The black hole in Tony Abbott’s frat party climate policy

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As Tony Abbott equates masculinity with the repudiation of climate and green energy policies, a new study finds Direct Action is complete nonsense, would lift costs and would not cut emissions. But that’s OK if you think climate science is crap.

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It’s been a week full of insight into the future of Australian politics. First, Opposition leader Tony Abbott adds “sex appeal” to the CV of one of his leading candidates. Then he challenges Kevin Rudd “to be a man” and do what he did and put the Greens last on the ballot paper.

In Abbottville, to be a real bloke, you need to reject the “fringe” economic policies of the Greens, and plump instead for another minor party – presumably coal baron Clive Palmer, Bob Katter, the Shooters Party, or Pauline Hanson. As Tad Tietze writes in The Guardian, even micro-parties that flirt more or less openly with fascist policies, are “in principle” preferable to the Coalition than the Greens.

The emergence of “frat party” politics shouldn’t be a surprise to those who have read of Abbott’s student history and the circumstances of his rise to the leadership of the Coalition.

direct actionIt was a political hat-trick borne out of the need of vested interests to kill the carbon price. It’s hard to find anyone who takes its proposed replacement policy, Direct Action, seriously – based as it is around one known constant – a 15,000 strong, litter-collecting green army. (Although, as Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist Alan Moir suggests, the green army could be put to other uses).

But, as the polls now suggest Abbott will form the next government – and may well be dependent on the “loony right” – the policy is worth a serious look. And the Climate Institute has done just that.

The TCI analysis – prepared by Monash University and SKM-MMA – reveals Direct Action to be what most suspected: a lot of hocus pocus that fails on just about every conceivable measure, the sort of policy designed by and for people who don’t actually believe in the science of climate change. Or as Climate Progress write today, for people who can’t stand the solution.

The analysis punctures several large holes in the Coalition’s rhetoric on Direct Action: it does not, as the Coalition claims, reduce Australian emissions; it would still rely on heavy purchases of international permits; it would be incredibly expensive; probably impractical; would provide an effective $50 billion subsidy to polluters; and would set the country at a massive competitive disadvantage in a low-carbon global economy.

The analysis suggests that Direct Action is simply not capable of reaching even the minimum 5 per cent reduction target – and would require an extra $4 billion by 2020 (on top of the $3.2 billion budgeted by the Coalition) to get there. Contrary to the Coalition’s claim, Australian emissions under Direct Action would rise 10 per cent, rather than fall. To reach the bipartisan upper cap of a 25 per cent emission reduction target – which depends on the scope of international action – would require a further $15 billion.

Over the longer term, the picture is even worse, as Malcolm Turnbull has warned previously. To meet 2050 targets would require an extra $88 billion, but still Australia’s emissions would be 45 per cent more than what they are now. “Australians would emit nearly three times the global average under 2°C climate scenarios under the Coalition’s modelled policies,” the report says.

Ironically, if the Coalition wants to meet its targets with Direct Action, it will likely have to reinforce some of the “complementary” policies it is trying to unravel. Not only would it have to spend taxpayer’s money on international permits, it would be forced to take other measures – such as raising the renewable energy target to 50 per cent by 2030 (rather than dilute it as its boosters hope it will), or set strict emissions standards that would force coal-fired power stations out of the market.

In effect, the survey is suggesting that Abbott would have to take the sort of action proposed by Barack Obama, setting absolute pollution caps on coal-fired power stations and the like. Obama admits that regulatory action is more expensive and less efficient, but the only way forward given the Tea Party Republicans won’t allow a carbon price. Abbott’s team, which takes its cue from the same think tanks that inform Tea Party rhetoric, is imposing its own restrictions – paying the price, in Abbott’s world, of being a real man.

This excerpt from TCI’s report is particularly damming of Direct Action:

“This (Direct Action) implicitly subsidises current emitting activities and does not create a broad-based incentive for firms and individuals to invest in low emission technologies and behaviours.

“Using a similar approach to that used by the International Monetary Fund, which factors in a conservative estimate of the climate damage of every tonne emitted, The Climate Institute calculates that this subsidy equates to around $50 billion to 2020. This allows emission intensive activities to out-compete cleaner technologies for a longer period of time.”

