Abbott’s climate policy farce deepens as big polluters get free kick

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There are supposed to be penalties for big polluters under Direct Action. Instead, the big polluters will get a massive free kick under the government’s plan as the Coalition’s energy and climate policies descend further into high farce.

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The climate and clean energy policy of the Abbott government has descended further in pure farce with the release of critical details of the Direct Action scheme that reveals there will be no requirement on major energy polluters to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday released proposals for what are known as “safeguard” mechanisms of the emissions reduction fund, which will set a benchmark for polluters. If they move beyond the line, and increase emissions, they may face penalties.

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The government says it has adopted “best practice guidelines”, but it does anything but. Electricity generators may have no baseline at all, in theory allowing a brown coal generator to increase emissions as much as it wanted.

Among the other 140 big polluters, the benchmark has been set at the highest level of pollution over the last five years. Some mines will be allowed to go beyond that if they can argue that “historical high point does not fully reflect expected business-as-usual emissions.”

The farcical proposals have been ridiculed by experts and analysts. Erwin Jackson, from the Climate Institute described it as a “climate policy you have when you don’t want to reduce emissions.”

The TCI described the emissions target as “phoney” and the safeguards as “feeble”.  Even a lawyer, Grant Anderson, from the legal firm Allens, told Fairfax Media that it “won’t do much to control emissions.”

Hugh Grossman, from Reputex, an analyst firm owned by Standard & Poor’s, agreed the policy would do nothing to curb emissions growth.

“Given that emissions today are significantly lower than historical high levels, this will allow companies to increase their emissions from today’s levels, leading to considerable emissions growth through to 2020,” he said.

Indeed, Grossman said that the growth would likely overwhelm the pollution savings achieved by the ERF, which would pay big business for proposals to reduce emissions.

The Abbott government says the special treatment for the electricity sector is provided because of its “vital role” in the economy. Hunt’s office defended the exemption, telling Fairfax Media that the measures were “supported by industry.”

Of course they are. They’re probably writing the legislation.

Along with the Abbott government’s decision to scrap the carbon price and cripple the renewable energy target, and starve agencies such as ARENA of funds, threaten to close down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and abolish or diminish independent voices such as the Climate Change Authority and the Climate Commission, it has done nothing but serve the interests of fossil fuel generators.

The policy update came in the same week as the government rejected, out of hand, a proposal from the Clean Energy Council of a compromise deal on the RET. Abbott has drawn a line at 32,000GWh, a 40 per cent cut, and has refused to entertain the CEC’s offer of cutting the RET from 41,000GWh to 33,500GWh in the hope of gaining some investor certainty.

It also came as a new paper written by a former senior international negotiator noted that Australia risked throwing away any ability to influence the outcome of international climate talks – and of securing a favourable outcome for the Australian economy – because of its refusal to take the negotiations seriously. It said Australia’s influence had already been severely eroded since the Abbott government was elected.

Earlier this week, Hunt’s office released new data that confirmed that Australia’s emission reduction task – to meet its target of a 5 per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2020 – had been trimmed to 236 million tonnes.

Just how this will be achieved with Direct Action and the ERF remains a mystery to the analysts, particularly in light of the safeguard mechanism proposals.

Reputex says emissions are forecast to rise 17 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020. And the ERF will be unlikely to purchase much more than half of its targeted abatement. It may be able to purchase as little as 60 million tonnes.

The TCI said described the government’s policy as an “economically reckless undermining of industries critical to Australia’s long-term prosperity”.

“By continuing to seek deep cuts to the Renewable Energy Target and proposing phony emissions limits that would allow pollution to rise, the government is signalling that they’re content for Australia to remain a clunker economy rather than modernising with the rest of the world.”

“The debate about climate policy shouldn’t be about what crumbs we can offer the clean energy industry till 2020. The spotlight should be on the deeper decarbonisation challenge, and the fact that our electricity system is held back by an aging, inefficient and polluting power generator fleet.”

