It is now abundantly clear what Malcolm Turnbull signed up for when he vowed to leave Tony Abbott’s climate and clean energy policies untouched when negotiating his ascension to the prime minister’s office in 2015: it was for a complete and utter repudiation of everything about climate he once said he stood for.
Abbott, in a much anticipated speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the temple of climate denial in the UK laughingly described by The Australian today as a “centre right” think tank, dispelled any doubts about his take on climate science. His rejection is absolute.
“There’s the evidence that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide – which is a plant food after all – are actually greening the planet and helping to lift agricultural yields,” Abbott said.
“In most countries, far more people die in cold snaps than in heatwaves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it’s accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial.”
And, he claimed, it is climate change policy that is doing harm. “Climate change itself is probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm,” he added, before comparing climate policies as the equivalent to “primitive people … killing goats to appease the volcano gods”.
There was more. It was Abbott uncut, and unhinged, on climate science.
The speech was packaged highlights of the sort of myths you find in the lousiest climate denier websites, in the same way that former resource minister Matt Canavan’s comments on ABC’s Q&A were a mishmash of nonsense about energy prices and the impact of renewables.
Canavan argued that the renewable energy target and the closure of two coal-fired power stations had caused a doubling of wholesale prices in most states, and he specifically cited prices of more than $300/MWh in Queensland over the weekend.
The comments did not bear much scrutiny. Queensland does not have any large-scale renewable energy facilities on line, apart from a single 20MW solar farm at Barcaldine. It has the youngest coal fleet and the most ample supply of fossil fuels of any state in the country.
So why does it have high prices? Well Canavan actually explained that himself. Gaming by the fossil fuel generators, who have been able to do that because of the investment drought caused by the Abbott attack on the RET meant that few projects have actually been switched on.
The fossil fuel industry is taking Australia for a ride. It funds climate denial, nonsense about renewables, and is single-handedly responsible for the outrageous prices paid at the meter by Australian households and businesses. This gaming is rampant across the nation, and has been for years in South Australia.
And on it goes.
Abbott might have been ousted from Australia’s top office by Turnbull, but his continuing impact on Australia’s climate policy is undeniable. It is simply not plausible to wish him away or ignore him. He and his followers present a massive and deliberate road block, even where his justifications are barking mad.
Turnbull will never have a more powerful mandate to act, given the reports from Alan Finkel, the Australian Energy Market Operator, the CSIRO and the recognition by his own energy minister that the cost of renewable energy technologies has fallen to the point where they need little or no subsidies.
Emissions can be cut, the grid can be modernised and decarbonised, and it will undoubtedly cost us less than what we have now. Yet Turnbull is unable or unwilling to move. Short of sacrificing this particular climate goat, he will continue to defend the indefensible.
Action on climate and clean energy will fall, yet again, to the states, and even then there is no that is no guarantee of policy certainty, given the fact that both South Australia and Queensland need to go to the polls.
And the sad fact is that the Coalition parties in those jurisdictions are just as bonkers as their mates in Canberra, and the Trump administration in the US, which this week will finally make good on picking apart Barack Obama’s signature climate policy, the Clean Energy Plan, just as Abbott already did in Australia.