A lot of worst fears were realised yesterday, as one of Australia’s central climate wreckers of the 2010s Abbott era succeeded in a campaign to lead the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a massive, influential intergovernmental organisation. News Corp, Fairfax and the Guardian have all confirmed that former Australian finance minister Mathias Cormann is the OECD’s new Secretary-General.
— OECD ➡️ Better policies for better lives (@OECD) March 12, 2021
Several environment groups and climate organisations have attempted to raise awareness about Cormann’s very significant track record on climate policy in Australia. He was central to the Abbott government’s attempts to raze every single clean energy and climate policy to the ground.
The entire period was a very dark moment in Australian climate policy history, but the efforts to abolish both the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) stand out as particularly callous, cynical, confused and pointless. Through loans and cash grants to clean energy projects, both agencies have been wildly successful, with the CEFC, in particular, consistently returning money to Australian taxpayers due to smart investment in profitable clean energy ventures.
“The government does not believe it is appropriate to keep borrowing money to underwrite a $10 billion taxpayer funded bank that cherry picks investments in direct competition with the private sector…..the government will reintroduce a Bill to abolish the CEFC next week”, wrote Cormann and then-Treasurer Joe Hockey, about the government clean energy program that was making money for taxpayers.
Revisiting this time period, it’s astonishing how little effort went into trying to justify actions so pointlessly destructive. It was a big, smirking shrug – anything with the word ‘clean’ or ‘renewable’ was up for abolition. After the abolition project was abandoned, Hockey and Cormann tried tweaking the CEFC’s performance settings such that it was essentially impossible to meet them, and also tried banning the agency from investing in wind power. Why? There was never a clear explanation, but Hockey also had a specific personal disgust reaction upon the sight of wind turbines.
Cormann was a central player in a dark, cynical and grossly wasteful time in Australian climate policy. It is extremely important not to underestimate the permanent impact on Australia to slam the brakes so hard on climate action. No politician can utter the words ‘carbon price’ now, without being visited by the howling ghosts of the early 2010s.
Of course, Cormann was central to the abolition of the carbon pricing mechanism, in addition to supporting fossil fuel subsidies and a range of other anti-environment actions, as detailed in a viral thread by Greenpeace Australia CEO David Ritter.
In 2011, again from opposition, Mr Cormann claimed to parliament that the Gillard government's “push to put a price on carbon on the basis that it would help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions [was] a very expensive hoax": https://t.co/YmwA8b6Bo1
— David Ritter (@David_Ritter) March 7, 2021
I’ve seen Cormann described as either a ‘climate skeptic’ or a ‘climate denier’. It isn’t quite right; Cormann has never denied that climate change is real, and is caused by human activity.
The reality is one hundred times worse: he understands the threat, but has actively worked to worsen that threat through his policy actions. We don’t have a good word for this yet, but we’re going to need one.
@HenryIXL I can assure you that Labor's carbon tax is doing nothing about global warming. In fact arguably its making it worse.
— Mathias Cormann (@MathiasCormann) January 23, 2013
In the moments after the launch of the 2014 budget, which was targeted largely at taking significant progress Australia had made on climate policy and kicking it all to ground just for the pure fun of it, Hockey and Cormann celebrated with cigars, outside parliament house. They were snapped by a Nine News photographer:
To knowingly slam the brakes on what was very clearly a significant moment of progress on climate action is one thing. To celebrate that moment puffing a big cigar? That’s permanently symbolic. It should be the context for every promise of progress and plea sent out in defence of Australia’s climate delay.
The OECD decision has already been hailed as a “diplomatic win” for Australia, which seems like an open admission that Cormann will use his position to act in the interests of Australia’s government. And those interests are specifically expanding the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, as shown so clearly during the past year’s “gas fired recovery” debacle.
There will be plenty of greenwashing – vague promises of “net zero” at some point well past the retirement age of current politicians and executives, bragging about the outcomes of renewable energy policies they aggressively opposed for a half-decade.
But Australia remains both woefully off track on its domestic emissions and intent on vastly expanding its fossil fuel extraction and sale to other countries in the world. That process will now be significantly easier, with a long-time climate delayer in the top job at the OECD. It’ll have the same impact of worsening emissions, perhaps just without the cigars.