The UN Climate Change Summit circus in Paris will have to start without Tony Abbott – not that he was going anyway. Not that it needs another clown. He got one Captain’s call right. His successor would also stay at home if he could. He should.
Malcolm Turnbull is impossibly conflicted on climate. He recognised that Direct Action is ‘bullshit’ and called it a ‘policy which does not exist’ in 2009. Now he has to sell something he never believed to a mob who will never forgive him for going soft on saving the world.
Worse still, the PM will look stupid and shonky, something he normally leaves to his predecessor. Perhaps he should take a sickie; he has been looking exhausted lately. Backflips can do that to man.
Turnbull won’t be missed amongst the 45,000 delegates from 193 countries converging on Paris, some of whom are serious. His government has nothing to contribute. Or even less. Indifferent if not hostile to the science, the Abbott/Turnbull government is contrarian on climate. It pays polluters to plant trees and if they don’t promise to clean up their act a bit, pretty please, they face a flogging with a wilted lettuce leaf.
The coalition is soft on targets. Its 2020 emissions reduction target of 5%, if no-one else did anything and 25% if they did, is soft and its 2030 target is a dangerously low 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels, a goal which will do nothing to prevent global warming reaching 2 degrees – which is what Paris is supposed to forge consensus over.
On the other hand, the Abbott/Turnbull government is doing its bit to warm the globe. The LNP has enabled power companies to increase pollution by scrapping Labor’s carbon price mechanism. Its commitment to a greener planet has no better indictment than in its willingness to pay a ‘windfarm commissioner’ $600,000 to indulge complaints about a safe, alternative power source.
Direct action means taxpayers have forked out $660 million already to get farmers to plant trees but Environment Minister Hunt happily let Campbell Newman clear enough of Queensland in 2014 alone to fit the entire ACT inside, a move which cost the federal government 80% of the 45.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas abatement it purchased recently at a cost of $557 million.
But the show must go on. Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Greg Hunt are in Paris to keep up appearances; pretend that Australia is doing its bit by meeting a soft target that required no effort whatsoever to slow emissions. Not that it could slow them now if it wanted to.
Much as the Abbott/Turnbull government promotes its Direct Action scam, it will not reduce emissions with its current policies or its current mindset. Although Hunt crows about having ‘reached our target’, our carbon emissions have been on the increase since 2013.
Other countries know the truth. Since its scare campaign on what it wrongly called ‘a carbon tax’, helped win it power the Abbott/Turnbull government has done everything it can to stymie any initiatives to curb global warming.
It attacks renewable energy. It is in bed with coal. It supports the Queensland’s Coordinator-general’s plans to extinguish native title, against the wishes of traditional owners, over a leasehold property held by Adani, to allow the international mining company to build infrastructure for its $16 billion Carmichael coal mine.
Vast coal mines such as Adani’s have been approved; climate change agencies have been defunded or rigged. The LNP government subsidises coal miners $4 billion a year and proposes laws restricting green groups’ legal standing to challenge mining approvals and other developments. It has so successfully spread lies about global warming and our role in fixing it that it has lulled much of its population, into complacency.
Secure within the deep pockets of the coal industry, Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has led the charge. The coal lobby’s gift to climate politics, Hunt has the hide of a hippopotamus. And its plan of attack. Even for a politician, he is oblivious to criticism and inured to any vestigial promptings of conscience. He is above all that, he lets us know. His delusions of grandeur rival Turnbull’s.
Only Hunt could boast of meeting our 1979 Kyoto agreement, famously described by Labor’s Duncan Kerr, then environment spokesman, as ‘a three inch putt’. Australia was allowed to increase its pollution by 8% while requiring everyone else but Russia to reduce pollution by 8%.
On top of this ‘The Australia Clause’, allowed us to include carbon emissions from land clearing. Only Hunt, moreover, could overlook the fact that Australia’s tactics, and the “victory” they delivered, generated resentment around the world.
We are one of the few countries in the world to have met and beaten our first round of Kyoto targets and to be on track to meet and beat our second round of Kyoto targets.
When not claiming credit where none is due, Hunt is coy about how his Direct Action safeguard mechanisms will work. He refuses to explain. Almost as arrogant and patronising as his boss, Hunt’s style is to simply dismiss all criticism. Who better to negotiate climate change agreements and safeguard our future – in the same way that Abbott was perfect as Minister for Women?
The Incredible Hunt will say whatever he likes; do whatever it takes. Asked about funding his Emissions Reduction Fund beyond the forward estimates, Hunt claimed incredibly that its cost per tonne of emissions saved was about a hundredth that of the carbon tax, absurdly inflating the figure; neglecting to factor in the revenue obtained from a carbon price’s levy on pollution.
Hunt’s boasts include claiming that the world is beating a path to our door to copy Direct Action, an experimental, expensive, government subsidy to businesses and farmers to voluntarily clean up their act. He knows no-one asks him to name one. The UN, on the other hand, can name 36 who think it’s a con. 36 nations tabled some ‘please explains’ recently, including Direct Action’s huge cost.
The Coalition’s policy would see Australia’s emissions rise about 9 per cent by 2020. To achieve their promised range of 2020 carbon cuts of 5 to 25 per cent below 2000 levels, the Coalition would need to spend at least an extra $4 billion to $15 billion by 2020.” – John Connor, The Climate Institute.
