Coalition conjures another accounting trick as it dodges climate commitment

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Updated: More climate sleight-of-hand from federal Coalition, with $500m of existing aid money for the Pacific to be diverted into renewables, disaster resilience.

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Australia’s Coalition government has been accused of conjuring up yet another accounting trick on climate change, after announcing that $500 million of existing aid money for the Pacific will be diverted to invest in renewable energy and climate and disaster resilience.

The new package is due to be unveiled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he prepares to attend the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu, where the focus is expected to be on the climate crisis, and Australia’s lack of action.

Pacific leaders have already called on Australia to wean itself off coal-fired generation, pointing to the plunging cost of renewables, the growth of storage, and Australia’s heavy dependence on a highly polluting generation source.

But Australia is seeking to do the opposite, attempting to intervene and prevent private companies from closing down ageing and unreliable coal generators such as Liddell, and proposing taxpayer funds to keep other coal generators, such as Vales Point – partly owned by prominent Liberal Party donor Trevor St Baker – open for longer.

The Coalition government and its minister for emissions reduction have been insisting, despite the evidence of the government’s own data, that emissions have been falling rather than rising.

The Coalition government currently has no coherent climate policy. It has a $3.5 billion “climate solutions fund” that is designed to extend its much criticised reverse auction program, but the latest round ended in abject failure, with a minimum amount of emissions reduction at a higher price than previously.

Now it has been revealed that coal miners such as Anglo American have been allowed on several occasions to increase their so-called base-lines that mean they can increase their emissions without penalty, or having to buy carbon credits.

Australia has committed to only a 26-28 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, but climate analysts say it will need to aim significantly higher – in the range of 40 to 60 per cent – and lock in a zero emissions target by 2050, if it is to do its share of what the Paris climate treaty intends; to cap average global warming to well below 2°C and hopefully to 1.5°C.

Regulators and security experts have increased their warnings from the impacts of the climate crisis, both to business and investors, and to national security, given the threat to infrastructure and the risk of a growing number of climate refugees.

Some of those refugees will likely come from the Pacific, which is under threat from rising sea-levels and the outbreak of diseases such as dengue fever, among other things.

Pacific nations have been increasingly vocal in the lead-up to the meeting in their demands that Australia takes stronger action on climate change.

Greenpeace described the Coalition’s diverted $500 million in funding as “a slap in the face” to regional leaders who have explicitly called on Australia to address its own soaring climate pollution.

“The biggest driver of climate change is coal, and the Morrison government remains obsessed with it,” Greenpeace’s head of Pacific, Joseph Moeono-Kolio, said in a statement.

“This $500 million accounting trick will do nothing to address the cause of the climate crisis that threatens the viability of the entire Pacific.

“Scott Morrison has no right to call the Pacific family as long as he continues to prioritise the profits of coal barons over the lives and livelihoods of millions of Pacific people.”

Australia’s original accounting trick on climate change was achieved in the final moments of negotiations for the Kyoto treaty, with controversial land use allowances that effectively allowed Australia to significantly increase its emissions under the first stage that closed in 2012.

Now it proposes to use the same accounting trick again, using the “surplus” from its weak Kyoto targets as “credits” to meet its Paris targets – a loophole that The Australia Institute says means Australia will count controversial past reductions to meet current targets – and essentially be able to keep pollution at the same level.

This, TAI says, is equivalent to eight years of fossil fuel emissions from all the Pacific Island forum members: Australia intends to use 367 million tonnes  of carbon credits to avoid the majority of emission reductions pledged under its Paris Agreement target, while the entire annual emissions from the Pacific Island Forum members, excluding Australia, is only about 45Mt.

“Scott Morrison has a choice – Australia can be a leader in the region and a partner in combatting the impact of climate change, or we can continue to completely undermine any efforts by our Pacific partners by using these dodgy credits.” said Richie Merzian, director Climate Change & Energy at The Australia Institute.

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