Abbott under fire as China, US and others question Australia’s climate policy

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The Abbott government’s poor record on climate policy and action has been thrust into the international spotlight, after some of the world’s biggest economies and biggest polluters, including China and the US, questioned whether Australia’s emissions reduction targets were ambitious enough.

Tony Abbott’s Coalition government – whose main policy on climate change has been to dump Australia’s carbon tax and unwind some of its most important mechanisms for boosting renewable energy development – last week held the first auction for its Emissions Reduction Fund, the centrepiece of its Direct Action policy. Results of that auction round are due to be released this week.

But documents from the United Nations show a distinct lack of confidence in Australia’s ability to meet its 2020 emissions reduction targets – let alone any future target – with 36 questions on this subject and the Abbott government’s broader climate policies, from countries including Brazil, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, and from the European Union.HAZLEWOOD POWER STATION VICTORIA

The questions, lodged with the UN in the lead-up to the December Paris climate summit, included one from Beijing on whether the ERF would be enough to compensate for the axed carbon price.

“1990 is an internationally common choice for base year of 2020 targets, but Australia choose 2000 instead,” said the question from China.

“Australia further indicated that the 15 per cent and 25 per cent conditional targets are based on the level of international action, especially from advanced economies … This ambition level is far below the requirement that Australia set out for advanced economies. Please clarify the fairness of such requirements.”

China – which with the US in November committed to ambitious climate targets – also asked that the Australian government define the term “international action”, given the fact its unambitious targets were conditional on the level of international action.

The US has introduced pollution limits into law, while China will this year launch its eight regional Emissions Trading Schemes, with plans to move to a national ETS in the next few years.

As part of the China-US agreement, America set a new target to cut greenhouse gas emissions at 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, up from 17 per cent. China said it would cap its carbon emissions by 2030.

The deal was signed at the APEC summit in China, just days before the G20 meeting in Brisbane where Australia has refused to have climate change on the official agenda. It also came as the Pope sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a catholic, urging him to take action on climate change.

Now, as the Paris summit looms, with the expected outcome of a global deal, to combat climate change, the pressure on Abbott is intensifying.

Other questions submitted to the UN this week included:

China: “In the WM [with measures, or policies in place] scenario, the GHG emissions (incl. LULUCF) of Australia will reach 613 536ktCO2. This equals to an increase of 10.3% and is far beyond the target of 5% reduction. How would Australia achieve its QEWERT [target]?”

US: “Will the Emissions Reduction Fund constitute the primary measure implemented to replace the ETS, or are other significant Policies and Measures being contemplated?”

Brazil: “Considering the low level of ambition presented until now, as well as the historical data, does Australia intend to change its unconditional target in order to increase its level of ambition?

“After detailing the expansion of covered activities in the land sector: “This kind of action seems to make the level of ambition lower, not higher. How will this contribute to meeting Australia’s target?”

Switzerland: “What additional PaMs are taken into consideration by the Party in light of longer term requirements to substantially lower per capita GHG emissions as recommended by science and thus contribute to the collective achievement of the 2 degree warming limit?”

EU: “Could Australia provide information on the anticipated mitigation potential of the ERF to meet the two conditional more ambitious emission reduction targets?”

The questions come as Australia faces criticism over its decision not to send a minister or its chief climate negotiator to a meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Washington DC, starting this Sunday.

Erwin Jackson, the deputy CEO of the Climate Institute – which has previously recommended the Abbott government aim for 40 per cent emissions reduction target – said the world saw Australia’s climate commitments as “woefully inadequate”.

The institute’s CEO John Connor added that, with growing climate and clean energy policies elsewhere, including Chinese and South Korean emissions trading schemes, Australia was “rightly being questioned about why it appears to be sticking to the minimum target.

“Australia has also obviously significantly changed climate policies with the taxpayer funded Emissions Reduction Fund its primary policy tool. Other countries appear to be as mystified as domestic analysts about the scale and effectiveness of this policy and asking ‘what else have you got?’” Connor said.

“Other countries are already putting up significant reductions – the US off the same 2000 base year would be doing around 30 per cent by 2025,” he said.

“You’ve got Europe proposing 40 per cent off similar levels by 2030.”

“So the 5 per cent is not only inadequate in terms of comparison with other international action elsewhere, it’s irrelevant when it comes to the ambition that is needed beyond 2020.”

Federal Labor’s shadow environment minister, Mark Butler, has also seized on the international criticism.

“Tony Abbott is dishing out billions in tax payers’ money to big polluters, has ruined Australia’s renewable energy industry and removed Australia’s legal cap on carbon pollution,” he said in a media statement.

“As the biggest polluter per capita in the OECD, Australia has a responsibility to do its fair share to reduce its carbon pollution. But, it is also in our national interest to work with our biggest trading partners, China, the US and Europe for a global response to climate change.

“…Scientists warn of catastrophic consequences for scenarios above two degrees, yet Tony Abbott seems to have casually decided he knows better and dropped that long-held bipartisan commitment,” Butler said.

“Today’s reports are likely to be just the beginning of our partners’ and neighbours’ concerns about Australia’s climate action while Tony Abbott continues his determination to do nothing.”  

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  • Alex

    I am pleased to see greater international focus on the Abbott “government”‘s appalling approach to address an international issue. However, our Glorious Leader has shown such contempt for the international community (apart from multinational corporations) that I feel such criticisms will fall on his tin ears.

    • lin

      You are correct in saying that Abbott can ignore a lot more than this. However, it could start to get ugly if the international community chooses to make an example of us. The sooner we can get rid of these destructive idiots, the better. Abbott is the political equivalent of Monty Python’s Black Knight – all fight and no brain.

