On Thursday, the good folk at Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s favourite think tank, the ultra conservative Institute of Public Affairs, will host a function in Brisbane to launch the latest anti-climate science book by noted denier, Bob Carter.
The title of the book, “Taxing Air: Facts & fallacies about climate change”, fits neatly into Abbott’s view about carbon trading. Last month he was out dog-whistling to climate denialists such as Carter on just that theme, when he borrowed an old phrase and said that trading carbon was a “so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.”
Is this book launch just a happy coincidence in timing, or does it amount to the launch of a new policy platform?
It is a question worth asking, because now, just days out from the election, it seems that Abbott is so convinced about the inevitability of his election victory on September 7 that he has judged it safe enough to reveal his true colours on climate policy: He still believes the science is crap.
It is hard to avoid any other conclusion, following his revelations on Monday in response to questions about his Direct Action policy at the National Press Club, and again on the ABC TV’s 7.30 Report on Monday night, that even the Coalition’s 5 per cent reduction target was no longer binding.
In an election debate where the real question on climate policy – how to reach the targets guided by the science (i.e. 25 per cent or more) – has never been raised by the mainstream parties, Abbott revealed that he was quite prepared not to even make it to first base. If the budgeted $3.2 billion proved to be insufficient to reach the 5% reduction target – as Treasury and private analysis conclude unanimously – he would not spend another dollar to ensure that it does.
In effect, on the day that it is revealed Australia has experienced a record high temperatures over the last 12 months, and just three weeks ahead of the IPCC report, Abbott is telling the world that his climate policy will end at the beginning. He simply doesn’t believe in the science.
That should not surprise anyone, because Abbott’s owes his position to the climate deniers that put him there to prevent Malcolm Turnbull agreeing to a an emissions trading scheme. And his impending election victory will owe much to a conga line of supporters who openly ridicule the science – the talk-back radio shock jocks, the Andrew Bolts, and the overwhelming majority of New Ltd columnists.
As Abbott said in a interview to The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan, in explaining his policy position: “I think they (the public) are more conscious of the fact that the argument among the experts is not quite the one-way street that it might have seemed four or five years.”
On Monday, Abbott defended his position by stating that the Coalition would target “emissions intensity”, which is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of GDP. He says it has been falling sharply, but the point is that emissions intensity only reduces emissions from what they otherwise would be. They do not deliver an absolute cut.
The World Resources Institute, for instance, notes that in the past 15 years, China has cut its emissions intensity by 40 per cent, but absolute emissions has increased by 145 per cent. Its commitment to reducing emissions intensity by a further 45 per cent by 2020 will likely reduce emissions from “business as usual” by between 20 and 33 per cent, according to the ANU, but it will not stop another significant rise in absolute emissions.
Australia has also reduced its emissions intensity, and will continue to do so. But it won’t deliver a cut in emissions, as this graph using data from the Department of Climate Change shows.
The Climate Institute noted on Tuesday that if the Coalition wanted to reach even a 5 per cent reduction target, then it would have to rely on regulation, just like Barrack Obama.
But to get some idea on the Coalition’s position on regulation, it is worth recapping Abbott’s speech to the IPA’s 70th birthday party back in April, where he sat alongside Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart, and other noted climate denialists like Bolt, Hugh Morgan, and Cardinal George Pell, and what Crikey described as a sea of “elderly Caucasian males.” He was joined by Corey Bernardi, Greg Hunt, George Brandis and Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine, Crikey reported.
The IPA has, at the top of its 75 ideas for a better Australia, demanded three actions: the repeal of the carbon tax (and don’t replace it); the abolition of the Department of Climate Change; and the abolition of the Clean Energy Fund (Clean Energy Finance Corp). The remaining 72 consist of removing regulations of the type that the Climate Institute would deem necessary to meet climate targets.
As Abbott said in his speech, he is giving a “big yes” (his words) to the IPA’s wish list, and will even go further, scrapping the Climate Change Authority, and the Climate Commission, the two institutions that can give an independent assessment on the climate issues and policies. He may even oblige on the IPA’s Number 6 demand and repeal the Renewable Energy Target.
Abbott’s ability to do so will only be restricted by the opposition he faces in the Senate. The Greens will be implacable in their opposition. Greens leader Christine Milne, who revealed to Point Carbon this week that she had never had a conversation with Abbott, described the Coalition’s position as “laughable” if it wasn’t so serious. And she questioned an Abbott government’s ability, or even commitment, to try to bring the big four polluters together to negotiate a binding treaty.
“By abandoning even the meagre bipartisan 5%-25% target for emissions reduction, he has relegated Australia to global laggard as negotiations are now underway for a 2015 treaty,” Milne said. “Once a sceptic, always a sceptic is the best way to describe the would-be PM. A man who maintains that global warming is ‘crap’.”
The position of Labor, however, is still not clear. When pushed by ABC Radio National’s Fran Kelly this morning, climate change minister Mark Butler said the ALP had also decided to “repeal” the carbon tax, and replace it with an emissions trading system. He danced all around the question about giving a binding commitment to oppose Abbott’s move to do the same, instead launching an attack on the Greens.
This is not surprising. Depending on who is left within the ALP carcass next week, it is likely that the right wing faction of the party will be out for revenge for being disenfranchised by the Greens these past three years. There may be little appetite to protect the carbon price, or commit to a double dissolution.
Abbott is possibly right about that. The fact that Carter’s book will be launched by Gary Johns, a former Labor minister and prominent member of its right faction, gives some idea about where that faction sits on climate issues. The position of agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon, gives another.
So despite the fact that yet another survey – this time by ReachTel – says that 77 per cent of Australians believe it is important for the next Australian Government to deliver on the bipartisan promise to reduce carbon pollution by between 5-25 per cent by 2020, the country is in danger of kissing the carbon price goodbye, and being left with a mechanism that will give it no international credibility, and no price signal or incentive for de-carbonising the domestic economy.
And the irony of it all? Direct Action is actually a Socialist construct. Check it out here. Some of the posters are a bit of a giggle.