As Abbott told radio 2GB in another telling remark yesterday afternoon: “Conservatives tend to hasten slowly. We tend to think that if something has proved the test of time, it is worth persevering with.” To apply this to climate and energy policy, Abbott seems grimly determined to persevere with the status quo, the fossil fuel generation, and the interests of incumbents, despite overwhelming evidence of the need to do otherwise.

There are other problems. Australia’s carbon productivity, a key measure of future economic competitiveness, which already lags under both the government scenarios (Australia ranks low – 17th among the G20 nations) is worse under the Coalition’s policies, which has economic output per unit of carbon emissions at around a third the improvement driven by the current carbon laws.

And it creates the risk that Australia would return to an obstructionist position in international negotiations – which TCI says would run counter to the national climate interest.

“As a country highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, it’s in our own interest for the world to limit temperature rise to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels,” TCI CEO John Connor says.

“The next couple of years are crucial in helping boost global efforts. In this context, policies that demonstrably cannot meet our own targets do nothing for Australia’s credibility and will get short shrift overseas.”

The Greens said that the TCI estimates were overly generous to the Coalition policies because they assumed a “best case” scenario in the emissions reduction fund. The TCI agrees that it painting as rosy a picture of Direct Action as it can – assuming that all emissions bought by the fund are additional, that the “baselines” that will be set by the fund for purchases are lower than current levels, that the abatement is actually achieved, and that companies are not gaming prices. Greens leader Christine Milne describes Direct Action as the worst policy that the Coalition has ever produced.

The Coalition has so far provided no details of how the fund would actually work. It does not intend to do so until at least six months after the election, after inviting submissions to a white paper.

It promises to make moves to repeal the carbon price from the first day in government, and still threatens a double dissolution if it is rejected by parliament. The Climate Institute recommends that rather than creating a policy vacuum, the Coalition should maintain the carbon price at least until it has formulated a policy, and provided details of how the fund would achieve a 25 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020.

And, it says, it should remove the legislated 2014 review of the Renewable Energy Target and focus the 2016 review on post-2020 policy settings – i.e. what would be needed to meet longer-term targets.

In fact, TCI suggests that the Coalition policy – to ensure that it doesn’t “end at the beginning” – will need to consider a 50 per cent clean energy target by 2030, stringent emission performance standards to ensure that the most emissions-intensive power generation is decommissioned by 2020, and a raft of energy efficiency actions to ensure Australia boosts its energy productivity by 30 per cent on 2010 levels by 2020.

Of course, none of those would be palatable to the business interests that want Abbott in power. But as TCI makes clear, if the Coalition wants to dump the carbon price, and deliver on the international commitments it has already signed up for, it will have no alternative.

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7 Comments
  1. Neville Bott 6 years ago

    Just about to read this but not expecting anything new. Anyone who was interested has known since direct action was launched that this is total nonsense. ie See Malcolm Turbulls comments and a number of articles since all show that this just wont work.

    The problem is how to get the message from here past the Murdoch reality vacuum and to the attention of the hordes that are just not interested in details but would rather blindly believe anything the LNP Murdoch shock jock machine is telling them.

    Rant finished now ready to study your article, thanks Giles

    • suthnsun 6 years ago

      +1
      sounds like the TCI is being very conciliatory, hope the Greens can genuinely prosecute this issue, tread that fine line between communicating the truth and alienating by going just a little bit too far (further than people are prepared to hear)
      Agree they need to get a chance from the media as well. Grassroots advocates and momentum would be welcome here too.

      Labour look they might be dead on this issue..

      • wideEyedPupil 6 years ago

        Abbott on track to take lower house, maybe upper. ALP goes to the wildness and generational change hopefully helps them to get real on climate change and appoint an Energy Minister/Spokesperson who isn’t in bed with Coal & Gas Industry.

        The future is 100%renewables no matter how we get there, only question is how late we get there and how much damage we do to the climate and the economy getting there late. Be nice if the Major parties both admitted at during this election that their policies will guaranty the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef as we know it.

