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Climate and energy – appeasement does not work

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Antarctica's Twaites Glacier, one of the six glaciers of the Amundsen Sea Embayment of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Credit: NASA

The current chaos around climate and energy policy brings to mind George Santayana’s caution that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That is exactly what we are witnessing, albeit with far more profound implications even than the advent of the Second World War.

In November 1936, Winston Churchill, concerned at the dangers posed by the Third Reich, warned the House of Commons about the refusal of the British establishment to face up to reality:

They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent……Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have now entered upon a period of great danger …..  The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close.  In it’s place we are entering a period of consequences….. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now …..”

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was not to be diverted from the appeasement path, returning from Munich in September 1938 waving his “peace in our time” paper signed with Hitler.  The rest is history; the war started a year later.

So it is with the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).  Conjured out of nowhere, with experts press-ganged to provide underwhelming technical credibility, warning lights flashed red when the little Hitlers of the Coalition’s right wing, such as Craig Kelly, Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott himself, gave effusive support.

Most media commentators demonstrated their profound ignorance by instantly heralding the NEG as the answer to our energy prayers, despite a total absence of detail and minimal reference to the climate implications.

For climate is the key. Until climate drives energy policy, there will never be the certainty for investment, reliability, security and affordability, that everyone craves.

Kelly gave the game away by letting slip the magic word “backloading”.  Put simply, to satisfy these little Hitlers, when detail of the NEG does emerge, it will guarantee business as usual for energy supply, ramping up coal and CSG, with any attempt to reduce carbon emissions in line with our wholly inadequate Paris Agreement commitments, left until the last possible minute prior to the 2030 deadline.

The rationale being that the cost of compliance by then will be greatly reduced due to technology improvements.

In that one word, the government has completely abrogated its first responsibility to safeguard the people and their future wellbeing, for everything about this “elegant” solution is wrong.

Many parliamentarians still do not believe human-induced climate change even exists; a view closely correlated with massive political donations from the fossil fuel industry.

For a country whose wealth has been based on the sensible application of science and technology, a parliament so corrupt and lacking in basic scientific, technical and economic understanding, and commonsense, is the greatest threat to our future security and prosperity.

In the real world, beyond the Canberra goldfish bowl, human-induced climate change is accelerating far faster than expected. The unprecedented hurricane season in the Atlantic, devastating bushfires in California and extreme heat in many parts of South Asia are only the most recent portents of what is to come.

The lower Paris objective, of limiting temperature increase to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, is no longer achievable.  Staying below the upper objective of 2oC requires a halt to the burning of fossil fuels today.

That will obviously not happen, but the more carbon that is pushed into the atmosphere, the greater the overshoot beyond 2oC and the greater the catastrophic conditions we create for ourselves.

For Australia, as one of the hottest and driest continents, this is extremely dangerous, particularly for our rural communities and for Northern Australia.

The climate impact of carbon emitted today does not manifest itself for years to come. In these circumstances, to seize upon “backloading” as a key policy plank, deliberately encouraging Adani and other Galilee Basin coal mines, the expansion of domestic coal-fired power, and CSG which is worse than coal from a warming perspective, is the height of irresponsibility, for it would automatically lock-in catastrophic outcomes.

Emissions have to be reduced now, not a decade hence. Lower energy costs will only come from a major investment in renewables, improved energy efficiency and changing social values, not from massively expanding fossil fuels and continuing to subsidise them by refusing to price carbon.

For the last twenty years, beginning with John Howard, both major parties have continually played the appeasement card on climate policy.  Howard signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and as a result triggered the first design of an Australian emissions trading system, completed in 1999 (see disclosure below).

Despite strong business support, he shelved it when George W Bush refused to sign Kyoto.  Business interest in climate action evaporated and fossil fuel industry resistance grew.

To appease the fossil fuel lobby, every proposal subsequently has been used as a starting point to further ratchet down sensible climate policy ambition, the most recent example being the Finkel Review.

In good faith, Alan Finkel put forward an honest proposal for a politically acceptable climate and energy policy, albeit far from ideal.  It was simply taken as the starting point to be ratcheted down again to the magical vision of the NEG.

Those who have any genuine concern for the future of this country need to call out climate appeasement for what it really is, namely the destruction of our security and prosperity by a bunch of ignorant, self-serving ideologues who have no regard for the Australian people they so earnestly claim to represent.

Appeasement never works.  The devastation wrought by Hitler pales into insignificance compared with the risks to which we are now exposed by the government’s refusal to adopt sensible climate policy. The period of consequences is upon us and there are certainly no Churchills in sight.

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is a Member of the Club of Rome.

