converts electricity into superhot gas for cooking to replace LNG, that would be welcome.

          • lin

            Traditionally most of the natural gas has been from conventional sources. More and more fracking is occurring now that many conventional sources are becoming depleted.
            Buildings in areas not designated as geologically active are not built to withstand significant earthquakes. Fracking is causing earthquakes where they have not been recorded previously, so the buildings have not been built to an earthquake resistant code. Knocking down all the existing buildings and rebuilding to an appropriate earthquake code so that a handful of companies can continue fracking does not sound like a economically justifiable proposal.
            There is already a machine to convert electricity into superhot gas for cooking. It is called an electric stove. There are also induction stoves, electric pressure cookers etc etc.

          • Jacob

            Electric stove is probably just a hot coil.

            Fine for boiling water I suppose.

            But how about roasting eggplants and corns.

            People are set in their ways. An machine that puts out superhot gas for roasting just like current natural gas stoves do, would be fantastic.

            Saving the planet without compromising our lifestyle.

          • lin

            if you want hot air you can get an electric hot-air gun, but an electric grill works very well for things like eggplants.

          • Jacob

            Hot air gun! Brilliant!

            All we need is for someone like Musk to re-package hot air guns as an electric stove that puts out very hot air.

            Have a global product launch. “no chance of a gas leak, no importing LNG from Qatar, save the planet, cook like you always used to”.

            Voila.

          • Alastair Leith

            “Earthquakes happen anyway. Buildings should come with an earthquake rating”
            Er, from zero in 90 years to hundreds per year in one US state. That’s not to be dismissed either.
            I think you want a induction cooker BTW. Faster than gas and powerable from RE electrons.

          • Alastair Leith

            Not talking about population health issues, talking about GHG emissions, as was the original speaker re-quoted. But nice straw man. Even natural (fossil) gas so-called has a fugitive emissions profile that makes it comparable if not worse than coal. Especially when liquified for export and distributed through old, leaky city networks. Cornell Letter and Response to Critics by Howarth et al worth a read (papers are free DLs from Cornell University website). NOAA and some Ivy League Universities did direct atmospheric testing over oil and gas fields and confirmed the theoretical numbers by Howarth et al.

          • Jacob

            The death of men in coal mines in Turkey and China is a straw man?

            How about the soot from coal in China, India, etc.

            Natural Gas is needed over the next 10-20 years to replace coal power stations in Beijing.

            Until solar PV + batteries provide baseload power.

            Thanks for telling that papers are free to download from Cornell University.

          • Alastair Leith

            Here’s a film I worked on documenting a few of the dangers of coal to population health in Australia commissioned by CAHA and PHA. The Human Cost of Power. I’m not unaware that coal is generally the most polluting form of generation. But just to explain the joke to you: a guy from the gas and oil industry was pointing the finger at “Clean Coal” in terms of GHG emissions, propagating the myth the gas is at least twice as clean from a G-R-E-E-N — H-O-U-S-E — G-A-S — E-M-I-S-S-I-O-N-S point of view.

            Maybe you work in the gas industry and cannot parse the fact that natural gas (so called) and especially unconventional (but not just unconventional) has a big GHG emissions profile over the short term, and as we keep replenishing the stock of that gas into the atmosphere at ever increasing rates it’s not going away. In the atmosphere CH4 is 104x as strong at GH forcing as CO2. Over twenty years its 84x as forcing molecule for molecule as CO2.

            A simple Google search can find you plenty of info if you’d care to take the wax from your ears, Jacob. Here I got you started:
            Summary of the issue
            Simple explainer at Carbon Brief
            Howarth et al The Cornell Letter This got the debate fired up.Responce to Critics
            Joe Romm discusses the direct atmospheric testing over gas fields by NOAA and other leading institutes of climate research which confirms work of Howarth. Links to the research in this article.

          • Jacob

            Yeah extracting natural gas is horrible for the greenhouse effect. Much worse per ton than carbon dioxide.

            We should start using R744 refrigerant instead of R134a where we can.

            By putting a huge tax on heat pumps that are factory filled with R134a.

          • Alastair Leith

            In Japan they started the Top-Runner program in 1998 where the best performer in EE for say heat pumps for the year is a benchmark all the others must reach within n years. This is a good short paper reviewing the improvements in various products. Heat Pumps (ACs) for example improved by 68% from introduction FY1997 vs FY2004 freezing year. Computers 99%! It doesn’t extend to GHG footprint of compressor gas but some are using CO2 now. Apparently there’s a bit of resistance in industry to new standards for refrigerants because of proprietary licensing being a significant income stream for manufacturers (bit like new cars and the parts market).

  • Chris Fraser

    Most countries were asked on average two questions. Australia was asked 36. And the Minister rather than face those questions plants trees at Bondi and says noooo, the world doesn’t have a problem with us. Well his business must be not to know, and not want to know.

    • mike flanagan

      And great many of the 36 questions were couched and framed in scepticism of the data presented by our ministers of the crown in our names.

  • Rob G

    Happy to see gas and oil killing coal. That’s 1 of the 3 bad guys taken out. We’ll take gas and oil out next.

    • Jacob

      Sadly, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have made the decision to build coal power stations for the first time.

      Until now, they preferred oil and gas power stations.

      The price of flow batteries has to absolutely crash to 1-2c/kwh to kill coal power stations.