Abbott should stop pretending he is acting on climate change

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Leading analysts say Hunt’s Direct Action an exercise in “wishful thinking” and will allow polluters to “tinker” with their operations, rather than cutting emissions.

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Last year, when environment minister (and then opposition spokesman) Greg Hunt gave an overview of his Direct Action plan at a conference in Sydney, one of the first questions he was asked by an incredulous audience of carbon and energy experts was this: Do you actually accept the science of climate change?

Hunt, as he always does, protested that he did. But when he appears before the same audience at a conference in Melbourne next week, he will probably be asked to field the same question again: No one believes that if someone professes to accept the science, and basic economics, that they could produce such nonsensical climate policy as Direct Action and the Emissions Reduction Fund.

The White Paper on these mechanisms released by Hunt under the cover of the Anzac Day holiday late last week pleased practically no-one – not least because there is still so much uncertainty about how it will work, and the government seems intent on making up the rules as it goes along, particularly in relation to the length of investment and the baselines and penalties that might persuade major polluters from polluting more.

climate change
Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt discuss strategy for the non-delivery of a climate policy.

The White Paper did not please the climate change deniers, who wonder why $2.5 billion of taxpayers money (in the first four years) is being thrown at companies to partially address a problem that does not exist, and for what Tony Abbott said in his own words (well, borrowed words actually) – is the “non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one.”

The White Paper did not please those who accept the science, who continue to find the policy preposterous because, even if it could reach the bare minimum 5 per cent reduction target for 2020 – which they doubt – it would have no ability to meet the more ambitious targets that the science demands. (The Climate Change Authority, for instance, says Australia should aim for a 19 per cent reduction target by 2020, just taking in action to date from the likes of China and the US).

And the White Paper didn’t even please those that might want to use it to tap billions of dollars of taxpayers money to use in emission reduction schemes. That’s because the white paper – described as “67 pages of not much” by one legal expert, and a “lot of rubbish” by another, still doesn’t provide the investment certainty for its most simple purpose of buying abatement.

On the most important issues, the length of contracts, the baselines to be used to control emission levels, and the level of Australia’s future ambition, the government appears to be kicking the can down the road – four years after the policy was first unveiled.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a global leader on climate and energy market analysis, provided the most damming assessment.

“The Emissions Reduction Fund is unlikely to be robust enough to achieve Australia’s commitment of a 5% reduction in emissions. Hunt’s affirmations are wishful thinking,” said Kobad Bhavnagri, the head of Australian operations at BNEF, in an emailed statement to RenewEcoomy.

“It contains some technical flaws that could reward businesses for tinkering with the way they use energy, rather than actually reducing their emissions. The government has pushed the hardest and most important question, of how to stop emissions growing ever higher, to next year.”

Bhavnagri says the government’s management of emissions will almost certainly have to involve the imposition of penalties, which the government is fervently trying to avoid as it will no doubt be labelled a “tax”. That’s because the safeguard mechanism will apply to 98.5% of the emissions that were covered under the former government’s carbon tax – but the Abbott government still has not said how it will assess that.

On the question of investment, one legal expert said it was absurd that the government said it would still say it wanted to take “market research” on the length of contracts. “Everyone has told (Hunt) that it is not enough. How much research does he need,” the expert said.

There is huge doubt about whether the government can reach a 5 per cent target with its proposed budget of $3.5 billion for the first four years. Little abatement has been achieved in carbon farming, and there is still too much uncertainty for energy efficiency. There is also concern that the process of assessing projects and conducting the auction will be labour-intensive, and possibly beyond the skills of the much-reduced authorities charged with its administration.

Hunt says that Australia will review both the its pre-2020 and its post 2020 targets in 2015, when the lay of the field for the Paris climate change talks becomes clearer, and other countries have laid their ambition on the table.

The irony of the Direct Action plan is that – if it were to remain policy over the long term – Australia would have to put in place much higher renewable energy targets and much stricter emission standards for its generators.

Erwin Jackson, from The Climate Institute, says if Australia was to drive the new multi-billion dollar clean investments consistent with avoiding very serious climate impacts, then the Government would need to be spending $3-$5 billion every year by the end of the next decade to achieve those goals.