 (Disclosure: Ian chaired the AGO Experts Group which designed this first emissions trading system for Australia under the Howard government in 1998/99)   

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  • Joe

    Ian, a commendable critique which just tells it like it is. We / the planet are heading into hell. But it is not like we didn’t know what was coming or what actions we needed to take. The IPCC has been at work on this issue for the best part of 30 years and so Federal Governments like Australia & USA have no excuses for what they are doing and even for what they are NOT doing. We all know that burning FF has to stop now but still the reckless few in decision making positions want to throw the dice and gamble the planet just so that the Fossil Fuel partying can make merry for a while longer until the music stops completely.

    • rob

      Joe love your work and humour generally ……But this article is a call to ARMS…… We need to stop this stupid politics and make a F**KING stand.
      Sorry if I seem aggressive but I have had a GUTS FULL! This is the best article I’ve ever read on this site…… Act now or F**K off it basically says……and that is what I am doing!
      Soz joe …..just re -read you comment…….But those like you and me have to make a real stand to these C**ts. Niceties need to stop…AGGRESSION IS REQUIRED! lets fight the bastards!

      • Joe

        Hi Rob, perhaps I didn’t come across quite like I wanted. I am not arguing against Ian’s article at all. What Ian writes any informed and thinking person knows it to be true. I am 100% for a healthy and sustainable environment and for urgent action now so that future generations are not faced with a living hell. I see the climate induced changes around the world and the impacts being visited upon human populations and nature. Sadly it is politics (with support from vested business interests) that is the roadblock that stops the actions that need to be taken now. I will never vote COALition that is in my upbringing and permanently imprinted on my DNA! I used to be a rusted on Labor voter but I stopped that and have gone to the Greens Environment / climate change policy is part of the reason for my switch. As an individual I try to live as ‘Green’ as I can. I had my first rooftop solar ( a modest 1 kW system ) installed in 2008, since expanded to a current 4.8 kW, which is pretty much the max now given available roof space and tree shading issues. I have 7500 litres of rainwater tank capacity for my outdoor use. I have compost bins so that no green waste ever leaves my block, it is all recycled. I don’t own a car so my bicycle does me just fine for short trips from home and I go to public transport for the longer journeys. But back to the fight so to speak. The States and The Territories have now pretty much beaten the path with their RE Targets and the getting on with it. The next Federal Election will be pivotal, the COALition just has to be gone if we / Australia are going to get serious about climate change and RE. Federal Labor is making the right noises in the main ie not being a roadblock to RE. I hope that a new Labor Govt will really get cracking on the job with RE and reducing CO2 emissions, we have no more time to waste.

        • rob

          Sorry Joe for my late night rant! Perhaps I simply read too much and last night was my “tipping point” (pun intended). I too am a GREENY! I actually bought a piece of land adjoining my property to save 2 significant gums ,so now have a huge garden plot of over 1000sq m…. totally revegetated with council recommended native plants and a resident koala in the centre of Adelaide ,well 9 minutes away. The garden is self sustaining with no watering at all and the wild life loves it, so once again soz.

          • Joe

            Go well, you, your Big Garden with resident ‘groundsman’…aka Koala. Just marvellous.

          • rob

            Thanks joe…….your comment soothed my heart!

  • Dave Keenan

    Wow!

    Thanks so much Ian.

  • Peter Todd

    Yes Ian a good rant.

    My question is, if NEG is a step in the right direction, even if it is only a small step, it needs to be supported. It is obvious the LNP are incapable of taking a big step forward on climate. Unless the government changes, they are the only ones capable of taking any step. Please support the NEG. The only other option is no step forward.

    • Joe

      My crystal ball tells me that the Govt. will change soon. When Labor wins the Bennelong by-election The House of Reps will be a new ball game. Add to that more ‘dual citizen’ threats to The COALition numbers and a vote of no confidence will see a fresh general election and The COALition turfed out…and good riddance…and they”ll take their NEG with them.

      • Peter Todd

        Hi Joe – You are optimistic. There are some good ideas in the NEG. You should not throw out ideas just because they are not yours.

        • rob

          w**KER

    • Mike Westerman

      Peter the NEG is a shabby coat draped over the good work of Finkel and AEMO in looking objectively at reliability and stability, to avoid acting on either. Abbott used delaying tactics to undermine action, and the NEG is more of the same. If you drag your feet enough you undermine confidence and investment, so small steps are not just slower versions of right sized steps, but actually inducements for investors to flee the market. The sooner we are rid of deceivers and ditherers the better.

      • rob

        AMEN BROTHER!