But the TCI also questioned which of the mainstream parties showed it understood the economic transformation underway, let alone have a plan.

“Neither Party has a credible vision for the future without a strategy for decarbonising our energy and modernising our economy,” it said.

Opposition environment spokesman, Mark Butler, has meanwhile described the government’s policy as “nothing but a dressed up slush fund, wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars while achieving no meaningful reduction in Australia’s pollution levels.

“It’s the most brazen capitulation to the big polluters since Tony Abbott reversed his election commitment to keep the Renewable Energy Target,” Butler said.

Even health advocacy group Doctors for the Environment Australia has been scathing in its assessment of the policy, arguing that its concessions to industry will continue causing heart and lung disease and shortening peoples lives.

“It requires great skill or oversight to prepare a document of 31 pages on climate change and the reduction of emissions without mentioning the word ‘health’ when the World Health Organization defines climate change as ‘the defining issue for public health during this century’,” said DEA spokesperson Dr David Shearman in a submission to the Climate Change Authority.

The group recommends Australia commit to a reduction target on 2020 levels of at least 40 per cent by 2025 and 95 per cent by 2050.

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32 Comments
  1. Keith 4 years ago

    This is what you get when ideology governs your policy, making it a fact free zone.

    Fortunately the ideologues are so rampant that something has to give soon. They are fighting this on too many fronts. Messing up home base is one thing, but taking on Obama’s efforts to stop financing of dirty coal plants in developing countries is asking for a bloody nose.

    The sad thing is that the ALP has gone missing, indicating that although less ideological, it has no stomach for taking on the fossil fuel industry.

    • mike flanagan 4 years ago

      It is what we get when the press accept policies written in invisible ink and I think Shorten and co are looking for the Abbott inkwell.

    • suthnsun 4 years ago

      Keith, I would describe these chaps as something far baser than idealogues. I looked up some synonyms for baser and they look more appropriate -“the electorate’s baser instincts of greed and selfishness”
      synonyms: sordid, improper, low, mean, bad, wrong, evil, wicked, iniquitous, immoral, sinful; More
      unscrupulous, unprincipled, unseemly, unsavoury, shoddy, squalid, vile, foul, vulgar, tawdry, cheap, low-minded, debased, degenerate, depraved, corrupt, reprobate, dissolute, dishonest, dishonourable, disreputable, despicable, discreditable, contemptible, petty, ignominious, ignoble, shameful, wretched, scandalous, infamous, abhorrent, abominable, disgusting
      “some of these struggles have been inspired by base motives”

  2. Leigh Ryan 4 years ago

    Proof that our government is in the hands of total fruitcakes, what’s more by it’s very existence and lack of vocal protest and alternative policies proof that the ALP is just as guilty of collusion with Australia’s biggest polluters, they both have to go.

    • Gus Griffin 4 years ago

      Fruitcakes who are getting richer by the moment, even if in offshore accounts. They are selling our country down the river.

  3. Lock Barker 4 years ago

    Great stuff Giles, my doctor has forbidden me from reading anything more from Greg Hunt as my blood pressure can’t take it.

  4. lin 4 years ago

    I suspect Abbott and his fellow crazies on the right wing extreme end of the Liberal party fall into the “only God can change the climate” set of beliefs. Nothing will change their minds. Unfortunately for us, Shorten the Pragmatic Sell-out looks no better. It’s time for the Labor party to take a good hard look at itself, grow a spine and find some principles.

  5. Cad Cow 4 years ago

    the next election will see much opportunity for influential cross bench seats as the two major parties continue to disillusion. We need the formation of the Renewable Energy Party with some smart, driven people at the helm…. Giles???

  6. Nicko 4 years ago

    Good stuff, but depressing. Hunt doesn’t get the profile of a Hockey or Abbott when he lies and deceives, but he is as bad or worse for the sheer gall and frequency and sordid motive.