  2. Kevin O'Dea 6 years ago

    The Coalition under Abbott’s guidance are really all about seizing power, at any cost. Reality and sanity may well force a change in their mindset on climate change and mitigation efforts. I do wonder about Malcolm Turnbull’s intentions, since he seems to be well informed on the climate change issue. The prospect of slash and burn cuts to the financial outlays makes any mitigation promises highly unlikely under an Abbott government. Labour is not much better, because they have allowed the massive expansion of coal exports via the new ports being constructed on the Great Barrier Reef. The planet is on a downward spiral as temperatures increase with feedback from the polar icemelts and methane nitrates in the oceans finally explode into life.

  3. Miles Harding 6 years ago

    Waiting till it “has proved the test of time” is an even worse policy than direct action, if that’s possible.

    I see the really big problem of the LNP ‘business as usual’ to be that of delaying any action until the situation has become desperate, thus causing the maximum disruption and hardship when the response is needed.
    Further to this, Reputex has identified that Abbott’s “direct (in)action” will actually raise electricity prices in the medium term.

    More widely, this represents a failure to decarbonise the economy and is reprehensible on two fronts:
    Firstly, it does nothing to meet an environmental target that is essential to maintain a habitable world and
    Secondly, it leaves Australia completely exposed to future oil, gas and coal market conditions.

    The first of these reasons is very much of concern to anybody that has studied the science of climate change. Politicians don’t seem to realise that the climate system has a lot of inertia and simply stopping at some time (2049?) will result in a very serious overshoot.

    The second should be of keen interest to, even those that think that climate change is “a load of crap”. If anything like the Dick Smith “Ten Bucks a Litre” scenario comes to pass, transport and the outlying ‘exurbs’ are almost all dead.

    Oil production apparently plateaued in 2005, leaving the only direction now to be down the terminal decline slope. The timing of this decline is uncertain, but there is a high likelihood that it will start soon*** and any countries that are not well along the decarbonising path will get caught, not being able to adapt as quickly as conditions are changing. We will be living in interesting times.

    *** I see innovations like horizontal drilling, now being used extensively in the gulf states, as having the effect of delaying the onset of the decline, but making it significantly steeper when it does occur. Happy plateauing for a few more years!

  4. johnnewton 6 years ago

    Maybe, after all this test of time, Hanrahan was right

  5. Ken Fabian 6 years ago

    Except for party loyalty there would be a majority right now in Australia’s parliament. And there will still be a majority after the election, because out and out climate deniers are a clear minority. Even with an Abbott victory the number of MP’s that accept the climate problem is real and serious is going to outnumber hard core deniers and policy obstructionists.

    Demand CONSCIENCE VOTES ON CLIMATE – because it’s the hold a minority of climate deniers and obstructors have over a mainstream political party, as well as party politics itself, that prevents an elected majority of MP’s from treating the climate problem seriously.

    I recall a set of questions for MP’s suggested on TheConversation and liked the idea. I think that rather than challenging their understanding of climate change science they need to be challenged on their solemn responsibilities as our representatives. And that it is a responsibility that they take on personally. And it takes precedence over other obligations.

    Climate denial is a decade plus of campaigning and lobbying by the most affected business interests that has, with the assistance of an amoral mainstream media, gone viral. Along the way it has successfully subverted a mainstream political party.

    Any Australian MP’s that can’t tell science from scam (hint: science comes out science institutions) doesn’t have the essential discrimination and judgment to do their job. That we can go to an election with climate denial front and centre of the Party favored to win and it isn’t even a mainstream political issue is very dismaying.

    On an issue this serious I think every MP should have an obligation to be as well informed as possible and not pass that solemn responsibility off to a Party Machine – that has no obligations to be well informed or even to be truthful.

    Every LNP member that knows the climate problem is real and serious should stand up for what is right; if they can’t bring themselves to poke their heads up they should be hanging them in shame. Given more than 2 decades of “warning, warning, urgent warning” from the cream of science, to ignore that for the sake of party unity or perceived obligations to allied organisations, institutional backers and major donors – or just to maximise election prospects – is a profound betrayal of trust.

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