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Gaping holes appear in Turnbull’s Direct Action climate policy

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The Australian Government continues to state that its ‘Direct Action’ climate policy is working, and that Australia is in line to meet and even beat our international climate targets. But, unfortunately we keep seeing more evidence that the policy is not working and that our greenhouse pollution is going up.

But, as greenhouse pollution continues rising, something is very wrong with the policy settings.

As Reputex recently pointed out “despite the direct action policy, national emissions are expected to rise from 534 million tonnes in 2015 to 577 by 2020 – three per cent above 2000 levels, and well short of the government’s target of a five per cent reduction.”

It turns out that the only way Australia will meet even our extremely low 5% pollution reduction target for 2020 is through an accounting process and a deal struck around the Kyoto Protocol.

When negotiating on the Kyoto Agreement, Australia held international negotiations to ransom, ultimately cutting a deal to be the only developed country to be able to increase pollution during the first Kyoto commitment period (2008-2012) rather than decrease it.

Australia was allowed a 108 per cent target meaning that we could increase our climate pollution 8%. It turned out that we did not increase pollution as much as the allowance we negotiated and Australia banked that as credit to apply to the 2020 target.

Some of the reasons for the amount banked – 128 million tonnes in credits between 2008 and 2012 – were that manufacturing decreased during the period, coal mining reduced and there was a lot less carbon pollution from deforestation since 1990, following a period when deforestation in Australia was at a high level.

Last week, on 24 November, the second-last auction under the Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund was held.

The ERF remains the government’s main policy mechanism for reducing greenhouse pollution under its Direct Action Plan. The auction was notable for a few reasons. It saw 47 contracts awarded, far fewer than the 73 from the previous auction, and $367 million committed compared with $516 million previously.

Alongside a clear waning of interest there is a much bigger problem – the government has now used up 83% of the ERF’s $2.55 billion budget, and has nothing further in the forward estimates, yet has only achieved a small fraction of what’s needed.

The Climate Institute has done the maths on this and reported that, in fact, the ERF covers less than 5 per cent of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to be on a trajectory consistent with climate change of no more than 2°C (total emission reductions of 3750 million tonnes).

Even to reach the government’s current (inadequate) target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, the ERF would deliver less than 12 per cent of the emissions reductions needed (1500 million tonnes).”

The Wilderness Society has also looked at the chances of the policy succeeding. They have found that of the$367 million spent on carbon pollution abatement in the recent auction, about $160 million was spent on tree projects to save the equivalent of 14.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

“The Emissions Reduction Fund has now blown over $1.3 billion to planting and preserving trees to save 113 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, which will not even cover the expected 138Mt CO2e emitted into the atmosphere from just three years of clearing in Australia.”

So, not only is the policy costly and failing to achieve reductions required to meet our commitments, it is being overwhelmed by state land clearing. None of this adds up to success.

What Australia needs is much stronger policy that cuts pollution from our biggest pollution source—burning of coal, oil and gas for energy—and genuinely sets us up for a clean future.

That means replacing coal-burning generation by 2035 with clean renewable energy and getting to net zero pollution well before mid-century.

Suzanne Harter is a climate change campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation  

  • john

    The carbon abatement policy that relates to tree clearing would appear to had 1 identity having a rather large amount of credits ( payments ).
    As i have said before i feel the whole tree management outcomes should be looked at as a total block Australia wide and if the outcome is negative then zero payments this should be done on a continual basis.
    One could possibly give some credits to the particular identity however it has to relate to the particular industry as a whole.
    If every aspect of tree management is showing a positive outcome then granted make payments but do not make payments before looking at the outcomes.
    As to the rest of the program it basically follows the policy previously in place rather a hollow claim to make it is somehow new.

  • Farmer Dave

    Thank you, Suzanne. It’s a depressing picture, and offends me as a tax payer that our money is being wasted paying people not to do something they were not planning to do anyway – which is my understanding of where most of the ERF funds are going.

    On a much broader viewpoint, I urge everyone who reads this excellent site to not use the phrase “emissions reduction” but to instead use “phase out coal, oil and gas”, as I am not sure that most Australians really understand that phasing out coal, oil and gas is what this is really about. We should not allow anyone to try to sugar-coat the fact that this is about an energy transition: the closing down of some existing industries and a just and equitable transition to new ones.

  • Rod

    Imagine the renewable assets that 1.3 BILLION could have paid for.

    • Peter Campbell

      Or a small fraction of a submarine.

    • solarguy

      Yep, sickening isn’t it.

    • Ren Stimpy

      $91 million of Arena funding was recently used to kickstart 12 large solar farms, totaling 482 MW, by attracting a further $964 million of private funding.

      Using that as a yardstick, the $1.3 billion could have been used to kickstart a further 6833 MW of large scale solar by attracting a further $13.67 billion of private investment.

  • John Saint-Smith

    Unless Turnbull et al feel some electoral pain as a result of this two finger salute to our climate change mitigation obligation, nothing will change. And while Australians are busy congratulating themselves for being ‘better than the Americans’, we are fast becoming worse than any other developed nation. Who cares? Nobody who votes Liberal, One Nation or any of the independents. So why should Malcolm bother either?

  • Les Johnston

    The LNP’s “direct action” was used to pay many soil carbon projects which do not have the scientific evidence to support “claims” of carbon “saved.” This makes “direct action” a great policy for future informed analysis to provide an example of wasted effort and lost opportunity. Hopefully, the days before this takes place will be few.