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Abbott imagines a fossil-free future …after it’s all been burnt

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he can imagine a future where the world no longer uses fossil fuels.

That might seem like a major step forward for a leader who dislikes wind turbines and has cut the renewable energy target, but his vision has one major caveat: He can only see it once every tonne of coal and every molecule of gas has been burned.

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Abbott expressed this vision while launching the Agricultural Competitive White Paper in rural Victoria on the weekend, a document that all but ignored the potential impact of climate change on one of Australia’s biggest export industries.

“One day the coal will have been dug up, the gas will have been extracted, but we will always need food and our land forever,” Abbott told reporters in Victoria on Saturday.

Indeed, we will always need food. But it seems that the man who was elected, at least partially, because of his obsession with deficits in fiscal budgets, has not yet got his mind across deficits in carbon budgets. Or the implications of running a huge carbon budget deficit on agriculture.

Just a reminder of what that carbon budget is: The world needs to leave at least two-thirds of its current fossil fuel reserves in the ground if it wants to avoid what everyone agrees should be the global collective target, trying to cap emissions at a maximum of 2°C.

In Australia’s case, that means reducing emissions quickly. At current rates, it will exhaust its own share of the budget within 17 years, the Climate Change  Authority says – a result it says would be “inequitable” for future generations and against the national interest.

Abbott, however, has stated that coal is good for humanity, and his government has repeatedly said it will seek to exploit as much of its coal and gas reserves as it can, even if demand for those resources is falling. His policies have already sparked a reversal in the decline of coal fired generation in Australia, as we report here today.

His government has based its energy white paper, and even the emissions reduction discussion paper, on scenarios that would result in global temperatures rising around 4°C. This would have a devastating impacts on Australia and its agriculture.

Not that Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce – who still questions the link between climate change and human activity – was perturbed by the probability of such an outcome, when challenged about it in an interview on Friday:

“I’ve noted that Joel Fitzgibbon (the Labor spokesman who criticised the government on this point) didn’t get up to page 109, where we started to talk about climate change.”

Page 109? That’s where the Coalition started to talk about climate change, and finished talking about it almost as quickly. There is no mention of climate change in the 12-page white paper at a glance document, no mention in the first 108 pages of the main document; but five whole paragraphs – a total of 334 words – on pages 109 and 110.


Of course the Coalition is taking climate change seriously, says Joyce.

They are looking to store more water in dams, they want to invest in the forecasting abilities of the Bureau of Meteorology – even though Abbott’s main business advisor says they shouldn’t be trusted – invest in new irrigation techniques and drought tolerant plants.

“These are real and tangible things. We came up with tactile ways of dealing with the problem,” Joyce said.

But, what about not emitting in the first place? Joyce didn’t get asked. And he won’t be asked this question on Q&A on Monday evening either, because Abbott has told him he is not allowed to be there.

Here’s the whole five paras from the Agricultural Competitive White Paper:

Climate change presents particular challenges for sectors such as agriculture where productivity and profitability are closely linked to natural resources. Recent projections from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology (the Bureau) confirm that Australia’s climate has changed and will continue to change into the future. Average temperatures are expected to increase, with more heat extremes and fewer cold extremes. In southern Australia, severe droughts are expected to be more frequent and cool season rainfall is expected to decline. Overall, extreme rainfall events that lead to flooding are likely to become more intense. Farm management practices need to be adapted to build resilience in light of the challenges presented by such long-term trends.

The Commonwealth provides funding to institutions like the CSIRO and the Bureau, which provide valuable information to the farming community in the form of short-term and seasonal forecasts, and long-term climate projections that can be used to support risk assessment and adaptive farm management practices.

The Commonwealth continues to assist farmers to become more responsive and resilient to climate impacts, including through RD&E. For example, under the first round of the Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme the Government will support improvements in the Bureau’s seasonal forecasting model to increase farmer profitability (further detail in Chapter 3—Strengthening our approach to drought and risk management).

The Government is also working internationally to mitigate future climate risks. Australia is on-track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 (13 per cent below 2005 levels) and the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is helping Australia meet that target.

The Government will shortly announce Australia’s post-2020 emissions reduction target. The target will represent Australia’s fair share of the global effort to respond to climate change as part of the new post-2020 international climate change agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Government is consulting the agriculture sector on our post-2020 target—submissions received have outlined policies to reduce emissions while improving productivity and profitability.

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  • Chris Fraser

    Even if we agreed that fossil fuels were completely benign, we would never get to our last tonne of coal. We’re never going to run out. What these idiots can’t decide on is whether we should leave it alone. Idiots. Want food and land ? Better put a limit on fracking.

  • Rob G

    The sixth extinction will come earlier for the LNP. And if we, along with the rest of the world, can move we may just avoid it ourselves.

    • Annette Schneider

      Much earlier, and if this crooked gang of future thieves get back in the farmers of Australia will form a lynch mob.