  • Rob G

    We expected the world would soon gang up on rogue Australia and Abbott’s non-sense climate action policies. I’m expecting some sort of sanctions to follow and that unfortunately ‘we’ become the example to the world of what happens when a country does not comply. The screws will only continue to tighten from here on. One way or other the public will begin to understand how this government is setting us at odds with the rest of the world. Do we want to be seen in the same way as North Korea are viewed? No! we don’t. We know Abbott won’t change so either his party or voters will need to hurry his exit from politics.

    • mike flanagan

      All the more reason why our more rational business and community leaders should give the ALP and the Greens the support to reject the money bills in the next budget to bring on a double dissolution and avoid the worst consequences of Abbott’s ignorance and petulance.

    • Alastair Leith

      Yes the special pleading Howard, Senator Hill and their lot got away with at Kyoto will not be countenanced by the global community any longer. Australia should by all accounts be at the front of Climate action, not dragging the entire effort backwards the way Abbott, Macfarlane and Hunt have been doing.

  • Miles Harding

    As expected, somebody was bound to notice the ridiculous nonsense being perpetrated in this country. Just wen we though that Tony could not get any more out of step with the people and international consensus, he hires Bjorn Lomborg to lie to him (and all of us).

  • john

    This will of course play well in Australia for the Government ,s there is one thing that is for sure a thin skin response is guaranteed.

    • Asian Conscience

      Ah, Abott gave a fine speech at the last UN Conference on asylum seekers didn’t he?

      • john

        I also may add a speech outlining the Governments support for RE by having 2 agencies that were a fine example of action by his team.
        No mention of the fact both were up for being abolished by his forward vision cabinet of course.

        • Asian Conscience

          Sigh…think we all miss the Howard-Costello years

  • Alastair Leith

    Nice to see Mark Butler speaking warmly about the cap on carbon pollution we had in a Carbon Tax and how it was having a positive effect on emissions. That’s a first for him and the ALP. His early comments taking the shadow minister were to abolish aspirations for restoring the CT and even for establishing an ETS (ALPs preferred carbon pricing mechanism).

    • Alen T

      I disagree with you on your last point, an ETS will change things very quickly imo. Everyone knows what a price on carbon looks and feels like, and with RE prices so low, there will be a rapid shift to a decarbonised power sector. I know where I work, they are already seriously looking into RE, a strong whiff of a new carbon price will do wonders to get the ball rolling.
      As for the other sectors, including the potential to have “leg of ham rise to cost $100”, they’ll follow and adjust quickly too-I hope.

      Btw. Technically we never had a carbon tax, but rather an ETS with a fixed price for the first few years.

      • Alastair Leith

        That’s if buying third world offsets are not included in the ETS (admittedly the original conception of an international ETS was to use capital in developed countries to save the great forests like the Amazon ones in developing countries). Otherwise, ETS may not be so effective; so quickly. CT was not 100% tax and return, is that why you are say it was an ETS with fixed price, apart from the language what is the substantive difference between a pure CT and what we legislated for?

        Maybe Barnaby is giving the game away with his $100 leg of lamb, there are actually serious emissions associated with livestock, especially extensive range livestock in Northern Australia. And it’s a conversation Australia has forgotten to have, despite arguing about Fossil Fuel Power for the last two decades in a big way. BZE’s Land Use Report puts Land Use Sector GHG emissions at 55% of national emissions using a 20 yr GWP. 20yr GWP is entirely reasonable given, a the constant and in fact increasing stock of methane in the atmosphere (even 20yr underplays it using IPCC AR 5 figure of 86x CO2 given methanes half life of 6-7 years). Of that 55%, 90% are associated with livestock, so in all Australia has half it’s emission coming from livestock industries. Fortunately BZE report also provides pathways to offsetting those emissions, but it won’t be easy given the deep cultural prejudices around meat diets in this country (despite the cost to national health of all the chronic disease epidemics it contributes to in no uncertain ways).

        • Coley

          Looking at your last few paragraphs, if Abbot goes vegetarian and bans BBQs then that should pull Australia into line;)

        • Alen T

          In theory I do not think there is a difference between the fixed price ETS and an actual carbon tax, and I believe this was purposely designed so as to eliminate the volatility in price, and thus send a stronger signal to the market. Switching over to a floating price, as it would have if it weren’t abolished, is a clearer way to control emission levels, but can result in delayed market reaction, especially if prices fall as happened in the EU ETS.

          People just often forget or aren’t aware of that we already had an ETS. In fact it was an extremely well designed ETS.

  • Les Johnston

    An important summary of the challenges Australia faces when placed under critical analysis. Quite a challenge to defend the nonsense analysis put forward by the non-science COALition.

  • rexalfielee

    Abbott is a tool for the big corporates, a suck-hole for their attitudes to gain ground & basically make himself rich. He doesn’t care about Australia, he likes England & he should go there although I’m pretty sure he’s got nothing they want either.

    Abbott is a psychopath & will do anything to save his own arse. He needs to be destroyed whether that is politically based or otherwise, we need him gone…

  • Leigh Ryan

    Don’t focus on Abbott, you loose site of the fact that this is LNP/ Liberal & National Party policy, they are all to blame, and they should all pay the penalty, and i am yet to hear of any decent policy being put forward by the ALP, they appear to be focused only on attacking Abbott like a rabid dog and generally sticking to the status quo, there is no future policy from any of the major parties, no vision, no promise for a better economic or cleaner future for Australians, all we have is the certainty that the pollies will give themselves even more pay rises and generally better deals than any other Australian can obtain, it might be time for a revolution to rid this country of the lazy, soul-less scum in our parliaments.

  • Huw Slater

    “China will this year launch its eight regional Emissions Trading Schemes, with plans to move to a national ETS in the next few years.”

    I think you mean China’s *seven* ETSs, rather than eight. And they started operation in 2013 and 2014.