Unaffordable, Direct Action is fluffy; unworkable. Big polluters can stay outside the scheme and agree to soft ‘safeguards’, targets based on their greatest releases of GHGs into the atmosphere. ‘It’s like setting a limbo bar at two metres’, says Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper. It’s also how we set our national target. Reducing our carbon emissions? We are there already with the help of a neat accounting trick.
‘We’ll be able to say that we’ve already met our target,’ boasts Hunt as if curbing CO2 were some kind of game it’s smart to cheat at. As if his audience is stupid. Australia may well be 28m tonnes of greenhouse abatement ahead of what it needs to reach the target of a 5% reduction by 2020 based on 2000 levels but it has absolutely no cause for self-congratulation. On the contrary, it has a lot of explaining to do. Why so low? How does it propose to achieve any target?
Since election, the LNP has dismantled climate initiatives; attacked emission reduction mechanisms. It has returned entitlements to big polluters to pollute for free, while taxpayers must now pay the cost of reducing emissions. It has cut climate and clean energy programs and independent agencies.
Given his party’s hostility and his own compromised position, what can Turnbull offer to any UN conference to foster collective action on global climate change? His party aims to obstruct, discredit, disband, defund or wind up all whose work might help to reduce Australia’s contribution to global warming. Unable to axe the Climate Change Authority, for example, it is now stacking its membership with LNP supporters and climate change opponents.
These include Kate Carnell who has accused clean energy investments of ‘destroying jobs’ rather than creating new ones, a key plank in the coal industry’s hugely successful propaganda platform which has manipulated the national debate into a choice between clean energy and prosperity.
Now the government must flaunt its duplicity in Paris. Nick Feik, editor of The Monthly says, it will set a 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target at the UN convention despite having ‘undermined every possible mechanism for reaching it.’
Australia will brag about reaching its reductions target while it is actually increasing its greenhouse gas emissions. It will also, according to Hunt, seek permission to use the same accountancy trick; to ‘carry forward’ the bonus obtained in Kyoto, a credit which has helped it to fake its current achievement.
Coalition policy on climate change has been a catastrophic cop-out and a colossal cock up. By scrapping Labor’s price on carbon and its low emissions target, the Abbott/Turnbull government has actually helped Australia to increase its output of greenhouse gases 6% over the next five years based on today’s figures. Does it believe other nations at the Paris Convention will not notice?
Pitt & Sherry’s CEDEX analysis, shows emissions from Australia’s coal power stations have risen steadily since the end of the carbon tax in June 2014 and are now at their highest level since early 2013. Last year, emissions in the power sector grew by more than they have in a decade, wiping out all gains made by deploying the carbon tax.
Yet Hunt has no interest in the bigger picture; he is there to crow about meeting a target set so low it virtually met itself when it was set in 1979. A slowing economy and other factors independent of government policy have also helped. So, too the figure we had to beat kept shrinking. Total pollution estimates got progressively lower as calculations improved. None of this, however, prevents Hunt from taking credit for all carbon emission reductions. For him it is all about winning the game.
Not, for Hunt, or the new Turnbull, does it matter that our target is too low to contribute to other nations’ efforts to restrict global warming to 2 degrees. Not that we have met our target only by using an accounting trick to carry over credit for curbing emissions we haven’t earnt. Not that we owe it to humanity to do our full share if not more, in trying to halt global warming.
None of this enters the calculations of the Environment Minister or his government. The LNP game plan is to do as little as it can get away with while trumpeting that it’s meeting targets. Its behaviour is a hideous travesty of commitment to international cooperation. The overweening man-child Hunt’s sense of self, his world, consists of winning cheap debating points based on statistical manipulation at the expense of any larger responsibility or respect for his audience. He will disgrace us again in Paris. 36 questions already lodged by UN members in April, show many suspect a hoax.
‘1990 is an internationally common choice for base year of 2020 targets, but Australia choose 2000 instead,’ said a question from China. ‘Australia further indicated that the 15 per cent and 25 per cent conditional targets are based on the level of international action, especially from advanced economies … This ambition level is far below the requirement that Australia set out for advanced economies. Please clarify the fairness of such requirements.’
Apart from it not playing fair, scientists warn that Australia’s target is a Clayton’s target. It is too low to enable Australia to make any ‘credible’ contribution to reducing global warming, says the Climate Change Authority, a body the coalition would have abolished had it not been blocked by the Senate. It is a hoax. Australia’s carbon emissions are once again increasing. Energy and emissions analyst, Reputex, forecasts Australia’s actual emissions to increase by 6 per cent by 2020 on today’s figures.
Today, however, the Environment Minister relishes the prospect of wasting everyone’s time at the UN Climate Change Convention. His form of words will allow him to pretend that Australia is doing its bit for humanity despite the reality that under his government, emissions have increased after it scrapped Labor’s ‘great big new tax on everything’.
Yet taxpayers will have to pay the 2.2 billion allocated to his Direct Action a scheme to subsidise landowners and landfill managers. Taxpayers will also have to find the 6 billion foregone as a result of scrapping carbon pricing. The world will have to bear the impact of Australia once more increasing its carbon emissions as power generators pollute freely and targets are contemptibly low.
Meet our targets? Unfortunately for all of us, his Paris audience will see Hunt’s claim for what it is: a cheap confidence trick from a shonky salesman for the coal industry. Whatever feeble emissions target the incredible Hunt may have confected and ‘met’, it will not disguise how the LNP government continues to turn its back on the environment and its responsibilities as a global citizen to keep its backers happy and for short term, political gain.