Abbott’s ‘barren’ policy could derail most basic climate goals: Fraser

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Bernie Fraser lambasts Abbott’s ‘barren’ climate policy toolkit, and laments diminishing role of independent public service, and Labor’s incoherence.

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The “barrenness” of the Coalition’s climate policy toolkit could make it hard for Australia to meet even the most unambitious of emissions reduction targets, according to the chair of the Climate Change Authority, Bernie Fraser.

Speaking at the Australian Emissions Reduction Summit in Melbourne this week, Fraser described it as a “safe bet” that the Abbott government would not be picking up the authority’s minimum recommendation for raising Australia’s 2020 emissions reduction target.

In the keynote speech to close the Summit, Fraser said the federal government had yet to respond formally to the CCA’s emissions report, tabled in late February, which recommended Australia increase its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target from its current minimum of 5 per cent on 2000 levels, to a minimum of 15 per cent, in order to make a responsible contribution to the international effort to restrict warming to a 2°C rise in global temperatures.

The report further recommended significant tightening of emissions targets to lead to reductions of between 40 and 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030 – a consideration, Fraser said on Tuesday, “was not even on the government’s radar.”

Instead, a palpably frustrated Fraser conceded that the Coalition was almost guaranteed to stick to Australia’s current legislated 5 per cent target – a target, he noted, that might still elude us, given “the barrenness of the Coalition’s climate policy toolkit.”

“To get to genuine 5 per cent reduction (on 2000 levels) with a depleted policy toolkit still looks pretty challenging to me,” Fraser told the Melbourne Summit audience. “Even if we reached the 2020 target, there would still be some fairly heavy lifting to do.”

Offering a disclaimer that the comments he was about to make were of a personal nature, and not necessarily representative of the rest of the CCA board, Fraser turned to the subject of why climate policies (“and others, for that matter”) were moving the way they were.

“Let’s start with the government,” he said, noting that while certain Coalition spokespeople said repeatedly that they accepted the science of climate change, their words and actions were not in keeping with this.

“I fear that the advisory role of public service is diminishing in many areas, and being replaced – or usurped, if you like – by battalions of officers in the ministerial realm,” Fraser said.

Such ministers, he continued, put the “greatest spin possible” on their master’s policies, regardless of their own beliefs.

Fraser also took a swipe at the Opposition, saying they seemed to be having trouble identifying coherent policies for themselves, let alone for the nation.

Fraser, who last week said he felt “sick and disappointed” by the federal Coaltion’s attitude to renewables, also reiterated his belief that the Abbott government’s climate policy was guided primarily by big business and budgetary constraints, rather than informed by the scope of the challenge, and opportunities, ahead.

“Providing budget surpluses is not the overriding goal of the government,” said Fraser, who served as Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia from 1989 to 1996. “It is providing a fairer, better society. Only the government can achieve this. Not market forces, not business.”

Fraser closed his speech by expressing some hope that the myriad sources of growing domestic and international pressure – including decisive policy and action by governments in China, India and the US and a shift away from fossil fuels by the managers of billions of dollars in retirement funds worldwide – would “eventually bring about change in the way policy makers think (about climate change), if not in the policy makers themselves.”

Certainly, optimism is growing that the 2015 UN FCCC climate change conference in Paris will be a success.

“Next year, we will have an international agreement,” said Niclas Svennigsen, manager of the development of strategic initiatives at the UNFCCC, speaking after Fraser at the Summit on Tuesday.

“It is becoming a great political necessity for many countries,” Svennigsen said. “For many countries, the reality (of climate change) bites hard. For others, it’s a matter of energy security. For a great many other countries, it is an imperative for development.”

But not for Australia. Not at the moment, anyway. And, according to Fraser, the current government is not likely to put a lot of weight in international pressure.

“It is a great pity that we’re presently taking the long way around on this journey,” he said, “with all the costs and dangers that involves.”

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1 Comment
  1. Farmer Dave 5 years ago

    It’s great that Bernie Fraser is speaking out; former Governors of the Reserve Bank are not known for their extremism, and strong comments like these from a person like him might penetrate the consciousness of some of the Government’s supporters – or even a back-bencher or two. While some (many?) members of the Government seem to have their minds set in ideological concrete and never venture outside a bubble they form around them of others with similar set minds, there will be back-benchers and perhaps a Minister or two whose minds are more flexible.

    The following argument might give the more flexibly-minded pause: in any period of impending risk to a nation – a belligerent and well-armed neighbour rattling sabres at us, or perhaps an virulent epidemic on our doorstep – we citizens would expect our Government to start their response by seeking advice from people who are acknowledged experts in the relevant field. We would then expect the Government’s response to be informed by and consistent with the expert advice given to the Government. In this case, that approach clearly is not happening, as we all know what the acknowledged experts think about climate change: look, for example, at the commonality of opinions across all the major peak scientific bodies. So, every time the Prime Minister or other member of Cabinet makes a public statement along the lines that the Government’s policy is “strong and effective”, they need to receive a barrage of letters, phone calls and emails asking them for the names of the climate science experts on whose advice they relied to form that judgment.

    In other words, I think that politically, the Government’s greatest weakness with respect to climate change is that they are ignoring the advice of experts.

    The other line of attack – and the NSW ICAC is opening a window into this world – is that the Government’s policy has been captured by vested interests. It may have been Giles who observed that the two states with the strongest renewable energy portfolios, South Australia and Tasmania, are the two states with the smallest incumbent fossil fuel industry. I don’t think that is a coincidence.

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