Direct Action vs the World: How Australia’s climate policy stacks up

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A comparison of speeches by US Ambassador to Australia and federal environment minister Greg Hunt illustrates a huge divide in climate policy approach.

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How refreshing to hear a federal government representative speak purposefully and positively about mitigating dangerous climate change and driving the low-carbon economy. And how disappointing, when that person is not a representative of the Australian federal government.

Speaking on Monday at the opening session of the 2014 Australian Emissions Reduction Summit, hosted by the Carbon Market Institute at the MCG in Melbourne, the US ambassador to Australia, John Berry, provided a timely contrast between the American government’s approach to climate policy, and Australia’s.

To begin with, Berry actually mentioned the words “climate change” (many times) and “renewable energy” in his speech, which is more than can be said for Australia’s federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, whose own address to the summit followed Berry’s.

“It is imperative that we do something about climate change and emissions,” the US Ambassador told the conference. “If we are unable – or unwilling – to act, then we will face serious impacts on public health and safety, national security, and our economies.”

“In addressing climate change, we can also spur innovation, inspire creative solutions to our energy needs, and kickstart economic growth. We can transform our economies while strengthening national security.”

Environment Minister Greg Hunt
Environment Minister Greg Hunt

Berry, while careful to note that his country was one of the world’s leading polluters, said America was hoping to lead by example by cleaning up its act at home.

The US was doing this, he said, by decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions, investing in new technologies and actively pursuing new, cleaner, sources of energy. In particular, Berry said, they had targeted the two biggest sources of emissions in the US: transportation and power generation.

On the former, the US government has set stringent new fuel efficiency standards requiring passenger cars and trucks to average 54.5 miles (roughly 88km) per gallon (3.7 litres) by 2025. On the latter point, he said the Obama administration was working to establish uniform national limits on pollution from new power plants, as well as committing $90 billion for clean energy investment.

Berry closed his speech by describing the economic benefits of building and implementing low-carbon solutions to climate change as “enormous.”

“By meeting the energy productivity targets, the US could save $327 billion a year by 2030,” he said. “Individual households could cut costs by nearly $1000 a year and we could add 1.3 million jobs to our economy. We expect to reduce CO2 emissions to 33 per cent below 2005 levels.”

Hunt on the other hand, had little to say about the energy sector – and nothing at all to say about renewables – choosing to focus his speech on less “Panglossian” solutions to emissions reduction: energy efficiency; what could be achieved by piggeries and such via the Carbon Farming Initiative (which he acknowledged was a carry-over from the previous Labor government, largely designed by his opposite number, Mark Dreyfus); and on his own government’s “truly incentive-based” answer to mitigating climate change, the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Below are some more comparison quotes from the Berry and Hunt speeches, divided into specific topics…

Power, Energy and Renewables

JB: “We are pursuing a wide range of initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through policy changes and the largest investment in clean energy technology in US history. These efforts have nearly doubled renewable power generation since 2008. We need, as (US) Secretary (of State) (John) Kerry said in Jakarta last month, to ensure that clean energy projects are the most attractive investments in the global energy sector.”

JB: On the (Canberra US) Embassy compound we have replace over 80 per cent of our lights with LEDs. This is a 75 per cent savings in the energy we use and a monetary savings of $60,000. …We have put solar panels on all suitable US government-owned diplomatic housing. …Water is heated by solar systems, reducing our energy usage – and our costs – even more.

GH: We are committed to the RET going forward. …Our commitment to the RET is clear, and we with deal with that through the review panel process.

GH: A carbon tax is essentially a tax on electricity and gas.  …(The Abbott government) is focusing on innovation rather than taxing electricity.

GH: (When asked who would fund the cleantech industries underpinning the low-carbon to transformation of heavy emitting industries) The ERF is not an R&D fund. It is an action and reduction fund.

Transport Emissions

JB: Stringent standards set by the Administration require that passenger cars and trucks in the US must average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. …The mileage standards will save consumers and businesses an estimated $1.7 trillion in fuel costs. They will cut our oil consumption by 12 billion barrels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion metric tonnes.

GH: I don’t want to preempt the work of other ministries… (but) as part of Australia’s FTA agreement with Japan we will be importing second-hand Japanese cars to help decrease the age of Australia’s fleet. …It is obvious that our own domestic car industry will be over in 2017.”

Climate Change and Emissions Reduction

JB: It is imperative that we do something about climate change and emissions. …If we don’t do everything we can to clean up our act, the worst-case scenario is very bad indeed.

JB: The United States and Australia can – and should – work side by side to clean up, to innovate, and to discover new energy sources. It’s not only good environmental policy, it’s also good business.

GH: In terms of the science, it’s clear and categorical. …Yes, there’s plenty of scope for debate in Australia, but my position and the position of my party is that it is clear and categorical.”

GH: This is an existential threat for people in China and India.

GH: We can, nevertheless, approach this with realistic optimism.

GH: We are committed to that task.

On their government’s climate/emissions reduction policy

JB: In 2009, President Obama pledged to reduce US emissions by 17 per cent over 2005 levels by 2020. …We are cutting domestic carbon pollution and leading international efforts to address global climate change. We will cut methane emissions and curb the emissions of HFCs that could triple by 2030 if we don’t act.

GH: -5 per cent of 2000 levels (Australia’s 2020 emissions reduction target) is really 12 per cent when compared with US 2050 levels.

GH: (The ERF) is a truly incentive-based scheme. …Focusing on the ability of aggregators to participate. There is no requirement to participate, but no restrictions on participation either. …At the end of the day, this is about a capped funding approach. Every dollar that is spent on actually reducing emissions is only paid when those emissions are reduced.

GH: We will keep consulting. …(and) listen to what the (ERF) users want.

GH: Do I think this system (the ERF) will be the base for Australia going forward? Absolutely.

On International Cooperation

JB: We are developing agreements with major polluters, including India and China… Last year, we launched the first-ever US-China Climate Change Working Group under the umbrella of our bilateral Strategic Economic Dialogue. …We are also challenging leaders from around the world to set aggressive goals, to develop higher standards, to make responsible decisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The issue is serious, it deserves everyone’s attention.

GH: We are committed to a bipartisan approach to targets. …Nothing is more important for Australia as a good international agreement.

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3 Comments
  1. MrMauricio 5 years ago

    Did I read that right from Greg Hunt??? As part of the free trade agreement we will be importing second hand cars from Japan!! You mean like 3rd world countries such as The Philippines?

  2. Macabre 5 years ago

    I’m sure there is an interesting article here somewhere, but it feels hurriedly put together.

  3. Alen 5 years ago

    This is embarrassing on so many levels, not only does Hunt emphasis how pathetic our climate policy and action is in comparison, but he also resorts to lies about the government commitment to the RET and how apparently they believe in the science of CC. Any person that has even the slightest interest in CC based politics knows full well the true hostility and ignorance the government has and displays towards the science of GW.

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