10 things we learned … about Abbott’s contempt for climate

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In the Orwellian world of the Abbott government, coal is good, wind is bad; a cut in renewables is not a cut but an increase; and spending 1/4 of its carbon budget on just 15% of its target is not so much a failure as a resounding success and a blueprint for the world to follow.

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April has been an extraordinary month for climate and clean energy policy in Australia. Even more extraordinary than the previous months. As the rest of the world accelerates their individual and collective push towards globally agreed climate targets, Australia is stubbornly refusing to budge, or even to acknowledge that there is an issue at all.

In the Orwellian world of the Abbott government, coal is good and has a great future, even when analysts call for nearly all reserves to be left in the ground; a cut in the renewable energy target is not a cut at all, it is actually an increase; and spending one-quarter of its carbon budget on just 15 per cent of its target is not so much a failure as a resounding success and a blueprint for the world to follow.

So, to help with your understanding of the issues at hand, here’s a brief summary.

1. Direct Action in action

Thursday delivered the results of the first auctions by the government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, the centrepiece of the Direct Action plan. The first auction blew one quarter ($660 million) of its total budget ($2.55 billion) to buy just 15 per cent of its 2020 target. (Nearly half the abatement “bought” will not be delivered until after 2020).

Analysts such as The Climate Institute and Reputex say it is proof that the ERF will not meet its targets, is incapable of meeting any more ambitious target, and will not send a price signal for decarbonisation. Labor is even more damming, dismissing it as a “slush fund” and noting that the $14 price is higher than any emissions trading scheme. Greens leader Christine Milne said it was a “sham”, and “just an excuse to do nothing about global warming.” While the government is paying one lot to plant trees, she said, it is opening the way for others to cut down forests.

2. The Government response

Hunt, a former university debater of note, and arguing for the positive, was undeterred. The first auction was a “stunning success”, he insisted, and a triumph that would provide a blueprint for the world to follow (an echo of his comment last year that Australia’s climate policy was a great “gift to the world.” This, despite news this week that most of the world’s major economies had lodged formal queries with the UN, which, broadly summarised, amounted to …”This Direct Action program, wtf?”

Hunt forged on. The abatement price, he said, was not double the price of a market scheme, it was one/90th the cost of labor’s $26 carbon price. (We asked them to explain this but they didn’t, but it probably came from counting costs – $15 billion – not revenue). Hunt said the European carbon price would achieve just 1 per cent abatement from now till 2020 (Well, that would be because the targets have already been largely met).

3. Renewable Energy Target

The government wanted it removed, and then it wanted it cut. After a more than six-month long impasse following the Warburton Review, Labor has (reluctantly) suggested the 41,000GWh target be cut to 33,500GWh (and raised again if they get elected). The Abbott government is not having a bar of it, insisting on a further cut to 32,000GWh. This, say Ian Macfarlane and Hunt, is actually not a cut at all, it’s an increase!

Hooray!

Huh?

That’s because the renewable energy target was so successful it was going to deliver way more than the “at least” 20 per cent it was designed to. So that makes the scheme an abject failure, because it was working beyond expectations. And if you don’t understand that then you are all a bunch of sillies.

4. Climate targets

The Climate Change Authority, the independent body that the Abbott government wishes was neither independent, nor a body, delivered its assessment of where the country’s emissions targets should be. It hGreg-Hunt-Liberal-MP-climate-change1as already said that the 5 per cent target for 2020 is pathetic, and should be 19 per cent. Now, it says the 2025 target should be 30 per cent and the 2030 could be anywhere from 40-60 per cent.  Hunt is not keen, saying such a target would be “onerous” – presumably for Direct Action, and the government’s budget. The mining council says the world, or at least the thermal coal industry it lobbies for, would come to a halt if such targets were imposed.

