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CCA dissenters slam “$100 turkey claims” as Coalition defends climate goals

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The two members of the Climate Change Authority who last week broke ranks with the rest of the advisory body over the inadequacy of its climate policy recommendations, and this week released their own version of the report, say claims ambitious climate action is not economically possible are “manifestly absurd.”

The pair, ethics professor Clive Hamilton and eminent climate scientist David Karoly, said in an op-ed on Monday that the basis for their decision not to sign off on last week’s CCA report was its failure to factor in the constraint of Australia’s ever-tightening carbon budget.

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“This is all the more regrettable because the requirement to do so is embedded in the Special Review’s terms of reference and was analysed in the First Report of the Special Review released in April 2015 (before the appointment of six new Members to the Authority in October 2015),” they wrote.

But in comments on ABC Radio on Monday morning, Hamilton also suggested that the CCA – set up as an independent statutory authority – had shaped its report to suit Australia’s current political environment, rather than basing it on the best available scientific and economic evidence.

“When the CCA was established it was made very clear in the legislation that it is independent,” he said. “We don’t believe that it’s the role of the authority to thread a political needle, to try to create something, craft a report that will suit the particularities of the cross-bench of the current parliament.

“Our report is based very firmly on the science,” he added. “Moreover, it is based directly on the recommendations of the climate change authority itself in the very first report of this review, which came out a year ago, a year before there was a change-over in the membership of the CCA.

“The Authority recommended to the government that Australia should reduce its emissions by 45-65 per cent by 2030, and it was in response to that that the Abbott government came up with these targets of 26-38 per cent,” he said.

The act of dissent caps off an altogether unconvincing first week back of parliament for Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition, and puts newly minted energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg on the spot to explain both the divide within the revamped CCA board and the cloud over the government’s climate policies.

But in comments to ABC Radio, directly preceding Hamilton’s, Frydenberg appeared happy to pick up where Greg Hunt left off, reading from the Abbott government climate songbook: a 26-28 per cent emissions reduction target is world-leading and ambitious; 2030 is a long way away; we’re pulling out weight.

Hamilton’s response: Australia “manifestly is not doing enough,” and is rapidly running out of time to correct the situation.

And he had a message for Frydenberg: “The minister’s new to the job, so let me be charitable; but I worried a lot when I heard him say that 2030 is a very long way away. Minister, 2030, if you’re trying to transform the energy economy of Australia and reduce our emissions, it’s actually very close.

“It takes a very long time… And if we’re going to adhere to our international commitment … then we have to take much stronger actions by 2030 than the government is currently committed to.

“(The Abbot government targets) are some of the weakest in the world. And the truth is that setting that kind of target is completely inconsistent with the goal of the Australian government which it signed up to again at Paris of limiting global warming to 2°C,” he said.

Hamilton said the government’s first order of climate policy business should be to “set a proper target,” and then to address the question of how best to get there.

“The best way to get there is to use effective economic instruments – and not the format of the Direct Action policy, particularly the Emissions Reduction Fund, which pays polluters to reduce emissions and has all sorts of problems.

“We think that the first target should be to close down the dirtiest coal fired power plants in short order over the next several years.

“The truth is… the industry is expecting this. There’s kind of several big coal-fired power plants like Hazelwood that are on the brink of closure …To take those out of the electricity industry over the next few years would make a huge difference to Australia’s efforts.”

Finally, Hamilton also said that claims by lobby groups such as the Minerals Council that ambitious climate action would drive Australia’s economy into the ground as “a manifest absurdity” and a “$100 turkey kind of claim.”

“If you look at the various reports, including the one which accompanies the majority report of the CCA, it shows that very significant emissions cuts, like the ones we’re advocating, would have a very modest economic impact,” he said.

“In fact, in the longer run we have to make a decision on whether we want to have an economy that consists of old clunkers or whether we want to be a part of the energy economy of the future.”

The response from the broader science community, meanwhile, has been one of support for the dissenters and condemnation of the Coalition and the major CCA report.

“The dissenting report is a damning critique – slamming the official report’s failure to recommend strengthening our current emissions target, or the Renewable Energy Target,” said the Climate Council’s Will Steffen – the Climate Council published the Hamilton-Karoly report on its website.

“It’s not the first time there’s been dissent in the ranks either,” he added. “Many of the original Climate Change Authority members resigned after they weren’t being listened to, and were replaced by members who were strong on political connections but short on scientific expertise and understanding.

“Sadly, it’s clear that we can’t rely on the government to provide independent scientific information. We experienced that first hand when the Climate Commission was abolished by the Abbott Government,” Steffen said.

“The (2016) CCA report is contradictory with the Authority’s 2014 report and with Australia’s role in keeping global warming below 2℃,” said Sophie Lewis, an ARC DECRA Fellow at the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at The Australian National University.

“By accepting the current government’s targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts, it creates a crunch point for emissions reduction in 2030 that we can’t possibly achieve,” Dr Lewis said.

“Professors Karoly and Hamilton should be applauded for their courageous stance,” said Peter Tangney, a lecturer in science policy and communication at Flinders University. “Their minority report highlights the discrepancy between the CC Authority’s plan and what is required to ensure Australia cuts emissions as quickly as possible.”