    A nasty little man – as Environment Minister what does he want his legacy to be? Something to tell the great grandkids:

    “Yep, I was a mealy mouthed despoiler, all right. I was able to get the big donors in the coal industry billions, and spited those greens a beauty” .

    “Top stuff, Granddad. At school today the teacher mentioned something called the Great Barrier Reef. Do you know what that was?”

    • zlop 4 years ago

      Just another deception, to motivate more taxes.
      CO2 will not make the Great Barrier Reef disappear.

      • Rikaishi Rikashi 4 years ago

        Ignorance is bliss isn’t it zlop.

        Warmer, more acidic waters will definitely kill off the surviving 50% of the reef which has not already succumbed to those things.

        • zlop 4 years ago

          “Ignorance is bliss isn’t it zlop.”?

          Much information is hidden, tampered with to support the CO2 fraud, from CO2 warming to CO2 killing ocean life.

          Reading this “Ocean Acidification: Natural Cycles and Ubiquitous Uncertainties Anthony Watts”

          “Palau’s coral reefs surprisingly resistant to ocean acidification
          Anthony Watts”

          • Chabo Chook 4 years ago

            Would that be the same Anthony Watts who is recognised as a climate denier?
            http://www.skepticalscience.com/Anthony_Watts_blog.htm

          • zlop 4 years ago

            “climate denier?”
            What does Anthony Watts deny about the climate?

          • Scott F 4 years ago

            it isn’t the CO2, it’s the carbonic acid. http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-ocean-acidification/
            Let’s give zlop the benefit of the doubt and not put it down to ignorance and choosing to go against the weight of scientific evidence shall we?
            Unfortunately I think this has become a political issue…right wingers unite against climate change!!! Sigh! Can’t we just use science based evidence and err on the side of caution rather than the side of industry?

          • zlop 4 years ago

            “Are oceans becoming more acidic and is this a threat to marine life?” — “”Le Chatelier’s Principle: Adding CO2 to a CO2/carbonate equilibrium (including carbonate rock) will drive the reaction towards the formation of MORE carbonates, not less.” http://www.seafriends.org.nz/issues/global/acid2.htm

  7. Sid Abma 4 years ago

    There are different ways to look at it as there are different ways to deal with these emissions.
    What is Wasted Energy? It is energy that was created and does not yet have a purpose.
    The combusted exhaust going up the chimneys at power plants and industry is wasted energy.
    In this exhaust is a lot of heat energy that needs to be Recovered and utilized.
    In this exhaust is a lot of CO2 that needs to be Transformed into useable – saleable products.
    In this exhaust is a lot of Water that will be created with the heat energy removed. Does Australia need water?
    What if the Recovered Heat Energy was used to heat and or cool large commercial greenhouses. Many jobs would be created growing food products.
    These food producing plants during the day absorb high levels of CO2. At night it can be Transformed into these other products.
    These food producing plants need to be irrigated.

    What difference would this make in the battle against Climate Change?
    How many jobs would be created? Would this benefit America’s Economy?

    It’s time to stop bickering and instead start resolving.

    Enough Energy Has Been Wasted!

    • Peter Thomson 4 years ago

      America’s Economy? Hmm. I do agree though, that energy efficiency improvements are vitally important across the board. Given the age of the majority of Australia’s coal-fired power stations however, I don’t think there is much future in adding extra infrastructure to turn them into CHP plants.

      Note also that turning fossil-fuel CO2 emissions into another consumable product such as food or biofuel doesn’t affect the eventual destination of the CO2 emissions – turning them into plants and eating them just delays the time until the CO2 ends up in the atmosphere. What you need to do is use the CO2 to grow plants, such as trees, then leave them to rot and form thicker soils.

  8. john 4 years ago

    We are now witness to newspeak.
    This is evident when a minister makes a statement and his words say one thing but in fact the meaning of those words are totally the opposite.
    There is not going to be any real action on our emissions because from the start Australia has got away with claiming we have cut CO2 emissions from a little time ago by curtailing our burning of cut down open grass land trees.
    As to actually doing anything about business practise, this is a no go zone.
    It is slightly annoying to read or hear ministers making statements that are not exactly correct.
    However looking at the situation from a realists perspective, any minister can make any baseless statement and he will be believed such is life.
    As to Direct Action it is a farcical Newspeak spiel that is directed at achieving absolutory nothing.