    • rob

      stop playing with yourself and make a F**king stand

    • RobertO

      Hi Peter Todd, I see nothing in the information so far that make me think the NEG is good. It appears to be the thoughts of one person hell bent on protecting coal power (and one of the dangers is that the COALition will adopt the idea that coal is “Baseload” power so you do not need any guarantees for coal). Next you have the possibility the we will have capacity/ reliability payments made to coal power.
      I want the NEG scrapped as it appears to me to be aimed at stopping RE investement and long term it offers little progress on planning for the future whatever % of RE we are going to get (or possibly need to have). It will be a short term plan by the current COALition and hopefully will change when we change gov. Even Labour has a target of 50% (which I think they have no hope of making and stopping on, I beleive they will overshoot by 25% to 45%). We need transport to start and that means building (work) Australia.
      If the decidion is that we need Bass Link 2, then I beleive it need to be via King Island (KI, addition $100 Million for an additional 1000 MW of WTG on KI ) which removes 2.6 million litre of Diesel Power on KI also.

      • Peter Todd

        The positives in the NEG is that it gives a structure that will facilitate stronger investment. The only financially secure investment options now are renewables and storage. So that is what would happen under NEG. If Labor gets in they will ramp it up further. NEG also goes away from the stupid short term market system to long term energy contracts and so stops energy companies making their money by just PLAYING the market, which they have been doing for 20 years. The suggestion that anyone would put their investment money into coal fired power stations is silly.

        • RobertO

          Hi Peter Todd, The NEG offers no information on what it is. Do you remember the CDO offered just before the money markets crashed, worth millions to the sellers and nothing to the buyers? The biggest con job on local councils some of whom are still fighting to get their money back. The NEG is in addition to the wholesale market so it may be seen as a way to raise money off RE by owner of coal power (and the 5 minute rule may slow down the gaming of the wholesale market, but AEMC have listed the change for 1 July 2021 4.5 years away). You as a wind farm want to buy my reliability then you have to pay me for it. The COALition may also interfere in the market place claiming coal is “Baseload” hence need no reliability of supply contract.

          • Peter Todd

            The LNP are desperate to find a wedge against Labor in the energy area. My guess is the reason LNP did not go for the CET is that Labor agreed to go bipartisan with it almost immediately, before LNP locked in. Australia needs a bipartisan agreement on energy. My view is that now the LNP are locked in on NEG Labor should go bipartisan again and then fix NEG’s flaws when they get in power. Only one thing will drive the major long term investment in renewables and storage that is required and that is bipartisanship to deliver long term stability.

          • neroden

            But the NEG is blank. It’s not actually a coherent, spelled-out proposal. If Labor “supports” it, the LNP will immediately change the NEG to be a pure coal subsidy.

  • trackdaze

    Wasn’t it Churchill who said on chamberlands return. “You had the choice between war and dishonour, you chose dishonour and will have war”?

  • rob

    iAN wow the best ever article on reneweconomy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is WAR!

    @disqus_wZKHFnPhOi:disqus f**k steps we as a country need to HEAR this, note it and make it happen! F**k the NEG. F**K AEMO and all the other mother f**kers we need to do this NOW! Congratulations to @ian dunlop for posting the reality! For me….Pftttttt I personally have no stake in this, I’m too old…..This devastation will occur after my passing….I have no family or children to worry about……. yet I am spending all my money on renewables. spent $10k so far with another $90k within the next year and every year thereafter till I die. in total I hope to help to the tune of $2 mill plus! The rest of you can dither all you like and send your kids to hell!

    • neroden

      If you’re planning to spend THAT much on renewables… I hope you consider leveraging your money by using it to finance renewables companies, renewables promoters, etc… and then leaving those profits to a charity to promote renewables further…

      • rob

        Tis my ambition and already in my will!

        • neroden

          You are pretty awesome! Go you.

  • Sarah Moles

    We MUST stop corporate political donations, especially foreign ones, if this uncertainty is to end anytime soon! But – perversely – the COALition are trying to stop eNGOs from receiving foreign donations for advocacy and other environmental projects. All for the Minerals Council of Australia, of course!

    • Joe

      The MCA is a charitable org…isn’t it? I mean it provides charity for The COALition.

  • neroden

    To be fair to Chamberlain, the secret documents which have been revealed fairly recently (which were therefore known to very few for a long time) show that he *believed* Hitler would break the treaty, but he had discovered that the UK was not properly equipped for defence against Germany at the time. He used the extra year he gained from the treaty to do a massive and *appropriate* defence buildup. (A better result than France.) Perhaps Finkel can be given similar credit…

    Turnbull and Abbott are more like the leaders of the European countries which voluntarily allied with the Nazis, which are infamous. The executives of coal & oil mining & burning companies, of course, *are* the Nazis in this analogy — the ones committing genocide.