Tony Abbott, having taken control of the renewable energy target review, with disastrous consequences, has now seized control of Australia’s post 2020 climate targets. Perhaps a job for the boys, such as Dick Warburton or Maurice Newman.
There was a joke circulating around the UN climate talks in Warsaw last year that the Australian negotiating team was told to agree to nothing because the political advisors of the then newly elected Abbott government had never heard of the UNFCCC.
It turns out it might not have been a joke. The UNFCCC – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – has been the body charged for the last two decades with bringing the 190-something countries of the world together to agree on a course of climate action.
On Wednesday, media statements issued by the offices of Tony Abbott and foreign minister Julie Bishop made mention of something called the UNCCC – which the PM and Bishop said stood for the United National Climate Change Conference.
Climate change conference is a generic name for what is going on in Peru, and in the 19 conferences that preceded it, including Copenhagen and Kyoto. But there is no such body as the UNCCC. It may be a mere detail, but it says much about this government’s approach to climate change. Facts are not considered high value assets.
The press releases were issued to announce Australia’s backflip on climate finance, or at least a pike. Bishop arrived in Lima and was told in no uncertain terms by her delegation that it would be untenable to stand in front of the UN and continue refusing to contribute to the Green Climate Fund. So she grabbed a minimum amount from the foreign aid budget, something she had sworn she would never do, and pretended that Australia will be in control of its spending, which it is not.
Of more concern, though, is the decision announced in the same release (see excerpt below) to lock away the review of Australia’s post 2020 climate change targets within the PM’s office, in the same way that the review of renewable energy target was hijacked by those close to Abbott earlier this year.
Clearly, the PM’s office has little trust in the ministers responsible. In the case of the RET, it was taken out of the hands of Greg Hunt and Ian Macfarlane. In the case of emissions targets, it is now taken out of the hands of Hunt and Bishop. In the case of the UNFCCC, Abbott had to send Andrew Robb, a climate skeptic, to chaperone Bishop.
The RET review, led by a pro-nuclear, climate denying, former oil industry executive Dick Warburton has been utterly discredited. However, the uncertainty it has created has delivered on the fossil fuel industry’s desire to bring the development of new large-scale renewable energy projects to a halt.
So who, might one ask, will Abbott commission to lead the review of Australia’s post 2020 emissions targets?
He could ask Maurice Newman. The head of the PM’s business advisory group is well qualified, writing regularly for The Australian newspaper on his favourite topic, that the world is heading for an ice age, and that global warming is a hoax. And he doesn’t trust scientists like those at the weather bureau.
He could ask Dick Warburton. The former chair of Caltex Australia has time on his hands at the moment now that the RET review is complete, and he appears to have all the pre-requisites – a defender of incumbent business interests, and has repeatedly said the debate around climate science is not settled. He prefers the skeptic tag to the denier tag, even though he says he cannot accept the conclusion of all major scientific institutions.
David Murray? The former head of the CBA, the Future Fund, and more recently the head of Tony Abbott’s banking review is another. Last year he said there was a “breakdown in the integrity” of climate science.
Peter Costello? The former Treasurer and current head of the future fund sees no reason to lighten the funds’s investments in coal. He said it would be extraordinary for a country like Australia to do that, even though another fossil-fuel rich country Norway is doing exactly the opposite. The Abbott government wants to believe what Costello believes.
The Institute of Public Affairs? They are credited with drawing up Abbott’s policy master-plan, and have been vigorous debunkers of climate science and the UNFCCC. They would have a similar view of the UNCCC if it existed. Its former climate point man, Alan Moran, is free after being forced to quit his position at IPA and missing out on the RET Review.
The Environment Ministry? Oh, don’t be silly!
What Abbott will certainly not do is take any notice of the Climate Change Authority, the independent body established during the Labor government to conduct just these reviews.
Abbott has tried and failed to abolish the CCA. The CCA was bypassed for the RET Review, even though it has a statutory requirement to conduct it. It was recently commissioned to conduct a review of emissions trading under a deal struck with the Palmer United Party to kill the carbon price, but Hunt made it clear that the government had no intention of paying any notice of the CCA’s review.
That indicates once again that the Abbott government is going to make it up as it goes along. It will only up its pre-2020 5% per cent target, and set meaningful post 2020 targets, if it is forced to, kicking and screaming, by international pressure, like it did on the GCF. Contrary to what Bishop said overnight – that Australia is a leader on emissions, or as Hunt has said, is Australia’s “great gift to the world” – the country is out of step with its major trading partners. It does not have a policy that can deliver any post 2020 targets.
Andrew Robb, sent to chaperone Bishop (and how, see Corey Watts’ story here), said Australia will not “take it in the neck” and sign up in Paris if it thinks growth and jobs are at risk.
Bishop herself has said it is ridiculous to suggest that fossil fuels will have to be eased out of the energy system by 2050. Yet that is exactly what is required if the world is to meet its 2C target. It could wait till 2060 IF it acted decisively before 2020, but Australia has no intention of doing that.
As Erwin Jackson of the Climate Institute points out, there is no reference to scientific inputs into this process and whether it will examine targets that are consistent with the agreed global objective of limiting warming to less than 2oC above pre-industrial levels (1880s). If those targets are to be met, carbon budgets have to be met. Australia will have to “take it in the neck” whether it likes it or not.
The SMH says that Abbott’s task force will now compare itself to Gulf countries – not just major trading partners China and the US, as part of its analysis. Therein lies a bitter irony. In Kyoto, Australia and Saudi Arabia were the two biggest holdouts to a deal. In Paris, Australia seems determined to reset the button. For the past few years, the mantra has been, Australia won’t act until China and the US have. Now that they have, Australia is ignoring this and saying, “We won’t act until the Saudis have.” It has gone tight at the bottom of the (oil) barrel.
Addendum: In Lima, Bishop was talking up the Renewable Energy Target, and had this interesting thing to say – it is supposed to be “at least” 20 per cent!!!
“In 2001, Australia set the world’s first mandatory renewable energy target. This was expanded and extended in 2009. It means we will generate at least 20 per cent of our electricity from renewables in 2020.”
Hooray. Now, if only this was government policy! Or does this join other “commitments” like Abbott playing up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to France president Francois Hollande, just as his government tries to dismantle it.