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.
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.