  9. Michael Lindsay 4 years ago

    The LNP are just shills for Australia’s coal lobby. For all their flag waving they couldn’t give a shit about the long term future of this country!

  10. Coley 4 years ago

    Outside of ‘reneweconomy’ how big a concern is the environment for most Australians?

    • Peter Thomson 4 years ago

      Not much, if we don’t keep raising the issues.

      • Miles Harding 4 years ago

        There are probably more than we think!

        The strong and instant response to Abbott killing the Climate Commission provides a useful gauge to the level of public interest and commitment.

        What is in short supply is actual change. Relatively few people make the significant changes in their lives necessary to move to a sustainable existence. Once made the benefits are obvious.

        I feel that one of our tasks is to facilitate linking of these individuals and helping to make these ultimately necessary changes a popular lifestyle choice. (Sorry, Tony, this is where that term should be used)

  11. zlop 4 years ago

    A convenient scare to increase taxes,
    CO2 is neither pollution, nor does it warm the planet.

    • Pedro 4 years ago

      So what is your credible explanation to global warming?

      • zlop 4 years ago

        No-warming, warming — requires no-explanation, explanation.
        (CO2 cools, only a little. IPCC made a mistake)

        • wideEyedPupil 4 years ago

          @Giles can you please whack-a-mole another troll here.

      • Chabo Chook 4 years ago

        zlop doesn’t need an explanation. His head is buried firmly in the hot sand.

        • Pedro 4 years ago

          Was hoping for a creative answer like there are amphibious aliens living under the ice and teleporting it to their planet.

  12. David Rossiter 4 years ago

    Hunt and Abbott are outrageously blatant in their approach, yes electricity has a ‘vital role’ in the economy but the way we generate it and the associated emissions is the part that is vital to the world.
    Apart from basic science, two things drive us towards reducing our emissions – the RET review by Dick Warburton and the Copenhagen agreement signed on to by most countries of the world (including Australia) to try to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees C.
    The RET review report told us, despite the denial credentials of its chair, electricity prices were cheaper with the twenty percent target than with any RET reductions proposed by Abbott’s coaligntion (sic) policy and even noted that a bigger thirty percent RET would provide cheaper electricity too. Current savings identified in the analysis of the twenty per cent target were around $2 billion per year (in a wholesale electricity market prices totalling around $12 billion per year) relative to no RET.
    The Copenhagen agreement has lead to a carbon budget approach to emissions which in essence says to do its bit Australia needs to drop its emissions from all sources to around zero by 2050, as does the rest of the world. This means in terms of setting targets post 2020 we need to drop our emissions on average by one third every decade between now and then.
    And what does Abbott and the coalignition policy suggest that emissions by individual power generators should not exceed those in the historic period (or they will have to stand in the corner until they make a bigger donation to the coalignition policy).
    So while we and the rest of the world have committed to reducing emissions to limit global warming to 2 degrees Abbott and the coalignition policy have committed to increasing our emissions. Do they belong to Team Australia or even Team World? I think not.
    More importantly this coalignition stance gives no credibility to Australia’s negotiating position. How can we as a country that produces nearly the highest per capita emissions, and also earns its wealth by selling Australian resources that roughly double those per capita emissions, expect to be listened to at the next negotiations in December in Paris? Australia’s once highly respected negotiator position is soon to be dead, buried and cremated by this myopic approach,

  13. Raahul Kumar 4 years ago

    Australia could lead on solar, but it has decided to walk backwards towards the medieval ages! The next election can’t come soon enough. If the Greens wind up holding the balance of power, and based on current poll numbers that does seem likely, these incredibly foolish decisions will be reversed.

    Bring back the Carbon Tax.

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