Just 18 months after closing down the Climate Commission, and cutting funds to the Climate Change Authority, the Abbott government has given $4 million to fund the establishment of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, a thinktank established by Bjorn Lomborg, a notorious climate contrarian.
Lomborg has become well known for his views that downplay the urgency to act on climate science, stop funding for renewables, and increase fossil fuel sales in the third world.
In effect, it is shorthand for the Abbott government’s climate and energy policy. And as RenewEconomy has reported before, Lomborg has been a favourite source of citations and consolation for Abbott government ministers.
He was recently brought in by foreign minister Julie Bishop to advise on foreign aid, trade minister Andrew Robb hailed him before his trip to the Lima climate change conference, Abbott cited and praised him in his book Battlelines, and environment minister Greg Hunt even credited Lomborg with inspiring the design of the government’s Direct Action program.
Reports in the US last year showed that Lomborg was part of the funding network of the Koch Brothers, the fossil fuel billionaires who are funding major campaigns against climate and clean energy policies in the US.
Earlier this year, DeSmogBlog reported that a billionaire “vulture capitalist” and major backer of the US Republican Party had emerged as a major funder of Lomborg, who in 2012 lost his funding from the Danish government. Lomborg has denied being funded by fossil fuel interests.
The Guardian reported on Friday that the Abbott government has promised $4 million over four years to help Lomborg establish his “consensus centre” at the University of WA, despite the government’s cutbacks to tertiary funding, and to climate change research.
The Guardian said the centre would have three or four staff and be operational by June or July. It comes a month after UWA confirmed it had closed its world-renowned Centre for Water Research set up by top scientist Jorg Imberger in 1982.
The funding was confirmed by a spokesman for education minister Christopher Pyne. It comes in a month where the Abbott government has refused to acknowledge the global 2°C climate target in either its discussion paper on emission reduction targets, or its energy white paper.
It is also refusing a compromise deal on the renewable energy target, ensuring that investment stays at a standstill, is considering opening marine parks to oil drilling, and has launched an inquiry into whether environmental NGOs that are activist against fossil fuels should be denied tax deduction status.
Lomborg has also promoted the controversial idea of geo-engineering to address climate change. In one instance, Lomborg envisioned a fleet of 1900 robotic ships that would patrol the ocean while releasing spouts of ocean water to reflect the sun’s rays in an attempt to reduce global warming.
Indeed, the appointment of Lomborg is likely to see a renewed push for nuclear power in Australia. Lomborg is a vocal supporter of nuclear power, along with the Abbott government’s other favoured thinktank, the Institute of Public Affairs, which hailed Lomborg’s arrival in Australia.
Lomborg has quoted the US pro-nuclear thinktank the Breakthrough Institute, which has attempted to claim that solar is “five times” more expensive than nuclear – apparently on the basis that solar needs back-up, but nuclear doesn’t.
Anyone familiar with energy markets knows this claim to be nonsense. The UK national grid puts the back-up cost of the proposed new nuclear plant in the UK at more than $12 billion.
But Lomborg will have powerful and influential friends on this front. The Abbott government is predisposed to nuclear – because of its “baseload” qualities and its dislike of renewable energy. Pro nuclear advocates want to slow down the deployment of renewable energy, a move that effectively protects the incumbent technologies such as coal and gas from growing competition.
The Australian reports today that the Breakthrough Institute has teamed up with some pro-nuclear advocates in Australia to form what they describe as “practical” environmentalism.
Like Lomborg, they argue – according to The Australian – that climate change and other global ecological challenges are “not the most important immediate concerns for the majority of the world’s people”.
The Australian said they call themselves “eco-pragmatists” and “eco-modernists”. The members, including Barry Brook, from the University of Tasmania, argue that the solution is nuclear energy – fusion and fission – and something called “next generation” solar.
The US thinktank Think Progress did a revealing dissection of the Breakthrough Institute a few years ago, highlighting its attempts to thwart Barack Obama’s climate and clean energy policies.
Meanwhile Professor Tim Flannery of the Climate Council, which now runs entirely on donations following the Abbott government’s decision to abolish all funding citing the $1.5m annual cost as excessive – is furious with the decision to give funding to someone with “no credibility in the scientific community”.
“It seems extraordinary that the Climate Commission, which was composed of Australia’s best climate scientists, economists and energy experts, was abolished on the basis of a lack of funding and yet here we are three years later and the money has become available to import a politically-motivated think tank to work in the same space,” he said.
“This is another reason why the work of the Climate Council is so important- to counter this continuing ideological attempt at deceiving the Australian public.”
“His (Lomborg’s) message hasn’t varied at all in the last decade to reflect the declining cost of renewable energy and the success in reducing emissions, he still believes we shouldn’t take any steps to mitigate climate change,” he said.
“When someone is unwilling to adapt their view on the basis of new science or information, it’s usually a sign those views are politically motivated.
“If we follow Mr Lomborg’s view of not doing anything about climate mitigation, we’d be heading for a 4 degree world and Australians do not want to live in that world. “