China-UK climate vow means game is up for Abbott

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A new commitment from China and the UK to push for an international deal on climate change – ‘one of the greatest challenges facing the world’ – and help drive a global energy revolution leaves Tony Abbott isolated, and Australia’s economy gravely exposed.

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The political manifesto and climate obstructionism that has underpinned Tony Abbott’s rise to the head of the Coalition, and then as head of an ultra conservative government, appears to be unraveling quickly.

In London overnight, the world’s biggest polluter, China, and the UK vowed to act decisively on climate change, accelerating the momentum towards a biting agreement in Paris, and hastening what China premier Li Keqiang describes a global energy revolution.

Li and the UK Tory Prime Minister David Cameron issued a powerful combined statement, underpinning their commitment to climate action and clean energy and, in doing so, directly contradicting nearly everything that Abbott has said on the issue of climate change.

They described climate changes as one of the world most significant problems, recognised its impacts on extreme weather, vowed to support the UN efforts at a leaders summit snubbed by Abbott, and in the international negotiations that Australia has sought to obstruct.

tony-abbott-solarThis is highly significant.

Abbott has based his political capital and his economic blue-print, insofar as there is one, on the principal of ignoring climate risk and seeking to extract every tonne and molecule of coal, gas and oil from the country’s reserves.

On the economic front, this approach appears to be suicidal. Even the conservative Committee for Economic Development, in a new report released on Wednesday, warned countries risked being starved of capital for future investment if it continued on the course mapped out by Abbott and his advisors.

On the international political front, Abbott’s strategy of climate obfuscation – lifted from the anti-science ramblings of some of the world’s daftest and most Far Right commentators – and his alliance with like-minded leaders such as Canada’s Stephen Harper, might have worked in an environment where none of the major polluters, apart from the EU, were of a mind to take action.

But that is no longer the case.

US President Barack Obama has outlined plans to cut power emissions by 30 per cent through executive orders, the only means at his disposal given the Republican and Tea Party opposition to cap-and-trade. Obama even compared those who dispute climate science, and who want to delay action, as akin to people who thought the moon was made of cheese.

China’s Li has foreshadowed an “energy revolution” to steer his economy away from coal – as has India’s new leader Mahendra Modi, who speaks of a saffron revolution based around solar. Other emerging economies are similarly minded.

The joint statement issued by Li and Cameron is worth reading in full, because it directly contradicts nearly everything that Abbott has said about climate change. Here it is, with our annotations of Abbott’s position.

“The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the People’s Republic of China recognise the threat of dangerous climate change as one of the greatest global challenges we face.” (Abbott does not)

“The publication of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that climate change is already happening, much of it as a result of human activity.”  (Abbott has ignored the document, although his favourite commentators and business advisors have rubbished it)

“The odds of extreme weather events, which threaten lives and property, have increased.  Sea levels are rising, and ice is melting faster than we expected.  The IPCC’s report makes clear that unless we act now the impacts of climate change will worsen in coming decades.” (Abbott says there is no link between climate change and extreme weather)

“In addition, the burning of fossil fuels creates serious air pollution, affecting quality of life for millions. Both sides recognise that climate change and air pollution share many of the same root causes, as well as many of the same solutions. This constitutes an urgent call to action.” (Abbott’s call to action is to dig up as much coal as he can and cut funding for cleaner energy options, including CCS)

“The UK and China both recognise the clear imperative to work together towards a global framework for ambitious climate change action, since this will support efforts to bring about low-carbon transitions in our own countries.” (Abbott has reportedly attempted to form an alliance to prevent this, particularly any moves towards an international carbon price).

“In particular our two countries recognise that the Paris Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in 2015 represents a pivotal moment in this global effort. We must redouble our efforts to build the global consensus necessary to adopt in Paris a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties. Both sides underline the importance for all countries to communicate their nationally determined contributions well in advance of COP21, in accordance with the decisions taken in Warsaw.” (Abbott did not even send a minister to Warsaw, and the actions of the Australian negotiating team were seen as obstructive.)

“The Leaders’ Summit called by the UN Secretary General in September 2014 is a key milestone. In this regard, the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China commit to working together in support of the UN Secretary General, and to maintain the momentum through to Paris in 2015.” (Abbott has reportedly refused an invitation to go to the leaders’ summit and won’t include climate change on the agenda of the G20)

“The United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China have both taken substantial action to put in place policies to limit or reduce emissions and promote low-carbon development. We welcome our existing strong relationship on low-carbon cooperation that underpins our international work. Both sides agree to intensify bilateral policy dialogue and practical collaboration through the China-UK Working Group.” (Abbott has sought to erase every single climate and clean energy policy, institution and initiative).