5. Carbon budgets

Hey, by a stroke of coincidence, that is exactly what most experts say should happen. If the world is going to meet the 2°C target, then it has to realise that it cannot go on emitting ad infinitum. Hence, the concept of a carbon budget. New research this week suggested that Australia would have to leave 90 per cent of its coal reserves in the ground as part of its share of the global carbon budget. Australia’s response? Introduce a “safeguards” mechanism that allows emitters to continue emitting, and even increase their emissions, without penalty.

6. Don’t mention the 2°C target

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Bjørn Lomborg (right) with federal trade minister Andrew Robb

The best way to protect against action to achieve a 2°C target is to not mention a 2°C target. This, the government has managed to do in its own discussion paper about the targets, that it will take to the Paris climate talks which are designed to agree on collective action to meet a 2°C target. The 2°C target was also not mentioned by Australia at the Major Economies Forum, hosted by France, because it didn’t attend. The scenarios entertained by the government point to global warming of 4°C, which would be a bit of a sweat for a PM in lycra. The energy white paper made the same assumption, and the intergenerational report got around the whole issue by not mentioning it at all, which means it doesn’t have to try and calculate messy concepts such an intergenerational debt, unless it’s about Medicare and pensions.

7. Independent advice

So, where is the government getting its advice? From people like Bjørn Lomborg, who is to receive $4 million to establish his notorious think-tank at the University of Western Australia. Lomborg’s recipe for success: Stop solar, push nuclear, pretend climate is not an urgent issue. Hunt, though, is full of praise, noting Lomborg is a very nice man who once compiled a report with a bunch of like minded people that concluded that emissions trading schemes are not very good.

8. Senate wind inquiry

The Abbott government wants to “end the uncertainty” about renewables by striking a deal on the RET with Senate cross benchers. But they have been very busy recently, along with some Coalition Senators, nodding gravely while clearly distressed residents near wind farms explain why they can no longer complete Sudoku puzzles, and have to lift their dog into the ute. Senator Bob Day, who runs this show, says the testimony of impacts to humans and animals is “harrowing”, and he is very happy to let the renewable energy industry stew in its own juices for another six months while he comes up with a plan for what to do about it.

9: Technophobia

Or should it be the fear of new technology, apart from those that are “over-the-horizon”. Joe Hockey doesn’t like wind farms – at least, he is offended by the sight of them – and Industry minister Ian Macfarlane says he is not a fan of electric vehicles, choosing instead to hop into a fuel-cell vehicle and declare it to be the “perfect melding of industry and science,” and deliverer of a better future for all.2015_04_01_hyundai_ix35_fuel_cell03

Macfarlane, as we have noted in the past, is at his most comfortable when championing technology that is unlikely to disrupt the status quo any time soon. Hence his endorsement of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles over EVs, and his well documented admiration of Carnegie Wave Energy’s CETO systems – a fine technology but, unlike solar and wind, not one that will bother the incumbents in the next decade.

It also explains the Coalition’s support for ARENA (the $3.2 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency) – which grants funds to R&D and admirable early-stage projects such as Carnegie’s – but not for the CEFC, which grants money for commercialisation technology. The US Republicans have a similar approach. Bjørn Lomborg is their most brazen advocate.

10: Eco-charities are bad

While the government is keen to hand over money to like minded folks like Lomborg, it has pulled funding from un-like-minded folks such as the Climate Commission. And it wants to stop other people from funding people who may disagree with its environmental agenda. Hence an inquiry into the tax-deductible status of environmental groups who, shock horror, have dared to oppose government policy. If you can’t beat ’em, de-fund them.

So, let’s just summarise. If something is a success, like the renewable energy target, it’s a failure. If something is a failure, like Direct Action, then it’s an outstanding success. If something is cheap, like a market price for carbon, then it is expensive. If something is more expensive, like purchases by the Emissions Reduction Fund, then it is really cheap. If something is bad, like coal, then it is good for humanity. And if something is good, like wind turbines, it is not just bad, it is offensive. If a target can be met, like 41,000GWh of renewables, or even 33,500GWh, then it can’t. And if a target can’t be met, like 5 per cent emissions reduction by 2020 with Direct Action, then of course it can. And if you are a politician in Australia, then …. the next election will be interesting.

