Abbott climate policy guided by business, not science: Fraser

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CCA chair Bernie Fraser slams the Abbott government’s climate policy; attacks big business for shouting down supporters of climate, clean energy policies.

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The Abbott government is taking its cue on climate policy from big business and industry, and not from the science, says the Climate Change Authority’s Bernie Fraser.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Thursday, the Authority’s chair expressed (frequently) his puzzlement at the reluctance of Australia’s federal government “to embrace the science, despite its credentials, and to perceive of the urgency of doing something; of at least starting the task” of tackling dangerous climate change.

Less surprising, he said, was the reaction from big business and industry to the CCA’s final report on Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, released last month, which called for a “significant tightening” of Australia’s existing commitment to cut emissions, and recommended a trajectory resulting in reductions of between 40 and 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030.

“There are lots of people, many smaller business people out there, who accept the science and support policy to reduce emissions,” Fraser said. But he added that these smaller businesses were often “shouted down” by bigger companies.

“A lot of Australia’s big companies, particular in the energy industry and in mining – it’s fair to say – were hostile to the report” – an unsurprising response, said Fraser, although he stressed that the “scale and brazenness” of the recent campaigns waged against the mining tax and the carbon price was unprecedented.

“It would be nice to think that the big companies involved in coal, electricity… could see that they, too, might need to become more willing participants in the (climate action) debate we have to have,” Fraser said. “But to get there, the government has to want to have that conversation.”

“If policy makers accept the science , they must act on it,” Fraser said. But instead, “the government is backing in business interests ahead of community interests.”

“The price on carbon is to go, the RET is to be reviewed and possibly headed for a downgrade… What has been made clear is that the scale of the (abbott government’s) emissions reduction fund effort will be determined primarily by budget considerations and not by climate science.”

Fraser called for an “informed and mature dialogue” on climate change and Australia’s contribution to restricting global warming to 2°C, in line with the actions of the rest of the world.

“China and the US and Europe and India… they are taking these matters seriously, and are putting in place systems to commission off old fossil fuel generating capacity.

But Fraser said that the pressure to fully exploit Australia’s generous endowment of fossil fuels seemed harder to reconcile here than in other countries. “The longer term community interests are being overwhelmed by short-term business interests.”

“In short,” Fraser said, “we need a transformation of current attitudes to keep in step with the current transformation to a low-carbon world.”

But for this to happen, said Fraser, would “require the leopard to change its spots.” The debate on climate change, he added, “seems destined to be lopsided for a long time to come.”

On the subject of how to meet the CCA’s recommended emissions reduction targets, Fraser said that this point in time, the Authority recommended that the purchase of international permits was the most sensible, cost effective way of achieving the 2020 target.

“Clearly, there’s a lot to be said for doing as much as you can domestically,” Fraser told the Press Club. “The problem as far as the 2020 target is concerned, is that it we don’t have long.

Domestic solutions, such as long-term investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, would take quite a long time to yield results, Fraser said – “even in a favourable environment, which is not necessarily what exists now.”

“Considering this,” he added, “we will have to rely quite significantly on international emissions reductions.”

But Fraser said that, given the complexity and urgency of the climate change challenge, we should be prepared to use “as many tools in the toolkit” as we can.

He pointed to a number of sectors in the Australian economy where there were opportunities to achieve significant emissions cuts – pieces of low-hanging fruit, such as the introduction of CO2 emissions standards for light motor vehicles.

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4 Comments
  1. Miles Harding 6 years ago

    and … Business guided by greed, not good sense: Harding

    It is a sad fact of life that these businesses are completely driven by their profit reporting cycle and are pathologically incapable of dealing with ‘hard’ problems.

    Dennis Meadows (lead researcher for ‘The Limits To Growth’) describes problems as being easy or hard. Easy problems are amenable to short-termism in that each small change results in an incremental improvement towards the ultimate desirable outcome. With hard problems, the above solution leads to a ‘false peak’, or in this case business failures, economic crashes, climate catastrophe and the like. The hard problem solution is one that initially produces negative results, but lays the groundwork for a transition to the ‘good’ solution, one that doesn’t result in various catastrophe and ruination.

    All of the important problems are of the ‘hard’ type and any business or government that remains hostage to dogma, short term greed and electoral cycles is doomed to fail.

    • Motorshack 6 years ago

      Speaking of The Limits To Growth, I read it when it first came out in 1972, and watched it get shredded by conventional economists, business people, and politicians as alarmist, radical crap. Four decades later, it is clear that Meadows and his associates were pretty much dead on, but unfortunately the conventional thinkers are still incapable of wrapping their heads around the basic problem. So, we continue to charge, at full steam, right off the top of the cliff.

      • Miles Harding 6 years ago

        Perhaps the view will be good on the way down 🙂

  2. Farmer Dave 6 years ago

    Thanks, Sophie. I am not surprised by the reaction of big business. Responding effectively to climate change requires us to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, leaving reserves already on the books in the ground. Thus, any group or political party who genuinely accepts the science (instead of just paying it lip service, like our two major parties) will need to take on the most successful industry in the history of this planet: the fossil fuel industry.

    I think all of us (and I’m included) need to take on three lessons:
    1. Any person, group, political party or organization who says that they “accept the science” and do not want emission reduction at least as large as those recommended by the Climate Change Authority is lying.
    2. We all need to impose the above test on all parties and call them out as liars if they fail that test.
    3. We all need to scrutinize our own actions and approaches. I am not proud of my family’s emissions, but at least we have reduced them from past years and are working on plans to reduce them further. All of us need to accept that it’s not just Abbott and his cronies – almost all of us share some responsibility.

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