  • http://www.solarpowerservices.com.au SolarPowerServices.com.au

    Abbott nothing but a corporate finger puppet

  • Graham Dunlop

    The sooner these morons are gone the better but is the opposition any wiser?

    • Annette Schneider

      There are some very good people in Labor like Dr Mike Kelly ( look him up – he’s a renewables fan, comes from a farming family and says he got into politics to help protect the environment) and the Greens and independents will fill in the gaps admirably.

      • Gerberaman

        I sincerely hope you’re right Annette. I don’t share your optimism for anything useful from Labour. They both just want to be re-elected. Sensible government is a very low priority for either of them, and both parties keep calling the Greens ‘radical’, so they don’t have to deal with them. We would need a major change in the voting habits of the majority of Aussies before we get a sensible government.

  • howardpatr

    Frightening that such a scientifically ignorance person could be the leader of Australia.

    With statements like that there is little wonderthat he is afraid of appearing on Q&A.

  • Peter Smith

    The world should consider boycotting Australian goods to force Abbott out of office.

    • chris seaborn

      I think we’re all, myself included, apathetic, (maybe removing the ‘a’ may be more true) what’s happened to Australians since the Vietnam and ban the bomb demonstrations? People power could change this. Loved this little piece of graffiti chalked on a wall, ‘Apathy is ruining the world’ and someone had answered…’who cares’.

      • mick

        ive always thought that govt/business policy for years has been to maintain beer,footy cricket,public holidays etc to keep the herd sweet whilst more and more rules to keep dissent underfoot and keep us at work these days media assist them,,furthermore once babyboomers are gone no one will remember the 60s/70s demos the remainder will be too risk averse to say boo to anyone in a uniform.hope im wrong.

    • Smurf1976

      It’s a bit hard to boycott goods from a country that manufactures close to nothing these days. It’s not as though ordinary consumers directly buy bulk commodities which about all we’ve got left of any real significance these days unfortunately.

  • phred01

    The rabbit is exceptionally visionary. Got some bad new he’ll have eat coal & drink oil to achieve his prediction

  • Steve Fuller

    The farming sector deserves a sophisticated set of policies to help manage their future. They cannot conceivably be satisfied with this claptrap. They should be mobilising through their representative bodies to ensure that they are part of the solution rather than a perpetuation of the problems foisted on us all by the fossil fuel lobby, modern economics and irrational politicians.

  • John McKeon

    I remember not so long ago the Queensland “Courier Mail” thundering at the extremism of the Greens in suggesting that coal exports be stopped in just a few years. Well for the record here I want to put it to you, dear fellow readers, that this Tony’s government is the real party of extremism.

    Indeed in their conservationism the Greens more clearly than ever display a species of political conservatism. Think about it. Take it steady with resources, don’t move too quickly, take advice from the experts on climate.

    Tony, it should have been “Coal is crap” and “Climate science is good for humanity”.

    • Jacob

      I think the Greens wanted an export tax on coal. A very sensible idea.

  • lucyjunior

    It is time more farmers in Liberal/National electorates demanded strong carbon cutting climate action from their Member of Parliament instead of blindly propping up the Coalition. The group of 11 made a good start the other week with their open letter to the LNP to act on climate.

    • nakedChimp

      Once farmers see the impact it usually is too late and as long as that doesn’t happen all seems fine so they stick with their republican view of the world.
      Feedback is a bitch sometimes.

    • John McKeon

      “Coalition” should be rendered as “COALition”.

      The party that should be representing farmers has been captured by the fossil fuel interests. And it’s just too bad about the fracking operations under our precious farm land and inside our underground aquifers.

      • lucyjunior

        Yes. Is Barnaby Joyce crying crocodile tears over this coal mine? His electoral campaign enjoyed at least $50,000 support from miner Gina Rinehart.

        • Calamity_Jean

          Only $50,000? He sells his soul cheap.

  • Bob Fearn

    Generally speaking it is not a good idea to elect someone with an IQ of less than 50.

  • Blind Freddy of Cairns

    For someone who is an Oxford educated Rhodes Scholar with double degrees in Economics and Law, plus a Masters in Arts, I have to agree that was a dumb statement from Abbott. Will it stop him being re-elected, probably not.

  • lin

    Every time Abbott opens his mouth, he reveals a distinct lack of activity behind the eyes. He is certainly doing no favours to the reputation of the Rhodes scholarship. The wonder of it all is that the mainstream press don’t eviscerate him for the stupid stuff he says. The Liberal party has 2 choices. 1) get rid of Abbott. 2) prepare to be annihilated at the next election.

  • Michael Rynn

    Both Labor and Liberal are Coal-Ignition block heads – looking forwards to the political after-life of well paid sinecures in the fossil fuel industry.

  • Peter Smith

    Those of us who are not motivated by short term capitalist selfish values need to join together & make a stand against those in denial of the massive threat posed to life on our beautiful planet from Climate Change.

  • Jacob

    If you can find the full video, I think I heard him say that we will get our electricity from other sources rather than burning coal in the future.