What are the implications of all this? As CEDA stated, and Martijn Wilder outlines here, the entire Australian economy is at risk from Abbott’s climate policy.

“Australia risks increasing repair bills from extreme weather events and being unable to access capital for major projects if it does not get its response to climate change right,” CEDA noted.

“The undeniable fact is that Australia’s economy will be critically exposed on two significant economic fronts if we do not ensure an appropriate response to climate change,” it said.

“The first area that leaves our economy exposed if we don’t take action, relates to the consequences of increasing extreme weather events and the economic and social impact that these events have on Australia’s production capacity.”

The second area was on the availability of finance.

“Australia is reliant on foreign capital to fund major projects and new developments in international climate change policy are likely to impact international capital flow and investment decision making,” CEDA said.

The most immediate impacts will likely be on Abbott’s economic strategy, and his and the Queensland government’s support for massive infrastructure investment in fossil fuel reserves.

“Today’s announcement is the latest in a long line of signals that mean China’s demand for imported coal could fall,” Carbon Tracker CEO Anthony Hobley said.

“Considering China is currently the second largest destination for Australia’s coal, this should serve as a warning that those reliant on exports to China could be left with stranded assets.” He said it was clear that major resource companies already believed that investment in new coal terminal expansions was “economically questionable.”

Greens leader Christine Milne, in a Senate debate on the Abbott government proposal to ditch the profitable $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, was more to the point when she said that Abbott was simply “barking mad” on climate issues.

Milne may be the only politician to say this out loud, but she is far from alone in thinking it. And Milne went on, describing Abbott’s climate policy as an“isolationist, rust bucket strategy” and suggested “Australians are recognising how conned they were by the absolute tripe, superficial nonsense of ‘axe the tax’.”

The reports from CEDA, and the rubbishing of the short-term vested interests by the Australian Industry Group in its support of the renewable energy target, suggests that there is a broad group of business people, and political conservatives, who understand the risks, and who effectively agree with Milne.

If only they could pierce the ring of political and economic ideologues that form the core of Abbott’s policy advice. If they can’t, then it’s just as likely that the Liberal Party backbenchers may get a chance to vote on Abbott’s climate madness before the electorate.

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36 Comments
  1. Lifeboatman 5 years ago

    Like King Canute, A Abbott is about to find that the elements are not in sympathy with his ideology, and that he is going to get more than his feet wet!!

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      Like the “Ugly American”, King Canute has done a 180 in popular telling….

      “While the histories of the time are unreliable, it seems probable that King Canute was not a madman who thought he could control nature.

      The first written account of the Canute episode was in Historia Anglorum (The History of the English People) by chronicler Henry of Huntingdon, who lived within 60 years of the death of Canute (1035 AD).

      According to the story, the king had his chair carried down to the shore and ordered the waves not to break upon his land.

      When his orders were ignored, he pronounced: “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless and there is no King worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven and earth and sea obey eternal laws,” (Historia Anglorum, ed D E Greenway).”

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13524677

      • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

        Well said as usual, Bob!

  2. wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

    If only the Egos of Rudd (immeasurable) and Gillard (significant) had not resulted in the ALP self-destructing twice then the this could have been a shiny hour of triumph of Australian leadership on CLimate (admittedly we haven’t really done anything much yet but we did get the wheels turning for a moment there).

  3. wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

    Given the technological exchanges from Australia to China in the solar industry and potential exchanges back in fields of HSR and other technologies, not to mention enormous coal trade that needs to stop pronto, it’s a great shame Australia was not part of a tripartisan working group with UK and China.

    • michael 5 years ago

      what time period do you classify as “pronto”? not sure that would be a great result for china if we phased out our coal exports to them over say a 3-5yr period. are you actually meaning over a 30-50yr period?

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        I’m guessing that China will be doing the phasing out and it will be well within a 20 year time frame.

        • michael 5 years ago

          Full phase out by china of coal fired electricity generation inside 20years? Or just phase out of imported coal?