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39 Comments
  1. Sigrid Cooper 5 years ago

    What if a bushfire takes out all the trees planted by a farmer under a Direct Action contract. Do we still pay him?

    • mike flanagan 5 years ago

      The Carbon Sequestration and Revegetation Report prepared by SA Ag Dep may help to understand that from the figures published and the indication of the climatic diversity of the geographic areas, the slush fund has been designed so that final accounting figures are impossible to verify, and defy scrutiny to arrive at an honest and logical conclusion.

      • westozirwin 5 years ago

        Sir Humphry is that you?

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      Yeah or if in 25 years they clear it for wood chips and replant it for another grant. The verification is one of the most suspect aspects of tree planting without thousand year covenants on the land.

      • Miles Harding 5 years ago

        Sprung; You may be on to it 🙂

        Planting new trees is no alternative to leaving the fossilised ones buried.

  2. mike flanagan 5 years ago

    Thanks Giles, while sarcasm might be considered a cheap form of wit it is hopefully an effective political tool.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      I agree Mike but it’s kind of at the point that you can’t have an honest conversation with the Abbott Government about anything related to CC and RE and EE.

      Everything they promised swinging voters in the campaign they broke immediately. The IPA wish list replaced their policy statements. And then you get Greg Hunt talking in mindless sophistry right through the ABC 730 interview with Leigh Sales — what do you say?!

  3. Stephen Gloor 5 years ago

    Hunt reminds me of that comical spokeperson for the Iraqi government that was saying an Iraqi victory was at hand when tanks were rolling down the streets of Baghdad.

    He is basically becoming the same sort of joke.

    How soon will it be before Hunt has the same video ….

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      harsh but true

  4. Eeon Macaulay 5 years ago

    I doubt whether the Abbot Government would know how to handle Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is taking the US by storm in the use of renewables, in the continuous double take our government is serving up at present.

  5. Rob G 5 years ago

    Each and everyone of these points is worthy of losing the next election. But stepping back just a little where we see renewables and climate change as just one of many issues, we see that other areas are being treated in much the same way. The finger in the eye budget which rewards the rich and demands more of low income earners to name a big one. The cuts to ABC and SBS. The attempted changes to make bigotry ok. The law to allow big international companies sue the government. The attempt to undo the status of a world heritage park (so that it can be turned into photocopy paper). The scaremongering of “stop the boats”. Parishioners in schools…. the list is very long and the reasons to fire this government are many.

  6. Keith 5 years ago

    Nice summary Giles. The thing about the Abbott Government is that they always manage to surprise in the nuttiness of their policies and pronouncements. The latest 7.30 report interview with Greg Hunt represents a new peak in the bizarre. Some wiring has gone seriously wrong in Hunt’s head.

    • Barri Mundee 5 years ago

      I suspect the man has sold his principles to advance (or keep) his career. I say that because he was more principled in the past and actually wrote a paper on emissions trading I understand.

      • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

        The price of great power is very high if you are as talentless and ethically challenged as Greg Hunt.

  7. Neil_Copeland 5 years ago

    Love the article guys, it would be really funny if it wasn’t so true.

  8. Craig Balmanno 5 years ago

    Quick calculation for reference……In Qld, 1 x kwh of coal fired electricity produces about 1 kg of CO2e….. And for every 1kWp of solar installed produces about 4.2kWh of power a day with guaranteed production for 25 years (=38,325kwh less degradation about 10% of total hours, but lets double the degradation and drop guaranteed production down to 30,000 kwh to be really really conservative). 16 x 100 kW installations (costing around $120K each = $1,920,000) would produce 16 x 3,000,000 kWh = 48,000,000 kWh which would offset 48m tonnes of CO2 emmisions from the grid. Only spent $1.92 million to achieve the same result as the government spending $655 million…. Or did I miss something? Think I just saved the Australian tax payer $653 million…. So much for the ERF…

    • ?? 5 years ago

      i think you mixed up tonnes and kilos…

      • Craig Balmanno 5 years ago

        yep…. those damn tonnes…

    • sunoba 5 years ago

      Sorry, I think there is an error:
      48,000,000 kWh implies 48,000,000 kg CO2 = 48,000 t CO2 (not 48 million t CO2). Cost of abatement = $ 1.92 million/48,000 t CO2 = $40/t.

