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.
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.
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..