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            *Imported. China’s not likely to pay someone for something they can produce themselves. They’re likely to cut AU loose first.*

            *Twenty years is a danged long time for a country with a very strong central government. Once China has set a five year plan they tend to meet it early and then set a higher one. They’ve got a very serious pollution problem, mostly due to coal. And they’ve got strong wind and solar manufacturing ability. *

            *China is increasing its domestic coal output. Between cutting overall coal use and increasing domestic supply I’d bet AU is going to see sales dropping.*

          • michael 5 years ago

            Isn’t our met coal of higher quality than theirs and hence helpful in the moves to cut pollution?
            That being said, ‘decreasing sales’ is a substantially different story to ‘phased out’, that position is actually plausible. Complete phase out well inside 20yrs would be remarkable

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Brown coal though is very poor quality coal. Brown coal is being proposed for export in Australia and the Napthine Government of Victoria just gave the Communist Party of China A$25 million of taxpayer money thru a State Owned Enterprise to convert Brown coal with 60% moisture into brown coal briquettes with an alleged 10% moisture. This will be dried out by burning coal to produce heat.

            This is a transference of carbon emissions from China to Carbon emissions to Australia, presumably under the assumption that the Liberal/Labor conspiracy to protect the coal and gas industries from paying their costs of damaging the climate will continue for decades to come. A very high risk assumption to make for the Premier.

          • michael 5 years ago

            Is the Ningdon energy area a myth or is china actually going to be consuming vast amounts of coal for years to come?

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Shifting the goal posts Michael?

          • michael 5 years ago

            that wouldn’t require huge coal input?

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            If we don’t do something remarkable you do realise civilisation and all the Earths ecosystems are all game-over, don’t you?

          • michael 5 years ago

            That’s fine, I guess it just irks me when people present patently in feasible plans to achieve it. I’d rather people deal in reasonable action plans based on what’s possible. Things such as zero carbon by 2020 make people feel fuzzy and take moral high grounds to laugh down others, however it plainly won’t happen so shouldn’t be taken as serious plan of action, purely a dream.
            Is china going to potentially reduce australian coal imports? Maybe
            Is china going to increase absolute amount of renewable in its economy? Yes
            Is china going to reduce coal consumption in next ten years from today’s amount? No
            So let’s stop the presence of them drastically reducing their carbon consumption inside 10-20 years in absolute terms (we capita is a whole different argument)
            The article didn’t also explain the nuclear agreement with china and Great Britain (the left would live that) or the multi billion dollar agreement between BP and a Chinese national oil company…. But hey, that wouldn’t fit the story trying to be presented

          • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

            I think you must be referring to the 2008 ZCA2020 stationary energy plan. I don’t think 12 years is impossible to achieve it.

          • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

            I should really have added that stationary energy was quoted today as being responsible for 33% of emissions. So, from our ‘bau’ emissions of 100 down to 66% ? Definitely not perfect, but perhaps we can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            I’m at the point on CC where if I though nukes would buy us a few decades I’d take it. But nuclear energy a) takes longer , much longer to deploy than renewables and b) is more expensive as shown in the latest plants in Finland and UK.

            As the hippy outfit Citi Research (from the group Citi Group that brought you the GFC) clearly prognosticate in their Energy Darwinism report, even without a price on carbon Wind and Solar will erode coal gas and Nukes in the next three decades and this affects upstream resource production planning and investment today. Stranded assets. Further to that, a price on carbon is inevitable in all countries because even if it lacks efficacy against RETs and FiTs it’s economists prefered way of doing business on climate. Countries will suffer penalties if like Australia and Canada they thumb their nose at Climate action.

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            The alternative to realistic assessments of what is required to fight climate catastrophe is another decade of bullshit international consensus building around phony targets that cost nobody nothing and get wiped out after election time because nobody took them that seriously anyhow. Your preference I assume, Michael?

          • Alen 5 years ago

            This time should hopefully be different, thanks to the drops in cost to RE technologies. Now many technologies are cost attractive and create much employment and overall economic activity. It is much harder for opponents to argue against change because of these points. They can no longer argue and resist on economic grounds, so flat out denial of the science is only other option and because CC is an increasingly talked about global focus, politically this will be a bad move. Abbott won the election not because of his fanatical stance against CC, but because of the instability (among other things) in the ALP.

          • michael 5 years ago

            the opposite actually. that’s what I was getting at, rather have people be realistic than talk about complete de-carbonisation in unrealistic timeframes.

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Actually reducing coal consumption in the next ten years is exactly what China is proposing from a cap of 2012 levels IIRC with yearly reductions. Their population now has a huge elite and middle class that are sick to dead of air pollution and that is driving this as much as CC action.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            “Is china going to reduce coal consumption in next ten years from today’s amount? No”

            China aims to cut total coal consumption to below 65 per cent of total primary energy use by 2017 as part of a comprehensive new plan to tackle air pollution.