      • Peter B 5 years ago

        Stop spoiling emotion with facts!

  9. Sid Abma 5 years ago

    The whole battle against coal ~ is in the exhaust, what is leaving these chimneys.
    What is leaving these chimneys is a whole lot of Wasted Energy.
    We have redefined this Wasted Energy to be Combusted Energy that has not yet been given a purpose.

    So we gave it a purpose.

    There is a lot of HEAT ENERGY in this combusted exhaust, RECOVER IT and utilize it.
    There is a lot of CO2 in this combusted exhaust. TRANSFORM It into useful saleable products.
    There is a lot of WATER in this combusted exhaust. COLLECT IT.

    America needs a lot of energy if we are going to live the lifestyles we are accustomed to. America’s problem is we Waste so much of our energy. It is cheap energy.

    America is blessed to have all this natural gas and coal energy. Let’s use it to our advantage, America has a Lot of Energy to supply it’s needs!

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      Better still close coal plants down and you can stop repeating that message on this website if you like. See you.

  10. lin 5 years ago

    As so often happens, life imitates art:
    “But tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.”
    “It’s true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It’s a two-party system. You have to vote for one of us.”
    (Treehouse of Horror VII)

  11. Albert Sjoberg. 5 years ago

    A wonderful summary of a sorry state of affairs.

  12. bedlambay 5 years ago

    Team Abbott is all piss and wind. Why have they not been properly exposed as shysters and charlatans?

    • onesecond 5 years ago

      Murdoch Media perhaps?

  13. Petra Liverani 5 years ago

    What bothers me is that if Tony Seba is right (https://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/how-silicon-valley-will-make-oil-nuclear-gas-coal-obsolete-by-2030) and the juggernaut of cheap, renewable technology swiftly and unceremoniously ends up kicking all the Abbott nonsense out of the way, he’ll probably never have to face the consequences of his criminally bad policy.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      That’s the least thing that bothers me! If we get to 100% RE and fix the 55% GHG emissions that come from the land sector before tripping the Armageddon wire for most ecosystems on Earth I’ll be extremely relieved.

      • Petra Liverani 5 years ago

        Oh yes, in the scheme of things …

  14. onesecond 5 years ago

    All Aussies should be in the streets to protest this farce. But “happy go lucky” and going to the beaches as long as you don’t immediately combust into flames on a 100°C plus day is more important I guess.

  15. brickbob 5 years ago

    RE new economy is a great on line publication full of facts, unlike Mr Hunt who is full of bullshit and a little born to rule know nothing know it all.”’

  16. Chris Fraser 5 years ago

    Huntie, control that self-satisfied smirk. Somehow, you managed to allow all the most emissions intensive and expensive polluters to stop paying a price on carbon, re-engineering their industry and absorbing the costs internally. Then removed the cap on all their BAU emissions so they could go on polluting as much as they like. Then your masterstroke for an inefficient abatement auction charging taxpayers for it rather than polluters. And then declare this is fair at equity and proper distribution of wealth for all. Celebrate it, readers. Political stalwarts and masters of Newspeak who brought you this system walk among you.

  17. Cooma Doug 5 years ago

    The Greg Hunt interview was classic stuff. if a financial planner spoke about his jolly bonds like that he would end up in gaol and on his way to the cell the Australian and Fox news would be throwing dog turds at him.

  18. David Rossiter 5 years ago

    So I think I get the Hunt message.
    If we pay the polluters $660 million instead of them having to pay us to pollute, this only costs tax payers $660 million. Since being paid is clearly not a cost then paying polluters is the cheapest cost approach!

