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Trump as president will be little different to Abbott (or Turnbull) as PM

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There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s stunning win in the US presidential campaign has created shock-waves around the world. The impact on international trade, traditional alliances and efforts to combat climate change could be momentous.

The left lives in fear of what Trump may do in the White House, and his initial appointments are hardly reassuring. The right, meanwhile, have embraced the candidate they largely disowned during the campaign, sensing a unique opportunity to prosecute their policy agenda.

The overriding sense is of uncertainty; although those initial appointments – climate change denialists to a man, and with three Mikes and no women – suggest that Trump is not likely to suddenly flip back to a previous life as a so-called liberal.

Australians though, have been here before. Three years ago, they elected Tony Abbott as prime minister, whose climate and clean energy policies bore a striking resemblance to those proffered by Trump.

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Here’s how:

Trump vowed to dismantle climate and clean energy policies

Snap: So did Tony Abbott. Trump has vowed to pull US our of the Paris climate treaty, drop all elements of the Clean Power Plan, and even scrap the Environment Protection Authority altogether, or remove its powers.

Abbott came to power vowing to scrap the carbon price, scrap the country’s long-term emissions reduction target, dismantle the Climate Council, dismantle the Climate Change Authority, abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and then sought to scrap the Renewable Energy Target too.

Trump says he doesn’t accept climate change science

Snap: Neither does Tony Abbott. Trump says it is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, while Abbott said it is “crap”. Interestingly, Abbott said last week that Trump will put the science of climate change in “better perspective”.

Trump doesn’t like wind farms

Snap: Neither does Tony Abbott. Trump describes wind farms as “unattractive, ugly, noisy and dangerous” and says they kill birds. He fought a wind farm development near his golf course in Scotland. Abbott also railed against the sight of wind farms, saying they are “ugly, they’re noisy and they may have all sorts of other impacts.”

Abbott claimed he had ridden close to one wind turbine (the only one) on Rottnest Island several years ago. Trump fought a wind farm development near his golf course in Scotland. Now he is building a wall to protect the golf course from rising seas.

Trump appointed a climate denier to oversea clean energy regulations

Snap: So did Tony Abbott. Trump has appointed Myron Ebell to head the transition team of the Environmental Protection Authority, essentially to review clean energy regulations. Ebell is a fossil fuel lobbyist who says that if climate change is happening, and is caused by man, then it is nothing to worry about. Shades of Bjorn Lomborg.

Abbott appointed Dick Warburton, a man with similar view on climate change to Ebell, to head his review of the Renewable Energy Target. Even though the review did not produce the modelling he expected – it found renewables would create jobs, lower prices and cut emissions – he still recommended it be cut. The whole process brought large-scale renewable energy investment in Australia to a crashing halt, and it is still yet to recover. The result: high LGC prices that are hitting consumers.

Trump appointed a climate conspiracy theorist to be one of his main counselors

Snap: So did Tony Abbott.

Trump’s main counsellor is Steve Bannon, who has called government support of renewable energy “madness” and whose right-wing website, Breitbart News, relentlessly pursues the idea that global warming is an invention of activists, university researchers and renewable energy industry profiteers determined to assert global governance for their own gain. (Don’t forget the Chinese).

Abbott’s main business counsellor was Maurice Newman, a man the Australian Financial Review said talked with Abbott weekly, and who claimed climate change is a ruse led by the United Nations to create a new world order under the agency’s control, and also said wind energy was “a crime against the people”.

Trump is likely to appoint an oil, gas and coal man as energy secretary

Snap: So did Tony Abbott. Trump’s pick is rumoured to be Rick Perry, the Texan who promised during his own campaign for president to scrap the energy department, except he couldn’t remember the department’s name.

Tony Abbott’s energy minister was Ian Macfarlane, who used to say that wind and solar wouldn’t work and said Australia should dig up all its coal and “every molecule” of gas, and who is now head of the main coal lobby in Australia, the Queensland Mining Council. Macfarlane’s predecessor, Martin Ferguson (Labor), now works for the main oil and gas lobby.

Trump promised to “save” the coal industry

Snap: So did Tony Abbott. Remember that “coal is good for humanity”. That was a campaign line promoted by the now bankrupt Peabody Coal, but it is still being used by Coalition ministers.