“While some positive improvements have been made, as it currently stands the Emission Reduction Fund will not be an enduring climate policy. It simply can’t meet the long-term challenge of climate change,” Jackson said.

“The Government has deferred key compliance decisions and is unclear on future spending commitments, while at the same time it intends to dismantle the current legislation.”

“In the absence of binding and declining pollution limits, the Government will need to strengthen the existing Renewable Energy Target to 30-40 per cent by 2030 and slap new regulatory standards onto industries.”

However, the chance that a note will suddenly be dispatched from the PM’s office instructing Warburton to accept the science of climate change, and make a proper assessment of the benefits of renewables, are about as likely as Warburton arriving to that conclusion on his own accord.

As Climate Change Authority chairman Bernie Fraser lamented this week, the attack on renewable energy is merely motivated to protect the interests of big business, not the consumer or the nation as a whole.

Yet Abbott, and indeed Hunt, are grimly determined to dismantle the CCA, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and strip more funds from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – removing the expertise and independent advice on climate science, policy and finance, and the funds and mechanisms that could leverage private investment.

 

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18 Comments
  1. Jennifer Gow 5 years ago

    Abbot will continue with this pretense because to both the COALition and the ALP anthropogenic climate change is simply a political problem to be fobbed off. They will endlessly talk the talk but have no serious intention to walk the walk unless they are dragged kicking and screaming. As a result we continue to get the usual symbolism., spin and prevarication while they seek to white ant any measures such as a carbon price or the CEFC that can even so modestly address climate change.

  2. Keith 5 years ago

    I think Niki Savva accurately summarised the LNP approach to climate change and emissions reduction by arguing that it is an “issue” that has had the heat taken out of it. In other words they perceive that the whole climate change issue is a political, not a practical, problem.

    To some extent it isn’t a lot different to Kevin Rudd seeking a compromise between the fossil fuel lobby and the climate scientists, not understanding that you can’t negotiate with the laws of physics.

    Fortunately the rest of the world is starting to wake up about what the science is saying, so I suspect we won’t have to wait for a real catastrophe (which will happen if action isn’t taken) to occur. I think Tony Abbott will be confronted with reality from the rest of the world, possibly as soon as the upcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane.

    • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

      I wouldn’t be so sure G20 cares about the Earth’s climate, though.

      • Keith 5 years ago

        I keep hearing that major countries (eg USA) are taking climate action VERY seriously. John Kerry is on the record that it is the most important issue on the US agenda (even more important than Ukraine). There are indications that a number of countries are not happy that Tony Abbott is seeking to make it a non-core issue at the G20.

        Watch this space.

        • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

          Kerry can’t even find the energy to stop Keystone XL. Taking something seriously and pursuing decisive action whatever the impediments are two different things. I know Australia’s position is unpopular with some countries, but popular with other like Canada.

          • Keith 5 years ago

            Canada is about our only friend and they are pariahs too.

            The real energy in the renewable energy area (which will fix the climate problems) is China. They have added impetus because their citizens can’t breathe as a result of burning excessive fossil fuels. For a balanced commentary see: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9ea031fe-cc5c-11e3-9b5f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz309n7UJSd

            I think the US understands that we are on the brink of the next industrial revolution (if we survive climate change) and that the countries getting off fossil fuels and driving renewables will win a major economic advantage. China “gets” this and is making extraordinary strides with renewables. The US can’t afford to let them win and this is why I’m confident that the US will get there too.

            If we continue on our current path, Australia (and Canada) will be punished for our intransigence.

          • Motorshack 5 years ago

            As someone watching this debate from the U.S., I agree with Keith, although it is not the Federal government that will take the most action, but state and local governments, as well as lots of private business organizations.

            We are also starting to see a real ramp-up in residential rooftop solar PV, which will make a big difference, and it is now economically appealing even without subsidies.

            Just the other day my neighbors across the street told me they were making the move to solar PV, and they specifically cited an intense desire to stick it to the local power company. These folks are also just the sort of average, salt-of-the-earth folks who will make the most difference numerically. Not radicals, and not early adopters. Just lots of them. Ordinary folks doing something rational for themselves and their homes.

