Federal energy minister Angus Taylor’s “expert panel” – tasked with identifying new opportunities to achieve emissions reduction – has undertaken consultation with a handpicked group of representatives heavily stacked towards the fossil fuel industry and Australia’s largest emitters.
Taylor launched a closed consultation process last year to a select group of organisations that was not announced publicly and was made without an opportunity for the wider public to provide input.
Despite many media reports, there is little to no public information about the “Expert Panel Examining Opportunities for Further Abatement”, with no information appearing on the website of the Department of the Environment and Energy’s website, even though the department is involved in the review.
The ‘expert panel’ is led by former Origin Energy CEO and president of the Business Council of Australia, Grant King, along with Susie Smith, the CEO of the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, which represents many of Australia’s largest emitters. The chair of the Clean Energy Regulator, David Parker, and ANU Law School professor Andrew Macintosh are also on the panel.
In a letter sent by Taylor to King obtained by RenewEconomy under a Freedom of Information request, Taylor said he wanted King to examine how participation in the Emissions Reduction Fund could be improved.
Taylor said he was “particularly interested in understanding the most effective mechanisms and opportunities to use Australian government investment to leverage co-investment from the private sector and other levels of government.”
“I am also interested in opportunities to streamline existing reporting, audit, compliance and method development processes,” Taylor wrote.
Taylor also told King that he wanted the focus of the review to be “on the industrial, manufacturing and transport sectors, and energy efficiency and agricultural activities.”
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment and Energy said that a wide range of stakeholders had been approached to provide a response to a consultation paper, including “organisations from industry, manufacturing, energy, clean energy, energy efficiency, mining, agriculture and transport sectors, as well as energy users, environmental groups, carbon market organisations.”
Requests to the department to release the full list of organisations invited to participate in the consultation were refused.
However, RenewEconomy can now reveal the full list of companies and organisations that were invited to provide input to Angus Taylor’s ‘expert panel’ examining opportunities for further emissions abatement following its freedom of information request.
The list is stacked heavily towards lobby groups representing the fossil fuel sector, featuring the Minerals Council of Australia, the BCA, the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, the Australian Institute of Petroleum, Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), as well as several carbon capture and storage groups.
Initially, it appeared that no representatives of the clean energy sector had received an invitation to participate in the consultation process. After being queried by RenewEconomy, the Department of the Environment and Energy confirmed that an invitation sent to the Clean Energy Council had somehow been lost in transit and had been re-sent.
According to correspondence released with the freedom of information request, the invitation to the Clean Energy Council was re-sent by the Department on 5 November, almost two weeks after the initial deadline for submissions (24 October) had closed, and after the date Angus Taylor initially asked Grant King to report back with recommendations (1 November).
It is unclear whether the expert panel provided its recommendations to the minister by the indicated 1 November deadline.
The CSIRO was the sole research organisation invited to provide input into where the federal government may be able to identify further emissions reduction. No environmental groups were invited to make a submission.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation was the sole government body invited to make a submission, with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency snubbed and the Clean Energy Regulator not asked for a formal submission, despite its heavy involvement in the federal government’s limited emissions reduction activities and Parker’s role on the panel.
The process overall attracted criticism, including from Greens federal climate spokesperson Adam Bandt, who said Taylor should follow German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s moves to accelerate her country’s exit from coal.
“Angus Taylor has created a fossil fuel echo chamber designed to tell him only what he wants to hear. While Germany’s conservative government gets everyone around a table to come up with a plan to phase out coal, Australia’s Minister handpicks his mates to tell him how to keep coal in the system for longer,”
“If the Minister for Emissions Reduction wants to actually reduce emissions, he should stop wasting public resources on this panel made up of pals and instead start planning for the transition from coal to a renewable future.”
The stakeholder list suggests the government may be considering expanding the scope of the Emissions Reduction Fund, which was boosted by a $2 billion funding commitment in the 2019 budget, may be expanded to provide funding for projects in the fossil fuel sector and to pay major industrial emitters to reduce their emissions.
In a joint letter to the panel, a collection of ten organisations that included the Energy Efficiency Council, the Carbon Market Institute, the Green Building Council of Australia and the Investor Group on Climate Change, expressed concerns about the apparent change of approach, including that the existing funding allocated to Climate Solutions Fund is “unlikely to be sufficient to pull through technologies that are new to market or new to Australian sectors.”
The group also expressed concern “that the ERF reverse auction mechanism is poorly suited to some sectors, including industry and buildings.”
Currently, the Emissions Reduction Fund is limited to purchasing emissions from land-based activities, including revegetation, avoided deforestation and changed agricultural practices, reflecting its earlier life as the Carbon Farming Initiative.
A consultation paper sent to stakeholders by the expert panel, obtained by the Guardian Australia, shows that the government may consider ‘crediting’ the large industrial emitters subject to the Safeguard Mechanism, which has already attracted criticism for being weak on industrial emitters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has insisted that Australia will not increase its emission reduction targets in the wake of the devastating bush-fires, despite his admission the fires are linked to climate change. Australia’s target of a 26-28 per cent reduction from 2005 is seen as grossly inadequate, and will rely on controversial “carry-over credits”.
The world is currently on a trajectory of more than 3°C of average global warming on current settings, and Australia – being one of the world’s richest and most vulnerable countries – is being urged to take a leading role rather than acting as a handbrake on global action, as it was accused of being in the recent climate change negotiations in Madrid.
The Department of the Environment and Energy has been contacted for further comment.