Trump dismissed the UN climate change process

Snap: So did Tony Abbott. Trump has threatened to pull the US out of the Paris climate deal, although it is not entirely clear he can or will. Certainly, however, the US under Trump will unlikely meet its emission reduction targets and will pull back from climate finance.

Abbott, soon after being elected, attended the CHOGM meeting in Malta and said Australia would not contribute to the green climate fund. At the same time, negotiators at the climate change conference in Warsaw were instructed to do an about-face on their negotiations. Australia still has no policies to meet the target it agreed to in Paris.

There are many other similarities between Trump and Abbott – the focus on “border security”, the push to lower corporate taxes, the attacks on media, the opening of public lands to fishing and mining, the cutting of government services, major spending on infrastructure (remember the “roads of the 21st century)”, and their decisions to surround themselves with advisors obsessed with all of the above and Muslim immigration.

And if you thought that the end of the Abbott era brought an end to trump-style policies in Australia, think again.

Since the so-called “progressive” Malcolm Turnbull took over as prime minister the policies have stayed exactly the same: there is no change to emissions reduction targets, no change or extension to renewable energy targets, and Turnbull is sticking with the Direct Action plan that he once derided.

What’s more, Turnbull threatens to go further than Trump will ever do, and is trying to force the states to abandon their state-based targets – particularly for renewable energy. He and his energy minister Josh Frydenberg have launched an extraordinary attack on wind and solar technologies in the wake of the South Australian blackout.

Turnbull has also appointed a minister of resources, Matt Canavan, who has been constantly talking about the “uncertainties” of climate science.abbott_turnbull_130906_aap_0

And now, with the election of Trump, any margin that Turnbull might have felt he could use to ratchet up his policies (presuming he ever wanted to) is now compromised.

The lunar right is feeling empowered and is making it clear what it expects of Turnbull on climate and clean energy. “Malcolm Turnbull’s survival depends on how quickly he realises that climate change is a hoax,” Rowan Dean, a leading conservative commentator and editor of Spectator Australia, wrote in the Murdoch press on Monday.

The threat is deliberate. Turnbull is being warned off any idea that he could follow in the footsteps of Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, whose leadership stands in stark contrast not just to his predecessor but also to the new leader across the southern border.

In effect, then, we are likely to see a repeat of 2009, when Labor wedged then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull on the emissions trading scheme, leading to the promotion of Tony Abbott in a move that was hailed by Ebell at the time, who praised the efforts of current Senator Cory Bernardi, former Senate leader Nick Minchin and Abbott himself.

Bernardi and Abbott are still agitating, and already the Trump election is reshaping Australian political dialogue, with both sides suddenly recalibrating their messages and policies. The sudden embrace of an “Australia first” policy on 457 visas and immigrant labour is a case in point.

Yes, there will be differences. Trump does not favour free trade, and will likely even try to run the country as a family business, and make decrees through Twitter. And he is unpredictable.

And Trump’s policies on clean energy and climate will be far more damaging than those of Abbott, who was seen by the international community as little more than a trouble maker.

Trump’s intervention and the removal of the US as an active participant in climate talks will make the Paris target even harder to meet, even if his attacks on clean energy will have less impact because of lower technology costs, and because he can’t interfere with the states.

But it is the climate targets that has most at stake for the world, such as wiping trillions off global GDP and redrawing the global map. As the New York Times wrote this weekend, this could have severe impacts.

Not least to Trump’s own real estate portfolio. He may need a bigger wall around his Scottish golf course, and a big one around his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The rest of the world, however, will need something more than bricks and mortar..  

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  • Keith

    Hi Giles,

    There is a difference between Tony Abbott the pariah, and Donald Trump the pariah.

    In the case of Tony Abbott, the rest of the world was perplexed how such a leading country could lose the plot, but the world could afford to overlook Australia’s madness.

    In the case of Donald Trump, the rest of the world is showing signs of saying, OK so you want to lose your position as world leader, we’ll (meaning China, India, Europe) step in and take over your role.

    And should Donald Trump think that this will be at no cost to the US, have a look at what France has proposed in terms of putting a carbon price on US exports; and there are signs that other countries may be willing to join in and isolate the US should it seek to leave the COP21 agreement.

