BHP joins Morrison’s “Quiet Australians”, with support of dodgy carbon accounting

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BHP reportedly endorses Morrison government use of Kyoto carry-over credits to effectively halve the ambition of its 2030 Paris climate task.

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While big corporations are outshining big governments at the UN Climate Summit in New York, BHP is making sure it does not rock the boat in Australia by declaring support for the Morrison government’s ambition-lite approach to its global Paris commitment.

In a print edition article in the Australia Financial Review on Tuesday, the paper reported that BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie had endorsed the federal Coalition’s controversial decision to essentially halve its emissions reduction task by using Kyoto carry-over credits.

The article, brought to RenewEconomy’s attention by a Simon Holmes à Court tweet, said Mackenzie’s comments – allegedly made in a private investor call – suggested BHP considered the government’s use of carryover credits to be legitimate.

Which wouldn’t necessarily be so jarring, if BHP hadn’t come out to much fanfare in July of this year as a firm believer in the coming climate catastrophe, and with a money-backed plan to do something about it.

As Vision Super chief investment officer Michael Wyrsch put it in comments to the AFR, “supporting the use of Kyoto carry-over credits effectively means you’re supporting a 10-12 percentage point reduction in Australia’s emissions targets.

“You can’t say you believe in climate change on the one hand and support using carry-over credits on the other,” he said.

“The atmosphere doesn’t care about loopholes in international agreements – if BHP support Kyoto carry-over credits, they’re supporting in the planet getting hotter.”

Indeed. But should we be surprised? As RenewEconomy reported here, BHP’s July pledge to spend $US400 million on low emission investments, and put pressure on its supply chain to cut emissions, is not all it’s cracked up to be.

For starters, $400 million is a fraction of the $20 billion BHP spent in the pursuit of a fracking business in the US. But mostly because we know from past experience that BHP, the once proud “Big Australian” – like Scott Morrison’s much referenced ‘Quite Australian’ – says it wants to protect the environment, but not at any cost to the hip pocket.

This attitude was illustrated by BHP back in 2007, when then CEO Chip Goodyear announced a $US300 million program to invest in low emissions technology and encourage emissions reductions among staff and customers.

At the time, the ABC asked the same question we should now: “$AU350-million is still only a fraction of your net profit, something in the order of less than one-fifth of one per cent.” (It was actually two per cent, but the point stands). “It doesn’t seem to be a significant commitment to what is a significant issue.”

To which Goodyear replied: “It is four or five times what we would have spent otherwise in terms of this area. It is an area that is not necessarily focused on financial return ultimately, that’s what we’re in business for, creating financial return over the long-term.”

As Giles Parkinson summed it up: “the company accepted the science, knew the world would be stuffed if it didn’t do anything about it, but because this was about the environment and not making money, pushing deeper into the petty cash tin was about as good as it got.

“That, sadly, pretty much sums up the attitude to climate change of most of big business, and particularly the mining world. In Australia, it has given Coalition governments the oxygen to peddle a ridiculous scare campaign that they use as justification for doing nothing.”

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