    On another point if we aim at a target for 2020 and need a certain amount of abatement to meet that target yet half or more of the abatement occurs after 2020 surely we have only bought under half of 47 Mt. Consequently the price per tonne must be north of $28 per tonne.
    But there is more… if we have less than half the abatement before 2020, and the first abatement will happen in the next couple of weeks, the average annual abatement to 2020 from this round must be half of 47Mt spread over 5 years. Lets see that’s under 5 Mt per year in 2020.
    And now for the steak knives, we are currently emitting about 550 Mt/a, so 5 Mt/ year is less than 1% of our emissions. Hunt tells us that the costs for abatement will rise as more abatement is required. So when we get to 2050 and we have zero net emissions for the 2 degrees limit we have committed to in the Copenhagen Accord, abatement will cost us more than 100 times what we have paid for 1% by 2020.
    That would be about more than $66 billion a year from the budget in 2050 paid to polluters, but since the intergenerational report essentially ignores climate change that is not our problem…..

    • mike flanagan 5 years ago

      Assuming that is in todays dollars the actual cost will be multiples of your final projection, and I am still looking for their provisioning in the Intergenerational Report???? The country can’t run on high octane bullshit for ever!!!!

    • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

      The money is going more to Carbon Farmers and Foresters rather than polluters, but this money given out this time under the Emissions Reinstatement Fund is low hanging fruit, the next round will be more expensive, the budget will not grow to accommodate the perceived need. The worst part is the attitude towards the heavy polluters. The policy appears to be “hands off polluters”. The more they try to pollute (because there is no requirement on them not to), the harder we have to work and pay tax to keep up with their offset abatement.

      • David Rossiter 5 years ago

        Chris and Mike
        I entirely agree with your comments.
        Interesting how the Intergenerational Report considers the current policies and then works out what will happen with medical costs and pensions but does not project where the current direct action policy will be and what it will cost in forty years time. I suspect it is not considered because it is far too expensive in any future years beyond 2020, as was noted in the ERF discussion paper last year.
        The comments about the money going to carbon farmers and foresters rather than polluters are very pertinent. The decrease in total emissions we have seen to date have been mostly achieved by stopping land clearing, not by polluters reducing their emissions.
        I look forward to how this government will reduce our emissions beyond 2020 as the post 2020 targets are set.
        Smoke and mirrors appears to be the established technique. I think they must be looking at resetting the base year to 2005 (this is a question asked in the Government’s post 2020 targets issues paper) which means that the reduction for 2020 is nearer to 13% than the 5% from 2000.
        My advice (tounge in cheek) would be go the whole hog and use 2006 as the base year for future years, as it was the highest inventory year to date – higher than 2005. The claim could then be made that they had achieved 5% for 2020 ( for base year 2000 but 14% for base year 2006), then covertly change the base year for future targets to 2006 and set the target to 14% reduction for 2030. These are the cheapest emissions reductions – it costs nothing to change the base year to 2006 and the emission tonnage for 2020 and 2030 would be the same. Sounds like progress doesn’t it 5% reduction 2020 and 14% in 2030 and the polluters escape again. I wonder if anyone will notice…..
        They did after all change base year once before – the Kyoto targets were for 1990 base year and the 2020 target was for 2000 base year but in that case the change was lesser (about 1%) and nobody seemed to care.
        Come the last day of June 2015 they will announce their targets I wonder what they will be …….

  19. Alastair Leith 5 years ago

    Great summary for those who can’t bear to watch, Giles and Sophie. Interesting point you make about ARENA getting the green light and CEFC red from the Abbott Government. Remember one of one of the constant refrains from the Howard Govt Ministers was the seeming failure of Australia to get breakthrough technology and science developments through the commercialisation phase into products and services. Obviously that doesn’t matter any more.

  20. Ricardo K 5 years ago

    Giles, Sophie, that’s a wonderfully snarky list. I’m sure you’ll cover the weekend’s announcement that Australia and Canada are seen as “public enemy number one” in the lead-up to Paris.

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