    Even if you are blind to the climate stuff (which is difficult given that the last three years have successively broken global heat records), there is the question about who is going to benefit from the massive change from a fossil fuel to a renewable energy based economy. Trump can’t stop this.

    Companies like GE might have views about their business being messed up by ignorant political posturing.

    Slogans are not a long term strategy.

    • john

      Very good points Keith and yes there is serious study that propose a 1-3% tax.
      Ultimately this may happen, however there is danger as it was the imposition of import barriers that proved a total failure earlier last century.
      Done in a sensible fashion this may indeed prove a workable system but i can hear the dreaded “World Government” being screamed laud at the very idea.

      • Keith

        Hi John,

        I agree that starting a tit for tat war (which might just follow on from a Trump attack on Chinese imports to the US) is madness for all parties.

        Hopefully there will be some adults in charge who can see where this will lead.

        I’m intrigued to see what US industry does with this as there must be some big companies becoming very nervous about their global businesses.

        • john

          When two of the leading companies BHPB and Exxon Mobil make appeals to the incoming administration, I think it does underline the thoughts of business.

        • Robin_Harrison

          I don’t think we’ll hear much more about an impost on Chinese imports. It was probably just part of his pre-election bluster.
          No doubt he’s already been reminded most of their massive national debt is owed to China.

          • Ken Dyer

            Japan is in fact, America’s biggest creditor followed by China and Belgium. Trump wasted no time in getting hold of the Japanese PM did he? Perhaps he wanted to reassure Japan that he didn’t really mean it when he said he would make arrangements with America’s creditors to only repay America’s debt at 85 cents on the dollar. Perhaps Abe also wanted to remind Trump that Japan pays for 75% of America’s military stationed in the Pacific, the removal of which would make China the undisputed leader of the Pacific Rim and South China Sea.
            And a comment on Chinese coal. China has lifted coal production again and will drive coal prices down past where they were a few weeks ago. Coal will resume its slide in Australia.

          • Robin_Harrison

            We knew the moment would come when coal had no more future but it’s happening sooner than I expected. I clearly underestimated the rate of the exponential growth of this emergent and thoroughly disruptive technology. But not quite as much as Trump and Turnbull.
            That could bite them both in the bum.

          • Keith

            Hi Ken,

            My impression is that the Japanese PM proactively went to meet Trump to see if the madness he was espousing about longstanding US alliances has any substance.

  • john

    I very well remember the “coal is good for humanity” line it was the Peabody report { advanced energy for life } that was freely available, before the meeting in Brisbane, if i have it correctly.

    The parroting of those words were and are not exactly edifying.

    No doubt the world will stumble alone in the usual shambolic fashion.
    I just hope the situation with the economy in the USA is not reversed, as this sends tremors throughout the financial system and has to be viewed very seriously.

    • Keith

      Hi John,

      Peabody was forced to withdraw “coal is good for humanity from its website” after initial pushback from the UK. It clearly isn’t true and so it did get removed. Sadly the Aussie politicians are still trying to keep this nonsense alive, but it is to the detriment of their credibility.

      We are so US/Eurocentric that I suspect we tend to overlook the deeper currents that are changing the world. I think it is pretty important to look at China and India, as both countries are showing leadership that the US and Australia have long given up. In the case of India you have to dig to find out what is happening as the international press has a particular view that doesn’t accord with the reality of where India is going. I look for statements/presentations from key politicians. Here is a 30 min briefing from Energy Minister Goyal if you want to get a sense of how India sees itself in the world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uURYQSsAN_8&amp The start is a bit strange, but once the Minister gets going it is pretty interesting to watch.

      • john

        Yes i concur with your mention of Minister Goyal

  • howardpatr

    I share your pessimism especially with our nation led by Jellyback Turnbull but to keep spirits up it is worth reading Julian Cribb’s take on the situation:-

    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/trump-the-wakeup-call-on-climate-we-needed-20161117-gsrdqh.html