            Of course, the politicians of all stripes tend to stick together, so the Abbott government will never be a pariah in the eyes of the U.S. government. They are too valuable in the collective effort to spy on all the normal people around the world.

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Yes residential solarPV is pretty advanced here in Australia and is already a political force that can have pollies attacking solar back flipping within 24 hours. Especially in marginal held electorates, the centre of Austraalian political policy making.

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Agree about China. Massive social unrest in new middle class and obviously poor classes about pollution. Plus central control of economy that is less captured by multinationals and industrialists. Would like to agree about the rest but were are not there yet IMO. When we talk about USA are we talking about the renewable aware minority or the hand wringing smooth talking executive (“all if the above” is not a credible position on energy and climate change no matter how politically palatable it is) or the captured congress (the majority are nothing more than fossil fuel representatives)?

          • Miles Harding 5 years ago

            I think that punishment will be in the form of lost opportunity.

            Even in Canada, there is some light.
            Ontario has recently closed the last coal fired power station !

            As in Australia, the politics of desperation have taken the wheel, causing the country to veer dangerously off any sane course.

            In Australia, this great expansion of coal mining can only be described as madness. The miners are making losses now, this matter can only get worse when the new coal terminals open, just as the Chinese are scaling back their use of coal to clean up their air.

            Climate change is only part of the problems we face. Little discussed is the impending demise of oil, which looks to be certain to be well underway by 2030. Both of these countries are entrenching dependence through the politics of denial.

    • Peter Lyons 5 years ago

      I agree with you Keith. Nikki Savva (Insiders, April 27) typifies the complacent and somewhat smart-arse attitude of many journos – especially those who write for Murdoch papers. To Nikki, climate change has become ‘tiresome’ and the punters are ‘bored with it’. In Nikki’s world, never mind, let’s fill the papers and the blogs with something that will make money!

      By the way, to my knowledge, none of the current crop of journalists has yet skewered Clive Palmer over his puerile “human-induced carbon is only 3% of the total” hogwash. The man either doesn’t understand the way the global carbon cycle works or he is deliberately ignoring it, for his own ends.

      • Giles 5 years ago
        • Peter Lyons 5 years ago

          Thanks Giles! I read John Cook’s piece. It should be mandatory reading for all TV presenters and interviewers.

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Yes it’s pathetic that the cream of ABC flagship news shows can’t deconstruct Clives crap. They have to fall back on ‘well, 97% of experts say…’ which just looks like they don’t actually understand climate change 101. Pretty unexcusable given that CC is the moral, political & economic challenge of the century.

            Not to mention so called market-failure of the ages. Just the biggest destruction of life on Earth that capitalism has ever managed to seed, even worse than the two World Wars. But why should Jones/Alberici/Sales be able to convincing prosecute liars on national TV when he-said-she-said is so much more balanced?

  3. SM 5 years ago

    I’m intrigued by the application of the CP1 credits. In Doha it was agreed CP1 credits could be carried over into CP2 (2013 to 2020) BUT we only have a target for 2020. The white paper has conveniently shown us how the CP1 credits might be applied to lower the BAU projection and reduce the ERF task but they could be backloaded if the ERF turns out to be a failure.
    Does anyone know if there is a commitment on how CP1 credits will be used AND by inference what the target post CP1 adjustment for 2020 really is?

  4. Chris Fraser 5 years ago

    Australia is out there by itself on these matters. I worry the whole cabal have taken a kind of sick pleasure from all their righteous bunk. Paris is shaping up for the developed and developing world to have a bit of fun at the Aussie’s expense – if the Aussies bother to turn up.

  5. David Boxall 5 years ago

    “… the Government would need to be spending $3-$5 billion every year by the end of the next decade…”. Let’s see … if memory serves, Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave scheme is supposed to cost $5 billion per year. That’s to be paid by big business, which proves that big business can afford $5 billion more per year than they pay currently.

    We have the funding; all we need to do is move it.

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