            China has already slowed the rate of coal growth. Growth peaked in 2011 at 9.4% per year. Since then growth has slowed to just under 3%.
            Some provinces reported decreases in coal consumption 2011 to 2012.

            Will it actually happen? No one knows the future. But China has been very successful in meeting their energy goals. Looks to me as if China will be burning a lot less coal in 2024 than today.

          • michael 5 years ago

            so growth is still on a 3%pa upward trend, some provinces have lowered coal consumption which is great, burning less in 2024 than today, very slim chance, but you are right, a chance. Is coal consumption going to be phased out, 0% chance. Or why are they currently building all this plants for a 5-10year life?

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            China has been closing inefficient coal plants as they build new, efficient ones.

            One does not stop a very large enterprise/country/ship and reverse direction in an instant. First one slows down….

            “According to new statistics from the China Electricity Council, China’s wind power production actually increased more than coal power production for the first time ever in 2012.

            Thermal power use, which is predominantly coal, grew by only about 0.3 percent in China during 2012, an addition of roughly 12 terawatt hours (TWh) more electricity. In contrast, wind power production expanded by about 26 TWh
            ​”
            http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/20/1744741/chinas-wind-power-production-increased-more-than-coal-power-did-for-first-time-ever-in-2012/

      • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

        China has a large local production for starters and if their consumption declines as they are suggesting it will, then their need for Australian coal decreases dramatically right there. See orange curve below.

        The climate already has momentum in it to see 12′ of sea level rising just from Western Antarctic glaciers alone, then add in Greenland which is melting this year at a rate outside of two standard deviations of average melt over last thirty years. Then the Arctic ice melt and tundra thaw positive feedbacks of methane and COx.

        Here’s a schedule of decarbonisation that Potsdam Institute did to keep below the so-called guardrail of 2ºC (which we know now is not safe an unachievable with war-like structural change in all developed and developing nations). It is based on the historical emissions intensity per capita. Australia has more intense emissions profile per capita than the USA, so our curve should be similar to the black curve or steeper.

  4. wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

    Thanks for another great article cutting through the Abbott Government’s spin, Giles. Just wish you had a regular column in the Murdoch papers, we can dream can’t we?

    • Giles 5 years ago

      I used to!!!

      • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

        I know!! RE is penance for you sins haha!

  5. Tomagain 5 years ago

    Brilliant article. Who would have thought the UK and China would be such world leaders on de-carbonising efforts. If only this could be the start of a real wake up for Tone, Joe and the merry band of ill-advised advisors. Keep it up Giles. We will prevail.

  6. Alex 5 years ago

    We have all seen strong rhetoric like that quoted in article over the past decade regarding so called “strong action on climate change”. Lets hope that this rhetoric is converted to action in Paris in 2015. However hope is not a strategy – so far I have seen no evidence that ANY nation is willing to take stringent action to reduce emissions – small emissions reductions that have occurred in some countries have been largely the result of no-regrets measures (eg, sudden availability of plentiful low cost gas in the US, de-industrialisation of Europe shifting heavy industry and associated emissions to lower cost production centres in Asia). Lots of rhetoric and window dressing that have the appearance of action but the numbers tell the true story – global emissions continue to rise.

  7. Lifeboatman 5 years ago

    When learning history at school back in the late forties, the story went that it was his Courtiers that were sucking up to him and told him that he was all powerful and could control the waves etc. As history reports, he had his throne set up on the beach & the rising tide demonstrated the power of the elements and he proved them wrong.
    The current PM has yet to learn this lesson as applied to Global Warming. It is not going to go away.

  8. howardpatr 5 years ago

    Surely a significant number in the LNP Coalition must be becoming serious concerned about the head in the sand approach of “Mad Dog Mad Monk Abbott” towards global warming and the renewable energy future.

    Disturbing when you think it was only one vote that led to Australia having such an abysmal Prime Minister – a man without any significant vision and/or understanding of the future of Australia in a necessarily carbon constrained world

  9. Susie 5 years ago

    Brilliant article What a pity that you don’t have a regular column at the ABC or are a regular guest on one of their flagship news & current affairs.

  10. Alen 5 years ago

    Another blow to the Galilee development, the future has just become more uncertain for coal and (hopefully) the financing just this more difficult to attain and less profitable.

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