  • Rob G

    I have a different take on Trump, and suggest (optimistically) that some of those “old” climate views Trump has, have softened over time, Here’s why:
    1. Trump is a business man, Abbott is not. Renewables have a strong financial case vs coal. (Trump has a friend called Warren Buffet who just loves wind farms) .
    2. Trump is not beholden to fossil fuel interests – Abbott and MT and the Nationals are.
    3. Trump wants manufacturing to boom again (renewables own that space!) – Abbott/MT couldn’t care less – look at our car and steel industries…
    4. Trump has openly said he sees a role for renewables – (and coal). Abbott has never had any time for renewables.
    5. Hillary C attacked Trump on his 2012 quote about the Chinese inventing climate change – he really reacted in a way the he gets the science and wants to distance himself from that silly quote. Maybe he understands climate denial is poison. Even Abbott tried to distance himself from the Climate change is crap quote.
    6. International pressure and state pressure, as well as most angry democrat voters will all be watching Trump on his position. Australia earnt it’s Laggard title in the world (and we’re just small fry) – the kind of global response to a big emitter not behaving will be something else.
    7. Trump’s EPA guy, Ebel has been open about having a carbon tax (recently in Scientific America). It would be small, and seen as a revenue raiser – not necessarily to help renewables. Abbott opposed the tax (for his vested friends).
    8. From a business point of view, Trump has always sought expert advice to guide him – the business world sees a carbon tax (or equivalent) necessary for forecasting budgets etc. It understands the transformation and business benefits of renewables. Trump might say he supports coal – but if the business case isn’t there it won’t fly (he was just talking to the blue collar workers to get their votes – understanding that those people are hurting they’d be easy pickings).
    9. Trump won’t want China to get ahead of the renewables race…
    Optimistic, I know. And as we know, many of us were of MT too… and we know how that ended.

    • Barri Mundee

      I will see what he does, not what he says.

    • Kenshō

      Fantastic piece of writing Rob. Strong counter argument or moderating view. It’s a different period of history and Trump is less of an ideologue than Abbott. As Barri says, we wait to watch the events unfold!!! I’m especially interested in Trump’s stance after inauguration day when he can relax and get down to business. Anything can happen. No need for Greyhound racing. This is going to be exciting.

      • Keith

        Hi Kensho,

        President elect Trump just announced he will stop the TPP on day 1 of his Presidency. Meanwhile the nations of the Asia-Pacific are already coalescing around a new Chinese-led trade agreement. The TPP was designed to limit Chinese influence. Trump plans to hand control over to the Chinese.

        A similar story is emerging on the climate front, where China, India and Europe have already stated that they are willing to lead. The rise of renewable energy is intimately tied to the COP21 agreement.

        Everything I’ve heard from Trump about wind power could have been written by Tony Abbott. Trump seems less antagonistic to solar, but again on day 1 of his Presidency he plans to try to stimulate the coal and gas industries. I don’t think it is clear that he will be successful in stimulating the fossil fuel industries.

        All of this sounds like the US exiting its role as global leader and actively walking away from a massive business opportunity to decarbonise the power industry.

        • Kenshō

          I too wouldn’t be surprised if the US temporarily walks away from international relations and renewable energy, in order to discern how to refloat the leaking ship of their economy. It’s not that I disagree with the dangers illustrated by Giles in this article or other political analysts – which I am not. I’m merely fascinated by human character and can’t see Trump floating a local economy without renewable energy or some forms of international trade. If I were a punter, I’d bet on Trump inevitably working this out.

    • Ed

      Trump has money in Energy Partners Limited, the company trying to build the Dakota Access Pipeline.. so he has a direct stake in the fossil fuel industry. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/26/donald-trump-dakota-access-pipeline-investment-energy-transfer-partners – Still, I think he would spin on a dime if there was more money elsewhere for him.

      • Mike Dill

        Trump is a business man who has failed more than once, and has dropped major businesses that were not going well into bankruptcy. He does know when to cut his losses, and has changed his tune more than once before. The political campaign brought out a lot of old stuff that may no longer be in his current agenda.

    • solarguy

      Trump, Abbott et al will tell people what there want to hear, after all it made him president. He’s a bullshit artist.

    • Rob G

      A couple of days after my comment, Trump has signalled he may keep the Paris accord, as I suspected he would. The pressure from other world leaders will be building on him. We’re learning that Trump said many things in the election – with absolutely no intention of following through. I hope this is the case.
      I wonder too, what will happen when Rupert Murdoch passes-away. Apparently, his children are far more accepting of climate change. I suspect the obstruction will soon be gone (along with Rupert). Koch brothers too are getting on….