“The dissenting report… illustrates just how wide the difference is in informed views on the issue of climate change policy,” said associate professor Frank Jotzo, Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University.

“It also begs the question of what the role of independent statutory bodies should be in this debate. Should the CCA give advice that is calibrated to political circumstance, or advice that is predominantly guided by science and economic fundamentals?

“The CCA’s intent (in this case) clearly is to help policy progress in the medium term. But it risks locking-in a policy suite that will be costly or less effective. And if the CCA’s recommendations are misconstrued as being ambitious, we could end up with policy that falls far short of these recommendations.”

Greens MP Adam Bandt applauded Hamilton and Karoly for “blowing the whistle,” and urging “frank and fearless advice” about the level of action needed to combat climate change.

“If the Reserve Bank stopped adjusting interest rates because it might upset the government, there would be an outcry,” he said. “The Climate Change Authority had been telling us to live within our means and had urged strong climate action until the Liberals replaced the Chair and stacked the board.

“These two whistleblowers are telling the country that to meet the Authority’s own recommendations and have the best chance of avoiding catastrophic global warming we need to get our skates on.”

“The Prime Minister and his Energy and Environment Minister need to listen to these courageous whistleblowers and put in place climate and energy policies that will drive down pollution rapidly.

“The number one action the government must take is to start the phase out of the oldest and dirtiest coal fired power stations, such as Hazelwood in Victoria, a recommendation of both the Authority’s majority and minority reports,” Bandt said.  

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  • Farmer Dave

    Professors Karoly and Hamilton are to be congratulated for standing up to the Coalition bullies. The point they have made about the carbon budget and the need to start larger reductions sooner is very strong. Any Government that postpones urgent action until after 2030 (such as ours) is engaging in inter-generational warfare. The issue is even more urgent when one considers investment decisions and the expected life of capital equipment.

    Individuals and businesses across Australia that are considering investing in new equipment such as trucks, boats, boilers, industrial heaters, furnaces, kilns, and so on will be expecting to use that equipment for a lifetime of 15 or 20 years. If the equipment burns fossil fuels, then the emissions from its use will be locked in for the lifetime of the equipment. Come 2030 (or earlier), the government of the day will be forced to constrain the use of fossil fuels, and the owners of the equipment will be upset that neither the government nor opposition of the day publicly promoted alternatives. This investment time horizon is a major issue to my mind, but no one seems to be talking about it.

    • Ian

      That is an excellent point Farmer Dave, the transition is much too slow.

    • Cooma Doug

      Excellent comment

    • DogzOwn

      When will we stop buying diesel trains, so much foreign exchange for fuel as well as emissions, when we need to make all tracks electric and run on green power.

  • iGraffiti

    What I don’t understand is the Abbott logic of ignoring the huge business opportunities and economic potential in aiming for 100% renewables as quickly as possible. Given that the best way to motivate business people to be creative was an ETS, which is entirely aligned with the idea of free market based response to the issue, I also don’t understand Abbott’s pig headedness. What is even more bewildering is why the LNP now has not ditched anything resembling Abbott climate policies, as they would know first hand the insidious and unethical influence of the fossil fuel industry on their party. Given that they wanted to govern, which implies doing what is right for the nation as a whole, land and people – why are they insisting on supporting one particular part of the energy industry and actively subverting the renewables industry and our future at the same time. So what exactly, is going on with the fossil fuel industry and why are the leaders of those businesses so stupid that they are not prepared to do the right thing by our planet and transition themselves immediately into renewable energy generators, surely that’s going to be the best thing to keep their share values in the long term. And finally, imagine the response of the Australian people were a government to have the courage to go for 100% renewables – our collective depression over this issue would lift, there would be a fantastic positive vision, and our collective entrepreneurial spirit could finally be freed to get on and get the job done. What’s to lose????? When can the LNP be sued for wilful criminal negligence towards our planet?

  • DogzOwn

    Letter Age and SMH

    Climate Change Authority fiasco

    The Coal-ition say they don’t dispute climate science. So what is it they don’t get? Per Garnaut Report, greenhouse gas emissions for Australia are about 28t/p/y(tonnes per person per year) while OECD average is 14t/p/y while World average is 7t/p/y. We have a big country, with bountiful climate resources and educated population. We’ve enjoyed benefits of such big emissions for so many decades, so shouldn’t we reduce so much more than other countries?

    As worst offenders with emissions, we obviously have more options for eduction than anybody else. In person, asking Minister Hunt how he can claim his copy, from USA, of 26 to 28%(?) reduction amounts to 50% more than theirs, he says it’s because the arithmetic is always per person. So population growth delivers emission reductions. Our Plan(?) is to grow population by 50% while USA is considered to not grow at all. Imagine a Minister being unable to understand that, even accepting his delusion, difference is 33% not 50%? Can we really trust them to “manage the economy”?

    Even crazier, this depends on emissions staying the same. We don’t need to reduce emissions at all. Hunt is proud about this, disregarding that IPCC has ruling which disallows such blatant fiddle. Meeting our target is also based on claiming “carryover” of emissions credit, not used before previous 2012 deadline. Australia was the only country allowed an increase in emissions. IPCC has a ruling against this also. Other countries have not resorted to such deception.

    How does Minister Frydenberg feel about antics of his predecessor? Can he explain what plan he has to actually reduce emissions?