Australia has received the lowest possible score in an assessment of national and international climate policy by an international think tank, as energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor address the United Nations climate talks in Madrid and avoided any mention of the bushfires that have choked Australia’s largest population centres.
Taylor’s speech focused on the usual message from the Morrison Government; that Australia is on track to meet its Paris Targets, and selling the achievements of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency that it tried but failed to scrap.
In his speech during the ‘high-level segment’ of the talks, reserved for ministers and heads-of-state, Taylor also stressed that he believed that emissions reductions are predicated on the availability of commercially viable technologies and that “strong targets” won’t address climate change.
“Strong messages and targets alone won’t address climate change, no matter how ambitious,” Taylor said.
“We can only reduce emissions as fast as the deployment of commercially viable technologies allows. This means we need to get the right technology to the marketplace when it is needed,” Taylor said.
“Australia has the world’s highest uptake of household solar panels with around 2 million, or one in five Australian households, now having solar panels. This increase has not been without issues, and one of our challenges is to ensure energy remains affordable and reliable as these changes occur.”
“We cannot move faster than the technology allows.”
It continues the mixed messaging from Australia on renewables, the technology that is now going to deliver the only emissions reductions achieved over the coming decade.
Taylor, and the Coalition in general, have described a high-level of renewables as “reckless” and “economy-wrecking”, yet their latest emissions projects assume the country reaches the 50 per cent share of renewables that they had insisted was not possible. In South Australia, the government now assumes it reaches 96 per cent wind and solar by 2030.
Yet now Taylor stands up in front of the international community and says that Australia can only move as fast as the technology allows.
Taylor’s speech was also notable for making no mention of the bushfire crisis that continues to impact Australia’s east coast have devastated regional communities, burnt through more than 2.7 million hectares of bushland, and which has drive air-quality in Sydney to such poor levels.
Parts of Australia’s biggest city on Tuesday registered pollution levels more than 11-times the level deemed hazardous.
It followed prime minister Scott Morrison’s refusal to offer additional assistance to firefighters battling the fires, saying that “they want to be out there defending their communities.”
This contrasts with Taylor’s Liberal party counterpart, NSW energy minister Matt Kean, who did not shy away from acknowledging the link between the unprecedented bushfires and climate change in a speech to the National Smart Energy Summit on Tuesday.
“These bushfires have been caused by extreme weather events, high temperatures, the worst drought in living memory. The exact type of event scientists have been warning us about for decades that would have been caused by climate change,” Kean said.
Taylor’s speech in Madrid won few fans and follows the release of a new assessment of the action being undertaken by countries to address climate change, authored by Bonn based think tank Germanwatch, which was highly critical of Australia’s climate policy stance.
Australia was ranked dead last amongst the 57 countries assessed by Germanwatch, and received a score of zero out of 100 for its climate policies.
Germanwatch gave Australia the lowest possible marks for both its national climate change policies, as well as its international climate policy engagement, saying that Australia had become a “regressive force” in international talks on climate action.
Germanwatch ranked Australia below even the United States, which is quite an achievement given that US president Donald Trump intends to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement altogether.
“Experts note that the new government is an increasingly regressive force in negotiations and has been criticised for its lack of ambition by several Pacific Island nations in the context of this year’s Pacific Island Forum,” the Germanwatch report said of Australia.
“The dismissal of recent IPCC reports, the government not attending the UN Climate Action Summit in September, and the withdrawal from funding the Green Climate Fund (GCF) underpin the overall very low performance in the Climate Policy category.”
Federal opposition climate and energy spokesperson Mark Butler said the report showed that Australia had now become an “international embarrassment” with respect to climate policies.
“This Government is pathetic when it comes to climate action and Australia’s lack of climate policy has become an international embarrassment,” Butler said.
“Meanwhile to avoid real climate action all this Government wants to do is use dodgy accounting tricks to cook the books and fake meeting their inadequate Paris Agreement targets.”
“As Australia burns and Sydney is smoked out the Prime Minister and Emissions Reduction Minister have serious questions to answer.”
This result, along with Australia’s advocacy for surplus Kyoto Protocol-era permits to be carried over into the Paris Agreement, also scored Australia yet another Fossil of the Day award from climate groups in Madrid.
“Australia has outdone itself in its latest performance on climate ambition. In an entirely fossil-worthy result Australia has just received a massive gong in the annual Climate Change Performance Index released today by Germanwatch, New Climate Institute and the Climate Action Network,” the Fossil of the Day citation says.
“What really jumps out is that while the Australian government is saying that it is taking meaningful action on climate change, it received a ZERO out of 100 on climate policy in the CCPI. On any measure zero is an outright failure! It’s no wonder that Australia’s climate pollution has been going up and up under the current government.”
It is understood that Angus Taylor had intended to leave Madrid following his address to the conference, but it is unknown whether he may now extend his stay, as the issue of the Kyoto carryover has yet to be resolved.
New Zealand and South Africa have effectively been appointed as mediators in the dispute over the Kyoto carryover issue, as Australia locks horns with over 100 other countries that want to see the Kyoto-era units excluded from the Paris Agreement.
A certain answer on whether other countries will consent to Australia using its surplus Kyoto units to meet its 2030 target may not be known until the closure of the conference at the end of the week.